Poems of the Month for 2020.
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
A million million spermatozoaAll of them alive.Out of their cataclysm but one poor NoahDare hope to survive.
And among that billion minus one
Might have chanced to be
Shakespeare, another Newton, a new Donne
But that one was me.
Shame to have ousted your betters thus
Taking ark while the others remained outside!
Better for all of us, froward Homunculus
If you had quietly died.
"Never Offer Your Heart"
Never offer your heart
to someone who eats hearts
who finds heartmeat delicious but not rare
who sucks the juices drop by drop
and bloody-chinned grins
like a God.
Never offer your heart
to a heart gravy lover.
Your stewed, over seasoned
he will sop up your grief with bread
and send it shuttling from side to side
in his mouth like bubblegum.
If you find yourself in love
with a person who eats heart
these things you must do:
Freeze your heart immediately.
Let him--next time
he examines your chest--
find your heart cold
flinty and unappetizing.
Refrain from kissing
lest he in revenge
dampen the spark in your soul.
sail away to Africa where holy women
await you on the shore--
long having practiced the art of replacing hearts
with gods and Song.
Stan the Man and Stornoway Slim
(Bionn Siulach Scealach)
Ah, but it does not happen every day,
Among quiet dreams, the swish of some passing car
The clink of coin, a child at play...
But then unheard through some door ajar
This frail and worried shadow figure comes...
“He was a good man you know Jim Phelan
It's quite lonely now with him so very gone.
Stan the Man, Stornoway Slim, Old Jimmy Whelan
They were all his friends and they did come by, off and on.
But no more since...”.
...the silence now hung loudly in the air
Then, from two worn bags spilt on the carpet
Poured these scrapbooks, here and there
“He wrote you know...a rather special market.
Can you use them, his secret love affair ...?”.
Are they tramping still, above some hilltop viewing
Loch Miedart, perhaps, or Innesfree..?
His widow's actions were quietly soothing
Her life, now muted, just grief filled testimony.
And then, through that same door where she had ventured
She quietly left, as she had entered.
R. J Speer.
(In Memory of James L Phelan, traveller extraordinaire, above)
For more on Jim Phelan...please click here.
Almost forgotten now, the easy days of wind,
Sun, rain on the cheeks, rainbows in the hills –
Those first freedoms, when the youthful mind
Cut like a falcon through the dusk that now fills
this life with autumn’s quietness…
But then she came into the bookshop where I sat,
She in abstract thought reviewing holidays.
I looked beyond my book, and there I met
My youth again, in another’s candid gaze.
A girl of style with bold and country blood
With wide untroubled eyes, she smiled at me;
And I returned her smile, for there she stood,
My hopeful ghost, disturbing memory.
This meeting was not in time’s testament;
There were no words to say. Our eyes crossed once
And then, those mute remembered summer freedoms went
Away with her, once homeless birds but now this soul’s inheritance.
And so, from one vestige corner of an aging mind
Burned this vision of a world that shone
So brightly in the past, but then was gone.
But Oh…how that light blazed once again…
Her gifts unknowing given, these last sweet freedoms to retain.
R J Speer
AUGUST & JULY
Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
About it and about; but evermore
Came out by the same Door as in I went.
Into this universe, and why not knowing
Nor whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing;
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not whither, willy-nilly blowing.
For in the Market-place one Dusk of Day,
I watch’d the Potter thumping his wet clay:
And with its all obliterated tongue
It murmur’d….”Gently, Brother, gently, pray!”.
And, strange to tell, among the Earthen Lot
Some could articulate, while others not:
And suddenly one more impatient cried….
“Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?”.
None answered this; but after silence spake
A Vessel of more ungainly Make:
“They sneer at me for leaning all awry;
What! Did the Hand then of the Potter shake?”.
One Moment in Annihilation’s Waste
One moment, of the Well of Life to taste….
The stars are setting and the caravan
Starts for the dawn of nothing….Oh, make haste!
For in and out , above, about, below,
‘Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show,
Play’d in a Box whose candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.
”The Rubaiyat”. Edward Fitzgerald. 1859 First Edition.
Our Favourite Seven, of the 110 Quatrains.
The Back Story…
In London, one day in 1861, poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti (above left) and his great friend, poet Algernon Swinburne (above right), rummaging through the Penny Book Box at bookseller Quaritch's, made a sensational "find" — a “Rubaiyat” of “Omar Khayyam” rendered into English by an anonymous translator. "Next day," Swinburne reported crossly, "when we returned for more [copies], the price was raised to the iniquitous and exorbitant sum of twopence ! ”.
It’s June 2018, so let’s start from one of the absolute pinnacles of poetry…….a very Everest of poems…”The Rubaiyat”.
Edward Fitzgerald (above center) started it in 1856 (the ideas came from a Persian manuscript of about 1460 AD, passed to him by a friend, but it’s not a literal translation…its very much him…)…he worked on this one poem till his death in 1883…a total of 27 years!
It has just 110 four line verses (“quatrains”….lines 1,2, and 4 rhyme). Each verse embodies a statement about life (his life…., my life… your life….…anyone’s life….?). So, the majority of the quatrains can be read as separate poems, epigrammatic expressions of a single thought. Here we have selected seven in the extract above…..
Edward Fitzgerald published the poem at his own expense in four versions (editions) in his lifetime…and a fifth came after his death. We have a book collector customer who has over one thousand different editions (this is possible through widening ones collection to include foreign languages...).
It has never been out of print…it is quoted everywhere….it has been translated into most language. To read more, click...
All men dream: but not equally
Those who dream by night
In the dusty recesses of their minds
Wake in the day to find that it was vanity:
But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men,
For they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.
"The Seven Pillars of Wisdom"
"Do not stand at my grave and weep."
Do not stand at my grave and weep:
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starshine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry:
I am not there; I did not die.
Mary Elizabeth Frye. 1905 - 2004.
Yevgeny Yevtushenko. 1932 - 2017.
Telling lies to the young is wrong.
Proving to them that lies are true is wrong.
Telling them that God's in his heaven
and all's well with the world is wrong.
The young know what you mean.
The young are people.
Tell them the difficulties can't be counted
and let them see not only what will be
but see with clarity these present times.
Say obstacles exist they must encounter.
Sorrow happens, hardship happens.
The hell with it. Who never knew
the price of happiness will not be happy.
Forgive no error you recognize,
it will repeat itself, increase,
and afterwards our pupils
will not forgive in us what we forgave.
Yevgeny Yevtushenko. 1952.
He was transformed.
And because this time he had attained
The true eternal transformation,
Because he had now become a whole
From a half, he could, from this hour on,
Transform himself as much as ever he wanted.
Constantly the magic stream of becoming flowed through his blood.
Eternally he took part in creation.
He became deer, he became fish, he became man & snake, cloud & bird.
In each incarnation, however, he was wholly himself, was a pair, contained moon and sun, contained male and female in himself,
Flowing as a double river through all the lands,
And now stood as a twin star in the sky.
“Pictor’s Metamorphoses”. Hesse. 1922.
"The Flying Swans"
At the ebb of day comes the tide of night
Carrying myriads of star flowers.
Suddenly I hear
In the vaste emptiness of the evening sky
The lightning flash of sounds
Shattering from the far to the far beyond.
O flying swans,
Tonight you have opened for me the door of silence.
Behind her veil, in earth, sky, water,
I hear the restless beating of wings.
I hear the countless voices of the human heart
From the dim past to the dim unblossomed future.
Hear, within my own breast
The fluttering of the homeless bird, which,
In company with countless others
Flies day and night.
The void of the universe is resounding with the music of wings...
“The Minister for Exams”
When I was a child I sat an exam. The test was so simple
There was no way I could fail.
Q1. Describe the taste of the moon
“It tastes like creation” I wrote,..”..”it has the flavour of sunlight”.
Q2. What colour is love?
“Love is the colour of the water a man
lost in the desert finds”, I wrote..
Q3. Why do snowflakes melt?
I wrote…”.. they melt because they fall
on the warm tongue of God”.
There were other questions. They were just as simple.
I described the grief of Adam when he was expelled from Eden.
I wrote down the weight of an elephant’s dream.
Yet today, many years later
For my living I sweep the street
…and clean out the toilets of the fat hotels
Why? Because constantly I failed my exams.
Why? Well…let me set a test..
Q1. How large is a child’s imagination..?
Q2. How shallow is the soul of the Minister for Exams…..?
Click here for...Brian Patten
"The Double Axe".
“Come, little ones.
You are worth no more than the foxes and yellow wolfkins,
Yet I will give you wisdom.
O future children:
Trouble is coming; the world as of the present time
Sails in its rocks; but you will be born and live
Afterwards. Also a day will come when the earth
will scratch herself and smile and rub off humanity;
But you will be born before that.
“Time will come, no doubt,
when the sun too shall die; the planets will freeze, and
The air on them; frozen gases, white flakes of air
will be dust: which no wind ever will stir: this very dust in dim starlight glistening
is dead wind, the white corpse of wind.
Also the galaxy will die; the glitter of the Milky Way,
Our universe, all the stars that have names are dead.
Vast is the night. How you have grown, dear night,
Walking your empty halls, how tall!”
From: “The Double Axe and Other Poems”. Random House. 1948.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley. 1875.
This poem is reputed to have been known to Nelson Mandela (top right) during his incarceration, hence the famous film title. Interestingly, there is a slight link with our home town, Lyme Regis. Henley (top left image) suffered all his life from tuberculosis of the bone…eventually resulting in a leg amputation.
The surgeon? Joseph Lister (1827-1912)
(Baron Lister of Lyme Regis)