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.


Back to form, of course, means more medievalism and more melancholy. It’s been a phenomenally busy week, and not just because I’ve been describing in nauseating detail how to do my job. The next pictorial guide will, I’m sure you’ll be relieved to hear, describe the walk from Orcombe Point to The Grove, comprising some two and a half miles of beach. Today, however, we have naming of verse.

First is another of Rupert Brooke’s earlier poems, this time from 1904. Yet more wistful melancholia, I’m afraid, but it seems terribly difficult to track down good comic verse at the moment.

The Path of Dreams

Go, heart, and pluck beside the Path of Dreams,
Where moans the wind along the shadowy streams,
Sad garlands wreathed of the red mournful roses,
And lilies o’ moon beams.

Strange blossoms faint upon that odorous air,
Vision, and wistful Memory; and there
Love twofold with the purple bloom of Triumph
And the wan leaf of Despair.

Go heart; go quickly; pluck and weave thereof
Dim garlands, scattering pallid dew above,
And far across the sighing tides of darkness
Lay them beside my love.

Next, more riddling from the Exeter Book. This one has an Old Testament theme, but that’s all the clues you’ll get from me.

Wer sæt æt wine mid his wifum twam
ond his twegen suno ond his twa dohtor,
swase gesweostor, ond hyra suno twegen,
freolico frumbearn; fæder wæs þær inne
þara æþelinga æghwæðres mid,
eam ond nefa. Ealra wæron fife
eorla ond idesa insittendra.

A man sat at wine with his two wives
and his two sons, and his two daughters,
beloved sisters, and their two sons,
noble firstborn; the father was there within
Of those princes both, with
an uncle and a nephew. In all there were five
Lords and ladies sitting within.

I don’t think I’ve yet put up anything in Middle English, which is quite an oversight, given the sheer variety of works from that period. I’ll rectify the omission with a little piece that I found in Kenneth Sisam’s A Middle English Reader. This was written down at a time when the old runic letter thorn (þ) was being supplanted by ‘th’, so instances of both can be seen in this piece. A bit of vocab for you: seuenist is an old spelling of sennight, which is a week. The old word ‘fortnight’ has remained in use, but sennight has gone the way of all flesh, probably because it’s easier to say or write ‘week’. Dryng just means ‘drink’, chelde is ‘cold’ and a primerole is a primrose. Other than that, welle carries the old sense ‘good’ and the rest you should be able to work out for yourselves. It’s a simple little poem, but it has a definite charm to it.

The Maid of the Moor

(Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.913)

Maiden in the mor lay,
In the mor lay,
Seuenyst fulle, seuenist fulle,
Maiden in the mor lay,
In the mor lay,
Seuenistes fulle ant a day.

Welle was hire mete;
Wat was hire mete?
Þe primerole ant the, –
Þe primerole ant the, –
Welle was hire mete;
Wat was hire mete? –
The primerole ant the violet.

Welle was hire dryng;
Wat was hire dryng?
Þe chelde water of þe welle-spring.

Welle was hire bour;
Wat was hire bour?
Þe red rose an te lilie flour.

I’ll move on from poems in difficult language to a poem that’s a bit more challenging. Sylvia Plath is famed for cryptic expression, and this is actually one of her more explicit poems.

Crossing the Water

Black lake, black boat, two black, cut-paper people.
Where do the black trees go that drink here?
Their shadows must cover Canada.

A little light is filtering from the water flowers.
Their leaves do not wish us to hurry:
They are round and flat and full of dark advice.

Cold worlds shake from the oar.
The spirit of blackness is in us, it is in the fishes.
A snag is lifting a valedictory, pale hand;

Stars open among the lilies.
Are you not blinded by such expressionless sirens?
This is the silence of astounded souls.

Next I’ve chosen a poem by a favourite of mine – Wilfred Owen. I don’t think I’ve seen this one outside the collection edited by Edmund Blunden.

