The Spike [: or, Victoria University College Review 1957]
Prose And Verse
Prose And Verse
The Prose And Poetry which follows is mainly the work of younger writers, most of whom have started to work seriously at writing over the past two years. In the light of this, the material selected and presented here is more than satisfying in its variety and in its high standard. We are confident that some of it at least is also durable.
Seven poems by Peter Bland are included and this is the largest selection of his poems to be printed together up to the present time. We believe that these poems show a considerable advance on anything that he has published previously, and that they are exciting evidence of a real poetic talent.
Arthur Barker's free verse fragments are a new departure for him, and are further proof of an acute sensibility.
We wish to thank all those writers whose work is printed here and all who took time and trouble to prepare and submit their work.
The Time of the Tree
As The Bulldozer backed away the big tree swayed and slowly began to topple. It fell reluctantly, gathering more and more speed until it hit with a crunch of snapping branches as the trunk settled into the cloud of dust billowing up from the new roadway. The bulldozer driver turned his engine off and climbed down out of the cab. He was a tall, heavily built man and the sweat of the hot Waikato afternoon rippled and glistened on his neck, above the greasy black singlet, and on his forehead, sunbrowned from years of outdoor work.
Back as far as he could see, the road workings snaked across the pasture lands; the new bright clay of the road-bed where it had not yet been surfaced shining in the sun. It ended where he stood, at the foot of the felled tree. Looking at the tree more closely, he saw where it had broken off, at the wide, deep slash put there by the advance gang, a bite into the still-living wood from which sap oozed slowly on to the stump like blood from a wound, and to the earth near his feet. And as he stood there he raised his eyes, seeing for the first time at the top of this same garden where the tree had once grown, a house nearly hidden by a thick screen of bush. At the head of the pathway leading up from the garden a door opened and a figure leaning on a stick came slowly walking towards him. As it drew nearer the outlines became clearer, until a tall, thin, elderly woman with stringy grey hair and page 56 dark eyes in which tears could still be seen, stood a yard away. She was dressed in the fashion of thirty years before, the dress faded and almost in rags; at first she said nothing but just gazed at the newly felled tree. Then she looked at the bulldozer driver.
"So you've killed it," she said simply. Deliberately she raised her stick and struck the mudguard of the bulldozer once. The stick clanged on the dull yellow-painted metal; she turned and slowly walked back to the foot of the path and along the ruined garden, her figure dwindling and losing outline in the heavy heat haze until the door snapped shut after her with finality, seemingly gathering up the woman and her years and removing them from the sight of men, of machines and especially the man and machine still standing silent in the freshly churned dust and clay of the new road. The driver was not a young man and in his time he had met many strange people. And because of this he could not be surprised or even taken off his guard by the old woman, nor by her actions, seeing the grief in her face, nor by the remains of what had once been a very beautiful garden with this tree as its centrepiece. As the dust subsided the foreman came along the road.
"What's the hold-up?" he said. The driver nodded in the direction of the tree.
"You'll have to get that out of the way before I can move on." The foreman strode off and soon the rumbling of a tractor echoed in the distance. Heavy chains were linked round the trunk and, as the tree began to jerk backwards, the foreman returned.
"There'll be a few feet of timber for someone there," he said to the bulldozer driver.
"Yeah ..." said the driver. He was looking at a little heap of leaves that had been a bird's nest, left behind by the trunk. To one side lay the remains of an egg, a few green fragments of shell and a yellow pulp sinking into the ground. And he was thankful, now that the tree was jerking and sliding down the roadway, that the woman had not remained. He would not have wanted her to see the broken nest and the egg, or the tractor, like an ant dragging off a once-powerful prize, taking the tree to where it would cease to be a tree but a stack of straight boards and a pile of chips and sawdust for some city man's fire in a few months' time. Climbing back into the cab, he re-started the engine and moved up to clear away the bank beyond the stump. As he passed by the house he looked at it long and steadily, noticing that the blinds were all drawn in the front rooms and there was no sign of the woman, nor anyone else round about.
