For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious

Friday, 12 July 2019

L'Ascensione (II)

Love's quick'ning spirit swept the tomb aside
Like sand, jumped out on sad and solemn me
Come to wrap meetly the blue corpse horrid,
In pages starched and unctuous poetry.

Oh, love was here and there and gone and lent
Her gaze or presence momently, unsought,
Till slipping through the hole in heaven's tent,
A parting glory (touch not; handle not)

Left gazing I. Her spousal feast remains,
Hours, days, night, chiming happily her praises,
Fish, bird, man, beast; high, low, greatest and least
Round mind and maid, a dance the stars amazes.

On sinful head fall terror tongue aflame, till
Utter time prolong her little gospel's name.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

My fruit is dreams

The sleep-flower sways in the wheat its head,
Heavy with dreams, as that with bread:
The goodly grain and the sun-flushed sleeper
The reaper reaps, and Time the reaper.

I hang 'mid men my needless head,
And my fruit is dreams, as theirs is bread:
The goodly men and the sun-hazed sleeper
Time shall reap, but after the reaper
The world shall glean of me, me the sleeper.

Love, love! your flower of withered dream
In leavèd rhyme lies safe, I deem,
Sheltered and shut in a nook of rhyme,
From the reaper man, and his reaper Time.

Love! I fall into the claws of Time:
But lasts within a leavèd rhyme
All that the world of me esteems --
My withered dreams, my withered dreams.

- from To Monica by Francis Thompson

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Sweven the Third

A third dream I have dreamt of you,
A dream that same night twice repeated
As if to set a seal upon the vision.
You were without, and I within,
Your face I saw but briefly by the door.
Another you were calling,
For things inconsequential,
To walk together somewhere else
On business not essential,
But you were pleased all quietly
And I onlooker at your pleasure.
I turned to work and busily
Assumed a face of abstract care
Unseeing of the page before me there.
And then I dreamt the dream again,
The self-same dream, after sad wakefulness.
And so in waking life I live
Twixt those same dreams, twixt sleep and sleep
In heavy waking life am I.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Dire Longing

O pater.... quae lucis miseris tam dira cupido?

Father... what is this dire longing of these wretches for light?

- Aeneas to Anchises, Aeneid Book VI (l. 721)

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

A Blackbird of Shere

At twilight hour, the dove-grey clouds
Heady with supper's wine, lay sprawled
On infinite heaven's bed above green hills.

The half-dead ash-tree's bare bough thrills -
A blackbird to the drunk clouds called
Cantata chirruping to their soft shrouds.

The feast is done, light's tables cleared.
Musicians all but this have ceased -
Her yellow instrument sweet jars the silence.

So dusks the June night to her cadence.
Wherefore these tears her song released
Stepping alone through hall by summer reared?

Monday, 17 June 2019

A Prophecy about Drones

This evening I was walking the dog in the twilight, and as usual a solitary blackbird was singing, pausing every so often to listen, from a white dead branch at the top of an old ash tree. I was conscious of another unpleasant hornet-like noise of a machine somewhere nearby, but couldn't locate it until I realised it was up high, and then I saw it - the green light of a drone fifty feet overhead.

It brought to mind this prophetic passage from Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan, written in 1959, the third book of the Gormenghast trilogy, which seems to foresee the invention of the drone.

(This is an utterly different book from the first two, which are set in the feudal world of the vast castle. No-one in this modern bureaucratic nightmare into which Titus has wandered, like something from Kafka, really believes Titus when he speaks of Gormenghast. It is the modern predicament: the Titus figures carry Gormenghast within them, it defines them, they have fled the traditions and found themselves in a merciless world run on different lines in which the only possible redemption is personal love and loyalty. And they are lost and bewildered.)

There was no one ahead of him in spite of the length of the road, but it seemed that he was no longer alone. Something had joined him. He turned as he ran, and at first saw nothing, for he had focused his eyes upon the distance. Then all at once he halted, for he became aware of something floating beside him, at the height of his shoulders.
It was a sphere no bigger than the clenched fist of a child, and was composed of some transparent substance, so pellucid that it was only visible in certain lights, so that it seemed to come and go.
Dumfounded, Titus drew aside from the centre of the road until he could feel the northern wall at his back. For a few moments he leaned there seeing no sign of the glassy sphere, until suddenly, there it was again, hovering above him.
This time as Titus watched it he could see that it was filled with glittering wires, an incredible filigree like frost on a pane; and then as a cloud moved over the sun, and a dim, sullen light filled the windowless street, the little hovering globe began to throb with a strange light like a glow-worm.
At first, Titus had been more amazed than frightened by the mobile globe which had appeared out of nowhere, and followed or seemed to follow every movement he made; but then fear began to make his legs weak, for he realised that he was being watched not by the globe itself, for the globe was only an agent, but by some remote informer who was at this very moment receiving messages. It was this that turned Titus's fear into anger, and he swung back his arms as though to strike the elusive thing which hovered like a bird of paradise.
At the moment Titus that raised his hand, the sun came out again, and the little glittering globe with its coloured entrails of exquisite wire slid out of range, and hovered again as though it were an eyeball watching every move.
Then, as though restless, it sped, revolving on its axis, to the far end of the street where it turned about immediately and sang its way back to where it hung again five feet from Titus, who, fishing his knuckle of flint from his pocket, slung it at the hovering ball, which broke in a cascade of dazzling splinters, and as it broke there was a kind of gasp, as though the globe had given up its silvery ghost... as though it had a sentience of its own, or a state of perfection so acute that it entered, for the split second, the land of the living.
Leaving the broken thing behind he began to run again. Fear had returned, ….

