Billy Collins |
I wonder how it all got started, this business
about seeing your life flash before your eyes
while you drown, as if panic, or the act of submergence,
could startle time into such compression, crushing
decades in the vice of your desperate, final seconds.
After falling off a steamship or being swept away
in a rush of floodwaters, wouldn't you hope
for a more leisurely review, an invisible hand
turning the pages of an album of photographs-
you up on a pony or blowing out candles in a conic hat.
How about a short animated film, a slide presentation?
Your life expressed in an essay, or in one model photograph?
Wouldn't any form be better than this sudden flash?
Your whole existence going off in your face
in an eyebrow-singeing explosion of biography-
nothing like the three large volumes you envisioned.
Survivors would have us believe in a brilliance
here, some bolt of truth forking across the water,
an ultimate Light before all the lights go out,
dawning on you with all its megalithic tonnage.
But if something does flash before your eyes
as you go under, it will probably be a fish,
a quick blur of curved silver darting away,
having nothing to do with your life or your death.
The tide will take you, or the lake will accept it all
as you sink toward the weedy disarray of the bottom,
leaving behind what you have already forgotten,
the surface, now overrun with the high travel of clouds.
Amy Lowell |
Cross-ribboned shoes; a muslin gown,
High-waisted, girdled with bright blue;
A straw poke bonnet which hid the frown
She pluckered her little brows into
As she picked her dainty passage through
The dusty street.
A dirty pathway, we need rain,
My poor fruits suffer, and the shell
Of this nut's too big for its kernel, lain
Here in the sun it has shrunk again.
The baker down at the corner says
We need a battle to shake the clouds;
But I am a man of peace, my ways
Don't look to the killing of men in crowds.
Poor fellows with guns and bayonets for shrouds!
Pray, Mademoiselle, come out of the sun.
Let me dust off that wicker chair.
In here, for the green leaves I have run
In a curtain over the door, make a pool
You see the pears on that stool --
The shadow keeps them plump and fair.
Over the fruiterer's door, the leaves
Held back the sun, a greenish flare
Quivered and sparked the shop, the sheaves
Of sunbeams, glanced from the sign on the eaves,
Shot from the golden letters, broke
And splintered to little scattered lights.
Jeanne Tourmont entered the shop, her poke
Bonnet tilted itself to rights,
And her face looked out like the moon on nights
Of flickering clouds.
"Monsieur Popain, I
Want gooseberries, an apple or two,
Or excellent plums, but not if they're high;
Haven't you some which a strong wind blew?
I've only a couple of francs for you.
Monsieur Popain shrugged and rubbed his hands.
What could he do, the times were sad.
A couple of francs and such demands!
And asking for fruits a little bad.
Wind-blown indeed! He never had
Anything else than the very best.
He pointed to baskets of blunted pears
With the thin skin tight like a bursting vest,
All yellow, and red, and brown, in smears.
Monsieur Popain's voice denoted tears.
He took up a pear with tender care,
And pressed it with his hardened thumb.
"Smell it, Mademoiselle, the perfume there
Is like lavender, and sweet thoughts come
Only from having a dish at home.
And those grapes! They melt in the mouth like wine,
Just a click of the tongue, and they burst to honey.
They're only this morning off the vine,
And I paid for them down in silver money.
The Corporal's widow is witness, her pony
Brought them in at sunrise to-day.
Those oranges -- Gold! They're almost red.
They seem little chips just broken away
From the sun itself.
Or perhaps instead
You'd like a pomegranate, they're rarely gay,
When you split them the seeds are like crimson spray.
Yes, they're high, they're high, and those Turkey figs,
They all come from the South, and Nelson's ships
Make it a little hard for our rigs.
They must be forever giving the slips
To the cursed English, and when men clips
Through powder to bring them, why dainties mounts
A bit in price.
