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Collected Poems

Additional Poems

page 97

Additional Poems

Europe 1945

And now spring comes to the starved and blackened land
where the tailless abominable angel has spent his passion;
dead roots are twined through the bones of a broken hand;
now death, not Schiaparelli, sets the fashion.

In the twentieth century of the Christian era
the news-hawk camera man, no Botticelli,
walks on this stricken earth with Primavera,
and Europe cries from the heart of her hungry belly.

Ten flattened centuries are heaped with rubble,
ten thousand vultures wheel above the plain;
honour is lost and hope is like a bubble;
life is defeated, thought itself is pain.

But the bones of Charlemagne will rise and dance,
and the spark unquenched will kindle into flame.
And the voices heard by the small maid of France
will speak yet again, and give this void a Name.

For an Amulet

What truly is will have no end,
although denied by friend or foe,
and this I tell to foe and friend
as onward to the grave we go.

The candle in my little room
gives light but will not bake the host.
I share my certainty with Hume,
my candle with the Holy Ghost.

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The Encounter

As I set out on my journey
the sun was pale in the east,
and out of the frosty silence
ambled a strange beast.

The sun was shining bleakly,
the frost was thick and white,
it seemed the world had ended,
so calm it was, and bright.

I saw that the beast was youthful
and had lived since time began;
his head was horned and handsome,
he spoke with the tongue of a man.

'Turn back, for the way is endless,
the journey is in vain.'
I looked at his eyes and saw there
my own in the glass of pain.

No vapour clouded his nostrils,
there were no tracks in the frost.
I looked in the eyes of the creature
and knew that we both were lost.


My head to my heart has said
I'm a fool to feel as I do,
dear, on my way to you,
like a boy just out of school
hell-bent for the swimming-pool:
for I might find you dead,
or warm in the arms of a fool.

But I leap into the brightness
as once when I was a boy,
on a mountain, rash with joy,
I stepped off into the whiteness
of a snow-bank shining and beckoning,
delighted, taking no reckoning.

page 99

The Estuary

The wind has died, no motion now
in the summer's sleepy breath. Silver the sea-grass,
the shells and the driftwood, fixed in the moon's vast crystal.
Think: long after, when the walls of the small house
have collapsed upon us, each alone,
far gone the earth's invasion
the slow earth bedding and filling the bone,
this water will still be crawling up the estuary,
fingering its way among the channels, licking the stones;
and the floating shells, minute argosies
under the giant moon, still shoreward glide
among the mangroves on the creeping tide.

The noise of gulls comes through the shining darkness
over the dunes and the sea. Now the clouded moon
is warm in her nest of light. The world's a shell
where distant waves are murmuring of a time
beyond this time. Give me the ghost of your hand:
unreal, unreal the dunes,
the sea, the mangroves, and the moon's white light,
unreal, beneath our naked feet, the sand.


Now, when the path crumbles, the rubble echoing in the blackness below,
and the hand trembles, fearful to stay or go;

now, in this night we shall afterwards remember
as a mountain rifted with snow lit by stars in the gulf of nothing;

now, in this great glory, with the arched branches and the stars between,
and time a burning bush and our spirits passing to heaven;

now, when my armed thoughts are withdrawn from the outposts of space
and the warrior sleeps in the shade by the fountain;

page 100

now, in this luminous darkness, as we take the tide of the earth,
swing slowly with the creation—

now is the time of peace: let fear be past:
and out of peace let desire
rise like a whirlwind in our dust.

First vision of the world, O fire, and fairest light,
unlock my bones, O burn and bless me.


When morning stood on the hills
and the sun was gold in your hair
we roamed in the cloudless azure, lost with the lark;
there in the boundless world of light and air,
lost in despair, we longed for the dark.

But when the strokes of the bell
down through the midnight fell
my hand carved out your body from the rock of night,
and all was well.

Song for a Girl

Heaven was in his eyes
but earth was his body;
and I, long taught to despise
love's cloth for shoddy,
I put his hand from my breast
and dreamed of Sunday best.

