Margaret Atwood |
The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,
is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can't breathe.
No, they whisper.
You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.
Adrienne Rich |
A conversation begins
with a lie.
speaker of the so-called common language feels
the ice-floe split, the drift apart
as if powerless, as if up against
a force of nature
A poem can being
with a lie.
And be torn up.
A conversation has other laws
recharges itself with its own
false energy, Cannot be torn
Infiltrates our blood.
Inscribes with its unreturning stylus
the isolation it denies.
The classical music station
playing hour upon hour in the apartment
the picking up and picking up
and again picking up the telephone
The syllables uttering
the old script over and over
The loneliness of the liar
living in the formal network of the lie
twisting the dials to drown the terror
beneath the unsaid word
The technology of silence
The rituals, etiquette
the blurring of terms
silence not absence
of words or music or even
Silence can be a plan
the blueprint of a life
It is a presence
it has a history a form
Do not confuse it
with any kind of absence
How calm, how inoffensive these words
begin to seem to me
though begun in grief and anger
Can I break through this film of the abstract
without wounding myself or you
there is enough pain here
This is why the classical of the jazz music station plays?
to give a ground of meaning to our pain?
The silence strips bare:
In Dreyer's Passion of Joan
Falconetti's face, hair shorn, a great geography
mutely surveyed by the camera
If there were a poetry where this could happen
not as blank space or as words
stretched like skin over meaningsof a night through which two people
have talked till dawn.
of an illegitimate voice
It has ceased to hear itself, therefore
it asks itself
How do I exist?
This was the silence I wanted to break in you
I had questions but you would not answer
I had answers but you could not use them
The is useless to you and perhaps to others
It was an old theme even for me:
Language cannot do everything-
chalk it on the walls where the dead poets
lie in their mausoleums
If at the will of the poet the poem
could turn into a thing
a granite flank laid bare, a lifted head
alight with dew
If it could simply look you in the face
with naked eyeballs, not letting you turn
till you, and I who long to make this thing,
were finally clarified together in its stare
Let me have this dust,
these pale clouds dourly lingering, these words
moving with ferocious accuracy
like the blind child's fingers
or the newborn infant's mouth
violent with hunger
No one can give me, I have long ago
taken this method
whether of bran pouring from the loose-woven sack
or of the bunsen-flame turned low and blue
If from time to time I envy
the pure annunciation to the eye
the visio beatifica
if from time to time I long to turn
like the Eleusinian hierophant
holding up a single ear of grain
for the return to the concrete and everlasting world
what in fact I keep choosing
are these words, these whispers, conversations
from which time after time the truth breaks moist and green.
David Herbert Lawrence |
I thought he was dumb, said he was dumb,
Yet I've heard him cry.
First faint scream,
Out of life's unfathomable dawn,
Far off, so far, like a madness, under the horizon's dawning rim,
Far, far off, far scream.
Tortoise in extremis.
Why were we crucified into sex?
Why were we not left rounded off, and finished in ourselves,
As we began,
As he certainly began, so perfectly alone?
A far, was-it-audible scream,
Or did it sound on the plasm direct?
Worse than the cry of the new-born,
All tiny, tiny, far away, reptile under the first dawn.
War-cry, triumph, acute-delight, death-scream reptilian,
Why was the veil torn?
The silken shriek of the soul's torn membrane?
The male soul's membrane
Torn with a shriek half music, half horror.
Male tortoise, cleaving behind the hovel-wall of that dense female,
Mounted and tense, spread-eagle, out-reaching out of the shell
Long neck, and long vulnerable limbs extruded, spreadeagle over her house-roof,
And the deep, secret, all-penetrating tail curved beneath her walls,
Reaching and gripping tense, more reaching anguish in uttermost tension
Till suddenly, in the spasm of coition, tupping like a jerking leap, and oh!
Opening its clenched face from his outstretched neck
And giving that fragile yell, that scream,
From his pink, cleft, old-man's mouth,
Giving up the ghost,
Or screaming in Pentecost, receiving the ghost.
His scream, and his moment's subsidence,
The moment of eternal silence,
Yet unreleased, and after the moment, the sudden, startling jerk of coition, and at once
The inexpressible faint yell --
And so on, till the last plasm of my body was melted back
To the primeval rudiments of life, and the secret.
So he tups, and screams
Time after time that frail, torn scream
After each jerk, the longish interval,
The tortoise eternity,
Age-long, reptilian persistence,
Heart-throb, slow heart-throb, persistent for the next spasm.