The Unreturning

Suddenly night crushed out the day and hurled
Her remnants over cloud-peaks, thunder-walled.
Then fell a stillness such as harks appalled
When far-gone dead return upon the world.

There watched I for the Dead; but no ghost woke.
Each one whom Life exiled I named and called.
But they were all too far, or dumbed, or thralled;
And never one fared back to me or spoke.

Then peered the indefinite unshapen dawn
With vacant gloaming, sad as half-lit minds,
The weak-limned hour when sick men’s sighs are drained.
And while I wondered on their being withdrawn,
Gagged by the smothering wing which none unbinds,
I dreaded even a heaven with doors so chained.

Finally (and this is an edit, so apologies if Facebook jumped the gun a bit), a Thomas Hardy poem that takes a wry look at a distinctly Victorian issue. This is by way of a little joke for a friend of mine, but I’m sure we can all appreciate it.

The Ruined Maid

“O ‘Melia, my dear, this does everything crown!
Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town?
And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?”–
“O didn’t you know I’d been ruined?” said she.

–“You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,
Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;
And now you’ve gay bracelets and bright feathers three!”–
“Yes: that’s how we dress when we’re ruined,” said she.

–“At home in the barton you said ‘thee’ and ‘thou,’
And ‘thik oon,’ and ‘theäs oon,’ and ‘t’other’; but now
Your talking quite fits ‘ee for high compa-ny!”–
“Some polish is gained with one’s ruin,” said she.

–“Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak
But now I’m bewitched by your delicate cheek,
And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!”–
“We never do work when we’re ruined,” said she.

–“You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,
And you’d sigh, and you’d sock; but at present you seem
To know not of megrims or melancho-ly!”–
“True. One’s pretty lively when ruined,” said she.

“–I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,
And a delicate face, and could strut about Town!”–
“My dear–a raw country girl, such as you be,
Cannot quite expect that. You ain’t ruined,” said she.

That’s your lot for this week. I hope I’ve managed to get a bit more variety in this time, and if it’s gone from dark to dark via abstruse that’s just the way I roll on a Monday. I hope you enjoyed them anyway: I certainly did.

As you may have divined from the title, my weekend of beer and tents has caught up with me, hit me repeatedly about the head with a blunt instrument and run off with my wallet. I managed to hold it together while working and driving today, but my consciousness is unravelling fast and I’ll have to be brief this week.

I’m sure I haven’t mentioned aeroplanes in at least a fortnight; it’s been even longer since I said something religious in Latin. These are both unacceptable oversights, but fortunately they can be remedied by a single poem by F. MacNeece Foster.

Laus Deo in Excelsis

The sullen cloud that screens the world below
Changes before my eyes to purest snow,
And peerless napery for mile on mile
Lies laden in the joy of Heaven’s smile.
And all the time the little aeroplane
Plays with its shadow on that wondrous plain.
And as for me, I nod
To mine own image bidden to the feast,
And for that moment, I am not the least
Of all the sons of God.

This next poem by John Fletcher concerns a subject that’s currently very close to my heart. I think it speaks for itself.


Come, sleep, and with thy sweet deceiving
Lock me in delight awhile;
Let some pleasing dreams beguile
All my fancies; that from thence
I may feel an influence
All my powers of care bereaving!

Though but a shadow, but a sliding,
Let me know some little joy!
We that suffer long annoy
Are contente with a thought
Through an idle fancy wrought:
O let my joys have some abiding!

The next poem is a very short piece from Edgar Lee Masters’ strange collection, Spoon River. Perhaps because I stand poised between youth and age this has the look of a discussion forum signature to me.

Alexander Throckmorton

In youth my wings were strong and tireless,
But I did not know the mountains.
In age I knew the mountains
But my weary wings could not follow my vision –
Genius is wisdom and youth.

Lastly, before I collapse insensate upon my opiate couch, a wry little piece by Rupert Brooke. It isn’t about war, so you may not know it.

