Diary of the Plague Year: Day 73 27 May 2020: Quotidian Poetry: Paul Celan (1920 – 1970)

Autumn eats its leaf out of my hand: we are friends.
From the nuts we shell time and we teach it to walk:
then time returns to the shell.
In the mirror it’s Sunday,
in dream there is room for sleeping,
our mouths speak the truth.
My eye moves down to the sex of my loved one:
we look at each other,
we exchange dark words,
we love each other like poppy and recollection,
we sleep like wine in the conches,
like the sea in the moon’s blood ray.
We stand by the window embracing, and people look up from
     the street:
it is time they knew!
It is time the stone made an effort to flower,
time unrest had a beating heart.
It is time it were time.
It is time.
Selected Poems
Penguin Poetry

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.

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
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?

Sean O'Brien

Picador Classic

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 71 25 May 2020: Quotidian Poetry: Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)

The woods grew deeper and deeper. The red trunks bigger and bigger. Thegreen crowns heavier and heavier. The air darker and darker. The busheslusher and lusher. The mushrooms thicker and thicker. Until there wasnothing but mushrooms to walk on. It was harder and harder for the man to walk, to force his way through without slipping. But on he went anyway repeating faster and faster and over and over the same sentence: – –
                       The scars that mend
                       Colours that blend.
To his left and slightly behind him walked a woman. Every time the man finished his sentence, she said with great assurance and rolling her r’s vigorously:
Verrry cleverrrr.
Translated and with an introduction by
Elizabeth R. Napier
Yale University Press

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 22 6 April 2020

After yesterday’s deluge the sun is out – I am just scurrying out to rake up more grass and then start mowing …

Haymaking in April 6 April 2020

Fuck these April showers.

Another poem by Blake:

The Voice of the Ancient Bard.

Youth of delight come hither.
And see the opening morn,
Image of truth new born.
Doubt is fled & clouds of reason.
Dark disputes & artful teazing,
Folly is an endless maze,
Tangled roots perplex her ways,
How many have fallen there!
They stumble all night over bones of the dead:
And feel they know not what but care;
And wish to lead others when they should be led


Haystacks April 6 2020

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 22 6 April 2020: Quotidian Poetry William Blake (1757-1827)

William Blake

The Sick Rose

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm.
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.


Songs of Innocence and Experience
Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul
William Blake

Tate Publishing

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 20 4 April 2020: Quotidian Poetry Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

Rainer Maria Rilke


You are not nearer God than we;
he’s far from everyone
And yet your hands most wonderfully
reveal his benison.
From woman’s sleeves none ever grew
so ripe, so shimmeringly:
I am the day, I am the dew,
you, Lady, are the Tree.

Pardon, now my long journey’s done,
I had forgot to say
what he who sat as in the sun,
grand in his gold array,
told me to tell you, pensive one
(space has bewildered me).
I am the start of what’s begun,
you, Lady, are the Tree.

I spread my wings out wide and rose,
the space around grew less;
your little house quite overflows
with my abundant dress.
But still you keep your solitude
and hardly notice me:
I’m but a breeze within the wood,
you, Lady, are the Tree.

The angels tremble in their choir,
grow pale, and separate:
never were longing and desire
so vague and yet so great.
Something perhaps is going to be
that you perceived in dream.
Hail to you! For my soul can see
that you are ripe and teem.

You lofty gate, that any day
may open for our good:
your ear my longing songs assay,
my word – I know now – lost its way
in you as in a wood.

And thus your last dream was designed
to be fulfilled by me.
God looked at me: he made me blind …

You, Lady, are the Tree.



The Book of Images
Selected Poems

Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by J.B. Leishman
Penguin Poetry

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 19 3 April 2020: Green tomato chutney

Lunch today is goat’s brie with home-made green tomato chutney.

The great thing about writing a blog is that you don’t have to be falsely modest and when I say this is the best chutney I have ever had I really mean it.

The annoying thing about not really following recipes and belonging to the flying-by-the-seat-of-your pants cookery school is that sometimes you really wish you had made a note of how you actually did it.