I remember, when I was a boy,
I heard the scream of a frog, which was caught with his foot in the mouth of an up-starting snake;
I remember when I first heard bull-frogs break into sound in the spring;
I remember hearing a wild goose out of the throat of night
Cry loudly, beyond the lake of waters;
I remember the first time, out of a bush in the darkness, a nightingale's piercing cries and gurgles startled the depths of my soul;
I remember the scream of a rabbit as I went through a wood at midnight;
I remember the heifer in her heat, blorting and blorting through the hours, persistent and irrepressible,
I remember my first terror hearing the howl of weird, amorous cats;
I remember the scream of a terrified, injured horse, the sheet-lightning,
And running away from the sound of a woman in labour, something like an owl whooing,
And listening inwardly to the first bleat of a lamb,
The first wail of an infant,
And my mother singing to herself,
And the first tenor singing of the passionate throat of a young collier, who has long since drunk himself to death,
The first elements of foreign speech
On wild dark lips.
And more than all these,
And less than all these,
Strange, faint coition yell
Of the male tortoise at extremity,
Tiny from under the very edge of the farthest far-off horizon of life.
The wheel on which our silence first is broken,
Sex, which breaks up our integrity, our single inviolability, our deep silence,
Tearing a cry from us.
Sex, which breaks us into voice, sets us calling across the deeps, calling, calling for the complement,
Singing, and calling, and singing again, being answered, having found.
Torn, to become whole again, after long seeking for what is lost,
The same cry from the tortoise as from Christ, the Osiris-cry of abandonment,
That which is whole, torn asunder,
That which is in part, finding its whole again throughout the universe.
William Blake |
I will sing you a song of Los.
the Eternal Prophet:
He sung it to four harps at the tables of Eternity.
In heart-formed Africa.
Urizen faded! Ariston shudderd!
And thus the Song began
Adam stood in the garden of Eden:
And Noah on the mountains of Ararat;
They saw Urizen give his Laws to the Nations
By the hands of the children of Los.
Adam shudderd! Noah faded! black grew the sunny African
When Rintrah gave Abstract Philosophy to Brama in the East:
(Night spoke to the Cloud!
Lo these Human form'd spirits in smiling hipocrisy.
Against one another; so let them War on; slaves to the eternal Elements)
Noah shrunk, beneath the waters;
Abram fled in fires from Chaldea;
Moses beheld upon Mount Sinai forms of dark delusion:
Palamabron gave an abstract Law:
To Pythagoras Socrates & Plato.
Times rolled on o'er all the sons of Har, time after time
Orc on Mount Atlas howld, chain'd down with the Chain of Jealousy
Then Oothoon hoverd over Judah & Jerusalem
And Jesus heard her voice (a man of sorrows) he recievd
A Gospel from wretched Theotormon.
The human race began to wither, for the healthy built
Secluded places, fearing the joys of Love
And the disease'd only propagated:
So Antamon call'd up Leutha from her valleys of delight:
And to Mahomet a loose Bible gave.
But in the North, to Odin, Sotha gave a Code of War,
Because of Diralada thinking to reclaim his joy.
These were the Churches: Hospitals: Castles: Palaces:
Like nets & gins & traps to catch the joys of Eternity
And all the rest a desart;
Till like a dream Eternity was obliterated & erased.
Since that dread day when Har and Heva fled.
Because their brethren & sisters liv'd in War & Lust;
And as they fled they shrunk
Into two narrow doleful forms:
Creeping in reptile flesh upon
The bosom of the ground:
And all the vast of Nature shrunk
Before their shrunken eyes.
Thus the terrible race of Los & Enitharmon gave
Laws & Religions to the sons of Har binding them more
And more to Earth: closing and restraining:
Till a Philosophy of Five Senses was complete
Urizen wept & gave it into the hands of Newton & Locke
Clouds roll heavy upon the Alps round Rousseau & Voltaire:
And on the mountains of Lebanon round the deceased Gods
Of Asia; & on the deserts of Africa round the Fallen Angels
The Guardian Prince of Albion burns in his nightly tent
The Kings of Asia heard
The howl rise up from Europe!
And each ran out from his Web;
From his ancient woven Den;
For the darkness of Asia was startled
At the thick-flaming, thought-creating fires of Orc.
And the Kings of Asia stood
And cried in bitterness of soul.
Shall not the King call for Famine from the heath?
Nor the Priest, for Pestilence from the fen?
To restrain! to dismay! to thin!
The inhabitants of mountain and plain;
In the day, of full-feeding prosperity;
And the night of delicious songs.
Shall not the Councellor throw his curb
Of Poverty on the laborious?
To fix the price of labour;
To invent allegoric riches:
And the privy admonishers of men
Call for fires in the City
For heaps of smoking ruins,
In the night of prosperity & wantonness
To turn man from his path,
To restrain the child from the womb,
To cut off the bread from the city,
That the remnant may learn to obey.
That the pride of the heart may fail;
That the lust of the eyes may be quench'd:
That the delicate ear in its infancy
May be dull'd; and the nostrils clos'd up;
To teach mortal worms the path
That leads from the gates of the Grave.