The Way that Lovers Use

The way that lovers use is this;
They bow, catch hands, with never a word,
And their lips meet, and they do kiss,
– So I have heard.

They queerly find some healing so,
And strange attainment to the touch;
There is a secret lovers know,
– I have read as much.

And theirs no longer joy nor smart,
Changing or ending, night or day;
But mouth to mouth and heart on heart,
– So lovers say.


On such a note I must end this week’s selection, gentle readers. My eyes are burning and it’s time to shut them for a while. I would write more, but…zzzzzzzz

Although I’m suffering from my usual Monday energy gap – which normally lasts until some time on Thursday afternoon – it’s about time that the Monday poetry slot got filled on a Monday. I’ve decided to try for a lighter tone today, so please excuse me if you wanted to be depressed.

The first poem was written by Captain J.D. Olive for trainee pilots in the first half of the last century. Other than that it’s pretty self-explanatory.

The Pilot’s 23rd Psalm

1. As the telephone operator who giveth wrong numbers so is he who extolleth his exploits in the air.

2. He shall enlarge upon the dangers of his adventures, but in my sleeve shall be heard the tinkling of silvery laughter.

3. Let not they familiarity with aeroplanes breed contempt, lest thou become exceedingly careless at a time when great care is necessary to thy well-being.

4. My son, obey the law and observe prudence. Spin thou not lower than 1500 cubits nor stunt above thine own domicile. For the hand of the law is heavy and reacheth far and wide throughout the land.

5. Incur not the wrath of thy Commander by breaking the rules; for he who maketh right-hand circuits shall be cast out into utter darkness.

6. Let not thy prowess in the air persuade thee that others cannot do even as thou doest; for he that showeth off in public places is an abomination unto his fellow pilots.

7. More praiseworthy is he who can touch tail-skid and wheels to earth at one time, than he who loopeth and rolleth till some damsel stares in amazement at his daring.

8. He who breaketh an undercarriage in a forced landing may, in time, be forgiven, but he who taxieth into another aircraft shall be despised forever.

9. Beware the man who taketh off without looking behind him, for there is no health in him verily, I say unto you, his days are numbered.

10. Clever men take the reproofs of their instructors in the same wise, one like unto another: with witty jest, confessing their dumbness and regarding themselves with humour. Yet they try again, profiting by his wise counsel and taking not offence at aught that has been said.

11. As a postage stamp which lacketh glue, so are the words of caution to a fool; they stick not, going in one ear and out the other, for there is nothing between to stop them.

12. My son, hearken unto my teaching and forsake not the laws of prudence, for the reckless shall not inhabit the earth for long.

13. Hear instruction and be wise, and refuse it not; thus wilt thou fly safely; length of days and a life of peace shall be added unto thee.

The next piece is one that I’ve had in my head longer than I care to remember. It’s by Monty Python, although no doubt afficionados will have their own ideas about whose writing style it best reflects. It’s a cautionary tale about the origins of a delicacy.

Horace Poem

Much to his Mum and Dad’s dismay
Horace ate himself one day
He didn’t stop to say his grace
He just sat down and ate his face
“We can’t have this!” his dad declared
“If that’s lad’s ate, he should be shared”
But even as he spoke they saw
Horace eating more and more
First his legs and then his thighs
His arms, his nose, his hair, his eyes…
“Stop him someone!” Mother cried
“Those eyeballs would be better fried!”
But all too late, for they were gone
And he had started on his dong
“Oh! Foolish child!” the father mourns
“You could have deep-fried that with prawns,
Some parsley and some tartare sauce…”
But H. was on his second course:
His liver and his lights and lung,
His ears, his neck, his chin, his tongue;
“To think I raised him from the cot
And now he’s going to scoff the lot!”
His mother cried: “What shall we do?
What’s left won’t even make a stew…”
And as she wept, her son was seen
To eat his head, his heart, his spleen,
And there he lay, a boy no more,
Just a stomach on the floor…
None the less, since it was his
They ate it-That’s what haggis is!