Those almonds now,
I'll strip off that husk, when one discounts
A life or two in a ****** row
With the man who grew them, it does seem how
They would come dear; and then the fight
At sea perhaps, our boats have heels
And mostly they sail along at night,
But once in a way they're caught; one feels
Ivory's not better nor finer -- why peels
From an almond kernel are worth two sous.
It's hard to sell them now," he sighed.
"Purses are tight, but I shall not lose.
There's plenty of cheaper things to choose.
He picked some currants out of a wide
"They make the tongue
Almost fly out to suck them, bride
Currants they are, they were planted long
Ago for some new Marquise, among
Other great beauties, before the Chateau
Was left to rot.
Now the Gardener's wife,
He that marched off to his death at Marengo,
Sells them to me; she keeps her life
From snuffing out, with her pruning knife.
She's a poor old thing, but she learnt the trade
When her man was young, and the young Marquis
Couldn't have enough garden.
The flowers he made
All new! And the fruits! But 'twas said that
Was no friend to the people, and so they laid
Some charge against him, a cavalcade
Of citizens took him away; they meant
Well, but I think there was some mistake.
He just pottered round in his garden, bent
On growing things; we were so awake
In those days for the New Republic's sake.
He's gone, and the garden is all that's left
Not in ruin, but the currants and apricots,
And peaches, furred and sweet, with a cleft
Full of morning dew, in those green-glazed pots,
Why, Mademoiselle, there is never an eft
Or worm among them, and as for theft,
How the old woman keeps them I cannot say,
But they're finer than any grown this way.
Jeanne Tourmont drew back the filigree ring
Of her striped silk purse, tipped it upside down
And shook it, two coins fell with a ding
Of striking silver, beneath her gown
One rolled, the other lay, a thing
Sparked white and sharply glistening,
In a drop of sunlight between two shades.
She jerked the purse, took its empty ends
And crumpled them toward the centre braids.
The whole collapsed to a mass of blends
Of colours and stripes.
"Monsieur Popain, friends
We have always been.
In the days before
The Great Revolution my aunt was kind
When you needed help.
You need no more;
'Tis we now who must beg at your door,
And will you refuse?" The little man
Bustled, denied, his heart was good,
But times were hard.
He went to a pan
And poured upon the counter a flood
Of pungent raspberries, tanged like wood.
He took a melon with rough green rind
And rubbed it well with his apron tip.
Then he hunted over the shop to find
Some walnuts cracking at the lip,
And added to these a barberry slip
Whose acrid, oval berries hung
Like fringe and trembled.
He reached a round
Basket, with handles, from where it swung
Against the wall, laid it on the ground
And filled it, then he searched and found
The francs Jeanne Tourmont had let fall.
"You'll return the basket, Mademoiselle?"
She smiled, "The next time that I call,
You know that very well.
'Twas lightly said, but meant to tell.
Monsieur Popain bowed, somewhat abashed.
She took her basket and stepped out.
The sunlight was so bright it flashed
Her eyes to blindness, and the rout
Of the little street was all about.
Through glare and noise she stumbled, dazed.
The heavy basket was a care.
She heard a shout and almost grazed
The panels of a chaise and pair.
The postboy yelled, and an amazed
Face from the carriage window gazed.
She jumped back just in time, her heart
Beating with fear.
Through whirling light
The chaise departed, but her smart
Was keen and bitter.
In the white
Dust of the street she saw a bright
Streak of colours, wet and gay,
Red like blood.
Crushed but fair,
Her fruit stained the cobbles of the way.
Monsieur Popain joined her there.
c'est le General Bonaparte,
partant pour la Guerre!"
Rudyard Kipling |
So here's your Empire.
No more wine, then?
We'll clear the Aides and khitmatgars away.
(You'll know that fat old fellow with the knife --
He keeps the Name Book, talks in English too,
And almost thinks himself the Government.
O Youth, Youth, Youth! Forgive me, you're so young.
Forty from sixty -- twenty years of work
And power to back the working.
