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A poetry thread

I'd like a thread for posting poems on, so that I don't have to start a new thread each time I want to post one.

From 'Songs for a Condemned Queen'

I wove this thread,
Gold, blue and red,
A thousand times till fingers bled.
     But it was all for show
     And I am weary now.

A thousand times,
A thousand times,
The stitches met like little rhymes.
     But it was all for show
     And I am weary now.

Bull, fish and lark
And half the Ark
And pretty dogs that try to bark.
     But it was all for show
     And I am weary now.

The fowls and apes
Are simply shapes:
The frozen fancy glares and gapes.
     For it was all for show
     And I am weary now.

The silver moth
Is still and wroth
To suffer in the prisoned cloth.
     For it was all for show
     And I am weary now.

The needle's art
Has played its part
To animate my heavy heart.
     But it was all for show
     And I am weary now.

The water roars
On death's dark shores
And what I thought was mine is yours.
     For it was all for show
     And I am weary now.

John Fuller

Gareth. Thanks for posting that lovely John Fuller whose name I know, but not his work. M

Bears by Adrienne Rich

                   Wonderful bears that walked my room all night,
                   Where have you gone, your sleek and fairy fur,
                   Your eyes’ veiled and imperious light?

                   Brown bears as rich as mocha or musk,
                   White opalescent bears whose fur stood out
                   Electric in the deepening dusk.

                   And great black bears that seemed more blue than black,
                   More violet than blue against the dark –
                   Where are you now?  Upon what track

                    Mutter your muffled paws that used to tread
                    So softly, surely, up the creakless stair
                    While I lay listening in bed?

                    When did I lose you? Whose have you become?
                    Why do I wait and wait and never hear
                    Your thick nocturnal pacing in my room?
                    My bears, who keeps you now, in pride and fear?

On Zacheus

Me thinks, I see, with what a busie hast,
Zacheus climb'd the Tree: But, O, how fast,
How full of speed, canst thou imagine (when
Our Saviour call'd) he powder'd downe agen!
He ne’re made tryall, if the boughs were sound,
Or rotten; nor how far 'twas to the ground:
There was no danger fear'd; At such a Call,
Hee'l venture nothing, that dare feare a fall;
Needs must hee downe, by such a Spirit driven;
Nor could he fall, unlesse he fell to Heaven:
Downe came Zacheus, ravisht from the Tree;
Bird that was shot ne’re dropt so quicke as he.

Francis Quarles

Here's something I never realised - Langston Hughes was descended from Francis Quarles. Fascinating and barely credible. A line stretching across the generations.

That Quarles poem is highly intriguing...and so is the Langston Hughes connection....

The Quarles poem is of course about Zacchaeus the tax collector, who climbed up a tree to spot Jesus in a crowd and was unexpectedly asked to tea. One of the first Bible stories I remember learning. I preserve the spelling from Helen Gardner's Penguin anthology of the Metaphysicals.

Here's a different poem.

The Wall-flower

The place where soon I think to lie,
In its old creviced nook hard-by
     Rears many a weed:
If parties bring you there, will you
Drop slily in a grain or two
     Of wall-flower seed?

I shall not see it, and (too sure!)
I shall not ever hear that your
     Light step was there;
But the rich odour some fine day
Will, what I cannot do, repay
     That little care.

Walter Savage Landor

I can't imagine Landor is read much nowadays.  He's most famous for his 'Imaginary Conversations'  Which I have never read.

Tonight is All Soul's Night. I am afraid that, not being religious, its significance as a religious festival escapes me. But as a poetry lover, I can't help but think of this magnificent poem by Yeats:


Midnight has come and the great Christ Church bell
And many a lesser bell sound through the room;
And it is All Souls' Night.
And two long glasses brimmed with muscatel
Bubble upon the table. A ghost may come;
For it is a ghost's right,
His element is so fine
Being sharpened by his death,
To drink from the wine-breath
While our gross palates drink from the whole wine.

I need some mind that, if the cannon sound
From every quarter of the world, can stay
Wound in mind's pondering,
As mummies in the mummy-cloth are wound;
Because I have a marvellous thing to say,
A certain marvellous thing
None but the living mock,
Though not for sober ear;
It may be all that hear
Should laugh and weep an hour upon the clock.

Horton's the first I call. He loved strange thought
And knew that sweet extremity of pride
That's called platonic love,
And that to such a pitch of passion wrought
Nothing could bring him, when his lady died,
Anodyne for his love.
Words were but wasted breath;
One dear hope had he:
The inclemency
Of that or the next winter would be death.

