Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Collected Poems


page 150


The Sea


Now for many days I have not smelt the sea
passing in spring through a green land
walking in a dry land
in a soft place where is no death.
Far, far the strange and gleaming ocean
billowing on the rocks in blinding sunlight
far is the sea foam-bosomed titanic
and the rocks and the foam and the weeds the water sucks,
but still in this dry land I see
faint foaming seas and bloom upon the wave
in a windy twilight, still I hear its noise
as if my heart were a shell and I a child
listening, shell to ear.

Could I but wall myself in this dry world
of rolling plain low hills and trees and hedgerows,
walk by slow waters moving through the land
fall river-dreaming and forget the sea,
could I but close up my mind as an old maid locks her door
against the ravisher, the dreaded and desired,
could I but cultivate my garden
could I but move in a compact circle
as a wheel upon its pivot

but thought is a slow river that flows round
the mountain of the will and finds the sea.


I have ridden the surf with foam across my face
I have rolled like a warrior of old
down the sea-wind in my chariot of water.

I have lain in the sea at twilight
as in a bed heaped up with flowers
clothed in my robe of water like a king.

Lying on my belly on an old rotten wharf
I have watched the rippling green through a chink in the boards
and the world has slipped away like sand through the fingers.

page 151

And I have stood on a tall cliff and looked down
on the vast waters washing the edge of the world
and have not been afraid.

But all this was in youth when I had not known
distrust of solid rock
distrust of death by water and the resurrection
limbo of doubt interregnum of darkness.

If any man tell you he has conquered, call him a liar.


Lying in the sun beside the sea
the sky the huge hard bulging bum
of a metal kettledrum, the sea
hot parchment tightly stretched for the sticks
for the music of the sticks that is withheld
pending a revelation that lies
womb-bound in heavy silence

lying in the sun with my belly on the hot rock
the rock a cross where hangs a body limp
in agony immune from life and death
in deep damnation drinking in the sun
sucking the strength and vigour from the sun
the fire of life that breeds revolt anew
the gladiator fed with milk and truffles
wine and good meat to stiffen bone and sinew
prolonging the bloody strife

I am neither sea nor rock but living flesh
I can swim but not as a fish swims
I have fear and the knowledge of opposites.
And so, to seize
that fiery ardour of the sun,
contain it in the mind, and lend it to the will,
subdue the waves with thought?
The revelation hangs in silence.

Or to plunge in and let the limbs
move gently, held in balance of two forces,
to have firm faith the fixed assurance
that through the broken rhythm of the waves
there flows the deeper rhythm of the Wave
page 152 a strong unchanging everlasting thing
whose pattern lies in heaven?
After the heat of life the calm of death,
after the journey the lover's arms,
after the dry rock and the blistering sun
the cool hands of the sea, the melting in water.
To each his element,
fire for the lover, air for the ghost,
and water for the stubborn, the estranged of God.

The revelation comes not. Lies, all lies.

I cried: I will rope in the sun,
drive him in triumph across the open heavens
holding the fiery reins with blistered fingers,
then shall I be myself, redeemed or damned.
I stood irresolute.

The sun went down behind the hill,
the sea grew pale, bewitched me with a semblance
of something I had seen once in a dream
or in the sweet sloth of my mother's womb.
I plunged, and drowned.

Mr Fairburn to his Bibliographer

O Live! Give Dewey innocence, false pride,
Lot's wife in mind, no backward-longing look:
Invoke the gods—take Bacchus for your guide,
Venus for chaperone. And may you not
Ever be brought to book.

page 153

On a Bachelor Bishop

The quarry of the ladies' sewing guild,
with opportunities like other men,
shyly prefers to leave the field untilled,
and lies abed with fantasies till ten.

This labourer in the vineyard of the Lord
has never stained his dentures with the grape,
a dozen spinsters wither and grow bored,
wan victims of an unattempted rape.

Upon his tumbled bed the sunlight falls,
and waking eyes Ulysses-like unfold
that map of ecstasy, the bedroom walls,
still patterned with the vine and grapes in gold.

The phallic chart reveals to drowsy eyes
a rapturous diversity of shapes;
his larval thoughts wing forth and crawl like flies
among the vine-leaves and the clustered grapes.

The pattern melts beneath his gaze of fire,
and leaf and fruit, transfigured in that change,
yield transcendental figures of desire,
and tendrils turn to something rich and strange.

And in His Grace's vineyard (private heaven
laid up in pattern) subtly intertwine
subjective thought and feeling and the given
object—the vile, the violent and the vine.

The sewing guild is meeting at eleven
('.. Your Grace..to morning tea..please condescend..')
His Grace, alas! is in his paper heaven.
His Grace is much too busy to attend!

page 154

The County

Pity on poor dog Tray, alas!
cuffed by the farm-hand's lad and lass.

The farm-hand has both son and daughter:
on family ties he maketh water.

The farmer, next in God's great plan,
now micturates upon the man.

The parson (too genteel to piss)
takes farmers' tithes, content with this.

From the County seat Lord Knocknees doth
make noble water on the Cloth.

From Lord Knocknees to kitchen hound
how shall we make the perfect round?

Lord Knocknees, waiting at the meet,
dismounts to ease the County seat.

A naughty hound now lifts his leg
against Lord Knocknees' noble peg.

The circle's full. This ancient land
on sure foundation yet shall stand.

Note on the State Literary Fund

Here is a piece of wisdom
I learnt at my mother's knee:
The mushroom grows in the open,
The toadstool under the tree.

page 155

On R. A. K. Mason

Here's Mason, who would greet us
With some damned tag from Epictetus.
His belly was so full of Latin
He fouled the very chair he sat in.

page 156page 157page 158