Ay def mi!
You want to know, you want to see, to touch,
And, by your lights, to act.
I wonder can I help you.
Let me try.
You saw -- what did you see from Bombay east?
Enough to frighten any one but me?
Neat that! It frightened Me in Eighty-Four!
You shouldn't take a man from Canada
And bid him smoke in powder-magazines;
Nor with a Reputation such as -- Bah!
That ghost has haunted me for twenty years,
My Reputation now full blown -- Your fault --
Yours, with your stories of the strife at Home,
Who's up, who's down, who leads and who is led --
One reads so much, one hears so little here.
Well, now's your turn of exile.
I go back
To Rome and leisure.
All roads lead to Rome,
Or books -- the refuge of the destitute.
When you .
that brings me back to India.
Egypt served my turn.
You'll never plumb the Oriental mind,
And if you did it isn't worth the toil.
Think of a sleek French priest in Canada;
Divide by twenty half-breeds.
By twice the Sphinx's silence.
There's your East,
And you're as wise as ever.
So am I.
Accept on trust and work in darkness, strike
At venture, stumble forward, make your mark,
(It's chalk on granite), then thank God no flame
Leaps from the rock to shrivel mark and man.
I'm clear -- my mark is made.
Three months of drought
Had ruined much.
It rained and washed away
The specks that might have gathered on my Name.
I took a country twice the size of France,
And shuttered up one doorway in the North.
I stand by those.
You'll find that both will pay,
I pledged my Name on both -- they're yours to-night.
Hold to them -- they hold fame enough for two.
I'm old, but I shall live till Burma pays.
Men there -- not German traders -- Crsthw-te knows --
You'll find it in my papers.
For the North
Guns always -- quietly -- but always guns.
You've seen your Council? Yes, they'll try to rule,
And prize their Reputations.
Have you met
A grim lay-reader with a taste for coins,
And faith in Sin most men withhold from God?
He's gone to England.
R-p-n knew his grip
A Council always has its H-pes.
They look for nothing from the West but Death
Or Bath or Bournemouth.
Here's their ground.
Until the middle classes take them back,
One of ten millions plus a C.
Or drop in harness.
Legion of the Lost?
Not altogether -- earnest, narrow men,
But chiefly earnest, and they'll do your work,
And end by writing letters to the Times,
(Shall I write letters, answering H-nt-r -- fawn
With R-p-n on the Yorkshire grocers? Ugh!)
They have their Reputations.
Look to one --
I work with him -- the smallest of them all,
White-haired, red-faced, who sat the plunging horse
Out in the garden.
He's your right-hand man,
And dreams of tilting W-ls-y from the throne,
But while he dreams gives work we cannot buy;
He has his Reputation -- wants the Lords
By way of Frontier Roads.
Meantime, I think,
He values very much the hand that falls
Upon his shoulder at the Council table --
Hates cats and knows his business; which is yours.
Your business! twice a hundered million souls.
Your business! I could tell you what I did
Some nights of Eighty-Five, at Simla, worth
A Kingdom's ransom.
When a big ship drives,
God knows to what new reef the man at the whee!
Prays with the passengers.
They lose their lives,
Or rescued go their way; but he's no man
To take his trick at the wheel again -- that's worse
Well, a galled Mashobra mule
(You'll see Mashobra) passed me on the Mall,
And I was -- some fool's wife and ducked and bowed
To show the others I would stop and speak.
Then the mule fell -- three galls, a hund-breadth each,
Behind the withers.
Leers at the mule and me by turns, thweet thoul!
"How could they make him carry such a load!"
I saw -- it isn't often I dream dreams --
More than the mule that minute -- smoke and flame
From Simla to the haze below.
You'll dream dreams before you've done.
You've youth, that's one -- good workmen -- that means two
Fair chances in your favor.
Fate's the third.
I know what I did.
Do you ask me, "Preach"?