Now lying beside my lover
I bless the strong soil
that gave him limbs to cover
with wine and oil
mine that so long have lain
wearing the dark like a stain.

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Noon Song

Under this tree in the heat of noon
dig your fingers in the earth and feel
what must cover us over soon,
bind us in bonds as tight as steel,
wind us in its close cocoon
of silence, grind us under its heel,
blind our sun and darken our moon.

Kiss me once and kiss me twice,
don't be afraid of the dark, my love,
the dead lie still, as quiet as mice,
and night will fit you like a glove.
Kiss me now with the sun above;
all will be well in the age of ice.

Sea-Wind and Setting Sun

There is not anything more meaningless
than sunlight falling on broken water,
the shattered light mixed with the shattered water,
falling, sucked back to nothing.
The tide falls and reveals the shells,
returns and covers them. The sea
dresses the shore with weed, to no end.
Lovely the leaping fish, the falling wave,
the foam on the reef, the sinister current
of dark water sweeping the rock,
idle and lovely these.
And so beside this nothingness I leave you.

We have outlived this life: we are disembodied.
So, like a leaf quitting a tree, I go,
and by your leave take leave
of what we may never again
not ever again in this dispensation
hope, or dare, to achieve.

page 102

Tom's a-Cold

Where is my love that has no peer,
where wanders she, among what brakes,
along what hillside cold and drear
above the tarns and hollow lakes?
I hear the whirlwind shake the sky,
I feel the worm within me gnaw,
for she is lost, and lost am I,
alone upon my bed of straw.

Beyond the door blasts of black air,
the rain descending on the wind;
I know my love is wandering there
with ragged clothes and hair unpinned.
I shall not lead her through the door
and lay my hand upon her wrist,
O she must roam for evermore
through rain and dark, or moonlit mist.

My love was fairer than the sun,
her breast beneath my hand was warm,
but she has left me all alone
in midmost darkness of the storm.
I hear the sleet upon the thatch,
the thunder by the lightning hurled;
I know she will not lift my latch
before the ending of the world.


I strove long
my love was strong
foredoomed I fought
my fate deformed.

I lived and loved
I laughed and sighed
the lie dissolved
at rest I lie.

page 103

You who read
be not deterred
from life or love
by this my word.

In Enemy Territory

Of those who lose their way
and are deprived of love
the luckiest are they
who at the midnight find
no stars in the world above
but darkness to make them blind
and heal the wound in the mind;
and happiest are they
who at the break of day
can make a fire of hate
to cauterize the heart
and with that savage heat
destroy the soul's deep hurt.

But may God save
the calm and brave,
by their own wish face up beheaded
or staring while their hearts are leaded.

To Daphnis and Chloe in the Park

Eluding the metaphysicians
you pursue pleasure among the trees,
you walk in secret pathways and discover
delight in dark places, bruising the grass,
soft animals wrestling in thickets,
and flesh lit with flesh is
more lovely than a poor man's dream
but you're going to get hurt.

page 104

You have desired each other among crowds
lost in a blackened forest of voices
and a glance or a whispered word
has transfigured that desolation.
You have dreamed yourselves alone in the world
coming to each other singing,
under the sun's carnal eye, the great hot flower
burning in the azure negation,
over mountains bright with the blood of spring
and all time and creation
ripening to that moment of delirium
but you're going to get hurt.

For love in the afternoon is a dusty street
in the evening a spoilt child crying behind the door
and love at the midnight is no more.
Warm as your dream is age will be cold
as the automatic pity of priests
or the poetry of Civil Servants.