The conversation in this poem is conducted in Devonshire dialect, so apologies in advance to anyone who’s completely mystified by it. The poem’s by William Weeks.

The Better Plan

Young Tom, the farmer’s man, one night
Was going down the lane,
Candle and lantern in his hand,
To meet his Mary Jane.

Now, as it happen’d, farmer Giles
Was coming up the lane,
And meeting Tom with his lantern asked:
“Why, Tom, where be ‘ee gwain?”

Tom, looking sheepish, answered “Zur,
Sure you knaw where I’m gwain –
” ‘Tis courtin’ night an’ I’m jist off
To meet my Mary Jane.”

“But take a lantern courtin’, Tom!
You be a quare young spark!
I always thort that soort o’ thing
Was better in the dark.”

“Wull, maister, I ‘ave always yerd
‘Tis var the safest plan
To thraw some light ‘pon anything
That you may take in ‘an’.”

“Fudge! I’d no light to court my wive
When ‘er was Nancy Ridd.”
Sez Tom: “To jidge by the looks o’ ‘er, zur,
I shouldn’ think you did!”

Perhaps this one by John Davidson is a little more serious than the others, but you can’t live in these parts without thinking of boats from time to time. It’s a good poem for travellers too. You know who you are.


The boat is chafing at our long delay,
And we must leave too soon
The spicy sea-pinks and the inborne spray,
The tawny sands, the moon.

Keep us, O Thetis, in our western flight!
Watch from thy pearly throne
Our vessel, plunging deeper into night
To reach a land unknown.

Finally a poem by Clem Marten written entirely in Devon dialect. I c’n unnerstan’ ‘er, zo you ort t’ave ‘ardly no bother.

Oh t’be a Blackburd

I zeed a liddle blackburd
A-zettin’ een a tree,
A purty liddle blackburd,
Za ‘ansome az c’n be.

E wear’d a shiney black co-at,
A-glissenin een th’ zun,
Jiy-vule zong vrum black drot,
Jiy-vule it were zung.

Zing a zong t’laady-love,
A zong ov jiy an mirth,
All be well een ‘eaven above
An all be well on earth.

Ef I cud be a blackburd,
A-zettin een a tree.
Wi all God’s gifts aroun me
Oh, ow ‘appy I wud be!

That’s it for this week. Maybe now that the poetry slot is out of the way, though, I can actually put something else up later in the week. Hope springs eternal, as they say.

I’ve been immersed in PERL for the past week, and feeling pretty sick of computers once I get home. The family business I work for has a sideline building websites, so every so often I have to take some time out from dental work to do some programming. The current project’s nothing to write home about: a simple MySQL database with a PERL DBI and CGI interface, which powers a small on-line shop; but it’s nice to stretch my spodding legs a bit and reacquaint myself with the ridiculously convoluted sets of brackets that characterise an HTML short-cut using CGI.pm.

Today, however, I have some poems to work on while the ideas are still fresh in my mind, and possibly some older pieces to render less embarrassing. This means that poetry and its uses as an excuse for procrastination are once again on my mind, and the long-delayed Monday poetry slot can at last be filled.

First up is Andrew Marvell (1621-78), whose impressions of a garden had been coloured by living through the English Civil War (1641-51). Apart from dress uniforms and painful arterial red, the bright colours have departed from soldiering; but if you’ve seen Buck House when the guard changes, you can probably follow Marvell’s drift. He returns to this theme in his longer and more famous piece The Garden, which opens with a wry consideration of the horticultural iconography of military decorations that Europe inherited from the Romans. This is implied in the piece that follows, when he refers to garlands of roses, as opposed to triumphant laurel or oak leaves.