I answer by my past or else go back
To platitudes of rule -- or take you thus
In confidence and say: "You know the trick:
You've governed Canada.
And all the while commend you to Fate's hand
(Here at the top on loses sight o' God),
Commend you, then, to something more than you --
The Other People's blunders and
I'd agonize to serve you if I could.
It's incommunicable, like the cast
That drops the tackle with the gut adry.
Too much -- too little -- there's your salmon lost!
And so I tell you nothing --with you luck,
And wonder -- how I wonder! -- for your sake
And triumph for my own.
You're young, you're young,
You hold to half a hundred Shibboleths.
I followed Power to the last,
Gave her my best, and Power followed Me.
It's worth it -- on my sould I'm speaking plain,
Here by the claret glasses! -- worth it all.
I gave -- no matter what I gave -- I win.
I know I win.
Mine's work, good work that lives!
A country twice the size of France -- the North
That's my record: sink the rest
And better if you can.
The Rains may serve,
Rupees may rise -- three pence will give you Fame --
It's rash to hope for sixpence -- If they rise
Get guns, more guns, and lift the salt-tax.
I told you what the Congress meant or thought?
I'll answer nothing.
Half a year will prove
The full extent of time and thought you'll spare
Ask a Lady Doctor once
How little Begums see the light -- deduce
Thence how the True Reformer's child is born.
It's interesting, curious .
I told the Turk he was a gentlman.
I told the Russian that his Tartar veins
Bled pure Parisian ichor; and he purred.
The Congress doesn't purr.
I think it swears.
You're young -- you'll swear to ere you've reached the end.
The End! God help you, if there be a God.
(There must be one to startle Gl-dst-ne's soul
In that new land where all the wires are cut.
And Cr-ss snores anthems on the asphodel.
God help you! And I'd help you if I could,
But that's beyond me.
Yes, your speech was crude.
Sound claret after olives -- yours and mine;
But Medoc slips into vin ordinaire.
(I'll drink my first at Genoa to your health.
Raise it to Hock.
You'll never catch my style.
And, after all, the middle-classes grip
The middle-class -- for Brompton talk Earl's Court.
Perhaps you're right.
I'll see you in the Times --
A quarter-column of eye-searing print,
A leader once a quarter -- then a war;
The Strand abellow through the fog: "Defeat!"
"'Orrible slaughter!" While you lie awake
Oh, you'll wonder ere you're free!
I wonder now.
The four years slide away
So fast, so fast, and leave me here alone.
R-y, C-lv-n, L-l, R-b-rts, B-ck, the rest,
Princes and Powers of Darkness troops and trains,
(I cannot sleep in trains), land piled on land,
Whitewash and weariness, red rockets, dust,
White snows that mocked me, palaces -- with draughts,
And W-stl-nd with the drafts he couldn't pay,
Poor W-ls-n reading his obituary.
Before he died, and H-pe, the man with bones,
And A-tch-s-n a dripping mackintosh
At Council in the Rains, his grating "Sirrr"
Half drowned by H-nt-r's silky: "Bat my lahnd.
Hunterian always: M-rsh-l spinning plates
Or standing on his head; the Rent Bill's roar,
A hundred thousand speeches, must red cloth,
And Smiths thrice happy if I call them Jones,
(I can't remember half their names) or reined
My pony on the Mall to greet their wives.
More trains, more troops, more dust, and then all's done.
Four years, and I forget.
If I forget
How will they bear me in their minds? The North
Safeguarded -- nearly (R-b-rts knows the rest),
A country twice the size of France annexed.
That stays at least.
The rest may pass -- may pass --
Your heritage -- and I can teach you nought.
"High trust," "vast honor," "interests twice as vast,"
"Due reverence to your Council" -- keep to those.
I envy you the twenty years you've gained,
But not the five to follow.
What's that? One?
Two! -- Surely not so late.
