I’ve not been updating this thing for the last week due to a sudden attack of social life. In this case, the society flew in from Canada, helped with the Oxonmoot transport costs and bought me dinner on several occasions. Thanks, Beth: it was every bit as much fun for us as it was for you.

Such excuses aside, it’s high time I posted something, and the familiar Monday evening poetry selection seems like a pretty good place to start.

Since I was at Tintern Abbey with Bethberry not so very long ago, Wordsworth provides a fitting opening for today’s collection with his misleadingly titled poem of the same name.

wreaths of smoke
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!
With some uncertain notice, as might seem
Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,
Or of some Hermit’s cave, where by his fire
The Hermit sits alone.

Next I’ve selected one by Robert Graves that, being a First World War poem that refers to Norse mythology, should probably have appeared here far earlier than it has.

Dead Cow Farm

An ancient saga tells us how
In the beginning the First Cow
(For nothing living yet had birth
But elemental cow on earth)
Began to lick cold stones and mud:
Under her warm tongue flesh and blood
Blossomed, a miracle to believe;
And so was Adam born, and Eve.
Here now is chaos once again,
Primaeval mud, cold stones and rain.
Here flesh decays and blood drips red,
And the Cow’s dead, the old Cow’s dead.

The foregoing is a little dishonest: the saga is Snorri’s Gylfaginning, and the story is of the primeval cow, Auðumla, whose milk nourished Ymir, father of the frost-giants. She licked salty blocks of ice, from which Búri, ancestor of Oðinn, emerged. Graves adapts the myth to his own ends to connect the beginning of humanity with what he chooses to see as its apocalyptic end.

Next, John Lyly tells us a cautionary tale about playing cards with people who have Classical nicknames. Campaspe was the mistress of Alexander of Macedon and a famed beauty, but here her name is applied in true Romantic style to the poet’s current flame. I do like to see the boy Cupid humbled. To be perfectly honest, though, I find it difficult to care what happens to the poet.

Cards and Kisses

Cupid and my Campaspe play’d
At cards for kisses – Cupid paid:
He stakes his quiver, bow and arrows,
His mother’s doves, and team of sparrows;
Loses them too; then down he throws
The coral of his lips, the rose
Growing on’s cheek (but none knows how);
With these, the crystal of his brow,
And then the dimple of his chin:
All these did my Campaspe win.
At last he set her both his eyes –
She won, and Cupid blind did rise.
O Love! has she done this for thee?
What shall, alas! become of me?

Next is Ambrose Bierce, giving us a wry look at religious hypocrisy. Although he chooses an exotic Islamic setting, it’s more than likely that he intended his barb to be felt by people much closer to his Ohio home.


Hassan Bedriddin, clad in rags, ill-shod,
Sought the great temple of the living God.
The worshippers arose and drove him forth,
and one in power beat him with a rod.

“Allah,” he cried, “thou seest what I got;
Thy servants bar me from the sacred spot.”
“Be comforted,” the Holy One replied;
“It is the only place where I am not.”

Finally, since I’m quite tired and have already had a large glass of wine this evening, a poem about flying. Specifically, it’s about taking off in an emergency in the early years of the Second World War. The author, David Bourne, was killed in action in September 1941.

“Operations Calling!”

“Clearing Black Section
Patrol Bass Rock,”
Leaps heart; after shock
Action comes stumbling;
Snatch your helmet;
Then run smoothly, to the grumbling
Of a dozing Merlin heating
Supercharged air.
You are there
by “Z”

Down hard on the behind
The parachute; you are blind
With your oxygen snout
But click, click, click, click, you feel
and the harness is fixed.
Round the wing
And “Out of the cockpit, you,”
Clamber the rung
And the wing as if a wasp had stung
You, hop and jump into the cockpit
Split second to spike
The Sutton harness holes,
One, two, three, four,
Thrust with your
Hand to the throttle open…

“Operations” called and spoken.

I would write more, but nothing springs immediately to mind. I shall therefore leave you with the usual instruction to share and enjoy.