Urizen heard them cry!
And his shudd'ring waving wings
Went enormous above the red flames
Drawing clouds of despair thro' the heavens
Of Europe as he went:
And his Books of brass iron & gold
Melted over the land as he flew,
Heavy-waving, howling, weeping.
And he stood over Judea:
And stay'd in his ancient place:
And stretch'd his clouds over Jerusalem;
For Adam, a mouldering skeleton
Lay bleach'd on the garden of Eden;
And Noah as white as snow
On the mountains of Ararat.
Then the thunders of Urizen bellow'd aloud
From his woven darkness above.
Orc raging in European darkness
Arose like a pillar of fire above the Alps
Like a serpent of fiery flame!
The sullen Earth
Forth from the dead dust rattling bones to bones
Join: shaking convuls'd the shivring clay breathes
And all flesh naked stands: Fathers and Friends;
Mothers & Infants; Kings & Warriors:
The Grave shrieks with delight, & shakes
Her hollow womb, & clasps the solid stem:
Her bosom swells with wild desire:
And milk & blood & glandous wine.
Barry Tebb |
You were the one I wanted most to know
So like yet unlike, like fire and snow,
The casual voice, the sharp invective,
The barbed wit, the lapsed Irish Protestant
Who never gave a ****, crossed the palms
Of the great and good with coins hot with contempt
For the fakers and the tricksters whose poetry
Deftly bent to fashion’s latest slant.
You wrote from the heart, feelings on your sleeve,
But feelings are all a master poet needs:
You broke all the taboos, whores and fags and booze,
While I sighed over books and began to snooze
Until your voice broke through the haze
Of a quarter century’s sleep.
“Wake up you git
And bloody write!” I did and never stopped
And like you told the truth about how bad poetry
Rots the soul and slapped a New Gen face or two
And kicked some arses in painful places,
And so like you, got omitted from the posh anthologies
Where Penguin and Picador fill the pages
With the boring poetasters you went for in your rages,
Ex-friends like Harrison who missed you out.
You never could see the envy in their enmity.
Longley was the worst, a hypocrite to boot,
All you said about him never did come out;
I’ve tried myself to nail others of that ilk
Hither and thither they slide and slither
And crawl out of the muck white as brides’
Fat with OBE’s, sinecures and sighs
And Collected Poems no one buys.
Yet ‘Mainstrem’, your last but one collection,
I had to wait months for, the last borrower
Kept it for two years and likely I’ll do the same
Your poetry’s like no other, no one could tame
Your roaring fury or your searing pain.
You bared your soul in a most unfashionable way
But everything in me says your verse will stay,
Your love for your fourth and final wife,
The last chance marriage that went right
The children you loved so much but knew
You wouldn’t live to see grown up, so caught
Their growing pains and joys with a painter’s eye
And lyric skill as fine as Wordsworth’s best
they drank her welcome to his heritage
of grey, grey-green, wet earth and shapes of stone.
Who weds a landscape will not die alone.
Those you castigated never forgave.
Omitted you as casually as passing an unmarked grave,
Armitage, I name you, a blackguard and a knave,
Who knows no more of poetry than McGonagall the brave,
Yet tops the list of Faber’s ‘Best Poets of Our Age’.
Longley gave you just ten lines in ‘Irish Poets Now’
Most missed you out entirely for the troubles you gave
Accusing like Zola those poetic whores
Who sold themselves to fashion when time after time
Your passions brought you to your knees, lashing
At those poetasters when their puffed-up slime
Won the medals and the prizes time after time
And got them all the limelight while your books
Were quietly ignored, the better you wrote,
The fewer got bought.
Belatedly I found a poem of yours ‘Leeds 2’
In ‘Flashpoint’, a paint-stained worn out
School anthology from 1962.
Out of the blue
I wrote to you but the letter came back ‘Gone away
’ then I tried again and had a marvellous letter back
Full of stories of the great and good and all their private sins,
You knew where the bodies were buried.
Who put the knife in, who slept with who
For what reward.
They never could shut you up
Or put you in a pen or pay you off and then came
Morley, Hulse and Kennedy’s ‘New Poetry’
Which did more damage to the course of poetry
Than anything I’ve read - poets unembarrassed
By the need to know more than what’s politically
White as snow.
Constantine and Jackie Kay
And Hoffman with the right connections.
Sweeney and O’Brien bleeding in all the politically
Sensitive places, Peter Reading lifting
Horror headlines from the Sun to make a splash.
Sansom and Maxwell, Jamie and Greenlaw.
Proving lack of talent is no barrier to fame
If you lick the right arses and say how nice they taste.
Crawling up the ladder, declaring **** is grace.
A talented drunken public servant
Has the world’s ear and hates me.
