Poem of the Month.
Frail the hand that seeks the volume, that this morning read The Mail
Searching now, in springtime’s senescence…where, oh where, the Holy Grail?
Publius Sirus and Hippocrates, Aristotle and Carneades
Classics, Roman, Greek and Hebrew.
In basement shelving hid from view.
Faded spreads, foxed in places, tied in bundles, unopened pages.
Hands a trembling, hold up to view, forget the mildew...ah, deja-vu.
What’s this here? Something special?
Bottom shelf, lowest level.
Choir of angels, furtive glances. Treasure here…a fore-edge bevel..!
Stand up slowly, creaking elbows..find the light, a window view.
Is it? It is..a Baron Corvo” Joy abounding. Who else to know?
Frail the hands that holds the volume, that this morning read The Mail.
Comfort now, springtime’s senescence….at last, at last, the Holy Grail.
How They Named the Baby.
They talked of Medora, Aurora and Flora,
Of Mabel and Marcia and Mildred and May;
Debated the question of Helen, Honora,
Clarissa, Camilla, and Phyllis and Fay.
They thought of Marcella, Estella, and Bella;
Considered Cecilia, Jeanette, and Pauline;
Alicia, Adela, Annette, Arabella,
And Ethel and Eunice, Hortense and Irene.
One liked Theodora, another Leonora;
Some argued for Edith and some for Elaine;
For Madeline, Adeline, Lily and Lora;
And then, after all, they decided on Jane
[We understand this delightful poem is late Victorian, and first published in the humour magazine “Judge”]
Smiling Is Infectious
by Spike Milligan
Smiling is infectious,
you catch it like the flu,
When someone smiled at me today,
I started smiling too.
I passed around the corner
and someone saw my grin.
When he smiled I realized
I'd passed it on to him.
I thought about that smile,
then I realized its worth.
A single smile, just like mine
could travel round the earth.
So, if you feel a smile begin,
don't leave it undetected.
Let's start an epidemic quick,
and get the world infected.
We miss you Spike.
P.S. We put this in our Shop window early September 2020.
Over 250 requests for copies, as of June 20th 2021..!
In The Times Literary Supplement recently, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst reviewed the new biography of Longfellow by Nicholas Basbanes “Cross of Snow” (Knopf 480 pp).
Ah..how well I remember first reading Hiawatha with its tom-tom beat and enduring rhythms..!
But there was another side to Longfellow that the reviewer skilfully draws out...
“Longfellow's poems....were like icebergs. Small blocks of texts that emerge from the blank space of the page while hinting at much larger concerns under the surface”.
So, I would like to develop my own metaphor for this month's poetry offering.
Here below is a poem that defies immediate digestion.
It has “gristle”. It resists assimilation to the first casual read. Here are lines to return to...to “chew over”.
In short, to imagine the nine-tenths that is invisible and only suggested in each reader's personal life.
Indeed, Auden captures in memory what endures after the ice has melted away.
My own gasp of astonishment at those last few lines.
New Year's Letter.
Oh but it happens every day.
To someone. Suddenly the way
Leads straight into their native lands,
The temenos’ small wicket stands
Wide open, shining at the centre,
The well of life, and they may enter…
Direct to that magnetic spot,
Now will, nor willing-not-to-will,
For there is neither good now ill
But free rejoicing energy;
Yet any time, how casually,
Out of his organised distress
An accidental happiness,
Catching man off his guard, will blow him
Out of his life in time to show him
The field of Being where he may
Unconscious of becoming, play
With the Eternal Innocence
In unimpeded utterance.
But perfect being has ordained
It must be lost to be regained
And in its orchards grows the tree
And fruit of human destiny,
And man must eat it and depart
At once with gay and grateful heart,
Obedient, reborn, re-aware,
For if he stop an instant there,
The sky grows crimson with a curse,
The flowers change colour for the worse,
He hears behind his back the wicket
Padlock itself, from the dark thicket,
The chuckle with no healthy cause…
…And helpless sees the crooked claws
Emerging into view and groping
For handholds on the low round coping,
As horror clambers from the well,
For he has sprung the trap of hell.
"The Axolotl at Bedtime"
by Catherine Johnson
Never give your axolotl chocolatl in a botl
Serve it in a tiny eggcup, not too cold and not too hotl.