* * *
When she was a small girl they told her that the tree had been planted as a seedling a few days after her birth. From that time on her nurse had been bidden to take her down to the bottom of the garden nearly every fine day so she could inspect the small sapling to see if it had grown since the last time.
"They grow very slowly, dear," the nurse always said. But week by week and gradually season by season she saw the first buds appear on the embryo branches and the root spread rippling under the soil; saw the young tree slowly take shape page 57 and begin to overtop the bushes nearby. And when her mother had scolded or her father had spanked her or the nurse, now her governess, had upbraided her for neglecting her lessons, she would creep down after she had been sent to bed; down through the rustling bushes and the dry chirp of the cicadas to where the young tree grew, its branches uplifted against the sky and with the moon shining palely on its trunk; there she would press her face to its cold and familiar bark, talking to the tree through her tears until she was comforted, or it had comforted her. Then, and only then, could she go back to her bed and sleep, with all the momentary hatred for her mother or father gone; and even her dislike for the governess, who was grey-faced and ugly and growled at her many times. At Christmas the tree was carefully hung with bells and lamps, and all kinds of parcels gaily wrapped in tinsel were piled at its base. They sang and danced to the tune of the tinkling bells, all the children and their parents from the neighbouring farms, and her father ran laughing up and down the lawn and round the bushes with her, his only daughter, on his back, pulling his great moustache; and all the other children would follow them, laughing and calling until it was time for the Christmas meal. Then they went into the big front room; from her seat at the head of the ever-noisy table she could see the tree sparkling in the half-darkness, guarding, as it seemed to her, the undisclosed treasures at its feet. At such times she wanted to fall on her knees and worship it.
But these times passed: suddenly she was no longer a child but a girl and a young woman, lying in bed on early Spring mornings and delighting in the vague tremors and desires in her body which grew and ripened with each slow change of season. Across the aisle in the church she met the self-conscious glances of the young men"—boys who had grown up in the same district with her, and who now were almost strangers. Sometimes, during her mother's social evenings, she would know the touch of their hands and would shrink away from them, compelled by a strange fusion of fears and a sense of urgency and loss; afterwards there would be crying fits and unexplained tempers that no one seemed to understand, and no one could assuage. Always she was frightened of her own feelings made more distressing to her by the frequent admonitions of the governess.
"You must love only God," she would say; "and fight against the wickedness of the flesh." The lines round her mouth always deepened when she spoke of such things and her eyes would never meet those of the girl. She often wondered why the governess put so much bitterness into her voice. ...
Only the tree did not change although nearly everything round it did: her fathers moustache and hair with their first streaks of grey, the governess who seemed to wither away before her eyes one winter, dying suddenly of a heart attack, and her mother's voice growing deeper and older, yet somehow weak"—the tree however flourished, put forth new twigs and branches with new bright leaf, spreading its crest wider with each year.
Almost everything changed ... there was someone else she felt had grown up with her, and the tree, which was beginning to flower with her approaching womanhood. She had known David Hanson for as long as she could remember. As they began to grow up they singled each other out from the large circle of mutual acquaintances and were seen together more and more. He was quiet and people said he read too much for a farmer's son. Also, he was very shy; she tried to encourage him in the few ways the strict morality of the day permitted, but he page 58 did not at first respond. Until, during one of her mother's "evenings" after she had wanted and anticipated for what seemed an age, she was with him alone in the darkness, under the tree. ... Afterwards with the night wind rustling in the branches over them and the cicadas of her childhood still chirping as they had before, she remembered the dead governess's words and smiled to herself. Perhaps she never knew this, she thought, or perhaps ... she felt suddenly cold and whispered to David that they had better go inside before her mother missed her.