Carl Sandburg |
IT’S a jazz affair, drum crashes and cornet razzes
The trombone pony neighs and the tuba jackass snorts.
The banjo tickles and titters too awful.
The chippies talk about the funnies in the papers.
The cartoonists weep in their beer.
Ship riveters talk with their feet
To the feet of floozies under the tables.
A quartet of white hopes mourn with interspersed snickers:
“I got the blues.
I got the blues.
I got the blues.
And … as we said earlier:
The cartoonists weep in their beer.
Thomas Hardy |
A Load of brushes and baskets and cradles and chairs
Labours along the street in the rain:
With it a man, a woman, a pony with whiteybrown hairs.
The man foots in front of the horse with a shambling sway
At a slower tread than a funeral train,
While to a dirge-like tune he chants his wares,
Swinging a Turk's-head brush (in a drum-major's way
When the bandsmen march and play).
A yard from the back of the man is the whiteybrown pony's nose:
He mirrors his master in every item of pace and pose:
He stops when the man stops, without being told,
And seems to be eased by a pause; too plainly he's old,
Indeed, not strength enough shows
To steer the disjointed waggon straight,
Which wriggles left and right in a rambling line,
Deflected thus by its own warp and weight,
And pushing the pony with it in each incline.
The woman walks on the pavement verge,
Parallel to the man:
She wears an apron white and wide in span,
And carries a like Turk's-head, but more in nursing-wise:
Now and then she joins in his dirge,
But as if her thoughts were on distant things,
The rain clams her apron till it clings.
So, step by step, they move with their merchandize,
And nobody buys.
Carl Sandburg |
RUM tiddy um,
tiddy um tum tum.
My knees are loose-like, my feet want to sling their selves.
I feel like tickling you under the chin—honey—and a-asking: Why Does a Chicken Cross the Road?
When the hens are a-laying eggs, and the roosters pluck-pluck-put-akut and you—honey—put new potatoes and gravy on the table, and there ain’t too much rain or too little:
Say, why do I feel so gabby?
Why do I want to holler all over the place?.
Do you remember I held empty hands to you
and I said all is yours
the handfuls of nothing?.
I ask you for white blossoms.
I bring a concertina after sunset under the apple trees.
I bring out “The Spanish Cavalier” and “In the Gloaming, O My Darling.
The orchard here is near and home-like.
The oats in the valley run a mile.
Between are the green and marching potato vines.
The lightning bugs go criss-cross carrying a zigzag of fire: the potato bugs are asleep under their stiff and yellow-striped wings: here romance stutters to the western stars, “Excuse … me…”.
Old foundations of rotten wood.
An old barn done-for and out of the wormholes ten-legged roaches shook up and scared by sunlight.
So a pickax digs a long tooth with a short memory.
Fire can not eat this rubbish till it has lain in the sun.
The story lags.
The story has no connections.
The story is nothing but a lot of banjo plinka planka plunks.
The roan horse is young and will learn: the roan horse buckles into harness and feels the foam on the collar at the end of a haul: the roan horse points four legs to the sky and rolls in the red clover: the roan horse has a rusty jag of hair between the ears hanging to a white star between the eyes.
In Burlington long ago
And later again in Ashtabula
I said to myself:
I wonder how far Ophelia went with Hamlet.
What else was there Shakespeare never told?
There must have been something.
If I go bugs I want to do it like Ophelia.
There was class to the way she went out of her head.
Does a famous poet eat watermelon?
Excuse me, ask me something easy.
I have seen farmhands with their faces in fried catfish on a Monday morning.
And the Japanese, two-legged like us,
The Japanese bring slices of watermelon into pictures.
The black seeds make oval polka dots on the pink meat.
Why do I always think of niggers and buck-and-wing dancing whenever I see watermelon?
Summer mornings on the docks I walk among bushel peach baskets piled ten feet high.
Summer mornings I smell new wood and the river wind along with peaches.