Make him sip it very slowly, not too much, never a lotl.
After all, he’s just a sleepy, snuggly, bedtime, axolotl.
Then tuck him – very gently – in his hand carved wooden cotl.
Turn the light out, seven thirty, never later, on the dotl.
Sing him songs of salamanders, give it everything you’ve gotl
As there’s nothing like a tune to serenade your axolotl.
Brush his gills out on the pillow, never mind the whys or whatl.
Once he’s deeply all a-slumber, sweetly snoring, off you trotl.
Think of him, snug in his dreamland, flying kites or sailing yachtl.
Then you’ll sigh, you’ve done your duty, time to clean the pans and potl.
Come tomorrow he’ll be one fresh, keen as mustard, axolotl.
Catherine Johnson’s latest books are "Race to the Frozen North" (Barrington Stoke) and "Freedom" (Scholastic).
For Books & Poetry by Catherine Johnson..click here.
Thank You again Tim Gauld of the Guardian.
The Collar-Bone of a Hare
Would I could cast a sail on the water
Where many a king has gone
And many a king's daughter,
And alight at the comely trees and the lawn
The playing upon pipes and the dancing,
And learn that the best thing is
To change my love while dancing
And pay but a kiss for a kiss.
I would find by the edge of that water
The collar-bone of a hare
Worn thin by the lapping of water,
And pierce it through with a gimlet, and stare
At the old bitter world where they marry in churches,
And laugh over the untroubled water
At all who marry in churches,
Through the white thin bone of a hare.
W. B Yeats. 1919.
[The Wild Swans at Coole]
Yeats uses the image of a Hare in his wonderful poem The Collar Bone of a Hare.
It has been explained that in Irish legend, if one looks through a hole pierced in the bone of a hare...
...then one will get a glimpse into the fairy world...the Otherworld .
Interestingly he inverts the image, and is looking through the bone from the Otherworld, back out into our decidedly troubled world.
We are most grateful to JohnGeorge72 for this.
Horny hands that hold the aces which this morning held the plough
Above left: St. Michael's Church Stinsford, the Mellstock Church of Under the Greenwood Tree and Hardy's lovely poem below.
Rime Intrinsica, Fontmell Magna, Sturminster Newton and Melbury Bubb,
Whist upon whist upon whist upon whist drive, in Institute, Legion and Social Club.
While Tranter Reuben, T. S. Eliot, H. G. Wells and Edith Sitwell lie in Mellstock Churchyard now.
Lord's Day bells from Bingham's Melcombe, Iwerne Minster, Shroton, Plush,
Down the grass between the beeches, mellow in the evening hush.
Gloved the hands that hold the hymn-book, which this morning milked the cow
While Tranter Reuben, Mary Borden, Brian Howard and Harold Acton lie in Mellstock Churchyard now.
Light's abode, celestial Salem! Lamps of evening, smelling strong,
Gleaming on the pitch-pine, waiting, almost empty even-song
From the aisles each window smiles on grave and grass and yew-tree bough
While Tranter Reuben, Gordon Selfridge, Edna Best and Thomas Hardy lie in Mellstock Churchyard now.
Drunk as Drunk
Drunk as drunk on turpentine
From your open kisses,
Your wet body wedged
Between my wet body and the strake
Of our boat that is made of flowers,
Feasted, we guide it - our fingers
Like tallows adorned with yellow metal -
Over the sky's hot rim,
The day's last breath in our sails.
Pinned by the sun between solstice
And equinox, drowsy and tangled together
We drifted for months and woke
With the bitter taste of land on our lips,
Eyelids all sticky, and we longed for lime
And the sound of a rope
Lowering a bucket down its well. Then,
We came by night to the Fortunate Isles,
And lay like fish
Under the net of our kisses.
Pablo Neruda 1904 - 1973.Seen above right, as a young man.
[Translation from the Spanish by Christopher Logue. Above left, c 1997.]
N.B. Those of you captured by the beauty of this love poem, could do no better than watch the 1994 film "Il Postino" (The Postman), starring Massimo Troisi.
Here we find the isolated Neruda, educating his young post delivery man on the art of poetry, such that he might capture the heart of the local young beauty.
William Butler Yeats
"The Cap & Bells"
The jester walked in the garden:
The garden had fallen still;
He bade his soul rise upward
And stand on her window-sill.