Then it was 1914 and August: the man she now knew, who was born to be a teacher or a clergyman but was instead a farmer because the land belonged to his family, was in uniform, awkward and self-conscious, nearly but not quite a soldier in the new-smelling rough khaki and single pip of a subaltern in the Mounted Rifles. He had not told her he was joining up in case she would dissuade him: when she first saw him in the uniform she had felt pride, but later she came to dread the hour of his return from camp, when he would go on final leave before embarking. She wanted to be married but he said No, it wouldn't be fair to her if he should. ...... Fair, she cried to herself, what else would be fairer? But he would not give way. The embarkation time arrived more quickly than she had prepared for, as they needed reinforcements after the first great battles: soon he was irreparably gone from her, leaving as a reminder of what lay between them, a ring with two diamonds and a promise, cheerfully given on the wharf, to return in the near future with his uniform barely soiled, as it seemed to him. If he had known what an effort it had cost her to smile at that. ... She had her woman's forebodings, writing letter after letter to a name in the middle of the Pacific and then the Indian Ocean, receiving back as many as she sent and as regularly"—until a great gap of time elapsed with no word from him, and no news. She feared the worst and her fears were realised: in a city newspaper she saw photographs of a sinking ship and above them, bannered headlines.
After that there was the interminable waiting for a confirmation of life or death: the military telegrams with their clipped messages engendering grief foreign to their very words, giving rise to suddenly grave voices, and a sermon from the pulpit of a cathedral, delivered to a congregation of dry-eyed women who remained that way because of a great numbness, and the realisation that nothing else could help at that point. The telegram duly arrived at his parents' home, but by now she had been expecting what it had to tell for a week or more, and its arrival was no more than a full stop, a finality to a completed short episode, now drained of potentiality and any power of tears it may have had over her. Her parents were surprised and more than a little shocked at the calmness with which she accepted the news. And now she was left with a parcel of letters full of soldier's banalities, from a man who had never been given the chance to become a soldier, a photograph of an awkward young man in a brand-new subaltern's uniform, and a ring which no longer held a future, the promise of fruilfulness. She took it off her finger as soon as she heard the news of the telegram, and put it in a drawer.
It was early autumn and the tree was fast losing its leaves. For the first time in her life she felt old. The tree was now nearly half-grown and its gaunt adolescent branches stretched above her, moving slowly against the sky and the low-lying clouds. She felt altogether a different person, almost as if one self had drowned with that torpedoed ship, leaving someone else behind whom she did not yet know, but who would be revealed to her with the gradual maturing of the tree across the page 59 future years. Somehow, she knew that what was to happen to her was all bound up in that tree. Yet there was so little she seemed to know. ...
The years passed. The end of the war signified nothing, as there was nothing and nobody returning from it, and to her. There was one year, much later, that stood out in her memory for a long time, as it seemed to her an affirmation of her gradual process. It was the year both of her parents died, first her father and later her mother, who gradually wasted away, taking no heed of anything; until in the final storm of the year she caught cold and died. She could feel no sorrow but rather happiness as nothing was undone by their going: part of her pattern was completed. Now there was no one else in the house and for the first time since the war she felt secure; and for the first time since her far-distant childhood she could tend and watch the tree. Over the years she saw it breast the winter storms, sometimes losing a branch but always steadily growing and waxing out of the soil she carefully nourished. As the memory of the soldier faded with the gradual yellowing of the single photograph she had retained, she began to give herself over utterly to the tree until her whole existence centred round it and it was to her the true consummation of all the beauty and fecundity of everything she had ever known. Almost, the tree grew out of her own body as if it were her child: sometimes she thought herself wedded to it as a nun to God, or a priestess of Isis to her strange terrible idol"—to her it was God or a vision of Him which she alone could know and cherish"—and all of God she desired was now contained in that tree. She was content to watch it from her window, or windows, now: she lived in various parts of the house as the rooms had begun to deteriorate. Another war came and left its aftermath, new people walked abroad in the district, but she saw none of these things. Except for occasional visits from the lawyer who called to inform her of the condition of her father's investments, and her weekly trip to the general store for provisions, she contacted no one, stubbornly resisting the advances of nearby families and people who had known her in her youth. The vicar was both puzzled and hurt because she had given up coming to church. No newspapers were left on her doorstep and except for the monthly interest cheques, no mail but that it was torn up and burned, passed the threshold of her house.