And apart from the private collapse
there are many hands about you bearing
the shadow of evil on them like a prophecy,
many hands to make light work of your love,
many industrious maggots in the meat of reputation,
speaking of your love as if it were something
that had caught their eye on a scrap of paper in the closet,
awaiting the casual-careful moment
to insert the lethal word, the nail in the skull of the dreamer.
And the vipers wait in your path,
all the vipers of Christendom
singing psalms like the sons of God.
Remember that you are enemy agents in the kingdom of death.
Morality, custom, propriety,
and the furious envy of the frustrated
will be thorns under your feet, poison in your cup.
You will sit by your fire of sticks in the desert night
with savage eyes tirelessly encircling you,
until even the calm stars above you
become the eyes of malignant beasts.

page 105

O lovers, this song I give to you,
the words are old and bitter and true:
east or west, north or south,
trust no ear and trust no mouth
put no trust in earth or sky
stare at the world with a brassy eye
lie dissemble and evade
seek out your reckless glade
O let your lips be warm
flesh sing before the storm
maid and man
take what you can
before the heart grows cold
the mind desperate and the body old.


The curtains in the solemn room
are drawn against the winter dusk;
the lady sitting in the gloom
has hair that faintly smells of musk.

As in some dim romantic night
the mist will not divulge the moon,
around her unbetrothèd plight
her thoughts have woven a cocoon.

Now recollection brings again
the distant hour, the tide that flowed,
the word that might have flowered then
as epic or as episode.

Half proud because the thing she sought,
still lacking, is inviolate,
hahf puzzled by that eerie thought
she rocks her chair and scans the grate.

Then suddenly she sees it clear,
the monstrous image, cold, precise—
the body of the mountaineer
preserved within the glacial ice,
        forever safe, where none shall seek,
        beneath the unattempted peak.

page 106

The Fallen

These are not the first who were young
and died they were not sure for what,
spending their innocence like kids
who drop a penny in the slot.

Their bodies now are fallen stars
faint in the memory of their friends,
their ears are deaf to praise or grief,
nothing we say can make amends.

Their flesh is wasted, their seed spilled,
nothing can help them, nothing atones;
they were defeated, man by man;
truth is bitter, crying from their bones.

Tongues that melt in the dust are silent,
dumb as the crosses stuck above;
arms rotting on the battlefield
cannot invade the bed of love.

They died quickly, as quickly were thrust
in the shallow grave to sleep for ever.
Girls, these are no good to you,
not even the brave, the kind or clever.

What shall we think? The world they lost
should wear their memory like a scar.
What can we say, wringing our hands,
or lingering in the public bar?

They bought us all there was to buy,
left us their share in the estate,
this going concern. For us, not them,
the doomsday and the judgment wait.

Think or forget. It matters little
to these defeated. But be sure,
though we may squander what they saved,
their private fortune is secure.

In desert and forgotten places,
bright in the shadow of our doom,
among the scattered, pitiful dust
the small weed, honour, springs in bloom.

page 107

I'm Older than You, Please Listen

To the young man I would say:
Get out! Look sharp, my boy,
before the roots are down,
before the equations are struck,
before a face or a landscape
has power to shape or destroy.
This land is a lump without leaven,
a body that has no nerves.
Don't be content to live in
a sort of second-grade heaven
with first-grade butter, fresh air,
and paper in every toilet;
becoming a butt for the malice
of those who have stayed and soured,
staying in turn to sour,
to smile, and savage the young.
If you're enterprising and able,
smuggle your talents away,
hawk them in livelier markets
where people are willing to pay.
If you have no stomach for roughage,
if patience isn't your religion,
if you must have sherry with your bitters,
if money and fame are your pigeon,
if you feel that you need success
and long for a good address,
don't anchor here in the desert—
the fishing isn't so good:
take a ticket for Megalopolis,
don't stay in this neighbourhood!

