Diary of the Plague Year: Day 72 26 May 2020: Quotidian Poetry: Sean O’Brien (1952 – )

This poem seems particularly pertinent today. Brilliant and I love the rhyme structure.

VALEDICTORY
 
Those living and those yet to be
Are all her immortality:
The subjects of the world she made
Still speak her language, still afraid
          To change it.
She saw her people as they were:
Don’t-Cares who can’t be made to care:
These sentimental hypocrites
Let her, their true-blue Clausewitz
          Arrange it.
 
Let poverty without parole
Replace the right to draw the dole.
Let coppers pulling triple time
Turn opposition into crime
          At Orgreave.
Let the General Belgrano,
Sunk to save our sheep, our guano,
Mark the freezing south Atlantic
As the empire’s last romantic
           War grave.
 
Let children learn no history
These days, but only how to be
As economically astute
As all the dealers snorting toot
           For dinner,
Desperate to anticipate
Like destiny the nation state’s
Ineluctable decline
To client status: I me mine,
           The winner.
 
Branch libraries and playing fields
Deliver rather slower yields
Than asset-stripping mountebanks
Can rake in flogging dope and tanks;
           Great Britain!
Strange: no one nowadays admits
To voting in the gang of shits
Who staffed her army of the night:
Our history, it seems, is quite
            Rewritten.
 
When it comes to telling lies
The change is hard to recognize.
What can’t be hidden can be burned.
She must be gratified: we’ve learned
            Her lesson.
Now when some sanctimonious ape
Says, No, there never was a tape,
A bribe, a private meeting with
Et cetera, where are you, Smith
             And Wesson?
 
FROM: 

THE DROWNED BOOK
Sean O'Brien

Picador Classic

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 57 11 May 2020: Quotidian Poetry: Keith Douglas (1920-1944)

STRANGE GARDENER
 
Over the meadows
framed in the quiet osiers, dreams the pond
region of summer gnat-busyness
and in the afternoon’s blue drowsiness
plops among the water shadows
and the cool trees wait beyond.
 
A young man lived there
with a swift, sad face, and full of phantasy
repeating as he heard it
the alliterative speech of the water spirit
smoothing his pale hair
with automatic ecstasy.
 
This was his garden
Uncultivated (order hated him)
whence (in a winter madness
whose scourge drove him to recklessness)
seeing the frost harden
the water spirit translated him.

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 57 11 May 2020: Quotidian Poetry: Keith Douglas (1920-1944)

Today’s poet is Keith Douglas who died in WWII at the age of 24.

I remember being in an English Literature class with Miss Hahn. We were reading his poem Vergissmeinnicht. In the poem he uses the phrase “the swart flies move”. None of us had a clue what the word “swart” meant. It means black. It was one of those moments when you are young and suddenly realise that language is something other than this utilitarian thing and there is a whole other way of describing the world, more akin to music. The poem I have chosen to post today was written when he was 15. I will post another of his tomorrow. One of the late poems.

Meanwhile, this is a very interesting and very moving account of his work and life, by Owen Sheers, a fellow poet, and playwright. His play, Unicorns, Almost, was on R4 the other day. Very enjoyable. It’s on Sounds for the next 29 days.

Here is another film – about Douglas and Alun Lewis – the quality is not great but worth watching just to hear poet Tom Paulin read.

And here is Clive James reading Canoe:

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 50 4 May 2020: Quotidian Poetry: Eight Metaphysical Poets Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)

TO HIS COY MISTRESS

  Had we but World enough and Time,
This coyness Lady were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long Love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges side
Should’st Rubies find: I by the Tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood:
And you should if you please refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable Love should grow
Vaster than Empires and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine Eyes, and on thy Forehead Gaze;
Two hundred to adore each Breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest.
An Age at least to every part,
And the last Age should show your Heart.
For Lady you deserve this state;
Nor would I love at lower rate.
  But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged Chariot hurrying near:
And yonder all before us lye
Desarts of vast Eternity.
Thy Beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble Vault, shall sound
My echoing Song; then Worms shall try
That long-preserved Virginity:
And your quaint Honour turn to dust;
And into ashes all my Lust.
The Grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
  Now therefore, while the youthful hew
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing Soul transpires
At every pore with instant Fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am’rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our Time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt pow’r.
Let us roll all our Strength and all
Our sweetness, up into one Ball:
And tear our Pleasures with rough strife,
Through the Iron gates of Life:
Thus, though we cannot make our Sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 46 30 April 2020: The Horses – Edwin Muir