It rose in a straight blue garment,
When owls began to call:
It had grown wise-tongued by thinking
Of a quiet and light footfall;
But the young queen would not listen;
She rose in her pale night-gown;
She drew in the heavy casement
And pushed the latches down.
So, he bade his heart go to her,
When the owls called out no more;
In a red and quivering garment
It sang to her through the door.
It had grown sweet-tongued by dreaming
Of a flutter of flower-like hair;
But she took up her fan from the table
And waved it off on the air.
'I have cap and bells,’ he pondered,
'I will send them to her and die’;
And when the morning whitened
He left them where she went by.
She laid them upon her bosom,
Under a cloud of her hair,
And her red lips sang them a love-song
Till stars grew out of the air.
She opened her door and her window,
And the heart and the soul came through,
To her right hand came the red one,
To her left hand came the blue.
They set up a noise like crickets,
A chattering wise and sweet,
And her hair was a folded flower
And the quiet of love in her feet.
We have recently discovered that in 1899 Yeats wrote the following:
"I dreamed this story exactly as I have written it, and dreamed another long dream after it, trying to make out its meaning, and whether I was to write it in prose or verse. The first dream was more a vision than a dream, for it was beautiful and coherent, and gave me the sense of illumination and exultaion one gets from visions, while the second dream was confused and meaningless.
The poem has always meant a great deal to me, though, as is the way with symbolic poems, it has not always meant quite the same thing.
Blake would have said, "The authors are in eternity", and I am quite sure they can only be questioned in dreams".
[This quote from: "Notes", P 44 at the rear of: "The Collected Poems". 1935 Edition. Macmillan].
Walter de la Mare. 1909.
"Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
’Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,’ he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.
"All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace"
I like to think (and the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
like pure water touching clear sky.
I like to think (right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
as if they were flowers with spinning blossoms.
I like to think (it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over by machines of loving grace.
Richard Brautigan (above center). 1967.
Handwritten on a scrap of paper.
We found this beautiful poem on October 1st, tucked into the back of one of our bookshelves….
“Sonnet for Hilary, with Love”
Your womani heart is not a transient thing;
It seeks to stay, unselfishly to give
Itself to life, create a song to sing
That reassures and charts the way to live
With feeling, quick to laughter, quick to tear.
You weigh decisions with the thoughtless world
Who puts upon the scale subconscious fear
Of loss, when ribbons of remembrance twirled
Around your heart must find with strength,
Not weaker with the task of much untying.
So go in peace, beloved friend; let no length
Of love disturb you by denying.
Although we may be slaves to time and space,
Love is the freedom distance can’t efface.
Overheard in County Sligo
I married a man from County Roscommon
and I live in the back of beyond
with a field of cows and a yard of hens
and six white geese on the pond.
At my door’s a square of yellow corn
caught up by its corners and shaken,
and the road runs down through the open gate
and freedom’s there for the taking.
I had thought to work on the Abbey stage
or have my name in a book,
to see my thought on the printed page,
or still the crowd with a look.
But I turn to fold the breakfast cloth
and to polish the lustre and brass,
to order and dust the tumbled rooms
and find my face in the glass.
I ought to feel I’m a happy woman
for I lie in the lap of the land,
but I married the man from County Roscommon
and I live at the back of beyond.
Having inherited a vigorous mind
From my old fathers, I must nourish dream.
And leave a woman and a man behind
As vigorous of mind, and yet it seems
Life scarce can cast a fragrance on the wind,
Scarce spread a glory to the morning beams,
But the torn petals strew the garden plot;
And there’s but common greenness after that.
And what if my descendants lose the flower
Through natural declension of the soul,
Through too much business with the passing hour,
Through too much play, or marriage with a fool?
May this laborious stair and this stark tower
Become a roofless ruin that the owl
May build in the cracked masonry and cry
Her desolation to the desolate sky.
The Primum Mobile that fashioned us
Has made the very owls in circles move;
And I, that count myself most prosperous,
Seeing that love and friendship are enough,
For an old neighbour’s friendship chose the house
And decked and altered it for a girl’s love,
And know whatever flourish and decline
These stones remain their monument and mine.
"The Destruction of Sennacherib"
(11 Kings X1X. Vs 35-37)
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.
Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!
And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.
And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.
And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!
(Hebrew Melodies 1815)