He ought to be in prison for misuse
Of public funds and bigotry;
But there’s some sparkle in his poetry.
You never flinched in the attack
But gave the devils their due:
The ‘Honest Ulsterman’ you founded
Lost its honesty the day you withdrew
But floundered on, publicly sighed and
Ungraciously expired as soon as you died.
You went with fallen women, smoked and sang and boozed,
Loved your many children, wrote poetry
As good as Yeats but the ignominy you had to bear
Bred an immortality impossible to share.
You showed us your own peccadilloes,
Your early lust for fame, but you learned
The cost of suffering, love and talent winning through,
Your best books your last, just two, like the letters
You wrote before your life was through.
The meeting you wanted could never happen:
I didn’t know about the stroke
That stilled your tongue and pen
But if you passed your mantle on to me
I’ll try and take up where you left off,
Give praise where praise is due
And blast the living daylights from those writers who
Betray the sacred art of making poetry true
To suffering and love, to passion and remorse
And try to steer a flimsy world upon a saner course.
James Dickey |
In a stable of boats I lie still,
From all sleeping children hidden.
The leap of a fish from its shadow
Makes the whole lake instantly tremble.
With my foot on the water, I feel
The moon outside
Take on the utmost of its power.
I rise and go our through the boats.
I set my broad sole upon silver,
On the skin of the sky, on the moonlight,
Stepping outward from earth onto water
In quest of the miracle
This village of children believed
That I could perform as I dived
For one who had sunk from my sight.
I saw his cropped haircut go under.
I leapt, and my steep body flashed
Once, in the sun.
Dark drew all the light from my eyes.
Like a man who explores his death
By the pull of his slow-moving shoulders,
I hung head down in the cold,
Wide-eyed, contained, and alone
Among the weeds,
And my fingertips turned into stone
From clutching immovable blackness.
Time after time I leapt upward
Exploding in breath, and fell back
From the change in the children's faces
At my defeat.
Beneath them I swam to the boathouse
With only my life in my arms
To wait for the lake to shine back
At the risen moon with such power
That my steps on the light of the ripples
Might be sustained.
Beneath me is nothing but brightness
Like the ghost of a snowfield in summer.
As I move toward the center of the lake,
Which is also the center of the moon,
I am thinking of how I may be
The savior of one
Who has already died in my care.
The dark trees fade from around me.
The moon's dust hovers together.
I call softly out, and the child's
Voice answers through blinding water.
He rises, dilating to break
The surface of stone with his forehead.
He is one I do not remember
Having ever seen in his life.
The ground I stand on is trembling
Upon his smile.
I wash the black mud from my hands.
On a light given off by the grave
I kneel in the quick of the moon
At the heart of a distant forest
And hold in my arms a child
Of water, water, water.
Rainer Maria Rilke |
Only mouths are we.
Who sings the distant heart
which safely exists in the center of all things?
His giant heartbeat is diverted in us
into little pulses.
And his giant grief
is, like his giant jubilation, far too
great for us.
And so we tear ourselves away
from him time after time, remaining only
But unexepectedly and secretly
the giant heartbeat enters our being,
so that we scream ----,
and are transformed in being and in countenance.
Robert William Service |
He wrote a letter in his mind
To answer one a maid had sent;
He sought the fitting word to find,
As on by hill and rill he went.
By bluebell wood and hawthorn lane,
The cadence sweet and silken phrase
He incubated in his brain
For days and days.
He wrote his letter on a page
Of paper with a satin grain;
It did not ring, so in a rage
He tore it up and tried again.
Time after time he drafted it;
He polished it all through the night;
He tuned and pruned till bit by bit
He got it right.
He took his letter to the post,
Yet long he held it in his hand.
Strangely his mood had veered, almost
Reversed,--he could not understand.
The girl was vague, the words were vain;
April romance had come to grief .
He tore his letter up again,--
Oh blest relief!
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe |
OLD age is courteous--no one more:
For time after time he knocks at the door,
But nobody says, "Walk in, sir, pray!"
Yet turns he not from the door away,
But lifts the latch, and enters with speed.
And then they cry "A cool one, indeed!"
William Blake |
The Caverns of the Grave I've seen,
And these I show'd to England's Queen.
But now the Caves of Hell I view,
Who shall I dare to show them to?
What mighty soul i 362 n Beauty's form
Shall dauntless view the infernal storm?
Egremont's Countess can control
The flames of Hell that round me roll;
If she refuse, I still go on
Till the Heavens and Earth are gone,
Still admir'd by noble minds,
Follow'd by Envy on the winds,
Re-engrav'd time after time,
Ever in their youthful prime,
My designs unchang'd remain.
Time may rage, but rage in vain.
For above Time's troubled fountains,
On the great Atlantic Mountains,
In my Golden House on high,
There they shine eternally.