page 108

La Belle Dame Sans Merci

Discarding even the bag of chocolates and the novel
I climbed into that hovel
on wheels the second-class smoker
praying that Fate the irrepressible joker
would grant me release
permit me the hypnotic peace
of wheels clicking on rails for a few
beautiful hours but by God who
should be there who by God's grace
but the fat spent woman with a face
bitter as a holy war
she whom so often before
I had met in my stifling crayfish dreams
(waking with screams)
and with her the grim
wolf-jaw (husband escort paramour or fifth limb)
with the orange-and-chocolate blazer
and the smart-alec shoes.
Her voice was like a razor
at the throat of quiet. She was slanging
the foes of Justice. The trouble was there hadn't been a hanging
and when it came to murder she was no latitudinarian
and definitely not a vegetarian
the faintest stink of blood
made her feel good
and even her mental picture of the gallows' action
appeared to give her some (strictly biological) satisfaction
but a spoil-sport Cabinet had stepped in and stopped the fun
Doncher reckon they ought to put him on the end of a string
the murdering bastard doncher reckon and let him swing
I'd like to do the job
with me own hands the slob
and by God if they'd let me so I would
I'd fix his lordship I'd fix him good
and proper and let him rot
but they havn't got
the guts to slip a noose
round his dirty ears
hell in twenty years
he'll be running around again loose
and none of us
safe at night he'll have the run of us
page 109 just because of a few
bastards in Wellington….
                      And you
you don't believe in religion do you? wheeling
on me with acid relevance and I feeling
I was in some sense conniving at a threat
to this poor woman's life and honour I couldn't get
a word out of my mouth and felt very much to blame
and overcome with shame.
Oh Mr Tennyson, your dream of fair women,
how it echoes remotely, at this late date, a lemon!

Terms of Appointment

            I speak of walls and chains; of the vials
            of wrath; of limitations, denials,
            derelictions, fallings from grace,
            making them yours to save my face:

Though you live in the desert eating manna, you will not be happy until you have raised a house;
Though you build, yet chaos will stoop like a girl by the hedgerow to pluck your towers like lilies;
Though you gather flowers, yet the dust of a thousand carriage-wheels will settle upon them;
Though you go a journey into the interior you will long for the reek of salt and the noise of gulls;
Though you cross the seas your heart will remain buried beneath the hearthstone;
Though you stay on one acre you will sweat with rage to see your enemies riding upon the hilltops;
Though you conquer your enemies at last, you will wish you had spent the time making summer love;
Though you tumble her in every haystack from here to Paradise, there will be a question at the end and no answer from the night;
Though you grow wise with the sloughing of years, time will not forgive you for deserting your youth;
Though you live you will long for death; though you die you will lack breath.

page 110

Song at Summer's End

Down in the park the children play
rag-happy through the summer day
with dirty feet and freckled faces,
laughing, fighting, running races.
Dull against the smoky skies
the summer's heavy burden lies,
leaden leaves on tired trees
lacking supple limbs like these.

The skyline shows the shape of life,
tomorrow's world of sweat and strife,
fifty stacks and one grey steeple.
Down the street come factory people,
folk who used to play on swings,
dodging chores and apron-strings
to wrestle on the grass and run
barefoot with the fleeting sun.

Some of the kids are sailing boats;
the first leaf drops unheeded, floats
and dances on the muddy pond.
Shadows from the world beyond
lengthen, sprawl across the park;
day rolls onward towards the dark.
From the clock-tower, wreathed in smoke,
Time speaks gravely, stroke on stroke.

To an Expatriate

Weep ye not for the dead, neither bemoan him: but weep sore for him that goeth away: for he shall return no more, nor see his native country.

Jeremiah 22:10

Pine for the needles brown and warm,
think of your nameless native hills,
the seagulls landward blown by storm,
the rabbit that the black dog kills.

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Swing with the kelp the ocean sucks,
call to the winds and hear them roar,
the westerly that rips the flax,
the madman at the northeast door.

Dream of the mountain creek that spills
among the stones and cools your feet,
the breeze that sags on smoky hills,
the bubble of the noonday heat.

The embers of your old desire
remembered still will glow, and fade,
and glow again and rise in fire
to plague you like a debt unpaid,
to haunt you like a love betrayed.

Mr Pyrites

In posture and gesture he is suave and cool
as the sodomist in charge of a Sunday school.

            He clings like a limpet,
            he sings like a trumpet,
            his manners are nice
            and his heart is blue ice.

            He loves like a ferret
            and speaks like a parrot,
            his navel is full
            of the rubbings of wool.