A Garden

Written after the Civil Wars

See how the flowers, as at parade,
Under their colours stand display’d:
Each regiment in order grows,
That of the tulip, pink, and rose.
But when the vigilant patrol
Of stars walks round about the pole,
Their leaves, that to the stalks are curl’d,
Seem to their staves the ensigns furl’d.
Then in some flower’s beloved hut
Each bee, as sentinel, is shut,
And sleeps so too; but if once stirr’d,
She runs you through, nor asks the word.
O thou, that dear and happy Isle,
The garden of the world erewhile,
Thou Paradise of the four seas
Which Heaven planted us to please,
But, to exclude the world, did guard
With wat’ry if not flaming sword;
What luckless apple did we taste
To make us mortal and thee waste!
Unhappy! shall we never more
That sweet militia restore,
When gardens only had their towers,
And all the garrisons were flowers;
When roses only arms might bear,
And men did rosy garlands wear?

It’s been nearly four-hundred years, and we’re still singing the same threnody that Marvell plays here. As Nicol Williamson‘s Merlin has it: “For it is the doom of men that they forget.”

Continuing the recurrent theme of depressing thoughts, I give you Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-94), on the subject of silent grief and unwritten poetry.

The Voiceless

WE count the broken lyres that rest
Where the sweet wailing singers slumber,
But o’er their silent sister’s breast
The wild-flowers who will stoop to number?
A few can touch the magic string,
And noisy Fame is proud to win them;
Alas for those that never sing,
But die with all their music in them!

Nay, grieve not for the dead alone
Whose song has told their hearts’ sad story;
Weep for the voiceless, who have known
The cross without the crown of glory!
Not where Leucadian breezes sweep
O’er Sappho’s memory-haunted billow;
But where the glistening night-dews weep 15
On nameless sorrow’s churchyard pillow.

O hearts that break and give no sign
Save whitening lip and fading tresses,
Till Death pours out his cordial wine
Slow-dropped from Misery’s crushing presses!
If singing breath or echoing chord
To every hidden pang were given,
What endless melodies were poured,
As sad as earth, as sweet as heaven!

I like a good ghost story and a stirring naval yarn as much as the next man, so this poem has been a favourite of mine since I was a teenager. It’s too long to quote in its entirety, so I’ll confine myself to linking to The Legend of Hamilton Tighe by Richard Harris Barham (1785-1845).

A page from the Liber Exoniensis, featuring the opening lines of Widsith

A page from the Liber Exoniensis, featuring the opening lines of 'Widsith'

Modern poetry is all well and good, but it’s churlish to ignore the roots of English verse. A thousand years before Barham, Englishmen were already composing poetry in their own language and meter, and it stands up well against the contributions of the modern age. The next selection is a riddle poem from one of the most important Old English verse collections, the Liber Exoniensis (pictured above). As its name suggests, it has a local connexion. Leofric, Bishop of Crediton and St. Germans, moved his episcopal seat to Exeter in 1050 and set about reforming the cathedral administration. One of the many gifts he bestowed on the new cathedral was “mycel englisc boc be gehwilcum þingum on leoðwisan geworht” (“a large English book about various things, written in verse [lit. ‘song-wise’]”), which he donated in 1072. Many of the riddle poems in the Exeter Book are humorous; some are downright bawdy, but I’ve chosen one of the cleaner examples. It concerns the bibliophile’s most implacable foe. The title is a modern addition, which I’ve used purely because I’m a bit of a bookworm myself. The layout is also modern: the manuscript form of the riddles is exactly the same as that of prose, but they’re not as easy to read when so presented.

Riddle #47: Bookworm

Moððe word fræt. Me þæt þuhte
wrætlicu wyrd, þa ic þæt wundor gefrægn,
þæt se wyrm forswealg wera gied sumes,
þeof in þystro, þrymfæstne cwide
ond þæs strangan staþol. Stælgiest ne wæs
wihte þy gleawra, þe he þam wordum swealg.

A moth ate words. It seemed to me
a curious happening, when I heard about that wonder:
that the worm swallowed down some man’s speech –
a thief in the darkness – glorious discourse
and that mighty thing’s foundation. The thieving visitor was not
at all the wiser when he swallowed the words.