My neighbours moving some of their horses. A good cue for one of my favourite poems, by Edwin Muir. Some eerie correspondences with the present situation …

THE HORSES

Barely a twelvemonth after
The seven days war that put the world to sleep,
Late in the evening the strange horses came.
By then we had made our covenant with silence,
But in the first few days it was so still
We listened to our breathing and were afraid.
On the second day
The radios failed; we turned the knobs; no answer.
On the third day a warship passed us, heading north,
Dead bodies piled on the deck. On the sixth day
A plane plunged over us into the sea. Thereafter
Nothing. The radios dumb;
And still they stand in corners of our kitchens,
And stand, perhaps, turned on, in a million rooms
All over the world. But now if they should speak,
If on a sudden they should speak again,
If on the stroke of noon a voice should speak,
We would not listen, we would not let it bring
That old bad world that swallowed its children quick
At one great gulp. We would not have it again.
Sometimes we think of the nations lying asleep,
Curled blindly in impenetrable sorrow,
And then the thought confounds us with its strangeness.
The tractors lie about our fields; at evening
They look like dank sea-monsters couched and waiting.
We leave them where they are and let them rust:
“They’ll moulder away and be like other loam.”
We make our oxen drag our rusty plows,
Long laid aside. We have gone back
Far past our fathers’ land.
                           And then, that evening
Late in the summer the strange horses came.
We heard a distant tapping on the road,
A deepening drumming; it stopped, went on again
And at the corner changed to hollow thunder.
We saw the heads
Like a wild wave charging and were afraid.
We had sold our horses in our fathers’ time
To buy new tractors. Now they were strange to us
As fabulous steeds set on an ancient shield.
Or illustrations in a book of knights.
We did not dare go near them. Yet they waited,
Stubborn and shy, as if they had been sent
By an old command to find our whereabouts
And that long-lost archaic companionship.
In the first moment we had never a thought
That they were creatures to be owned and used.
Among them were some half a dozen colts
Dropped in some wilderness of the broken world,
Yet new as if they had come from their own Eden.
Since then they have pulled our plows and borne our
  loads,
But that free servitude still can pierce our hearts.
Our life is changed; their coming our beginning.

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 46 30 April 2020: Quotidian Poetry: Eight Metaphysical Poets Henry Vaughan (1621-1695)

THE MORNING WATCH
 
O joys! Infinite sweetness! With what flowres,
And shoots of glory, my soul breakes, and buds!
                   All the long houres
                   Of night, and Rest
                   Through the still shrouds
                   Of sleep, and Clouds,
             This Dew fell on my Breast;
                   O how it Blouds,
And Spirits all my Earth! heark! In what Rings,
And Hymning Circulations the quick world
                   Awakes, and sings;
                   And rising winds,
                   And failing springs,
                   Birds, beasts, all things
            Adore him in their kinds.
                   Thus all is hurl’d
In sacred Hymnes, and Order, the great Chime
And Symphony of nature. Prayer is
                   The world in tune,
                   A spirit-voyce,
                   And vocall joyes
            Whose Echo is heav’ns blisse.          
                   O let me climbe.
When I lye down! The Pious soul by night
Is like a clouded starre, whose beames though said
                   To shed their light
                   Under some Cloud
                   Yet are above,
                   And shine, and move
            Beyond that mistie shroud.
                   So in my Bed
That Curtain’d grave, though sleep, like ashes, hide
My lamp, and life, both shall in thee abide.

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 44 28 April 2020: Quotidian Poetry: Eight Metaphysical Poets Cont’d Thomas Carew (1594/5-1639/40)

INGRATEFULL BEAUTY THREATENED
 
Know Celia, (since thou art so proud,)
  ‘Twas I that gave thee thy renown:
Thou hadst, in the forgotten crowd
  Of common beauties, liv’d unknown,
Had not my verse exhal’d thy name
And with it impt the wings of fame.
 
That killing power is none of thine,
  I gave it to thy voyce, and eyes:
Thy sweets, thy graces, are all mine:
  Thou are my star, shin’st in my skies;
Then dart not from thy borrowed sphere
Lightning on him that fixt thee there.
 
Tempt me with such affrights no more,
  Lest what I made, I uncreate:
Let fools thy mystique forms adore,
  I’ll know thee in thy mortall state;
Wise Poets that wrapp’d Truth in tales,
Knew her themselves through all her vailes.

An example of 17th century PR.