Diary of the Plague Year: Day 74 28 May 2020: Quotidian Poetry: Beowulf and Grendel (8th Century England)

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

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

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

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 67 21 May 2020: Quotidian Poetry: Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)

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

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 65 19 May 2020: Quotidian Poetry: THE FLORA: John Lydgate (?1370 – ?1451)

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
 

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 64 18 May 2020: Quotidian Poetry: Alice Oswald (1966 – )

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

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 60 14 May 2020: Quotidian Poetry: George Szirtes (1948 -)

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

http://georgeszirtes.blogspot.com/

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 59 13 May 2020: Quotidian Poetry: Keith Douglas (1920-1944)

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.

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 58 12 May 2020: Quotidian Poetry: Keith Douglas (1920-1944)

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.
 

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: