Archive for the Favourite Poets Category

A Song of Innocence (William Blake)

Posted in Favourite images, Favourite Poems, Favourite Poets with tags , on February 22, 2017 by James Munro

blake_title_page_songs_of_innocence

This is the introductory poem to William Blake’s Songs of Innocence. It is a beautiful poem that I first learnt as a child and which only seems more beautiful after all these years:

Piping down the valleys wild,
Piping songs of pleasant glee,
On a cloud I saw a child,
And he laughing said to me:

“Pipe a song about a Lamb!”
So I piped with merry chear.
“Piper, pipe that song again;”
So I piped: he wept to hear.

“Drop they pipe, thy happy pipe;
Sing thy songs of happy chear:”
So I sung the same again,
While he wept with joy to hear.

“Piper, sit thee down and write
In a book that all may read.”
So he vanish’d from my sight
and I pluck’d a hollow reed,

And I made a rural pen,
And I stain’d the water clear,
And I wrote my happy songs
Every child may joy to hear.

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T. E. Hulme

Posted in Favourite images, Favourite Poems, Favourite Poets with tags , on February 16, 2017 by James Munro

“The Embankment” is a little poem Hulme wrote about being out and alone on the Thames Embankment at night. I came across the poem years ago and have never forgotten it.

The picture shows the Embankment one wet night in 1929. It is a favourite haunt of the temporarily homeless.

The Thames Embankment in 1929

THE EMBANKMENT

Once, in finesse of fiddles found I ecstasy,
In a flash of gold heels on the hard pavement.
Now see I
That warmth’s the very stuff of poesy.
Oh, God, make small
The old star-eaten blanket of the sky,
That I may fold it round me and in comfort lie.

T. E. Hulme (1883–1917)

T. E. Hulme (1883–1917)

On 28 September 1917, four days after his thirty-fourth birthday, Hulme suffered a direct hit from a large shell which literally blew him to pieces. Apparently absorbed in some thought of his own he had failed to hear it coming and remained standing while those around threw themselves flat on the ground. What was left of him was buried in the Military Cemetery at Koksijde, West-Vlaanderen, in Belgium where — no doubt for want of space — he is described simply as ‘One of the War poets’ (Ferguson, Robert, The Short Sharp Life of T. E. Hulme)

WHERE IS JIM HARRISON?

Posted in Favourite Poets, Reblogs with tags on April 9, 2016 by James Munro

SEVEN POEMS FROM A MASTER

REMEMBERING A GREAT WRITER THROUGH SOME OF HIS FINAL WORDS

jim-harrison

(This is a reblog – please click on the image)

Les Murray – a quotation

Posted in Favourite Poets, Quotations with tags , on October 9, 2015 by James Munro

Les Murray quote

A Magical Language

Posted in Esoterica, Favourite Poets, Quotations with tags , on October 7, 2015 by James Munro

“The language of poetic myth anciently current in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe was a magical language bound up with popular religious ceremonies in honour of the Moon-goddess, or Muse, some of them dating from the Old Stone Age. This remains the language of true poetry.” (Robert Graves, The White Goddess)

Robert Graves

With that kiss …

Posted in Favourite Poems, Favourite Poets, Translations with tags , , on February 26, 2015 by James Munro

Ramón Jiménez

(from the Spanish of Juan Ramón Jiménez)

With that kiss, your mouth
to my mouth, a rose-tree
was sown whose roots
gnaw at my heart.

It was autumn, the vast, empty sky
filled with sunlight
that sucked up all the gold of life
in columns of splendour.

Now, dry summer-time
has come, and the rose-tree – everything passes! –
has opened, too late
a bud of pain in each of my eyes.

Translation © James Munro

Breakfast

Posted in Favourite Poems, Favourite Poets, Translations with tags , , on February 2, 2015 by James Munro

jacques prevert

(from the French of Jacques Prévert)

He put the coffee
In the cup
He put the milk
In the cup of coffee
He put the sugar
In the white coffee
With the little spoon
He stirred
He drank the white coffee
He put down the cup
Without speaking to me
He lit
A cigarette
He blew smoke-rings
With the smoke
He put the ash
In the ashtray
Without speaking to me
Without looking at me
He got up
He put
His hat on his head
He put on
His raincoat
Because it was raining
And he left
In the rain
Without a word
Without looking at me
And me I took
My head in my hands
And I wept.

Michael Daugherty

Posted in Favourite Poems, Favourite Poets with tags , , on January 25, 2015 by James Munro

Two of my favourite poems from Michael Daugherty’s collection Lines from No-Man’s-Land. Read the whole thing if you can get hold of a copy!

Daugherty

ANYONE’S

In one room of a damned metropolis
a lonely madman works on a plan.

In an all-night corner coffee bar
a statistic prays for one last fix.

Under frozen branches in black park
pale fingers fumble with elastic.

Twelve inches away from the late-night news
a myopic spinster weeps in colour.

Someone somewhere begins a letter
to anyone’s silent son or daughter.

WHEAT FIELD WITH CROWS

(for Vincent and the too many others)

A grass track
leads nowhere

beneath a blue-black
sick summer

sky; crows attack
the eye, defy

all the slick
laws of probability;

angry wheat
writhes beneath

the breath of fate,
the mistral of truth:

clues to the paradox
of a waking dream,

the brushstrokes
of a scream.

Thomas Hardy’s THE OXEN

Posted in Favourite Poems, Favourite Poets with tags , , on December 24, 2014 by James Munro
Thomas Hardy's cottage in Dorset

Thomas Hardy’s cottage in Dorset

An author I often turn to when I am in a nostalgic mood is Thomas Hardy – both for his novels and for his less well-known poems. If anyone is curious, my favourite novel of his is The Return of the Native. (Now it has come up I’ll post a review of it here as soon as I can get round to it, explaining why I like it so much.) But for now, as it is Christmas – Happy Christmas to you all! – here is his beautiful little Christmas poem, The Oxen.

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
‘Now they are all on their knees’,
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
‘Come! See the oxen kneel

‘In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,’
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

Springtime Long Ago

Posted in Favourite Poems, Favourite Poets, Translations with tags , , on December 6, 2014 by James Munro

Luis Cernuda

(from the Spanish of Luis Cernuda)

Now, in the purple sunset of the evening,
With the magnolias in flower and wet with dew,
To walk along those streets while the moon
Waxes in the heavens will be a waking dream.

Flocks of swallows with their keening will make 
The sky more immense; the water in the fountain
Will loose the deep voice of the earth; then
Sky and earth will fall silent.

In the corner of some cloister, alone
With your head in your hand, like a ghost
Returned, you will weep thinking
How beautiful life was, and how pointless.

Translation © James Munro

A cloister in Barcelona

Stop All The Clocks – W. H. Auden

Posted in Favourite Poems, Favourite Poets with tags , , on November 12, 2014 by James Munro

This poem became wildly popular for a while after it was read at the funeral in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral. It is number XI in a series of poems entitled Twelve Songs.

Stop all the clocks. Cut off the telephone.
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone.
Silence the pianos, and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin. Let the mourners come.

Let the aeroplanes circle, moaning, overhead,
Scribbling on the sky the message, He Is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves.
Let traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my north, my south, my east and west,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song.
I thought that love would last for ever. I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now. Put out every one.
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean, and sweep up the wood,
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

 

WH-Auden

A Quotation from W. H. Auden

Posted in Favourite Poets, Quotations with tags , on November 12, 2014 by James Munro

Auden quote

 

Thought-provoking. It implies that there is an alternative universe in which he, I, we, would have written them. But that would necessitate a whole series of alternative universes, in fact a to-all-intents-and-purposes infinite number of alternative universes, all existing in the mind of God …

After that, we need to relax with an Auden poem: next post!

Dorothy Nimmo’s THE WIGBOX

Posted in Favourite Poems, Favourite Poets, Reviews with tags , on November 10, 2014 by James Munro

Dorothy Nimmo - Wigbox coverWhen I first came across Dorothy Nimmo, I thought she was like Sylvia Platt – only more so.

Mother has made you a house to live in
and she’ll make sure you live in it.
Mother has made you a bed to lie on,
she’ll cut bits off you if they don’t fit.

The obsession with pleasing – and being unable to please – her parents. The ever-present temptation to suicide.

Lying in the warm soapy water I do not
slit my wrists. I take only one sleeping pill.

The feeling that she shouldn’t be here at all – that it’s the wrong part in the wrong play:

This is the dressing-room I know is mine,
when they begin I’ll recognise my cue.
For God’s sake tell me, what’s the opening line?
Who am I? What am I supposed to do?

When they begin I’ll recognise my cue.
You’re on! they whisper and I face the light.
Who am I? What am I supposed to do?
Forgive me, mother. Have I got that right?

My voice is strangled. I’m awake. I shout
I know there’s something I must do today
and I can’t do it. You must write me out.
It’s not my part and this is not my play. 

But see the whole of this wonderful poem – “Dream Play” (below)

She had been an actress, spent ten years on the stage. Now as a poet and person she was not even one of the audience. She was outside the theatre in the dark, peering in through a window.

I was getting smaller and smaller
[…]
I went up the track on all fours
my petticoats torn off by the brambles
my hands bleeding.
(from “Pretend Games”)

The true outsider.

But if you turn out to be left-handed, if you suspect your name
may not be your real name,

if you can hear the cry of bats, if you can dowse
for water, if your dreams belong to somebody else,

if when you stand at the tide’s edge looking out to sea
you hear them calling to you, then you must come to me.

Put your hand in mine. I’ll say
It’s all right. it’s possible. We go this way.
(from “A Birthday Present for Roger John”)

So go as the sun goes, wise daughter, go clockwise;
wrong way round the church is another kingdom, the price
of walking alone is a sword-blade slashing the instep.
(from “Message for a Daughter”)

MORE

SHELLEY

Posted in Favourite Poets on November 7, 2014 by James Munro

This is for those who haven’t read any Shelley since they were at school (if then) – an attempt to show you a little of what you are missing!

Percy_Bysshe_Shelley

Shelley is a great poet. His lyrics will live and be read and loved as long as the English language is spoken, yet all too often what should have been appreciation of his poetry has degenerated into criticism of his way of life. “With all his genius [said Southey, soon after Shelley’s death] … he was a base, bad man.” To comments like which, Byron, who knew him well, responded: “You were all brutally mistaken about Shelley, who was, without exception, the best and least selfish man I ever knew.”

But Shelley was difficult to classify. For instance, he was sent down from Oxford for “atheism”, yet his mysticism, underlaid by his platonic vision of the universe, makes him one of the greatest of all religious poets. In an early poem [he was hardly more than a boy himself at the time], he writes that

While yet a boy I sought for ghosts, and sped
Through many a listening chamber, cave and ruin,
And starlight wood, with fearful steps pursuing
Hopes of high talk with the departed dead.
I called on poisonous names with which our youth is fed;
I was not heard – I saw them not –
When musing deeply on the lot
Of life, at that sweet time when winds are wooing
All vital things that wake to bring
News of birds and blossoming, –
Sudden, thy shadow fell on me;
I shrieked and clasped my hands in ecstasy.

This is the mystic moment. Yet like all mystics, he suffered moments of depression, aggravated by the knowledge that though he was so idealistic, such a believer in the innate goodness of people, he was “one whom men love not”. Read these lines, from”Stanzas written in Dejection near Naples”:

Yet now despair itself is  mild,
Even as the winds and waters are;
I could lie down like a tired child,
And weep away the life of care
Which I have borne and yet must bear,
Till death like sleep might steal on me,
And I might feel in the warm air
My cheek grow cold, and hear the sea
Breathe o’er my dying brain its last monotony.

Look at the opening lines of these sonnets:

Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call Life …

An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king …

Or read this, from “Ode to the West Wind” (Shelley was a master of the terza rima):

If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seemed a vision; I would ne’er have striven

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.

But if you read nothing else, read this, “Adonais”, Shelley’s lament on hearing of the death of John Keats. It is a long poem – 55 stanzas – and all I can do here is quote a few of them to give you a feel … MORE

Five Unexpected and Inspiring Literary Friendships

Posted in Favourite Poets, Reblogs with tags , , on November 2, 2014 by James Munro

A Poet Calls on a Poet

Poets-and-Friends

To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence

Posted in Favourite Poems, Favourite Poets with tags , on October 25, 2014 by James Munro

James Elroy Flecker (1884-1915) wrote the poem “To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence”. Many years later another poet, John Heath Stubbs, who died in 2006 (and was blind for the last thirty years of his life) wrote his version of the poem. I like both.

James Elroy Flecker

James Elroy Flecker

I who am dead a thousand years,
And wrote this sweet archaic song,
Send you my words for messengers
The way I shall not pass along.

I care not if you bridge the seas,
Or ride secure the cruel sky,
Or build consummate palaces
Of metal or of masonry.

But have you wine and music still,
And statues and a bright-eyed love,
And foolish thoughts of good and ill,
And prayers to them who sit above?

How shall we conquer? Like a wind
That falls at eve our fancies blow,
And old Maeonides the blind
Said it three thousand years ago.

O friend unseen, unborn, unknown,
Student of our sweet English tongue,
Read out my words at night, alone:
I was a poet, I was young.

Since I can never see your face,
And never shake you by the hand,
I send my soul through time and space
To greet you. You will understand.

John Heath Stubbs

John Heath Stubbs

I who am dead a thousand years
And wrote this crabbed post-classic screed
Transmit it to you – though with doubts
That you possess the skill to read,

Who, with your pink, mutated eyes,
Crouched in the radioactive swamp,
Beneath a leaking shelter, scan
These lines beside a flickering lamp;

Or in some plastic paradise
Of pointless gadgets, if you dwell,
And finding all your wants supplied
Do not suspect it may be Hell.

But does our art of words survive –
Do bards within that swamp rehearse
Tales of the twentieth century,
Nostalgic, in rude epic verse?

Or do computers churn it out –
In lieu of songs of War and Love,
Neat slogans by the State endorsed
And prayers to Them, who sit above?

How shall we conquer? – all our pride
Fades like a summer sunset’s glow:
Who will read me when I am gone –
For who reads Elroy Flecker now?

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Goodnight

Posted in Favourite Poems, Favourite Poets with tags , , on September 8, 2014 by James Munro

 

Dylan Thomas

After that, I must post a Dylan Thomas poem. Here is one of his best known, a perfect villanelle entitled Do Not Go Gentle Into That Goodnight.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Very True …

Posted in Favourite Poets, Quotations with tags on September 8, 2014 by James Munro

Dylan Thomas quotation

James K. Baxter’s poem TOMCAT

Posted in Favourite Poems, Favourite Poets with tags on September 6, 2014 by James Munro

Some poets – T. S. Eliot is a perfect example – publish only their very best work. The rest goes in the bin where, to be frank, most of it almost certainly belonged. Other poets – Robert Graves and Stephen Spender for instance – seem to publish everything. In order to find the gems, the poor reader has to wade through page after page of poems that can only be described as mediocre.

James K. Baxter

James K. Baxter

One such was James K. Baxter of New Zealand. I have here his “Selected Poems”, published by Oxford University Press. It contains 200 poems, which are presumably the ones the editor considered Baxter’s best work. (The “Collected Poems” apparently contains 600 poems!) Of the 200, no more than a dozen “make your hair stand on end”  (Emily Dickinson) – the dozen that make Baxter a great poet – and there are another twenty or thirty I would read again. The other 150? Already forgotten. But all that wasted time … No wonder people prefer to buy anthologies which present the reader with only the best of each poet.

Of course, none of the above applies to poets such as George Barker, whose separate collections were usually sequences and complete works in themselves, indivisible. A single poem from a collection such as Villa Stellar, Anno Domini or In Memory of David Archer, is lost when uprooted and planted out in an anthology among other quite different poems and poets.

Anyway, here is James K. Baxter at his inimitable best in Tomcat.

TOMCAT

This tomcat cuts across the
zones of the respectable
through fences, walls, following
other routes, his own. I see
the sad whiskered skull-mouth fall
wide, complainingly, asking

to be picked up and fed, when
I thump up the steps through bush
at 4 p.m. He has no
dignity, thank God! has grown
older, scruffier, the ash-
black coat sporting one or two

flowers like round stars, badges
of bouts and fights. The snake head
is seamed on top with rough scars:
old Samurai! He lodges
in cellars, and the tight furred
scrotum drives him into wars

as if mad, yet tumbling on
the rug looks female, Turkish-
trousered. His bagpipe shriek at
sluggish dawn dragged me out in
pyjamas to comb the bush
(he being under the vet

for septic bites): the old fool
stood, body hard as a board,
heart thudding, hair on end, at
the house corner, terrible,
yelling at something. They said,
‘Get him doctored.’ I think not.

Book Review: DANSE MACABRE

Posted in Favourite Poems, Favourite Poets, Reviews, Translations with tags , , , on August 29, 2014 by James Munro

Danse Macabre coverThe world into which François Villon was born in 1431 was one of extreme contrasts. On 30 May Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in the market square of Rouen. In the same year the newly crowned French king, Louis VII, was hiding from his enemies, shifting from castle to penniless castle. In December the nine-year-old English king, Henry VI, in cloth of gold on a white charger, rode triumphantly into Paris with his gorgeously apparelled retinue, the boy ‘staring for a long time’ at three lovely, naked girls representing mermaids in the fountain of St Dennis. Probably in the same year, but on the other side of the city, François Villon was born in the slums and alleys near the rue St Jacques.

The city was packed because the passage of army after army had left the countryside bare, anything that could be eaten had been eaten, anything that could be burnt burnt (and anyone who could be raped raped). One of the families taking refuge in the city was that of François Villon, but his father died leaving the family in extreme poverty when the poet was still only a child. That he received an education at all seems to have been due to the lucky chance that he would accompany his devout mother to church and in that way came to the attention of the priest, Guillaume de Villon, who later, probably in 1438, adopted the boy.

But, as Aubrey Burl comments, “there is a wise observation that an urchin can be taken out of the slums but the slums cannot be taken out of the urchin.” And Villon remained all his life a child of – and the poet of – the slums.

Burl is good on everything, but he is particularly good on the poetry. He begins by pointing out that it is much easier to write about Villon now than it used to be. “Censorship has relaxed. Earlier any faithful tranlation was unprintable.” As evidence, he translates for us, in a way that Swinburne was quite unable to in the late nineteenth century, some stanzas from La Vieille Regrettant le Temps de sa Jeunesse (the regret for her lost youth by the ageing but once beautiful mistress of a nobleman), and notes that “François Villon was never mealy-mouthed and he wrote as his old woman, the former courtesan, might have spoken.”

Long arms and groping fingers sly,
Fine shapely shoulders, and the round
Full breasts and heaving hips that fly
Smooth, slick and firm in thrust and pound
Against the place where we were bound.
Above spread loins my pulsing cunt
Between its gripping thighs was crowned
With gardened curls across its front.

[…]

But this is where our beauty’s sent,
Scrawny arms, hands weak and sick,
Crooked back and shoulders bent.
My flabby tits? Won’t stir a prick.
My arse the same. To tempt a dick,
My cunt? No hope! As for my thighs
Each one just skin, dry bone, a stick,
A pock-marked sausage. Beauty dies.

Yes, beauty dies – a favourite theme of Villon’s and one he frequently returns to, as in the quite different and very beautiful Ballades des Temps Jadis, in which he asks where all the fair women of the past are and concludes each stanza with the line, “But where is last year’s snow?”

Here is the second stanza in French and in English:

Où est la très sage Heloïs,
Pour qui fut chastré et puis moyne
Pierre Esbaillart à Sainct-Denys?
Pour son amour eut cest essoyne.
Semblablement, où est la royne
Qui commanda que Buridan
Fust jetté en ung sac en Seine?
Mais où sont les neiges d’antan!

Where is wise Heloise for whom
Pierre Abelard was gelded, then
Was made a monk in Saint-Denis?
For his love he bore this pain.
Similarly, where’s the Queen
Who ordered Buridan
Be thrown in a sack into the Seine?
But where is last year’s snow!

Villon lived and died surrounded by death, in a world in which “for the penniless, the only affordable entertainment was a public execution“. “He had elegiac eyes,” says Burl, in a memorable phrase. Villon recorded, like any great poet – or painter – the world he knew.

By the time you finish this book, that world, the Paris of the late Middle Ages and the danse macabre, is home, and François Villon is family. And I must tell you here that I had read this book, and enjoyed it immensely (and learnt a great deal from it) before I wrote my novel Thirteen-Card Spread, which is set in Paris just a few years earlier.