Before I start on this week’s verse selection, I ought to explain one of last week’s selections. I’ve already done this in correspondence with one friend, but that’s only brought home just how much in need of explanation it was.

I refer, of course, to Robert Bridges’ juvenile misogynistic rant. What I should have said about it is what I originally thought when I first read it: this man is an idiot. There’s a strand of romantic verse that tends to the idolisation of women, and since that’s unrealistic and juvenile it results in equally unrealistic and juvenile rants about the evil of women when the goddess inevitably turns out to be a human being. That poem is bad verse – not because it fails in its structure, but because its principal sentiment is childish, bitter and petulant. It’s so bad, and so ridiculous, that I thought it would be fun to laugh at it. This explanation is meant to clarify that intention and slap in the face anyone who agreed with it or thought it justified whatever sick thoughts they’ve been having. Of course, I can’t deny that I was hoping to annoy some of the Sisters of the Blessed Misandrony, who turn up every now and then to attack friends of mine for refusing to dress like Victorian widows, but primarily Bridges is laughable. If he was joking he’s still laughable, because he was only really half joking.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way I have a rather less controversial selection for you. I shall begin with one of Sylvia Plath’s more comprehensible poems, which is related in a way to one that I put up a couple of weeks ago. It concerns mirrors.


I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful –
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

I’m not particularly bothered about the idea of growing old. It is, after all, better than pushing up daisies. It can be disorientating, though, to know that you’ve reached an age that once seemed ancient, and that all that’s really changed is the face in the mirror. My mother told me the other day that she doesn’t feel like someone of her age, and I’m not sure that anyone ever really does. My brother turns thirty next month, and he’s always said that he’ll be eighteen forever, just like that Bryan Adams song. Perhaps another song can explain it better.

To look in the mirror in total surprise
At the hair on my shoulders and the age in my eyes.

If I keep expressing myself through the medium of country music, I’ll end up driving a fifteen-year-old Dodge Ram with a gun rack in it, and I really can’t afford to put petrol in one of those. It is interesting, though, how much people seem to dwell on the advancing years. A long time ago, I was an air cadet, and part of that was parading on Remembrance Sunday and listening each year to the customary tribute to the fallen by Laurence Binyon.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Some lesser mortals might now post something cheerful to raise the spirits, but I’m nasty like that. Instead I’m going to use Macaulay to highlight the sad fate of those Englishmen who were loyal to James II. The echoes of that so-called ‘Glorious Revolution’ are still being heard in Ireland today, and it’s not a pretty sound.

Epitaph on a Jacobite


To my true king I offered free from stain
Courage and faith; vain faith, and courage vain.
For him, I threw lands, honours, wealth away.
And one dear hope, that was more prized than they.
For him I languished in a foreign clime,
Grey-haired with sorrow in my manhood’s prime;
Heard on Lavernia Scargill’s whispering trees,
And pined by Arno for my lovelier Tees;
Beheld each night my home in fevered sleep,
Each morning started from the dream to weep;
Till God who saw me tried too sorely gave
The resting place I asked, an early grave,
Oh thou, whom chance leads to this nameless stone,
From that proud country which was once mine own,
By those cliffs I never more must see,
By that dear language which I spake like thee,
Forget all feuds, and shed one English tear
O’er English dust. A broken heart lies here.

The theme of long life is continued in a way by John Donne in the following poem, which is about separation from a loved one. Love can inspire some utter tripe, but it also gives rise to greatness.

The Computation

For the first twenty years since yesterday,
I scarce believed, thou couldst be gone away,
For forty more, I fed on favours past,
And forty on hopes, that thou wouldst, they might last.
Tears drowned one hundred, and sighs blew out two,
A thousand, I did neither think, nor do,
Or not divide, all being one thought of you;
Or in a thousand more, forgot that too.
Yet call not this long life; but think that I
am, by being dead, immortal; can ghosts die?

Oh, all right: you can have something  a bit lighter now. This one by Leigh Hunt conforms to the general chronological theme of the others, but only slightly.

Jenny kiss’d Me

Jenny kiss’d me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
Say that health and wealth have miss’d me,
Say I’m growing old, but add,
Jenny kiss’d me.

And finally a completely untemporal Triolet from Henry Austin Dobson. Oh what perils there are for the poet in stepping onto the pavement. I’ve left this one out of the blockquotes, again because it contains italics.

Urceus Exit


I intended an Ode,
And it turn’d to a Sonnet
It began à la mode,
I intended an Ode;
But Rose cross’d the road
In her latest new bonnet;
I intended an Ode;
And it turn’d to a Sonnet.

I hope that this week’s choices will give rise to less lengthy correspondance than last week’s, but we shall see. Whatever the result, I trust they gave you pleasure.