Here we have a playful comparison between the unthinking bookworm that eats vellum and the ignorant reader, who devours the text without learning anything. This is surely a dig at those who can’t solve the riddle. It’s also quite probable that the fulsome praise heaped upon the lost words is satirical. We have very few examples of the Anglo-Saxons being intellectually playful, and the Exeter Book riddles make a refreshing change from the more familiar elegiac, religious and heroic poetry of their era.

That’s it for the poetry, but since I’ve left you hanging on for so long without an update I’ll throw in a song free of charge. This one seems to be about an oppressed narrator’s fantasies of bloody vengeance, but it could refer to any unlikely but earnestly desired occurrence. I don’t care what all the Napster fans say: Metallica are great. The video tells a good story too.

There’s no justice. I did so little work last week that the meeting I had scheduled with a website client this afternoon was all set to turn into an embarrassing dressing down. What should I find on arriving at work this morning but an e-mail from said client postponing the meeting until a week tomorrow? My sole punishment was to wear a suit to work for no reason, which would have happened anyway. My heart rejoices in the knowledge that sloth has paid off once again. It always does: I was going to wash my car on Saturday, but didn’t because I was too lazy. This morning it rained, so I saved myself hours of fruitless labour there too.

It’s another mixed bag this week, presented as I found them in the books. Hopefully I can maintain a more cheerful tone than in previous selections, thanks to my completely unmerited good fortune. The first poem is by Ruth Mason Price. The simplicity of her verse echoes that of the picture she describes, and her final two lines could be a general instruction to the artist on how to avoid gilding the lily.

A Japanese Print

A curve for the shore,
A line for the lea,
A tint for the sky
Where the sunrise will be.
A stroke for a gull, a sweep for the main;
The skill to do more –
With the will to refrain.

The next poem is merely a link, because it’s far too long for my idle fingers to want to reproduce it here. I find it particularly appealing, from the Latin title to the general tendency to encourage luxury and vice. I give you Coronemus nos Rosis antequam Marcescant (Let us crown ourselves with roses before they fade away) by Thomas Jordan.

For health, wealth and beauty, wit, learning and sense,
Must all come to nothing a hundred years hence.

So much for my intention to be cheerful. This next one echoes a train of thought I had some months ago so closely that it deserves to be included here. It’s by Thomas R. Jones Jr.


Across the fields of yesterday
He sometimes comes to me,
A little lad just back from play –
The lad I used to be.

And yet he smiles so wistfully
Once he has crept within,
I wonder if he hopes to see
The man I might have been.

In a similar vein to Jordan’s verses, Henry Carey sings in praise of the fruit of the vine and his own unlikely capacity for it.

A Drinking Song

BACCHUS must now his power resign—
I am the only God of Wine!
It is not fit the wretch should be
In competition set with me,
Who can drink ten times more than he.

Make a new world, ye powers divine!
Stock’d with nothing else but Wine:
Let Wine its only product be,
Let Wine be earth, and air, and sea—
And let that Wine be all for me!

It wouldn’t be a real verse selection if I didn’t include at least one household name. This poem by Shelley has managed not to bestow a stock household phrase on the language, so it’s worth pointing out.

From the Arabic

My faint spirit was sitting in the light
Of thy looks, my love;
It panted for thee like the hind at noon
For the brooks, my love.
Thy barb, whose hoofs outspeed the tempest’s flight,
Bore thee far from me;
My heart, for my weak feet were weary soon,
Did companion thee.

Ah! fleeter far than fleetest storm or steed,
Or the death they bear,
The heart which tender thought clothes like a dove
With the wings of care;
In the battle, in the darkness, in the need,
Shall mine cling to thee,
Nor claim one smile for all the comfort, love,
It may bring to thee.

Rail journeys encourage, indeed enforce, deep thought. This is particularly true after dark, when it’s impossible to gaze vacantly at the scenery. James Thomson has made good use of one journey in producing this.