I listen to the steamboat whistle hong-honging, hong-honging across the town.
And once I saw a teameo straddling a street with a hayrack load of melons.
Niggers play banjos because they want to.
The explanation is easy.
It is the same as why people pay fifty cents for tickets to a policemen’s masquerade ball or a grocers-and-butchers’ picnic with a fat man’s foot race.
It is the same as why boys buy a nickel’s worth of peanuts and eat them and then buy another nickel’s worth.
Newsboys shooting craps in a back alley have a fugitive understanding of the scientific principle involved.
The jockey in a yellow satin shirt and scarlet boots, riding a sorrel pony at the county fair, has a grasp of the theory.
It is the same as why boys go running lickety-split
away from a school-room geography lesson
in April when the crawfishes come out
and the young frogs are calling
and the pussywillows and the cat-tails
know something about geography themselves.
I ask you for white blossoms.
I offer you memories and people.
I offer you a fire zigzag over the green and marching vines.
I bring a concertina after supper under the home-like apple trees.
I make up songs about things to look at:
potato blossoms in summer night mist filling the garden with white spots;
a cavalryman’s yellow silk handkerchief stuck in a flannel pocket over the left side of the shirt, over the ventricles of blood, over the pumps of the heart.
Bring a concertina after sunset under the apple trees.
Let romance stutter to the western stars, “Excuse … me…”
Andrew Barton Paterson |
It was somewhere up the country, in a land of rock and scrub,
That they formed an institution called the Geebung Polo Club.
They were long and wiry natives from the rugged mountain side,
And the horse was never saddled that the Geebungs couldn't ride;
But their style of playing polo was irregular and rash --
They had mighty little science, but a mighty lot of dash:
And they played on mountain ponies that were muscular and strong,
Though their coats were quite unpolished,
and their manes and tails were long.
And they used to train those ponies wheeling cattle in the scrub:
They were demons, were the members of the Geebung Polo Club.
It was somewhere down the country, in a city's smoke and steam,
That a polo club existed, called `The Cuff and Collar Team'.
As a social institution 'twas a marvellous success,
For the members were distinguished by exclusiveness and dress.
They had natty little ponies that were nice, and smooth, and sleek,
For their cultivated owners only rode 'em once a week.
So they started up the country in pursuit of sport and fame,
For they meant to show the Geebungs how they ought to play the game;
And they took their valets with them -- just to give their boots a rub
Ere they started operations on the Geebung Polo Club.
Now my readers can imagine how the contest ebbed and flowed,
When the Geebung boys got going it was time to clear the road;
And the game was so terrific that ere half the time was gone
A spectator's leg was broken -- just from merely looking on.
For they waddied one another till the plain was strewn with dead,
While the score was kept so even that they neither got ahead.
And the Cuff and Collar Captain, when he tumbled off to die,
Was the last surviving player -- so the game was called a tie.
Then the Captain of the Geebungs raised him slowly from the ground,
Though his wounds were mostly mortal, yet he fiercely gazed around;
There was no one to oppose him -- all the rest were in a trance,
So he scrambled on his pony for his last expiring chance,
For he meant to make an effort to get victory to his side;
So he struck at goal -- and missed it -- then he tumbled off and died.
By the old Campaspe River, where the breezes shake the grass,
There's a row of little gravestones that the stockmen never pass,
For they bear a crude inscription saying, `Stranger, drop a tear,
For the Cuff and Collar players and the Geebung boys lie here.
And on misty moonlit evenings, while the dingoes howl around,
You can see their shadows flitting down that phantom polo ground;
You can hear the loud collisions as the flying players meet,
And the rattle of the mallets, and the rush of ponies' feet,
Till the terrified spectator rides like blazes to the pub --
He's been haunted by the spectres of the Geebung Polo Club.
Stanley Kunitz |
Reading in Li Po
how "the peach blossom follows the water"
I keep thinking of you
because you were so much like
naturally with the sex
and the figure slighter.