One morning, near the end of a summer, she woke to hear the sound of heavy machinery in the distance. Day by day it grew nearer until she could hear men's voices shouting above the din of the engines. Later in the week a man came to her front door. He was one of the engineers in charge of that particular section of roadworks in the county. The end portion of the garden lay in the path of the road, and every notification that had been sent to the owner had been ignored. It was a situation he had come up against many times before with old people. Oh well, he thought, I'll just have to be firm and tell them what's going on, face to face. Once he had hated doing this sort of thing and had avoided it wherever he could, but now. ... By the end of that day the scheduled part of the road would be complete, or so he hoped, for there was a bonus depending on the early completion of the whole project and he needed the money.
"You'll take my tree?" said the old woman who answered the door. The engineer nodded. "We wrote to you about it exactly three months ago."
"You'll take my tree?" she repeated. The young man glanced down the road to where the advance gang was coming up slowly.page 60
"I'm afraid I can't avoid it. You see, it's on the only piece of solid ground in this particular section."
"Of course it is. Why else would it be planted there?" she replied scornfully.
"Well, it's got to go. I'm sorry, but we did advise you. Of course, you'll be compensated." She laughed and shut the door in his face. The engineer turned away, shrugging his shoulders as the foreman came up. "Any trouble?" he asked.
"No, not really. She's a bit queer, that's all." Already the advance gang had left and a bulldozer began to move along the strip of finished roadbed. It bit into the hedge border, removing it in a couple of mouthfuls and very soon the bushes round the tree were cleared, giving the bulldozer an unimpeded run.
She watched it all take place from an upstairs window. Her feelings mixed and knotted inside her like the clenching of a fist with every blow of the machine against the tree. It was worse, much worse than the time she had waited for the telegram so long ago now. Then, she had been able to prepare, but this. ... It all happened so quickly and brutally; somehow she could find no tears, but sat dry-eyed as in that former time, watching tensely the man in the black singlet who drove the machine which backed away and rushed forward, the tree shuddering as if in pain and heeling over with the birds flying out of it with shrill cries of distress. It's going to die now, she thought, it's going to die ... and it seemed to her as she sat there that another self came back to her, one she had known forty years ago, a young girl; and in the driver's seat of the bulldozer sat one who was also familiar, or had once been familiar to her.
"So you have hated it, David," she murmured, watching the man in the black singlet, "and now you are destroying it." As she spoke the tree gave a final lurch and fell slowly into the roadway, hidden from her by a great cloud of dust and shimmering heat haze. She ran into a corner of the room, crying. Then she slowly straightened up and walked to the front door and out into the garden, down the pathway to where the tree lay, and the man still stood. As she came closer she saw he was middle-aged and had a broad, pleasant, stupid face and great workman's hands. She took the scene in coldly, without emotion: the man standing with his face expressionless, the now subsiding cloud of grey dust, the yellow painted machine, and the tree. These are the last things I will see, she said to herself.
"So you've killed it," she said. She no longer saw the man standing there nor knew whether it was the dust or suffering that suddenly contorted his face: like a gesture of defiance or simply a renunciation and the defeat of an old woman's or a child's fist against the iron wall of a prison house, her stick rang against the side of the bulldozer. Then she turned and made her way slowly back to the house, carefully shutting and locking the front door after her. She went' to each room, drew the blinds and put dust-covers over the furniture. Upstairs a photograph rested on the dressing table next to the bed; she looked at it for a long time, at the yellowed portrait of a young man in khaki. Then she locked the bedroom door and got into bed.
"I'm coming now, David," she said, as the faint sounds of machinery and men's voices and chains outside in the garden broke through the summer stillness of the room.
From the French of Charles Baudelaire
Time was when Nature, monstrously enraptured,
Brought giant children forth: O would that I
Had then by some young giantess been captured,
Before her feet in feline bliss to lie!
I would have watched her body and her mind
Flower and strengthen in her awful play;
And through her eyes' cool mists would have divined
How dark the flame that in her bosom lay;
Traversed at leisure all her splendid form,
Around her knees' enormous curve have crept;
And when she lay, on sultry summer morn,
Weary, across the land, I would have slept
At ease beneath the shadow of her breasts
As at a mountain's foot a hamlet rests.