I am convinced cooking is actually a form of alchemy and all sorts of unlikely influences enter the equation, your emotional state at the time, a misaligned planet, the weather. It is not just a matter of slavishly following recipes.  I made this chutney on the eve of returning to Folkestone to see my mother who was not expected to make it when I last spoke to the family.

I was given a boxful of green tomatoes from J and so I decided to make some bottled tomato sauce and the chutney the evening before my journey on the overnight bus.  I had never made chutney before and looked up the easiest recipe on the internet. I decided to halve the amount of vinegar and quadruple the amount of garlic and to add ginger. Sultanas were added for good measure and various spices.  The whole lot bottled went into the chest-of-drawers in my spare room to seethe for the two months I was away.

Well, the results are spectacular. It is really, really good. I think the added ooopmh may be due to the Chinese Five Spice Powder. I wonder if I could ever replicate it?

My mother made a full recovery by the way and is living happily in Folkestone.

Lunch April 3 2020 Chutney

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 19 3 April 2020: Being a ghost in your own life

On the radio Schubert. Composer of the Week R3. Playing: String Quartet in G major, D 887 from the last year of his life.

Song “None but the lonely heart” – from a poem by Goethe.

Oh God, the sheer delight of drinking good coffee on the garden steps. The outline of hills visible through bare trees of a late spring. A book of poetry. London seems as remote to me now as the Alexandria of C.P. Cavafy. And it is the body that remembers.

Another poem by C.P. Cavafy:

The Afternoon Sun

This room, how well I know it.
Now they’re renting it and the one next door
as commercial space. The whole house is now
offices for brokers, salesmen, entire firms.

Ah, this room, how familiar it is!

Here, near the door, stood the sofa,
a Turkish carpet just before it;
nearby was a shelf with two yellow vases;
on the right – no, facing it – was an armoire with a mirror.
The desk where he wrote stood in the middle,
along with three large, wicker chairs.
Beside the window lay the bed
where we made love so many times.

All of these poor old furnishings must still exist

Beside the window lay the bed;
the afternoon sunlight reached only half way across it …
That afternoon, at four o’clock, we parted,
just for a week … alas,
that week became forever.


C.P. Cavafy
Remember, Body …
Penguin Little Black Classics No.43



It is the strangest feeling to wander as a ghost in your own life. That afternoon as I walked past 208 I saw the movers were in. Flotsam and jetsam flowed into the back of a large van. The facade of the house was painted a tasteful magnolia and what had been a ramshackle collection of squatted flats was now the desirable residence, entire, for millionaires. I remember the look of sheer horror on my mother’s face at the peeling grey paint, dripping overflow with moss and ferns flourishing in cracks. I used to live here once, could I ….?

“Go on then Love, there’s nobody in.”

But he was wrong. Each floor was thronged and, turning a corner on the stairs, I half expected to walk into myself. Strange to be a ghost in your own life. Muffled by expensive wool carpets, designer wallpaper the house breathed money and comfort and my ghosts stirred uneasily, unused to such luxury.

We lived in the basement and first floor. I was alone that summer, Fia had gone back to Sweden, by train and boat as we did in those days. I was having cold baths every day, as we had yet to organise a heating system, and subsisting on porridge and spaghetti with butter. I positively looked forward to that spaghetti every evening; tossed in unsalted butter with a smidgen of salt crushed on top and flavoured with the sauce of hunger.

When I met Didier I was sitting on the back doorstep, soaking up the afternoon sun and admiring the weeds in the huge and overgrown garden. He introduced himself as our neighbour, obviously French but sounding as if he had been to an English public school. I was invited to visit that evening.

Their flat was directly above ours – bare floorboards with pale green walls. The dark London night with fronds of chestnut trees pressing against the windows created a brightly lit aquarium. Edith Piaf on the record player, P’tcaf (little black coffee) the black lab puppy clattered happily about. Newspaper was down. Didier appeared with coffee and Paul and Jeff (Jean Francois) came in to introduce themselves. It was a moment of mutual enchantment. Paul, a figure from the Commedia dell’Arte, all arms, legs and exaggerated poses, exuding a joyous innocence; Jeff, a small African carving, laughing inwardly, kissing my hand, the epitome of sardonic French charm.

I was asked to stay to dinner.