Loving you was a kind
of Chinese guerilla war.
Thanks to your lightfoot genius
no Eighth Route Army
kept its lines more fluid,
traveled with less baggage
so nibbled the advantage.
Even with your small bad heart
you made a dance of departures.
In the cold spring rains
when last you failed me
I had nothing left to spend
but a red crayon language
on the character of the enemy
to break appointments,
to fight us not
with his strength
but with his weakness,
to kill us
not with his health
but with his sickness.
Pet, spitfire, blue-eyed pony,
here is a new note
I want to pin on your door,
though I am ten years late
and you are nowhere:
are you stillmistress of the valley,
what trophies drift downriver,
why did you keep me waiting?
Carl Sandburg |
BAND concert public square Nebraska city.
Flowing and circling dresses, summer-white dresses.
Faces, flesh tints flung like sprays of cherry blossoms.
And gigglers, God knows, gigglers, rivaling the pony whinnies of the Livery Stable Blues.
Cowboy rags and ****** rags.
And boys driving sorrel horses hurl a cornfield laughter at the girls in dresses, summer-white dresses.
Amid the cornet staccato and the tuba oompa, gigglers, God knows, gigglers daffy with life’s razzle dazzle.
Slow good-night melodies and Home Sweet Home.
And the snare drummer bookkeeper in a hardware store nods hello to the daughter of a railroad conductor—a giggler, God knows, a giggler—and the summer-white dresses filter fanwise out of the public square.
The crushed strawberries of ice cream soda places, the night wind in cottonwoods and willows, the lattice shadows of doorsteps and porches, these know more of the story.
Barry Tebb |
Memories bursting like tears or waves
On some lonely Adriatic shore
Beating again and again
Threshings of green sea foam
Flecked like the marble Leonardo
Chipped for his ‘Moses’.
And my tears came as suddenly
In that dream, criss-crossed
With memory and desire.
Grandad Nicky had worked
Down the pits for a pittance
To bring up his six children
But nothing left over for more
Than a few nuts and an orange
For six Christmas stockings
So hopefully hung, weighted by pennies,
Stretched across the black mantle.
So Lawrence-like and yet not, grandad
A strict Methodist who read only a vast Bible
Hunched in his fireside chair insisting
On chapel three times on Sundays.
Only in retirement did joy and wisdom
Enter him, abandoning chapel he took
To the Friends or Quakers as they called them then
And somehow at seventy the inner light
Gruff but kind was my impression:
He would take me for walks
Along abandoned railways to the shutdown
Pipeworks where my three uncles
Worked their early manhood through.
It would have delighted Auden and perhaps
That was the bridge between us
Though we were of different generations
And by the time I began to write he had died.
All are gone except some few who may live still
But in their dotage.
After my mother’s funeral
None wanted contact: I had been judged in my absence
And found wanting.
Durham was not my county,
Hardly my country, memories from childhood
Of Hunwick Village with its single cobbled street
Of squat stone cottages and paved yards
With earth closets and stacks of sawn logs
Perfuming the air with their sap
In a way only French poets could say
And that is why we have no word but clich?
‘Reflect’ or ‘make come alive’ or other earthbound
Anglicanisms; yet it is there in Valery Larbaud
‘J’ai senti pour la premiere fois toute la douceur de vivre’-
I experienced for the first time all the joy of living.
I quote of their plenitude to mock the absurdity
Of English poets who have no time for Francophiles
Better the ‘O altitudo’ of earlier generations –
Wallace Stevens’ "French and English
Are one language indivisible.
That scent of sawdust, the milkcart the pony pulled
Each morning over the cobbles, the earthenware jug
I carried to be filled, ladle by shining ladle,
From the great churns and there were birds singing
In the still blue over the fields beyond the village
But because I was city-bred I could not name them.
I write to please myself: ‘Only other poets read poems’