You are rather beautiful
I might have said very beautiful
that some would have taxed me with exaggeration
including yourself too i expect
in your heart
if not with your lips
which would remain silent
like a flower
Yes you are rather silent
I might have said very silent
that about the peace which you carry within you
i should not wish to exaggerate
for you often speak
of humble necessary things
of work or food or pleasure
but about important things
you are properly silent
with a silence more eloquent
and more welcome
than any imperfect human speech
So if in your presence i appear reserved
it is because i would not break
that very desirable peace
the sort of peace
in which alone important silent matters
can proceed undisturbed
silent because gravitation is soundless
which is also like gravitation a state of quiet tension
which can be better known from its own particular stress
than from any spate of words
by which we might seek to explain it
Accept, I beg of you, an offering of myself,
Not as I am,
But as I could conceivably be in the mind's eye,
For without leave I have taken such a gift of you
Neither can tell
What merchandise the other gets
In this unpremeditated interchange.
For each remains a mystery
To the other as to the self.
Time and place stream between us,
Even when we are together,
For the time of one is not the time of another,
And no intimacy can effect a congruence of souls.
Yet do not let us be too sad in this,
Or, if we must be so,
Let it be rather in the knowledge of those others,
Whose total sorrow we should not have guessed
Had part of it not first become our own.
The poem that falls apart,
Fragment of fragments,
The sundering of a fragmentary life.
Try as I will, I cannot make them whole,
The poem or the life,
Nor find an ether to annihilate
The interstellar spaces of the mind.
Perhaps one day it will happen;
But the world will not notice,
And only you and I shall know
The marvel that has caught us unawares.
Le poème qui se dèfait
Fragment en fragments,
Les fragments d'une vie inintÉgrale.
Je n'arrive pas à les cicatriser,
Ni le poeme ni la vie;
Je ne trouve pas l'Éther qui supprime
Les distances interstellaires de l'âme.
Un jour peut-être ça se fera,
Mais personne n'en tiendra compte,
Sauf toi et moi,
De cette merveille inattendue.
The facts which I would communicate
In writing you these halting words
Fade speechless on my lips;
But the letters will be incandescent with meaning
In spite of the indirectness of the words:
Which may perhaps typify the obliquity of existence,
Whose intention is imperfectly shown
Although the fragments glow exquisitely bright.
G. W. Barlow
'The Peoples Voice'
He lumbers in, his own burden,
A mountain of malcontent,
Mumbles in his gravy
Abuse at the government.
The restaurant is lousy,
The food is not the same,
The waitresses are lazy
The government is to blame.
But something long forgotten
Has soured his middle years.
His flirting with the waitress
Now takes the form of jeers.
A stillborn joke as she passes
Brings no gleam to her eye:
"Enough to turn you off your meal
Enough to make you cry.
I hate the bloody government;
I hate this bloody place;
I hate all bloody governments;
I hate the human race."
The human voice can pitch a note to shatter the craftsman's
Glass and, lovingly fingered, the liquid guitar
Moves through the blood like a wind through grass.
Sphinx and Buddha squeezed of time may freeze
The stranger's restive eye, but Manolete in his prime
Made a myth from the way a bull can die.
A Memorandum for Antigone
Further to our meeting, my wish to brood
upon its memory queries your name,
whose vowels run like fingers over places
on a map. Reviving the legendary fame
of that blind beggar's daughter wandering
self-exiled, far from the towers
of her birth. A Mecca now for tourists
breeding postcards in her wake, like flowers
that advertise a heroine's grave. Forsaking
a land of sleeping gods, your generation
seek their future in strange waters, like Jasons
dreaming of a multi-coloured fleece. In veneration
of their country's myths the old remain
bound by the legacy of age. Here, you are not
alone Antigone; I too am from an old house,
leaving the residue of twenty years to rot
in its crowded soil. Carefully, then. I trace
the echoes of your face and finding room
there for compassion, play at Hercules, lamenting
your half-forgotten father in his foreign tomb.
New Settler's Seasonal
It almost passed unnoticed until I discovered
Them nursing flowers in their own back-yards.
Then the year took root in the calendar
Of my sight and sped among the spades
And hoes wounding the garrulous gardens.
Each generation feels habitual fevers, the heart's
Extension of the blackbird's song, gossips along
The fences, gallops green-fingered in the gardens
Or tickles the coiling lovers to the neutral wood.
All this is understood and yet comparisons, like germs
From an old desire, grow delirious in my blood,
Fermenting sorrow; not an exile's grief but a traveller's
Despair, who seeing these signs as broken promises
Finds no common cause in which to share.
The marrow-making sun, now south in its vampire's
season, unwinds me from my corregated chrysalis
to where the crowds lie crucified upon the beach.
greeting the year's full flower. This is the hour
of forgetfulness, the ocean like a Jungian couch
swells buoyantly beneath us, a collective cure
for fibrous nerves laid bare on a weekend pilgrimage.
The sea is transport to the summers fruitfulness;
textiles, tourists, motor-cars, apples and immigrants,
released from the tethered boats' big bellies,
either chase their own or satisfy another's appetite.
"The bright day is done""—dinghies with pleated
sails hemmed in before the needling dark, return
their native cargoes, each to his separate night.
Murmuring through museums of the mind, this beached
Autumn evening picks and probes like an old Antiquary
At memory's buried bone, sending the heart's ease
Scuttling home to castles, cathedrals and galleries
Of stone, plunged to the towers in the waters of Lethe.
No signposts here to finger a sermon on the permanence
Of man, only the billboards' pale cosmetic smile
And the bulldozed land, ditching a pipe to the city.
Over the sand the burnt Pacific litters sea-petals
Of broken bottles, picnic scraps and shells; a fish-
Nibbled newsprint rediscovers a body in a naked cove.
The lovers blinded by each other's eyes, the lonely mothers
And their dark undreaming children have gone home and the day
Dissolves like a piece of ice, melting on a red hot stove.
Walking the wired street, while a stain of clouds
Blotted night's blackboard clean of stars, we watched
The winking houses fold their wings over the drenched
Home-hurrying faces nailed to the creaking scheme of things
Gone groaning to the dark end of the day and year.
Likewise wearing the stamp of winter, all our fears
Migrated to the firelight's magic circle. So denied,
The splintered night slapped like a tide against our loves'
Abandoned tower and hissed upon the cauldron of your sighs.
Caged in your eyes, a wake of child-bed tears, weaned
On the remembering wind, awoke a season's grief in me.
Prophetic in my terror and tuned to the tapping dark,
I heard the scream of children, sucked from the sea,
Go rattling down the void between our cooling hands.
Letter to John Boyd "— Varsity 1957
One misses the loudspeaker usual in such
A terminus; a sense of direction would set
The seal on this, our Jason's journey
For a paper fleece, framed by the mind's utility
And won on nightly wanderings through pencil
Charted seas. (No fears of tempests to disturb the peace.)
Too many certainties prevent our changing course.
Some government or aspiring merchant prince
Has marked us down already, as high-grade
Pennies for the public slot. Belly and backside
Regulate the trained mind, and habit like a scurvy
Consumes us till our senses rot.
Yet I remain disciple to the scholars' fact;
You well may ask what trick has served
To disengage belief from action. I think
The rank and file a franker crew but find
In exile here, a few, whose suffering
Spills over into nightmare, poem, or prayer.
The rest grind on, I fear their tutored
Fingers tampering with mind, machine and bomb.
Their reward is mental comfort, while the vacuum
Of the heart demands a soap-box opera,
Life, a well adjusted chart, where kisses
And statistics mix like apples in a cart.
Pardon that my mood's disquiet can shape
No tram-car sonnet or infest with flowers
The bulk of our Endeavour. My puffing
Intellect has long since ceased to strive
Beneath the pressure of a middle-class drive
To fill the empty hours with buried treasure.