Having a drone above one's head, even when one is not being hunted, is sinister and revolting. I understand Titus's rage.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Look What Happens

Even after all this time
the sun never says to the earth, 
'You owe me.'
Look what happens 
with a love like that. 
It lights the whole sky.

- Hafiz

Saturday, 25 May 2019

The Gospel of the Last Days

Prologue to the Sonnets 
(La Vita Rinata, L'Epifania, La Passione e Morte, L'Ascensione)

Dante met Beatrice in the street
And I another girl did meet.
My art with his I won’t compare,
But she with Beatrice, yes, I dare.
The poet saw once, fiery red
Love a cherub by her bed:
But when the Comedy he wrote
Beatrice stood high upon the float
And was the flesh that God became
And was fair Love, God’s own blest Name.
But what if Beatrice had not died,
If Dante found his love had lied,
Had flowed and ebbed and seeped away
Into soft sands and did not stay?
Would he have thrown into the air
His hands in anger and despair?
Or would fierce Love, that angel dread,
Have took the poet’s hand and led
To where, its human form displayed
It hung slow dying disarrayed?
Imagination, Blake once said,
Is blest Christ’s Body, heaven-sped.
We read well our divinity
When loving we His Image see;  
But when His Spirit flees from us
Love dies as surely die He must
And where God made His glorious nest
Appears a girl just like the rest.
Now are we asked if Love’s a lie
Or steep ascended to the sky,
If we will our own bliss betray
Or wait for Him all our short stay.
Dante the answer knew and Blake,
Not to lose faith, for Jesus’ sake,
Nor cynic turn our soul to sell
Nor take the easy way to Hell.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Stubborn Lives

The truth has to be melted out of our stubborn lives by suffering. Nothing speaks the truth, nothing tells us how things really are, nothing forces us to know what we do not want to know except pain. And this is how the gods declare their love.

- Aeschylus, Oresteia.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

L'Ascensione (I)

Can scorched doors of perception be rehung?
Chains of time, molten, were reforged a ring
That Lord its bearer walks 'neath every sun.
A furnace, blown hot in hell's harrowing

With Love's last breath, made liquid history's core:
Fashioned to freedom by fire of burnt flesh
Sorrow times seven has tempered mixed ore,
Clean bathed and bright is it lifted now fresh -

Ring, hammered by God, smith naked in sweat,
(Lo the anvil his will, his nerves, his brain)
Wear then, crushed soul who pay death's hard debt;
A world forsook is thine. With iron rod reign.

Yet opened wounds depart to poem's haut throne,
Steel pen that gashed its lines through flesh and bone

Sharp tears the sonnet's sky, rent flesh scarred soars
By burnt leaves named wide everlasting doors.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Two Dreams

Twice have I dreamt of you by night.
The first time you were climbing up the stair –
I close behind – you, to my mind
Not quite inciting me to follow you,
Nor yet displeased, something of warning,
Something of danger in your enigmatic look
As much in silence as your words
That made me careful of presumption
Careful to walk too thoughtless after you,
To assume that in the room above there lay
Unguarded welcome, a setting by
Of courtesy’s sharp distance:
You have been so in waking life,
And so, in uncertainty, have I.

The second dream was in a dining hall
Busy with people, sitting ready, chattering
The food not served. One place was empty,
The one beside you, and without looking round
Knowing me there still shy and undecided
Whether to sit or to forbear
Your hand lay once, twice, gently on the seat.
It quite compelled, as if I was all yours,
But yet it did not tell me you were mine.
It said – sit down, without a fuss,
Without love’s ostentation, without
A demonstration. Be quite content.
Sit quiet, happy, and await my pleasure
And if I turn and smile on you
When at my leisure – well, perhaps that’s all
You will receive. But you are mine in ways
The other men are not: although I am not yours,
Not in the way you want. And sad to say
You are in waking life so, every waking day.
And so in certainty am I.

L'Ascensione (II)