Diary of the Plague Year: Day 85 8 June 2020: Boethius (477–524 AD)

‘Gazing at my grief-dejected face, Philosophy
Deplored my chaotic mind’ DE CONS. I.I.14
Just look at him! his mind has sunk deep down,
Has lost its inner light, become so dull;
It reaches out towards external darkness
Each time a toxic wave of worry swells
Into a tsunami, launched by worldly gales.
This was the man who loved the open heavens
And journeyed down the trackways of the skies.
He’d study rose-red suns and icy moons
And calculate the planets’ sinuous paths,
Subjecting them to mathematic laws.
This was the man devoted to enquiring
Why roaring hurricanes assault the sea
What spirit turns the sphere of the fixed stars
And why the sun climbs from the smouldering east
Then drops beneath the waters of the west;
And what ensures the gentle days of spring
Become so temperate that rosebuds pop
And multiply their beauty through the land;
And who at harvest when the time is ripe
Endows the autumn with its swollen grapes.
Revealing nature’s secrets was his life.
But he lies there, light of reason dead.
His neck’s encumbered by such heavy chains
His head is forced to loll towards the ground
To contemplate the uninspiring mud.


Diary of the Plague Year: Day 81 4 June 2020: Quotidian Poetry: Miklós Radnóti (1909-1944)

As she comes in, cackles burst from the door,
The potted plants all stamp, shaking the floor,
A blond streak, small and drowsy, in her hair
Cheeps like a frightened sparrow in the straw.
Clumsily whirling towards her through the air,
The ageing light-flex too lets out a squawk:
Everything spins – to jot it down, no chance.
She has come back. She has been gone all day.
She bears an enormous poppy in her hands
To drive death, my adversary, away.
5 January 1940
Miklós Radnóti
Translated by George Gömöri and Clive Wilmer
Enitharmon Press

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 66 20 May 2020: Quotidian Poetry: Martial (40 AD – 102/104 AD)

Martial was known for his witty, scathing and sophisticated epigrams:

He’s healthy – yet he’s deathly pale;
Seldom drinks wine and has a hale
Digestion – but looks white and ill;
Sunbathes, rouges his cheeks – and still
Has a pasty face; licks all the cunts
In Rome – and never blushes once.
And then you are completely blindsided by:
To you, my parents, I send on
This little girl Erotion,
The slave I loved, that by your side
Her ghost need not be terrified
Of the pitch darkness underground
Or the great jaws of Hades’ hound.
This winter she would have completed
Her sixth year had she not been cheated
By just six days. Lisping my name,
May she continue the sweet game
Of childhood happily down there
In two such good, old spirits’ care.
Lie lightly on her, turf and dew:
She put so little weight on you.


Selected and translated by James Michie

Penguin Classics

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 37 21 April 2020: Quotidian Poetry Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935)



Surround with tall walls whoever you dream you are.
Then, where the garden can be seen
Through the gate with its bestowing bars,
Place whatever flowers are the most smiling,
So they may know you only like that.
Where no one will see it, plant nothing.

Make flowerbeds like the ones other people have
Where glances may glimpse your garden,
Such as you are going to show it to them.
But where you are yours and it is seen by no one,
Let the flowers that come from the ground grow
And let the natural grasses flourish.

Make of yourself a two-fold guarded being;
And may no one who might see or watch
Know more of who you are than a garden –
A garden conspicuous and set-apart,
Behind which the native flower brushes
Grass so poor that not even you can see it …

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 31 15 April 2020: Quotidian Poetry Catullus (c. 87 BC to c. 55BC)



The yacht you see there, friends, says that she’s been
The fastest piece of timber ever seen;
She swears that once she could have overhauled
All rival boats, whether the challenge called
For racing under canvas or with oars.
And she can cite good witnesses – the shores
Of the terrible Adriatic, the wild seas
Off famous Rhodes, the island Cyclades,
Thrace’s Propontis and the savage bays
Of Pontus, on whose heights, in the old days
When she was still a yacht-to-be, she stood
And whispered with her leaves as a green wood
And, boxtree-clothed Cytorus, so do you,
My yacht maintains, remembering that the copse
That bore and raised her was your own hill-top’s,
That in your waves she dipped her first oar-blade
And then through mobs of violent seas conveyed
Her master safely, whether the wind played
A port of starboard tune, or Jove’s fair weather
Fell square astern and stretched both sheets together;
Yet never had to make a single vow
To the shore gods all the way, to where she now
Rides the transparent lake at anchorage.
But these are memories. Now, in her old age,
Retired to this calm haven, she devotes
Her prow to the Heavenly Twins, patrons of boats.


The Poems of Catullus

Translated by James Michie

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 30 14 April 2020: Quotidian Poetry Christopher Logue (1926-2011)




Starred sky. Calm sky.
Only the water’s luminosity
Marks the land’s end.

A light is moving down the beach.
It wavers. Comes towards the Fleet.
The hulls like upturned glasses made of jet.

Is it a God?
No details.


Now we can hear a drum.

And now we see it:
Six warriors with flaming wands,
Eight veteran bearers, and one Prince,
Patroclus, dead, crossed axes on his chest.
Upon a bier.

Gold on the wrists that bear the Prince aloft.
Tears on the cheeks of those who lead with wands.
Multiple injuries adorn the corpse.
And we, the Army, genuflect in line.


  Five years ago Achilles robbed a Phrygian citadel
And kept the temple cauldron for himself.
The poet who accompanied him to Troy
Deciphered the inscriptions on its waist.
One said:
The other:

And when from zigzagged ewers his female slaves
Had filled and built a fire beneath its knees,
Achilles laved the flesh and pinned the wounds
And dressed the yellow hair and spread
Ointments from Thetis’ cave on every mark
Of what Patroclus was, and kissed its mouth,
And wet its face with tears, and kissed and kissed again,
And said: “My love, I swear you will not burn
Till Hector’s severed head is in my lap.”



War Music
An Account of Books 16 to 19
of Homer’s Illiad

Jonathan Cape
Thirty Bedford Square London