Our voyage's final product is a trained mechanic
Who, armed with a master's ticket, cannot hope
To save more than himself from an early grave;
Though he wire the fuses in our box of flesh
Till kingdom come"—as indeed it will,
Complete with fire, thunder, sword and gun.
To God upon his throne there gathered from
The scattered nations of the earthly shade
The newly dead"—and in the great parade
Two children murdered by a napalm bomb.
A mist of tears choked God's old heart, and shame
That his all-powerful hands had framed at once
Those lovely children and these murdering guns,
Life-giving flames of sunlight"—and these flames.
No waxen virgin, wooden crucifix,
Pray to him to forgive. His seeing floats
Upon a living contractor who licks
His finger, counts his thousand-dollar notes.
Anon, says God. For this abyss of crime
There waits the silence of the after-time.
After the Storm
After the storm
with the new-risen sun wheeling
in its chains and the cry of gulls
kneading the air my now-healing
eyes saw and again believed in the lull
of women's voices binding a wound,
and wild honey spilt on the ground.
After the storm
when the once-wild day cracked like a world
between the fingers of a laughing god
and houses like dogs shook the furled
clouds loose and the earth no longer bled,
I saw again the fire in a woman's hair
warm in the refuge of our desire.
After the storm
the sleek moon rose above the trees
heavy with birth while the same night
I had always known sped like a sea
over hollow land, and the light
failed in blind windows. I saw it all pass
and knew my loss.
Alight Here for Fountain and University
Why does this coloured fountain fingering
the night with its brittle plume awaken
old fears of former ills? And why should
rain falling like insects in a bowl
so easily obscure the inward eye resting
in this over-warm room, haven
called Home? These things trouble us, like cold
sunlight on a cloudless day; should we seek
reasons, impose patterns, believe
in unfamiliar faces or olive-armed symbols
of future certainty? And what of the bleak
times when half-forgotten effigies relive
in a mute dance of despair, ragged dolls
with the sawdust running out? The fountain
plays on remembering no feats of strength
and no irony, while the autumn rain still casts
its tinctured veil on upturned faces, no stain
on this ordinary, unhallowed earth. But the old myth
prevails"—while these things are, we find no rest.
James Hunter Capie
A Respected Member of the Community
He was a man who could always be relied upon
to sum up the whole proceedings
with a polite generality
that meant nothing.
At a birth, marriage or death
he was always expected to speak
to crown the occasion with the wisdom
acquired as an important civil servant
and an elder in the church.
He had one story only
and one quotation from Shakespeare
(it was really from Burns)
and the speech, no matter what the day"—
whether someone had been born
or wed or buried,
whether someone was retiring
and being presented with a clock,
whether someone was launching an appeal for funds
to buy home freezers for the Esquimaux
or scarves for the natives of Sarawak,
whether it was merely the instalment
of a new type of adding machine-
the speech, no matter what the day,
was always the same.
Ladies and gentlemen we are gathered
together for a very commendable reason
(the one and only story here)
and we may be thankful that,
living as we do in troubled times,
we (cough here) have had before us
men who have fought for freedom,
for our freedom, for democracy,
for peace and justice among the nations
page 72 (Shakespeare alias Burns just here)
and perhaps that alone is why
we are able to be here today.
And so (one sip of water) I am sure
that all present will agree with me
as to our debts and obligations
and"—may I say?"—our hopes
which I earnestly trust will be fulfilled.
They always clapped and smiled,
they always nodded with discreet satisfaction
at the way he had fulfilled his obligations
and"—may I say?"—their hopes.
For over fifty years, his platitudes,
like droning bees from hives,
had flown out through his lips
and wrecked a thousand lives.
Song of a Pilot
In case my aged friend the wind
Should come up sidling slyly
From behind you,
Asking archly what has become
Of his lasooer, mention
That I saw him
And saw his cirrus mane
That I heard him
Hoof-panic whine and shy
At scenting my blood burning,
But I let him
Slip through my fingers.
Poem for a Sailor
It's near at hand, his country,
And I went there yesterday,
Went to walk and listen
For a soothing sound, or peace.