In the Train

As we rush, as we rush in the Train,
The trees and the houses go wheeling back,
But the starry heavens above the plain
Come flying on our track.

All the beautiful stars of the sky,
The silver doves of the forest of Night,
Over the dull earth swarm and fly,
Companions of our flight.

We will rush ever on without fear;
Let the goal be far, the flight be fleet!
For we carry the Heavens with us, dear,
While the earth slips from our feet!

It’s been a slightly longer selection this week, partly because I found more good poems this time around and partly because I’ve been neglecting these pages in favour of televisual pursuits and it’s about time I took myself in hand. I think I’ve hit on some good ones this week, and I hope you agree.

Some might think that a week off from work presents great opportunities to make enormous numbers of journal entries on all manner of subjects and perhaps get on with some other writing, like the old poems I’m supposed to be revising. As the long silence on these pages demonstrates, this would be a profoundly erroneous assumption. I picked up Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which was supposed to be started after War and Peace was finished, and here I am with nothing done.

Susanna Clarke isn’t entirely to blame, though. Stuart and Ellie stayed the night on Tuesday, and I spent quite a lot of Wednesday with them, watching Green Wing and going to Orcombe Point for a swim. Then there was the long-planned trip over to Cambridgeshire with Dad to research the family’s history, which took all the time from Thursday to Saturday. All the good pictures were taken on the digital cameras we took and I don’t have copies, but one of the shots from my phone sums up the trip as imperfectly as any single photograph can.

Beware of ducks. Giant ducks if the sign is in any way accurate.

Beware of ducks. Giant ducks if the sign is in any way accurate.

That brings us relatively up to date with activities under the Shadow, and it’s time for the poems again. This week’s selection has no particular theme: the poems are chosen at random from the first few books I dragged off the shelf this evening. The first is a cheery little piece from Helen Gray Cone, which has a really good title.

Heartbreak Road

As I went up by Heartbreak Road
Before the dawn of day,
The cold mist was all about,
And the wet world was gray;
It seemed that never another soul
Had walked that weary way.

But when I came to Heartbreak Hill,
Silver touched the sea;
I knew that many and many a soul
Was climbing close to me;
I knew I walked the weary way
In a great company.

Next is a strange anonymous piece about two Scottish rivers, which is pretty self explanatory. The second stanza is my translation, just in case the meaning’s a little obscure.

Two Rivers

Says Tweed to Till –
‘What gars ye rin sae still?’
Says Till to Tweed –
‘Though ye rin with speed
And I rin slaw,
For ae man that ye droon
I droon twa.’

Says Tweed to Till –
‘What makes you run so still?’
Says Till to Tweed –
‘Though you run with speed
And I run slow,
For each man that you drown
I drown two’.

It’s about time we had some Keats around here, so I’ve included one of his sonnets. I’ve had days like this one, and it’s always a shame to see them end.


To one who has been long in city pent,
‘Tis very sweet to look upon the fair
And open face of heaven, – to breathe a prayer
Full in the smile of the blue firmament.
Who is more happy, when, with heart’s content,
Fatigued he sinks into some pleasant lair
Of wavy grass, and reads a debonair
And gentle tale of love and languishment?
Returning home at evening, with an ear
Catching the notes of Philomel, – an eye
Watching the sailing cloudlet’s bright career,
He mourns that day so soon has glided by:
E’en like the passage of an angel’s tear
That falls through the clear ether silently.

This poem by Amelia B. Welby should have gone in with the sea poems two weeks ago, but as twilight approaches here it might still be appropriate for today.

Twilight at Sea

The twilight hours like birds flew by,
As lightly and as free;
Ten thousand stars were in the sky,
Ten thousand on the sea;
For every wave, with dimpled face,
That leaped upon the air,
Had caught a star in its embrace
And held it trembling there.

Sorry to have kept you hanging on for eight days waiting for only four poems. I hope they’re enjoyable enough to be worth the wait.

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