Great PoetryPosted by G. Thompson Tue, March 27, 2018 12:17:10
The snow was falling
over my penknife
There was a movie
in the fireplace
The apples were wrapped
in 8 year-old blond hair
Starving and dirty
the janitor's daughter never
turned up in November
to pee from her sweet crack
on the gravel
I'll go back one day
when my cast is off
Elm leaves are falling
over my bow and arrow
Candy is going bad
and Boy Scout calendars
are on fire
My old mother
sits in her Cadillac
laughing in her Danube laugh
as I tell her that we own
all the worms in our lawn
Rust rust rust
in the engines of love and time
Leonard Cohen from Flowers for Hitler (1964)
Cohen needs no introduction, but it is his music he is more famous for than his poetry, but his early poems are absolutely brilliant, though extremely personal. Notice the way he casually captures the details of his old family home and childhood by just small hints and images. The end of this poem I take to be a classic 60s blast against materialism and capitalism - but judge for yourself.
More background can be found on Wikipædia:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_Cohen#Poetry_and_novels
There they quote his influences as being Whitman, Lorca, Yeats and Henry Miller. All important, but really he was a unique voice from the beginning. Like me he had a family festooned with religious preachers (in his case rabbis, in mine evangelical protestant sermonizers), and this shows in many of his poems - he is deeply concerned with the fading and near extinction (in truly spiritual terms) of major religions, and his poetry and songs are imbued with the influences of both his upbringing (as a strict Jewish boy) and the Catholic community that surrounded him. He searched all his life for a new religion but never found one to suit him. Zen-Buddhism came close but he could never give up coffee, cigarettes and women in order to seriously become a monk. In any case, his famous relationship with the abbot of the Californian zen monastery he attended for 3 years (1994-7) led to him becoming the master's first assistant, but I think the master saw Cohen as HIS master!
I recommend all the early poetry - best found in Selected Poetry - & his last collection - Book of Longing (2006), even if the latter are less crafted poems then his earlier. The best novel I feel is Beautiful Losers, a great portrayal of a very unMeToo male in the freedom loving 60's. But it is better than Miller's autobiographical self-glorification of his own penis, much, much better. Cohen not only loved women, he deeply respected them and always set them above himself. That is why 80% of his adoring fans WERE women! Leonard Cohen (1934 - 2016) RIP
Great PoetryPosted by Graham Thompson Mon, October 03, 2016 14:02:59
the embrace on the corner you will recognize
going away somewhere. It’s always so.
live between two truths
a neon light trembling in
empty hall. My heart collects
and more people, since they’re not here anymore.
always so. One fourth of our waking hours
spent in blinking. We forget
even before we lose them –
calligraphy notebook, for instance.
ever new. The bus
is always warm.
words are carried over
oblique buckets to an ordinary summer fire.
same will happen all over again tomorrow—
face, before it vanishes from the photo,
lose the wrinkles. When someone goes away
that’s been done comes back.
Nikolai Madzirov from Macedonia b. 1973
Great PoetryPosted by Graham Thompson Tue, March 01, 2016 21:01:29
Lawrence was a great descriptive writer who wrote about love and nature in a way nobody has done either before or since. His poetry is rather like intensive prose, as if he was whispering in your ear or talking over a cafe table. He does not play with language, or rejoice in language, but his story-poems have an exactness of description and a hypnotic quality that I really love. So hope you enjoy this short selection of some of his best, including the last poem he ever wrote - "The Ship of Death". The only thing comparable to its content and purpose is "The Tibetan Book of the Dead".
A snake came to
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.
In the deep, strange-scented shade of the
great dark carob-tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough
He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall
in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied
down, over the edge of
the stone trough
And rested his throat
upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the
tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long
Someone was before me at my
And I, like a second comer, waiting.
lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me
vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked
tongue from his lips, and mused a moment,
And stooped and drank a
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning
bowels of the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna
The voice of my education said to me
He must be
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the
gold are venomous.
And voices in me said, If you were a
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him
But must I confess how I liked him,
How glad I was he
had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough
depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels
of this earth?
Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him?
Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him? Was it humility, to
feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.
And yet those
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!
truly I was afraid, I was most afraid, But even so, honoured still
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door
of the secret earth.
He drank enough
And lifted his head,
dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a
forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.
And as he put his
head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up,
snake-easing his shoulders, and entered farther,
A sort of
horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into that horrid
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly
drawing himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned.
looked round, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.
I think it did
not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind
convulsed in undignified haste.
Writhed like lightning, and was
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with
And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how
paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the
voices of my accursed human education.
And I thought of the
And I wished he would come back, my snake.
seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in
Now due to be crowned again.
And so, I
missed my chance with one of the lords
And I have
something to expiate:
Why does the thin grey
Floating up from the forgotten
Cigarette between my
Why does it trouble me?
Ah, you will
When I carried my mother downstairs,
A few times
only, at the beginning
Of her soft-foot malady,
find, for a reprimand
To my gaiety, a few long grey hairs
the breast of my coat; and one by one
I let them float up the dark
The Mystic Blue
Out of the
darkness, fretted sometimes in its sleeping,
Jets of sparks in
fountains of blue come leaping
To sight, revealing a secret,
numberless secrets keeping.
Sometimes the darkness trapped
within a wheel
Runs into speed like a dream, the blue of the
Showing the rocking darkness now a-reel.
And out of
the invisible, streams of bright blue drops
Rain from the showery
heavens, and bright blue crops
Surge from the under-dark to their
And all the manifold blue and joyous eyes,
rainbow arching over in the skies,
New sparks of wonder opening
All these pure things come foam and spray of the
Of Darkness abundant, which shaken mysteriously,
into dazzle of living, as dolphins that leap from the sea
midnight shake it to fire, so the secret of death we see.
The Ship of Death
Now it is
autumn and the falling fruit
and the long journey towards
The apples falling like great drops of dew
bruise themselves an exit from themselves.
And it is time to
go, to bid farewell
to one's own self, and find an exit
the fallen self.
Have you built your ship of
death, O have you?
O build your ship of death, for you will need
The grim frost is at hand, when the apples will fall
thick, almost thundrous, on the hardened earth.
is on the air like a smell of ashes!
Ah! can't you smell it?
in the bruised body, the frightened soul
finds itself shrinking,
wincing from the cold
that blows upon it through the orifices.
And can a man his own quietus* make
With daggers, bodkins, bullets, man can make
bruise or break of exit for his life;
but is that a quietus, O
tell me, is it quietus?
Surely not so! for how could murder,
ever a quietus make?
O let us
talk of quiet that we know,
that we can know, the deep and lovely
of a strong heart at peace!
How can we this, our
own quietus, make?
the ship of death, for you must take
the longest journey, to
And die the death, the long and painful death
lies between the old self and the new.
Already our bodies are
fallen, bruised, badly bruised,
already our souls are oozing
through the exit
of the cruel bruise.
Already the dark
and endless ocean of the end
is washing in through the breaches
of our wounds,
Already the flood is upon us.
your ship of death, your little ark
and furnish it with food,
with little cakes, and wine
for the dark flight down oblivion.
Piecemeal the body dies, and the timid soul
her footing washed away, as the dark flood rises.
dying, we are dying, we are all of us dying
and nothing will stay
the death-flood rising within us
and soon it will rise on the
world, on the outside world.
We are dying, we are dying,
piecemeal our bodies are dying
and our strength leaves us,
our soul cowers naked in the dark rain over the flood,
in the last branches of the tree of our life.
are dying, we are dying, so all we can do
is now to be willing to
die, and to build the ship
of death to carry the soul on the
A little ship, with oars and food
little dishes, and all accoutrements
fitting and ready for the
Now launch the small ship, now as the body
and life departs, launch out, the fragile soul
fragile ship of courage, the ark of faith
with its store of food
and little cooking pans
and change of clothes,
flood's black waste
upon the waters of the end
upon the sea
of death, where still we sail
darkly, for we cannot steer, and
have no port.
There is no port, there is nowhere to go
the deepening blackness darkening still
blacker upon the
soundless, ungurgling flood
darkness at one with darkness, up and
and sideways utterly dark, so there is no direction any more
and the little ship is there; yet she is gone.
She is not
seen, for there is nothing to see her by.
She is gone! gone! and
somewhere she is there.
everything is gone, the body is gone
completely under, gone,
The upper darkness is heavy as the lower,
them the little ship
It is the end, it is
And yet out
of eternity a thread
separates itself on the blackness,
that fumes a little with pallor upon the dark.
Is it illusion? or does the pallor fume
A little higher?
Ah wait, wait, for there's the dawn
the cruel dawn of coming
back to life
out of oblivion
Wait, wait, the little ship
drifting, beneath the deathly ashy grey
of a flood-dawn.
Wait, wait! even so, a flush of yellow
and strangely, O
chilled wan soul, a flush of rose.
A flush of rose, and the
whole thing starts again.
subsides, and the body, like a worn sea-shell
emerges strange and
And the little ship wings home, faltering and lapsing
the pink flood,
and the frail soul steps out, into the house
filling the heart with peace.
Swings the heart
renewed with peace
even of oblivion.
Oh build your ship
of death. Oh build it!
for you will need it.
For the voyage
of oblivion awaits you.
* quietus: release from life, poetic death
** bodkin: a large sewing needle or hairpin
Great PoetryPosted by Graham Thompson Mon, February 15, 2016 22:59:05Essenin
To Be A Poet
To be a poet — is the same
As when by truth of life
You scar your own tender flesh,
And with the blood of feelings
Caress the souls of others.
To be a poet — to sing freedom,
As you know it best
The song of the nightingale doesn't hurt him -
His song is always the same.
Canary mimicking someone's voice -
Pitiful and silly bauble
The world needs real songs — so sing like only you can
Even if you sound like a frog.
Mohammed has overdone it in the Quran
When he forbade strong drink
That is why the poet will not stop
Drinking wine before he goes to the torture
And when a poet goes to his lover,
And finds her lying with another
He, kept by life-sustaining liquid,
Won't send a knife into her heart.
But, burning up with jealous recklessness,
Will whistle on the way back home
"So what, so I will die a vagabond,
On this earth such fate is also known."
Essenin the great Russian poet, married for a short time to the famous American dancer Isadora Duncan, never wrote a line for or against the communist revolution, which he lived through. Like all very serious romantic poets he committed suicide (reason not clear - the inhumanity of the times or the inhumanity of the woman who rejected him at the time). But unlike most romantic poets he attacked the nightingale for having the same song every time (though, of course, it doesn't!) and being like a canary (which it patently isn't). But his poetic images are so convincing we can always forgive his inaccurate reading of reality.
Maybe he was a punk romantic, or an early Rebel without a Cause.Jaroslav Seifert
Czechia 1901 - 1986
Nobel Prize for Literature 1984
One of the Charter 77 SignatoriesTo Be a Poet
Life taught me long ago
that music and poetry
are the most beautiful things on earth
that life can give us.
Except for love, of course.
In an old textbook
published by the Imperial Printing House
in the year of Vrchlický's death
I looked up the section on poetics
and poetic ornament.
Then I placed a rose in a tumbler,
lit a candle
and started to write my first verses.
Flare up, flame of words,
even if my fingers get burned!
A startling metaphor is worth more
than a ring on one's finger.
But not even Puchmajer's Rhyming Dictionary
was any use to me.
In vain I snatched for ideas
and fiercely closed my eyes
in order to hear that first magic line.
But in the dark, instead of words,
I saw a woman's smile and
That has been my destiny.
And I've been staggering towards it breathlessly
all my life.
An honest poet, Seifert frankly admitted he loved women more than poetry, and maybe, unlike Rilke who felt the reverse, his lack of dedication made him a middling poet. But his documentation of life in poetry is some of the best writing in the Czech language (say the Czechs), and at least the Swedes recognized this too. See also:
http://www.archipelago.org/vol2-3/seifert6.htm - The Lost Paradise, which starts in the famous Jewish Cemetry in Prague.
Great PoetryPosted by Graham Thompson Mon, January 18, 2016 13:34:02
Pacing past these bars has made
his gaze so weary, now nothing holds him
outside this countless passing
and beyond them there is no other world.
His lithe strong steps in steady rhythm
rotate in ever smaller circles,
as if held by a centre his numbed will
cannot free itself from.
Only sometimes does the shutter
on his pupils slide open, and an image
darts inside and down some long hidden nerve-way
to finally flutter then die in his heart.
R.M. RILKE 1910
This is just my own poetic interpretation and does not claim to be an accurate translation
Sein Blick ist von Vorübergehen der Stäbe
so müd geworden, daß er nichts mehr hält.
Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.
Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte,
der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht,
ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte,
in der betäubt ein großer Wille steht.
Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille
sich lautlos auf—. Dann geht ein Bild hinein,
geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stille—
und hirt im Herzen auf zu sein.
Rilke is one of my favourite poets because his poetry is so exact and yet so deep. This poem, one of his most famous, was inspired by the sculptor Rodin telling him he should go to the Paris Zoo and minutely observe the animals there. It was in the collection called New Poetry that was a new direction for the poet, most of whose works were heavily metaphysical and philosophical before this.
Great PoetryPosted by Graham Thompson Wed, January 06, 2016 20:33:18
THIS darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.
A windpuff-bonnet of fáwn-fróth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, féll-frówning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.
Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Great PoetryPosted by Graham Thompson Mon, December 14, 2015 23:15:21
This week's post is not poetry, though it is a poetic story by Dylan Thomas, comic and full of a life long gone, even in Wales. Enjoy:
A Child's Christmas in Wales
One Christmas was so much like another,
in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound
except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment
before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six
days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve
days and twelve nights when I was six.
All the Christmases
roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon
bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim
of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the
snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that
wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the
carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen.
was on the afternoon of the Christmas Eve, and I was in Mrs.
Prothero's garden, waiting for cats, with her son Jim. It was
snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas. December, in my memory,
is white as Lapland, though there were no reindeers. But there were
cats. Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we
waited to snowball the cats. Sleek and long as jaguars and
horrible-whiskered, spitting and snarling, they would slink and sidle
over the white back-garden walls, and the lynx-eyed hunters, Jim and
I, fur-capped and moccasined trappers from Hudson Bay, off Mumbles
Road, would hurl our deadly snowballs at the green of their eyes. The
wise cats never appeared.
We were so still, Eskimo-footed
arctic marksmen in the muffling silence of the eternal snows -
eternal, ever since Wednesday - that we never heard Mrs. Prothero's
first cry from her igloo at the bottom of the garden. Or, if we heard
it at all, it was, to us, like the far-off challenge of our enemy and
prey, the neighbor's polar cat. But soon the voice grew
"Fire!" cried Mrs. Prothero, and she beat the
And we ran down the garden, with the snowballs in
our arms, toward the house; and smoke, indeed, was pouring out of the
dining-room, and the gong was bombilating, and Mrs. Prothero was
announcing ruin like a town crier in Pompeii. This was better than
all the cats in Wales standing on the wall in a row. We bounded into
the house, laden with snowballs, and stopped at the open door of the
Something was burning all right; perhaps it
was Mr. Prothero, who always slept there after midday dinner with a
newspaper over his face. But he was standing in the middle of the
room, saying, "A fine Christmas!" and smacking at the smoke
with a slipper.
"Call the fire brigade," cried Mrs.
Prothero as she beat the gong.
"There won't be there,"
said Mr. Prothero, "it's Christmas."
There was no fire
to be seen, only clouds of smoke and Mr. Prothero standing in the
middle of them, waving his slipper as though he were conducting.
something," he said. And we threw all our snowballs into the
smoke - I think we missed Mr. Prothero - and ran out of the house to
the telephone box.
"Let's call the police as well," Jim
said. "And the ambulance." "And Ernie Jenkins, he
But we only called the fire brigade, and
soon the fire engine came and three tall men in helmets brought a
hose into the house and Mr. Prothero got out just in time before they
turned it on. Nobody could have had a noisier Christmas Eve. And when
the firemen turned off the hose and were standing in the wet, smoky
room, Jim's Aunt, Miss. Prothero, came downstairs and peered in at
them. Jim and I waited, very quietly, to hear what she would say to
them. She said the right thing, always. She looked at the three tall
firemen in their shining helmets, standing among the smoke and
cinders and dissolving snowballs, and she said, "Would you like
anything to read?"
Years and years ago, when I was a boy,
when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel
petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and
wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons
in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of
deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the
wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the daft and
happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed. But here a small boy
says: "It snowed last year, too. I made a snowman and my brother
knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had
"But that was not the same snow," I say.
"Our snow was not only shaken from white wash buckets down the
sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of
the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on
the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely
-ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a
dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn Christmas cards."
there postmen then, too?"
"With sprinkling eyes and
wind-cherried noses, on spread, frozen feet they crunched up to the
doors and mittened on them manfully. But all that the children could
hear was a ringing of bells."
"You mean that the postman
went rat-a-tat-tat and the doors rang?"
"I mean that the
bells the children could hear were inside them."
hear thunder sometimes, never bells."
"There were church
"No, no, no, in
the bat-black, snow-white belfries, tugged by bishops and storks. And
they rang their tidings over the bandaged town, over the frozen foam
of the powder and ice-cream hills, over the crackling sea. It seemed
that all the churches boomed for joy under my window; and the
weathercocks crew for Christmas, on our fence."
back to the postmen"
"They were just ordinary postmen,
found of walking and dogs and Christmas and the snow. They knocked on
the doors with blue knuckles ...."
"Ours has got a black
"And then they stood on the white Welcome
mat in the little, drifted porches and huffed and puffed, making
ghosts with their breath, and jogged from foot to foot like small
boys wanting to go out."
"And then the presents?"
then the Presents, after the Christmas box. And the cold postman,
with a rose on his button-nose, tingled down the tea-tray-slithered
run of the chilly glinting hill. He went in his ice-bound boots like
a man on fishmonger's slabs. "He wagged his bag like a frozen
camel's hump, dizzily turned the corner on one foot, and, by God, he
"Get back to the Presents."
were the Useful Presents: engulfing mufflers of the old coach days,
and mittens made for giant sloths; zebra scarfs of a substance like
silky gum that could be tug-o'-warred down to the galoshes; blinding
tam-o'-shanters like patchwork tea cozies and bunny-suited busbies
and balaclavas for victims of head-shrinking tribes; from aunts who
always wore wool next to the skin there were mustached and rasping
vests that made you wonder why the aunts had any skin left at all;
and once I had a little crocheted nose bag from an aunt now, alas, no
longer whinnying with us. And pictureless books in which small boys,
though warned with quotations not to, would skate on Farmer Giles'
pond and did and drowned; and books that told me everything about the
wasp, except why."
"Go on the Useless
"Bags of moist and many-colored jelly babies
and a folded flag and a false nose and a tram-conductor's cap and a
machine that punched tickets and rang a bell; never a catapult; once,
by mistake that no one could explain, a little hatchet; and a
celluloid duck that made, when you pressed it, a most unducklike
sound, a mewing moo that an ambitious cat might make who wished to be
a cow; and a painting book in which I could make the grass, the
trees, the sea and the animals any colour I pleased, and still the
dazzling sky-blue sheep are grazing in the red field under the
rainbow-billed and pea-green birds. Hardboileds, toffee, fudge and
allsorts, crunches, cracknels, humbugs, glaciers, marzipan, and
butterwelsh for the Welsh. And troops of bright tin soldiers who, if
they could not fight, could always run. And Snakes-and-Families and
Happy Ladders. And Easy Hobbi-Games for Little Engineers, complete
with instructions. Oh, easy for Leonardo! And a whistle to make the
dogs bark to wake up the old man next door to make him beat on the
wall with his stick to shake our picture off the wall. And a packet
of cigarettes: you put one in your mouth and you stood at the corner
of the street and you waited for hours, in vain, for an old lady to
scold you for smoking a cigarette, and then with a smirk you ate it.
And then it was breakfast under the balloons."
there Uncles like in our house?"
"There are always
Uncles at Christmas. The same Uncles. And on Christmas morning, with
dog-disturbing whistle and sugar fags, I would scour the swatched
town for the news of the little world, and find always a dead bird by
the Post Office or by the white deserted swings; perhaps a robin, all
but one of his fires out. Men and women wading or scooping back from
chapel, with taproom noses and wind-bussed cheeks, all albinos,
huddles their stiff black jarring feathers against the irreligious
snow. Mistletoe hung from the gas brackets in all the front parlors;
there was sherry and walnuts and bottled beer and crackers by the
dessertspoons; and cats in their fur-abouts watched the fires; and
the high-heaped fire spat, all ready for the chestnuts and the
mulling pokers. Some few large men sat in the front parlors, without
their collars, Uncles almost certainly, trying their new cigars,
holding them out judiciously at arms' length, returning them to their
mouths, coughing, then holding them out again as though waiting for
the explosion; and some few small aunts, not wanted in the kitchen,
nor anywhere else for that matter, sat on the very edge of their
chairs, poised and brittle, afraid to break, like faded cups and
Not many those mornings trod the piling
streets: an old man always, fawn-bowlered, yellow-gloved and, at this
time of year, with spats of snow, would take his constitutional to
the white bowling green and back, as he would take it wet or fire on
Christmas Day or Doomsday; sometimes two hale young men, with big
pipes blazing, no overcoats and wind blown scarfs, would trudge,
unspeaking, down to the forlorn sea, to work up an appetite, to blow
away the fumes, who knows, to walk into the waves until nothing of
them was left but the two furling smoke clouds of their
inextinguishable briars. Then I would be slap-dashing home, the gravy
smell of the dinners of others, the bird smell, the brandy, the
pudding and mince, coiling up to my nostrils, when out of a
snow-clogged side lane would come a boy the spit of myself, with a
pink-tipped cigarette and the violet past of a black eye, cocky as a
bullfinch, leering all to himself.
I hated him on sight and
sound, and would be about to put my dog whistle to my lips and blow
him off the face of Christmas when suddenly he, with a violet wink,
put his whistle to his lips and blew so stridently, so high, so
exquisitely loud, that gobbling faces, their cheeks bulged with
goose, would press against their tinsled windows, the whole length of
the white echoing street. For dinner we had turkey and blazing
pudding, and after dinner the Uncles sat in front of the fire,
loosened all buttons, put their large moist hands over their watch
chains, groaned a little and slept. Mothers, aunts and sisters
scuttled to and fro, bearing tureens. Auntie Bessie, who had already
been frightened, twice, by a clock-work mouse, whimpered at the
sideboard and had some elderberry wine. The dog was sick. Auntie
Dosie had to have three aspirins, but Auntie Hannah, who liked port,
stood in the middle of the snowbound back yard, singing like a
big-bosomed thrush. I would blow up balloons to see how big they
would blow up to; and, when they burst, which they all did, the
Uncles jumped and rumbled. In the rich and heavy afternoon, the
Uncles breathing like dolphins and the snow descending, I would sit
among festoons and Chinese lanterns and nibble dates and try to make
a model man-o'-war, following the Instructions for Little Engineers,
and produce what might be mistaken for a sea-going tramcar.
I would go out, my bright new boots squeaking, into the white world,
on to the seaward hill, to call on Jim and Dan and Jack and to pad
through the still streets, leaving huge footprints on the hidden
"I bet people will think there's been
"What would you do if you saw a hippo coming
down our street?"
"I'd go like this, bang! I'd throw him
over the railings and roll him down the hill and then I'd tickle him
under the ear and he'd wag his tail."
"What would you do
if you saw two hippos?"
Iron-flanked and bellowing
he-hippos clanked and battered through the scudding snow toward us as
we passed Mr. Daniel's house.
"Let's post Mr. Daniel a
snow-ball through his letter box."
"Let's write things
in the snow."
"Let's write, 'Mr. Daniel looks like a
spaniel' all over his lawn."
Or we walked on the white shore.
"Can the fishes see it's snowing?"
one-clouded heavens drifted on to the sea. Now we were snow-blind
travelers lost on the north hills, and vast dewlapped dogs, with
flasks round their necks, ambled and shambled up to us, baying
"Excelsior." We returned home through the poor streets
where only a few children fumbled with bare red fingers in the
wheel-rutted snow and cat-called after us, their voices fading away,
as we trudged uphill, into the cries of the dock birds and the
hooting of ships out in the whirling bay. And then, at tea the
recovered Uncles would be jolly; and the ice cake loomed in the
center of the table like a marble grave. Auntie Hannah laced her tea
with rum, because it was only once a year.
Bring out the tall
tales now that we told by the fire as the gaslight bubbled like a
diver. Ghosts whooed like owls in the long nights when I dared not
look over my shoulder; animals lurked in the cubbyhole under the
stairs and the gas meter ticked. And I remember that we went singing
carols once, when there wasn't the shaving of a moon to light the
flying streets. At the end of a long road was a drive that led to a
large house, and we stumbled up the darkness of the drive that night,
each one of us afraid, each one holding a stone in his hand in case,
and all of us too brave to say a word. The wind through the trees
made noises as of old and unpleasant and maybe webfooted men wheezing
in caves. We reached the black bulk of the house. "What shall we
give them? Hark the Herald?"
"No," Jack said, "Good
King Wencelas. I'll count three." One, two three, and we began
to sing, our voices high and seemingly distant in the snow-felted
darkness round the house that was occupied by nobody we knew. We
stood close together, near the dark door. Good King Wencelas looked
out On the Feast of Stephen ... And then a small, dry voice, like the
voice of someone who has not spoken for a long time, joined our
singing: a small, dry, eggshell voice from the other side of the
door: a small dry voice through the keyhole. And when we stopped
running we were outside our house; the front room was lovely;
balloons floated under the hot-water-bottle-gulping gas; everything
was good again and shone over the town.
"Perhaps it was a
ghost," Jim said.
"Perhaps it was trolls," Dan
said, who was always reading.
"Let's go in and see if there's
any jelly left," Jack said. And we did that.
Christmas night there was music. An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin
sang "Cherry Ripe," and another uncle sang "Drake's
Drum." It was very warm in the little house. Auntie Hannah, who
had got on to the parsnip wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and
Death, and then another in which she said her heart was like a Bird's
Nest; and then everybody laughed again; and then I went to bed.
Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the
unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of
all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them
up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into
bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I
Great PoetryPosted by Graham Thompson Thu, December 03, 2015 19:02:35
O My beloved one
Do not ask for the same love we had before:
You existed, I told myself, so all existence shone,
Grief for me was you; the world's grief was far.
Spring was ever renewed in your face:
Beyond your eyes, nothing could the world hold
(thats what I believed once upon a time)
Had I won you, Fate's head would hang, defeated.
(that's what I believed once upon a time).
Yet all this was not so, I merely wished it to be so.
The world knows sorrows other than those of love,
Pleasures beyond those of romance:
The dread dark spell of countless centuries
Woven with silk and satin and gold brocade,
Bodies sold everywhere, in streets and markets,
Besmeared with dirt, bathed in blood,
Crawling from infested ovens.
My gaze returns to these: what can I do?
Your beauty still haunts me: but what can I do?
The world is burdened by sorrows beyond love,
By pleasures beyond romance.
Do not ask for that love, my beloved, which can be no more.
Fair Ahmed Faiz