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.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Even In Our Sleep

He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep
Pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart,
And in our own despair, against our will,
Comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.

Aeschylus: from the Agamemnon.

Monday, 6 May 2019

Sarum Office: Psalmody for Matins during Eastertide

The cursus (or order for running through the Psalter) differs in Sarum Matins during Eastertide, compared to the rest of the year. I've pasted in the Eastertide cursus for Sarum Matins in the table below (psalms are numbered new style, as per Coverdale) - courtesy of Dr William Renwick who generously provided me with this information.

What I'm about to say isn't exact, but during Easter week one runs through the usual Sunday Matins and Sunday Prime psalms more or less consecutively. Then, during weeks 1-4 of Sundays after Easter, one says three psalms of the appointed twelve Matins psalms for that day of the week, so on the four Mondays of Eastertide one runs through the twelve psalms one would normally say on a single Monday. The only day that doesn't get this treatment is Saturday which is mostly occupied by the office of St Mary in Eastertide.

1st Sunday after Easter
2nd Sunday after Easter
Office of BVM
3rd Sunday after Easter
4th Sunday after Easter
Rogation Sunday
Office of BVM

A query: when they were coming up with their bright ideas for lightening the psalm cursus for clerics in the early twentieth century and again in the 1960s, didn't anyone consider this as a good starting point for a revision for Matins that could have left the day hours more or less intact, perhaps also cutting down on the length of Lauds a little and spreading the long Psalm 119 over the week from Prime-None instead of over a single day? A four or five week cycle for Matins could have covered the entire traditional liturgical year, which (apart from Lent) is mostly made up of four or five week blocks: think of the liturgical months from August to November, Advent, Eastertide etc., and even Septuagesima added to Lent makes up two blocks of four or five weeks depending on whether one includes Holy Week in the count. This is what a conservative revision could have looked like, and wouldn't have been such a radical departure. In fact all that would have been needed was a slim volume detailing which antiphons to use for the psalms on these days: everything else (but everything) could have been left untouched.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

La Passione e Morte (II)

Love's tortured flesh, finite as flesh, its pain
Filled full, with its life's breath ceased. I waited
The god's death whom I bore, blanched while blood's rain
Ran from temple to chin unabated

Till cries were all sunk down to Sabbath rest.
Torches glare long on the slow agony,
But tumult fearing dawn's strange quietness
Departs, though hope grows not as light doth grow.

The splendour and the sword promised at love's birth
Tore entrail deep, as then I knew. Bereft,
A day has come blank both to grief and mirth
And how should I make sense of aught that's left?

A crowbar heaving to a heavy stone,
This pencil dark entombs love's bloodless bones.

Monday, 8 April 2019

La Passione e Morte (I)

Unlike the cool mountain vesper rest – joy’s
Quiet beat replied by bass of night’s fall,
Mind’s sight eyes, sleepless, her unmelting snows,
O'er my bed’s vale her heights swing star-hung tall –

Unlike this toss and turn, this hedged-in room:
Love sickens to drain down death’s heaviness.
I wake astert, find love, bowed in the gloom,
Reproach and smite me for my chariness,

Then trail to face the crowd. The daily crowd
Sees here no deity. They know not what
They do. Stripped common, its furrow over-ploughed,
I hid my face when love’s noon turned a blot.

My nib thrusts to love’s dead heart through his side
To draw in blood. Its well and point has dried.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

To a Modern Girl

I wrote this poem To a Modern Girl eleven years ago in my late 20s, as a private joke in an e-mail. A friend had suggested to me in a wonderful piece of spontaneous alliteration that men want a girl to be model, minx, muse & matron all at once. This poem was my reply to him. Since I am posting a few poems here I thought I would dig this out and was surprised to find that I still had it stored in my sent mail box.

Girl, Woman yet lissom-limbed, bring home the long,
The dark ripe fruit, the low hung apples of posterity,
In the volum'nous skirts of femininity.  In one be divers.
Be model, stalk out repulsing all possession, pulsing hauteur,
O leopardess, concede no wanton curve in your spartan geometry,
Unless an arch look soon pulled taut.  But stop not there.
Be muse, dight too the fashion of an ancient age, up-gather
Softer tresses, that your bright Beàtrician head may kneel
O'er lyre, and gentler lips pierce by clean flightéd notes
From their enamell'd chastity: and of me worshipped be.
But be elder yet.  Before a damsel of Apollo, you were in the streets,
A minx.  Let loose hair teasing kiss brown shoulder (the artlessly
Half-naked one), and o'er it, in a glance, show you would ease
An ache fore night: then (curse you) twist that lithe body, play
A pouting game, and make us wait all day.  But lest I weary
Of all these: be eldest of them all, primaeval Eve, a matron be.
Hands beautiful from labour; as Dian many-breasted; thy womb
Like Nature's teeming.  I to thee by Mother Earth of our one clay
Bound, thou to me by fast oaths fastened on heaven's floor
Bound, in one creaking well-worn bed, a comfortable hearth,
And daily bread.  So - be a Gucci model, slave-girl Fotis be,
And fair Mnemosyne.  But more be Rachel, Leah and
O most! Penelope.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Ombra e Mistero

This is a poem called Ombra e Mistero by the Italian poet, artist and literary critic Luigi Cerantola: below is my attempt at translation.

San'Agata, quel piatto in che tu reggi
le gemmanti bella - candidi scogli,
e cupida sirena a sortilegi
che ai naviganti sfrondano li orgogli

ma chi l'occhio sospinge oltre i rigogli
della carne del senso, altri vagheggi
scopre nel mite vespro e nei vergini
silenzi del crepuscolo, sui colli

quetando la sua guerra in discoloro
di luce e tempo, via dall'ora ignota
sospesa sulla torre, entro il cipresso

ombra e mistero - lontananza immola
forse di paradisi, e nimbo d'oro
raggiante a noi l'illimite riflesso.

Saint Agatha, that platter where the buds
gem-bright thou lift'st, white reef-rocks, lovely Girl
(she, sea-siren insatiable, chants such spells
to shred the sailors’ every yard of pride,

Yet he whose eye prevents luxuriance
of fleshly lusts, in cool of the day's eve,
and the dusk’s falling virgin silences,
finds there diverse desires; upon the hills

His strife sinks quiet in the ebbing hue
of light and time, beyond the hour unknown
pendent on the tower, within the cypress

Shade and mystery), that offer up from far;
mayhap thy aureole or celeste spheres' light
mirrored may strike on us immeasurable.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

L'Epifania (II)

The city’s neon sheen left marrow-cold
These bones, wandering, chill-numbed, years lost down
Paths from fabled youth’s jewelled east. For, not old,
My spring drab autumn turned, prime's purpose drowned.

Glib priests professional heaven's way advised,
An end, indoors, they stirred not to pursue.
My face turned to night's road. I saw arise
Love’s star – unsought, almost forgotten. I viewed,

Then knelt and wept, removed the tinfoil crown
Of all I thought to be. Close have I found
Flesh full of God, girl holding mastery,
All my hope and desire soft on her knee.

Write gold, lead pencil; fume, spirit's incense-grains;
Enounce her myrrh-balm pulsing wine-sweet my veins.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

L'Epifania (I)

Her light: never have I known light like this.
Six thousand suns and lamps and moons that bend
Wave streams round bodies, cities, vistas; lend
The wide coloured mirror visual bliss,

Hang themselves separate. But here within
Her bright cloud-glory quakes the holy place,
Dense in her look, air, movement, clothes, hair, face,
Cloud that I stand in, cloud me indwelling,

Cloud where my eye and mind and blood are light,
Dark-rending syllable, fiat God-sung.
Love's liquid lark-ascent hailing her dawn,
Chant clear washing the pages of the night:

This scribbled writ, light, veiled eternity,
Transfigure radiant to her epiphany.

L'Ascensione (II)