Two thoughts were so mixed up I could not tell
Whether of her or God he thought the most,
But think that his mind's eye,
When upward turned, on one sole image fell;
And that a slight companionable ghost,
Wild with divinity,
Had so lit up the whole
Immense miraculous house
The Bible promised us,
It seemed a gold-fish swimming in a bowl.

On Florence Emery I call the next,
Who finding the first wrinkles on a face
Admired and beautiful,
And by foreknowledge of the future vexed;
Diminished beauty, multiplied commonplace;
Preferred to teach a school
Away from neighbour or friend,
Among dark skins, and there
Permit foul years to wear
Hidden from eyesight to the unnoticed end.

Before that end much had she ravelled out
From a discourse in figurative speech
By some learned Indian
On the soul's journey. How it is whirled about
Wherever the orbit of the moon can reach,
Until it plunge into the sun;
And there, free and yet fast,
Being both Chance and Choice,
Forget its broken toys
And sink into its own delight at last.

I call MacGregor Mathers from his grave,
For in my first hard spring-time we were friends,
Although of late estranged.
I thought him half a lunatic, half knave,
And told him so, but friendship never ends;
And what if mind seem changed,
And it seem changed with the mind,
When thoughts rise up unbid
On generous things that he did
And I grow half contented to be blind!

He had much industry at setting out,
Much boisterous courage, before loneliness
Had driven him crazed;
For meditations upon unknown thought
Make human intercourse grow less and less;
They are neither paid nor praised.
but he'd object to the host,
The glass because my glass;
A ghost-lover he was
And may have grown more arrogant being a ghost.

But names are nothing. What matter who it be,
So that his elements have grown so fine
The fume of muscatel
Can give his sharpened palate ecstasy
No living man can drink from the whole wine.
I have mummy truths to tell
Whereat the living mock,
Though not for sober ear,
For maybe all that hear
Should laugh and weep an hour upon the clock.

Such thought — such thought have I that hold it tight
Till meditation master all its parts,
Nothing can stay my glance
Until that glance run in the world's despite
To where the damned have howled away their hearts,
And where the blessed dance;
Such thought, that in it bound
I need no other thing,
Wound in mind's wandering
As mummies in the mummy-cloth are wound.

If I should ever by chance grow rich
                             I’ll buy Codham, Cockridden, and Childerditch,
                             Roses, Pyrgo, and Lapwater,
                             And let them all to my eldest daughter.
                             The rent I shall ask of her will be only
                             Each year’s first violets, white and lonely,
                             The first primoses and orchises –
                             She must find them before I do, that is.
                             But if she finds a blossom on furze
                             Without rent they shall all for ever be hers,
                             Whenever I am sufficiently rich:
                             Codham, Cockridden, and Childertditch,
                             Roses, Pyrgo, and Lapwater, -
                             I shall give them all to my eldest daughter.  
                                              Edward Thomas

Wilfred Owen died on this day, aged only 25. Killed in war, just a few days before Armistice.

A few years later, when Rabindranath Tagore was visiting Britain, he received a letter from a Mrs Susan Owen, Wilfred Owen’s mother. She told him that when her son had also been a poet, and that when he had last been at home, he had read to her a translation of one of Rabindranath’s poems. And when they returned his pocket book to her afterwards, it contained a scrap of paper bearing this translation. I do not have the exact translation Wilfred Owen had read, but the opening lines of this poem begin, in my own inadequate words: “Before the day I must depart, may I say just this - What I have seen, what I have received, has been beyond compare.”  

I was listening to Britten War Requiem only yesterday. In it, Britten intercuts the Lachrymosa with the poem “Futility”, Owen’s almost unbearable lament for a dead comrade.

Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it awoke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.
Think how it wakes the seeds—
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved,—still warm,—too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth's sleep at all?

No matter how often this poem is read it's always deeply moving.

I have been reading Portrait of a Marriage by Nigel Nicolson and he quotes this poem by Vita Sackville-West (who never seems to be known as Vita Nicolson despite her long marriage to Harold).  I found Vita's style a bit overblown in her account of her affair with Violet Trefusis but this was written much later in the second world war and is simpler.

Does it have a title? There isn't one here:

I must not tell how dear you are to me.
It is unknown, a secret from myself
Who should know best. I would not if I could
Expose the meaning of such mystery.

I loved you then, when love was Spring, and May.
Eternity is here and now, I thought;
The pure and perfect moment briefly caught
As in your arms, but still a child, I lay.

Loved you when summer deepened into June
And those fair, wild, ideal dreams of youth
Were true yet dangerous and half unreal
As when Endymion kissed the mateless moon.

But now when autumn yellows all the leaves
And thirty seasons mellow our long love,
How rooted, how secure, how strong, how rich,
How full the barn that holds our garnered sheaves!
Joe McWilliams

I'm feeling quite Mike Harveyish today, having pulled a book off the shelf more or less at random and found it to contain something called 'The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.'
Who knew?
This was my mother's, inscribed by her to herself in 1953. What a gal.

It consists of quatrains (I believe they're called), with the occasional exotic print, translated by Edward Fitzgerald, who I read did the 'first and most famous' translation of the Rubaiyat. Better yet, we may be related, since my maternal great-granny was a Fitzgerald

The verse itself? I'm afraid I remain unmoved. Pleasant enough, I suppose, and it evokes the mysterious east. But.....

Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night

Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:

And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught

The Sultan's Turret in a Noose of Light.


Can't argue with that. A mother to be proud of, Joe.

Wha fe call i'

Miss Ivy, tell mi supmn,
An mi wan' yuh ansa good.
When yuh eat roun 12 o'clock,
Wassit yuh call yuh food?

For fram mi come yah mi confuse,
An mi noh know which is right,
Weddah dinnah a de food yuh eat midday,
Or de one yuh eat a night.

Mi know sey breakfus a de mawnin one,
But cyan tell ef suppa a six or t'ree,
An one ting mi wi nebba undastan,
Is when yuh hab yuh tea.

Miss A dung a London ha lunch 12 o'clock,
An dinnah she hab bout t'ree,
Suppah she hab bout six o'clock,
But she noh hab noh tea.

Den mi go a Cambridge todda day,
Wi bad dinnah roun' bout two,
T’ree hour later mi frien she sey,
Mi hungry, how bout yuh?

Joe sey im tink a suppa time,
An mi sey yes, mi agree,
She halla, ‘Suppa? a five o'clock,
Missis yuh mussa mean tea!’

Den Sunday mi employer get up late,
Soh she noh hab breakfus nor lunch,
But mi hear she a talk bout ‘Elevenses’,
An one sinting dem call ‘Brunch’.

Breakfus, elevenses, an brunch,
lunch, dinnah, suppa, tea,
Mi brain cyan wuk out which is which,
An when a de time fe hab i'.

For jus' when mi mek headway,
Sinting dreadful set mi back,
And dis when mi tink mi know dem all,
Mi hear bout one name snack.

Mi noh tink mi a badda wid no name,
Mi dis a nyam when time mi hungry,
For doah mi 'tomach wi glad fe de food,
I' couldn care less whey mi call i'.

Valerie Bloom

I was a little put off by the language here but then I decided to try and read it.  Its sentiments are something even Anglo-Saxon-bred people struggle with in your English literature.  Even here if I say "dinner-time" I feel I need to explain what I mean.  We now have dinner at night, but when I was young we had it at midday or thereabouts.  (Actually when I was at primary school, our family at home had dinner at lunchtime and we schoolkids had it kept warmed and dried out when we got home from school just after 3.)  

But when I read older books set in England and they talk of tea, I don't know what time of day they are talking about.  Sometimes what I would think of as afternoon tea is taken about 6pm and followed by dinner at 8.30 or so.  

When was this poem written, Gareth?

It was breakfast, lunch and tea at home when I was a nipper. It's so complicated sorting through the various words for mealtimes that I've never worked out if particular terms are e.g. southern or northern. I think breakfast, lunch and tea may be from my northern mother. Perhaps she overruled my Welsh father when it came to mealtime nomenclature. When I went to school aged 4, lunchtime was suddenly called dinnertime. I always felt the school was in the wrong.

Poem I'd guess from the 1980s or early 1990s. Although we didn't study it at school, it was in an anthology published by the NEAB examining board that we used. Reading it now, it seems to me lovely and lively. I'm pleased we looked at English-language poems from other cultures. One that we did study, by the Guyanese poet Grace Nichols:

Even Tho

Man I love
but won’t let you devour
even though
I’m all watermelon
and starapple and plum
when you touch me
even tho
I’m all seamoss
and jellyfish
and tongue

leh we go to de carnival

You be banana
I be avocado

leh we hug up
and brace-up
and sweet one another up

But then
leh we break free
yes, leh we break free

And keep to de motion
of we own person/ality

It strikes me that one reason we didn't read the group of poems containing the Valerie Bloom is that very few of us could have read it aloud in class without sounding either incompetent or racist, and our teacher Mr Withers certainly wouldn't have been foolish enough to attempt it. I read it aloud last night in a passable West Indian accent and enjoyed the experience, though I wouldn't wish to replicate it before an audience.

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