From: BEOWULF AND GRENDEL Attend! We have heard of the thriving of the throne of Denmark, how the folk-kings flourished in former days, how those royal athelings earned that glory. Was it not Scyld Shefing that shook the halls, Took mead-benches, taught encroaching foes to fear him – who, found in childhood, lacked clothing? Yet he lived and prospered, grew in strength and stature under the heavens until the clans settled in the sea-coasts neighbouring over the whale-road all must obey him and give tribute. He was a good king! FROM: Beowulf and Grendel A Verse Translation by Michael Alexander Penguin 60s
CORONA 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. FROM: PAUL CELAN Selected Poems Penguin Poetry
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
WORDS Axes After whose stroke the wood rings, And the echoes! Echoes traveling Off from the center like horses. The sap Wells like tears, like the Water striving To re-establish its mirror Over the rock That drops and turns, A white skull, Eaten by weedy greens. Years later I Encounter them on the road---- Words dry and riderless, The indefatigable hoof-taps. While From the bottom of the pool, fixed stars Govern a life. FROM: Ariel SYLVIA PLATH Faber and Faber
TRANSIENT AS A ROSE Lat no man booste of conning nor vertu, Of tresour, richesse, nor of sapience, Of worldly support, for all cometh of Jesu: Counsail, comfort, discresioun and prudence, Provisioun, forsight and providence, Like as the Lord of grace list dispoose; Som man hath wisdom, som man hath elloquence – All stant on chaunge, like a midsomer roose. Wholsom in smelling be the soote floures, Full delitable, outward, to the sight; The thorn is sharp, curyd with fresh coloures; (covered) All is nat gold that outward sheweth bright; A stokfish boon in dirkeness yeveth a light; Twen fair and foul, as God list dispoose, A difference atwix day and night – All stant on chaunge, like a midsomer roose. It was the Roose of the bloody feeld, Roose of Jericho that grew in Beedlem (Bethlehem) The five rooses portrayed on the sheeld, Splayed in the baneer at Jerusalem: The sonne was clips, and dirk in every rem, (eclipse, realm) When Christ Jesu five welles list uncloose Toward Paradis, called the rede strem – Of whos five woundes prent in your heart a roose. FROM: THE FLORA An Anthology of Poetry and Prose Compiled by Fiona MacMath
An extract from DART There the musky fishy genital smell of things not yet actual: shivering impulses, shadows, propensities, little amorous movements, quicksilver strainings and restrainings: each winter they gather here, twenty seals in this room behind the sea, all swaddled and tucked in fat, like the soul in its cylinder of flesh. With their grandmother mouths, with their dog-soft eyes, asking who’s this moving in the dark? Me. This is me, anonymous, water’s soliloquy, all names, all voices, Slip-Shape, this is Proteus, whoever that is, the shepherd of the seals, driving my many selves from cave to cave … FROM: Dart Alice Oswald Faber and Faber
VISITATIONS As one comes in another goes out. As one shakes out a tablecloth another is eating a hearty meal. As one sits down alone another listens to his lover’s heart beating. As one prays for deliverance, another delivers a letter or an explosive device. As one gathers the harvest, his brother lies in the doorway. As one finds a nice coincidence between numbers, his neighbour sees his coins disappear down the waiting slot. As one man examines the fruit of his labour his shadow tells beads, counts peas into the pot or stars in the sky and feels the night wind blowing on his face with all this coming and going. * As one goes out, the other comes in. It is light in the window where the angel bends over the stove giving the virgin a fright. It is bright at the top of the house where the road ends. There’s a distinct touch of gold in the gutter running with beer. There is translucence in the chipped saucer with its rim of used butter. There’s a glow on TV. There’s a faint sense of the luminous numinous in the alarm clock set for six in the morning and a kind of shine in the mirror the angels have learned to unlock and enter suddenly and an even harder to define radiance in the skin, in the shock of dawn with sheet turned down and bedroom curtains drawn.
GEORGE SZIRTES’ BLOG
VERGISSMEINNICHT Three weeks gone and the combatants gone returning over the nightmare ground we found the place again, and found the soldier sprawling in the sun. The frowning barrel of his gun overshadowing. As we came on that day, he hit my tank with one like the entry of a demon. Look. Here in the gunpit spoil the dishonoured picture of his girl who has put: Steffi. Vergissmeinnicht. in a copybook gothic script. We see him almost with content, abased, and seeming to have paid and mocked at by his own equipment that's hard and good when he's decayed. But she would weep to see today how on his skin the swart flies move; the dust upon the paper eye and the burst stomach like a cave. For here the lover and killer are mingled who had one body and one heart. And death who had the soldier singled has done the lover mortal hurt.
SIMPLIFY ME WHEN I AM DEAD Remember me when I am dead and simplify me when I'm dead. As the processes of earth strip off the colour of the skin: take the brown hair and blue eye and leave me simpler than at birth, when hairless I came howling in as the moon entered the cold sky. Of my skeleton perhaps, so stripped, a learned man will say "He was of such a type and intelligence," no more. Thus when in a year collapse particular memories, you may deduce, from the long pain I bore the opinions I held, who was my foe and what I left, even my appearance but incidents will be no guide. Time's wrong-way telescope will show a minute man ten years hence and by distance simplified. Through that lens see if I seem substance or nothing: of the world deserving mention or charitable oblivion, not by momentary spleen or love into decision hurled, leisurely arrive at an opinion. Remember me when I am dead and simplify me when I'm dead.
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: