Monday, 5 June 2017


Poems

                               
Idyll I Galatea
After Theocritus

“Look at that girl down there
Where the apple trees overhang the shore
And the sea hisses into the sand.
She pelts your dog with apples!
She drives him away, fearless of his snarling,
Because he went for her as she emerged from the sea.
Whistle the dog off!  And keep out of sight.
Don’t gaze at her for too long.
Her name is Galatea,
A Nereid famed for her milk-white skin.
If she sees you, graceful shepherd,
Handsome as Endymion, your troubles
Will not soon be over…..the gods crave beauty above all.
Best choose a mortal lover!
There are many girls as lovely and as brave
As goddesses among us.
See where she vanishes into the reeds!
There, where the river enters the sea,
The place where Pan likes to sleep out the heat of the day.
The poor dog whimpers at her going.”


                                                November 2017




Dawn Chorus

I was Rimbaud then,
Waiting for the summer dawn at the wall of the park
Where a bay of the North Downs
Reached into the suburbs like an arm of the sea;
Misty island bowers, breasts of the Surrey Hills,
Blake’s shadow there; and soon,
The mermaids calling each to each; the Sirens
Yelping like angels in the bustling trees, whistling
Like knives sharpening, keening like the Eumenides,
A furious racket, and all the leafy streets,
The lawns, the Tudor fronts and leaded windows,
Blind, absent, pale
As sleeping princesses.


                                    November 2017




Fox

Red fox
With yellow eyes
His thin pupils
Shards of panic,
Like flies trapped in amber.

Head down
Looking up at me
Unblinking
Waiting to jump.

On the run for seventeen million years….
Old fox of the apocalypse
Dystopian city fox,
What empty mind behind that frozen gaze,
What drawn-taut syntax of feints and hits,
What perilous chances,
What furious fortune brings you here?


                                  October 2017




Venice

Rapt, she walks on water,
In silken billows,
Her rosy feet, her touch,
Gracing the wavelets
With liquid gold, turquoise, ruby,
The undulating marble limbs
Of submerged facades,
The drowned halcyon domes.

Ankle-deep at high-tide.
Green weeds wash to and fro;
Herculean slaves heft aloft a golden globe
Where dancing Fortune turns with the breeze.
The city seems to float on the sea
Conjured up on a sunken forest
By the founding Magi
Those muscular models
For painted saints and heroes.



                               October 2017




Blake’s Paradise

Two mothers with sleepy children at their knees
Sit under a curious mushroom-shaped oak tree
On a village green
Enclosed in an echo of saffron light.
Beside them are two old men
With long white hair and broad-brimmed
Eighteenth century hats, and at a distance
Some slender boys and girls play cricket
As if body-painted in Raphael greens and blues.

Looking into a Blake illustration
Is like looking into a crystal
And you see
That paradise is very small,
You can hold it in your hand
And watch the angels of moonlight arrive,
The lion weep jewels of guilt
The stars descend into the trees.


                                   September 2017




Acroterion

The central acroteria on the Parthenon
Were ornamental unfolding palm fronds
Like peacock’s tails
Sculpted in Parian marble 
That seemed to curve back from the roof in the Aegean wind.
They stood above the friezes
On the apexes of both pediments of the temple
And were a completing gesture by Phidias,
As subversive as stray locks of Athena’s hair,
That dissolved the hard Hellenism of the building
Back into nature again,
And whispered the place to ruins.

That civilisation may not sink
We have striven the world to extinction.
The babe upon the mother’s breast
Gone to war.
Honour, coin, empire, slavery…..
The wise tell us
It would be better never to have lived.

Phidias’ fragile marble palms
Were unlikely to have stood for long above the gods on the pediments.
The fragments that survive are unweathered.
He must have known
That the first slight earthquake would have thrown them down.


                                           September 2017




Villanelle for a Blind Horse 


Will you ride a blind white horse,
Get up, and ride behind the wind,
Will you ride the darker course?

And if you turn back to the source,   
Passing beneath both hope and time,
Will you ride a blind white horse?

When you the darkness start across
Leaving your self-worn life behind
Will you go beyond remorse?    

When you birth and death rehearse
As men have done, time out of mind,
Will you ride a blind white horse?

And when that centripetal force
Grips your heart, what will you find?
Will you ride the darker course?

And will you then your time endorse
Or must you leave all time behind?
Will you ride a blind white horse?
Will you ride the darker course?


                         August 2017




Island
“When you start on your journey to Ithaca”  C P Cavafy

When first you set sail for the Island,
Imagine another world,
Summon up into your mind, into your soul,
The Fortunate Isles, the Islands of the Blessed,
Imagine freedom, autonomy, a world held in common,
Imagine the Age of Gold.

Fear neither gods nor masters,
The Laestrygonians nor the Titans,
The anger of tyrants nor the pursuit of the Furies,
If you do not lose hope they will have no power over you.
And should you be driven onto Cyclops’ isle,
Do not give way to despair,
You and your companions will overcome him.
Remember that the enmity of the giants
Towards dreamers like you
Will always guide you onwards
If you let it enter your heart,
If you let it awaken your courage.

Anchor at many old harbours on the way
In Ionia or the Cyclades, in Phoenicia and Egypt,
And bring to them the intoxication of rebellion,
Add to your crew
But do not seek rich merchandise
Bought with enslaved hours and days,
Turquoise, coral and amber,
Perfumes, jewels and fine silks.
If you are free,
The quintessence of their beauty will cling to you,
In mid ocean, or ashore on desolate headlands,
It will never desert you.

Always remember the Island,
Carry it in your soul, in your imagination,
Voyagers such as you are its truest citizens.
So enter Alexandria and Athens,                        
Cities of the civilisation that feeds on lives
To learn from those who have knowledge,
And to study all those books
Which, emanating from such cities,
Are like maps of lost Odysseys, charts
To steer past the Sirens, to sail beyond
The island of the goddess of illusions.

Understand you will gain nothing from the voyage,
For freedom calls,
That scornful song the wind has taken:
Everything for everyone. Nothing for ourselves.*
Pull offshore with joy and rage,
Knowing that where you are heading
A mysterious new island is rising out of the sea.

                                     August 2017

Note: After Cavafy, Ithaca, and Auden, Atlantis.

*Para todos toda. Nada para nosotros.  Declaration of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. 




Sea of Dreams

Only consider how far down the beautiful islands go…..
Ikaria, thyme scented, forested Samos, pink Fourni,
Patmos, white on the horizon,
Falling steeply into that sea of dreams
Where Icarus sank
So inky blue you could dip your pen into it
And write what the old caïque-masters told
Of a drowned city:
How they hauled up their nets
And the sea poured off stone heads,
Sightless eyes, shattered marble….
How Ikaria was cast down from Olympus
To make a birthplace for Dionysus,
Took root in the sea,
A broken mountain,
Shaking with earthquakes,
Pine-crested, fractured,
Overrun with vines,
Its boiling mineral waters                
Upwelling in the sea caves
From Persephone’s wounds.

                                   July 2017


Note: The first line is taken from the Greek poet George Seferis.




An Alien Spaceship, Landed.
In memory of John and Jaki

It draws the warm night in
Like a faultless musical phrase
A walking moment
Scent of hay
Silent crowd blocking the road
A globe of light
A village bar in the south of France.

You said on the phone:
“We’re gigging.
Come along
Bring your horn”…..

And it draws the warm sounds in
Like an alien spaceship, landed,
A walking moment
A golden voice, closer, singing,
A brilliant interior, white light,
The spellbound earthlings crowding up….
And she’s the Oracle of Soul, no less,
Interstellar Sister
Singing for all uncorrupted dreamers
Sitting on a low stool
Hunched over the mic
Hair covering her face         
And she’s soaring….
Sublime.

Like a moth to the flame, I,
Over the heads of the crowd?
Levitated to the stage?
The sax on my shoulder
The ship’s drive notching up
My hands on the controls now
And you’re beaming at me, John,
Behind that synth-command-console,
Shining out of the light,
Head nodding
Like we’re sharing some ineffable secret
As I turn towards the mic
And the ship lifts off…..

You said:
“That was perfect!”
Twenty five years ago
On the solstice,
And you knew because you made it so.

And now you’re both gone;
Only the memory of a love beamed down,
Maybe a mysterious scorching of the grass?
Overhead…. the welcoming stars.


                           July 2017




The Lacadaemonians at Delphi

“Believe me,
Here at Delphi we saw just another Archon,
Sprightly, leaning on a staff,
Accompanied by the usual guard,
(Chosen, of course, for their beauty as much as anything)
Carrying finely-worked bronze spears
And silent, watchful,
Even modest….
Lacadaemonians from the south,
An intractable race, it was said,
Bearing an impeccable gold statue of Apollo for the sanctuary
And another senseless question to the Pythia,
Snake Sister,
Concerning dominion and honour…….

She sent them on some fool’s errand,
Something about laying ancient bones to rest,
A hint, to be sure,
Echoing the unsleeping horror of Atreus’ matricide,
A crime that has been laid at our door,
As they always are,
Pinned on us from time out of mind,
Who simply teach asking the right questions…..
  
We heard they rummaged the length and breadth of the Peloponnese
For years,
Having the excuse, you see,
But spies more like,
Those modest Lacadaemonians,
Until, as always,
Back they came with more expensive gifts,
Bronze tripods, cauldrons,
Looted from who knows where,
Cluttering up the place,
Seeking more information
To furnish their simple, upright minds.

This time she surpassed herself
Our noble kinswoman
Uttering faultless dactyls worthy of Homer herself
Describing a modern forge
‘Where two winds roar
And blow is met by counter blow
Grief piled on grief’…..
Evoking the never-ending calamity of war.

Eventually one of them thought he saw through it
Standing one day in an iron-worker’s smithy
In a town in Arcadia
Marvelling at the size of the bellows
At the intensity of the heat
At the properties of the strange new metal:
Do not the lords of men always wonder
At the artisan’s skill?
Of course he asked for bones,
And lo! bones had been found nearby:
Where is the earth not filled
With the bones of the victims of war?

So they carted them all back to Sparta
After doing a deal with the smith,
Without a second thought for the forge.
They missed the point entirely, you see,
And, to be sure, they did very well for themselves for a while,
Even here against us (although they respected the Oracle).
Yes, the ascendancy of the Lacadaemonians
Can be traced to the moment they seized those bones;
Without a doubt, they missed the point entirely.”


                                       June 2017




Mycenae

I walked up the dry river bed at Mycenae
Like a criminal, out of sight of the road,
Through a landscape the colour of a lion’s pelt;
Drowsed in the shade of a rock,
Drank brackish water from an army water-bottle
Dreaming lion paws in the dust……
Inarkhos, river of dust,
Dried up by Poseidon’s hatred of Argos,
Swallowed by the sea.

Even then…..on the outside,
Owning nothing,
Waiting like a fox for the visitors to leave
For the attendants to shut the great beehive
Tomb of Agamemnon and leave;
Waiting for the silence.

The cistern in the citadel was dry
The flight of steps into darkness
That terrified Henry Miller
Ends in organic rock
As if the wound had healed over.

O black night, you who nurse the golden stars!

Dog-like I lay in the dust
Of the house of Atreus,
The night occluded,
The roaring of the stones silenced,
No snake whispering in the dead grass,
Dead water to drink
And the red glow of a cigarette
My beacon-flare.

Seferis and Kerouac
Signed up for their bourgeois regrets,
In the visitors’ book
Of Hotel Belle Helene de Menelas
The furies whistling.

I brought no furies with me.
The stones were dumb mouths,
The stars turned away their faces.
The dust slept as well as I.

                               June 2017





Nostalgia for the Present

A dark, momentary summer
Ten or fifteen years ago,
Listening to the piano music of Ravel
In the garden
In days of sudden heat….
Miroirs, a reverie,
Awakening a drowsy nostalgia
For the eternal hour
While the bees stumbled in the lavender
The blackbird’s song
Dreamed time away
The swifts tilted about the sky;
A nostalgia for Summer
As if that present moment
Were somehow also
Deep in the past…..
And now, so soon,
It’s a long time ago,
Almost forgotten.


                     May 2017

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