The rocks that spoke were cruel
Though their tongues were petrified,
Spat only of the weather"—
How deep it dragged and cold.
And I tried hard then to gather
What a sailor is and why:
He knows of tides and harbours
And something of the stars.
Yet most of all he faces
The wind, whichever way
It blows; my friend the sailor
Did more than face the wind.
He faced its agile rider
Who wouldn't play the man,
Who brushed against him darkly
And crushed him from behind.
It's near at hand his country
But its tongues are petrified"—
Speak only of the weather
How deep it drags and cold.
So near at hand his country.
Listen. How deep it drags
Our sons, who heed no borders
And have forgotten flags.
Shadow and water, water, water and shadow.
A night with fine rain falling; through the dark
Bright flowers of voices blossom, the light sound
Of water lapping the looming hull and rain
Tapping the black tarpaulins, break the silence
As a ship prepares for tomorrow's outward voyage.
They have stowed away in the shadowy hold's deep sound
A thousand dreams, a dream for every shadow.
All night long, till the morning watch, the rain
Pours out of a black sky defining the silence,
And that grey ship, alerted for her voyage,
Waits for the banishment of the Nantucket dark.
Then before morning storm booms out of the dark
And the hands of thunder tear the enshrining silence.
The Captain hovers, an Ahab in the shadow,
Taut with the fear that there will be no voyage;
A voice in his brain, echoing every sound,
Tells of the gathered fury of the rain.
All night long, till the morning watch, the rain
Speaks to him of the folly of his voyage,
His dreams desert him one by one in the dark;
But at eight bells of the morning watch the sound
Of rain and thunder and wind dies away, and the shadow
Creeps out of the harbour leaving only silence.
The sun comes up and, in the first light's silence.
Drives out the last retreating drops of rain.
With blare of klaxons the grey ship starts her voyage,
Setting her course from the hill-girt harbour's shadow,
Pushes her bow-wave away from the storm-beaten dark
Of the wrecked jetty into the green deep sound.
Through a white foam of seas she makes her voyage
Slowly, through waters far too deep to sound,
Pursuing a dream amid the whitening silence.
Yet on her bridge there lingers still the dark
Thought of the storm, words of the threatening rain.
She voyages navigated by a shadow.
And on the jetty haunted by his shadow
A figure crouches, cursing the long rain;
Still eager, like Odysseus, to embark.
Hydrogen Bomb Tests
A pillar of white smoke
Three miles up in the sky
As an emblem for our times;
Those small things we live by,
Love of wife or child,
Care of a green plot,
Are denied by this giant folly
And the day must come when not
One vestige of charity,
Compassion for suffering,
Will remain of our shredded comfort
And man shall be as nothing.
Yet an emblem for the times
Is what we need; for those few
Who have the heart to make
Decisions and pursue
Even to outer darkness
Love's meaning for our day,
Carrying their defiance
Under a threatening sky,
March out against the crowd,
Cry out against the surge
And with their whole beings urge
A better way to declare
All that is great in man,
Sure, beyond bomb or slogan,
Since our journey began.
We shall earn by indifference
Hiroshima or worse,
Children screaming at emptiness,
The blind man's curse,
The crippled lamentations
Of tattered bodies thrown
Into a pit of flesh
As putrid as their own.
Chasing fanatic dreams,
Thin-lipped, may cast upon us
A thousand dooms,
Or one long doom in a moment.
The shattering of man,
Ending the dreams we've cherished
Since the journey began.
So it must happen
If a pushed button can kill
All strength and loveliness
And destroy the human will.
Now the shape of the world is made
In a pillar of white smoke.
If it should grow taller
Our human love will choke.
The wind sifts through
a motley of poplar leaves
but finds nothing new.
Green and gold and red
in a wild rout of colour
life, but all are dead.
With poplar leaves
our memories drift down
and each of us grieves.
restless leaves of love
are moved by the breeze.
Autumn Wind, you,
old scrounger, will find nothing
beautiful or true.
Only a fall
of dead, dry leaves"—otherwise
nothing"—nothing at all.