            He lisps like a neuter,
            sips ale from his pewter,
            and treads down the street
            like a tabby on heat.

            On tiptoe at Easter
            he crows like a rooster,
            then falls on his knees
            to his God and gives praise.

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            He's yes to his betters,
            duress to his debtors,
            white smiles are his eyes
            and his oaths are all lies.

On Doomsday the angels will lift up their nighties
and wipe away tears for Mr Pyrites.

Beggar to Burgher

I am a man defeated in his loins:
custom and law have hit me where I live.
Look me over. Laugh at me. Toss no coins.
I'm asking nothing, sir, that's yours to give.
You have no news to tell me, bad or good.
I know it all, what soul or body lacks.
I sweat, and sleep, and starve—or chop your wood
for tucker. When I go mad I fire your stacks.

Sir, here we are, the two of us, rich and poor,
I in my winter doss, or summer ditch,
you in your linen, comfortable, secure.
One of us should be envious—tell me which?

I am a man confounded. Yet my defeat
is something short of absolute. O bold
hunter, O proud proprietor, I repeat—
I'm asking nothing, sir, that's yours to withold.

Exhibit her proudly, the trophy of your chase,
like a horned head (true symbol of your power!),
but know that your corn-stack was our lying-place,
learn that the man of straw has had his hour.

page 113

The Woman to her Lover

Had he battered me, called me whore,
had he thrust me out of door,
the end might have been different.
His kindness was deadly.
You ask me why, when the torrent came,
it was I who drowned and not he.
You do not understand.
You think emperors and great usurers are powerful.
Think of the power of the leprous beggar
who throws himself on the road and will not move.

I was defeated by pity,
the wooden horse that captures the iron city.


If evil comes close, and is more than a rumour,
you must have recourse to your sense of humour.

Recall, when your cup of sorrow fills,
that laughter is sovereign to cure all ills.

If you've swindled a friend, or betrayed your love,
a hearty laugh will fit like a glove.

The salesman's greeting, the consumptive's cough
can never hurt if you laugh them off.

There'll be no Judgment, have no doubt of it,
but should there be, you can laugh your way out of it.

If you're thinking too closely of the hereafter,
gain peace of mind with a deep draught of laughter.

Laughter is sovereign to cure all ills;
only honesty stabs and kills.

page 114

The Power and the Glory

The road to the abode
of the blest
has for stones the broken bones
of the best.

The worst get there first
and their nest
is feathered with the feathers
of the rest.

Any Poet to his Mistress

Pen has no power to conjure love.
The word is like a woollen glove
that holds and hoards the body's fire,
a non-conductor of desire;
but lightest touch of hand or cheek
a Greek Anthology can speak.
No poet ever warmed a bed
with words; no woman's heart has bled
stabbed with a pen; tongue has no trick
of sentiment or of rhetoric
to snare a kiss. Yet I will prove,
for and against my theme, dear love,
what poets knew before the Flood—
the circumlocution of the blood:
and (silent, lest my tongue should trip)
in a rime riche rhyme lip with lip.


Self-conscious and facetious at full-face,
prolific with his profile in the prints,
he writes his verse at such a reckless pace
his muse is far behind, both legs in splints.

page 115

On a Promising Politician

The eye was keen (we thought) that looked straight at you,
the stance was firm, the tongue would never garble …
Now that all's done, let's run him up a statue,
the feet of clay, the head a block o£ marble.

The Demagogue

Talk to the drools.
Open your big mouth and spill out the words.
Your rhetoric is like the desert birds
that pick the brains and scour the bones of fools.

Say your big say.
Fill up your guts with words and let them spill.
Speak of the rights of man, the people's will—
then go to the Devil and collect your pay.

On an Intellectual

I don't know whether he's in touch
with God, or lost in cloud;
I only know he talks too much,
and much too loud.

Lunch-Hour Concert

I dozed at last (although the chair I sat on
was hard, and I had gone without my luncheon)
and dreamed that X threw down his broken baton
and beat up Mozart with a rubber truncheon.

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