Today a late descent of snowHas taught a grievous lesson to
The gaudy paper crocuses.
A thrush with nowhere safe to go
Beats vainly at an empty shell
Whilst clouds which have a purple hue
Prepare their freezing viper’s kiss.
Dear Master of the singing line
Your birth-month in a fierce pell-mell
Knows nothing of the Muses Nine.
I who am the essence ofThe down-at-heel South London type,
Who never walked the chilly Dales
Nor thought of rusting cams with love,
But rather from a T.V. screen
Imbibed a sort of mongrel hype
(There were, though, holidays in Wales)
Give greetings to your memory –
A sort of learned, boozy Dean –
And offer you humility.
Your poems and your measured proseTo one whose schooling was perverse
Were like a sortie to a vault
Where books were stored in endless rows
And where the stacks of classic lines
Like golden guineas in a purse
Brought me to a sudden halt.
Horace, Dryden, Goethe, Swift,
In every chamber of those mines
Were treasures like a proffered gift.
Horace and his worldly art,Dryden on the polity,
Goethe saving Faust from hell,
Swift about to break his heart,
All sought to be absurdly true
To visions of maturity;
And you with your preceptor’s bell,
Investigating moral norms,
Passed on the gift received by you –
A marvellous deftness with the forms.
How shall the fiery AtaturkKeep faith with what is calm and sane?
How shall the ageing Cicero
Find frank excitement in his work?
Whenever I feel pompous or
Have whirled myself outside my brain
I think of your attentive, low
“H’m let’s see now,” as you joint
New verses to Stravinsky’s score –
Exact and always to the point.
Now when Poland once againIs chafing at her master’s heels,
And European eyes are turned
To what may rumble from the plain,
I think of your once-public voice
Denouncing certain shady deals,
Demanding that the truth discerned
Be made the basis for our acts,
And that for those who have no choice
We muster daily with the facts.
Instruct me in your hardly-wonInsistence on the private space
Now open living is prescribed
As politics or sex for fun.
In testing Clio’s urgent claim
And sorting what was not the case
You came across a stone inscribed,
“An honest man will search his skin
And find a Cosmos and a Name.
The moral life is there. Begin.”
Of all the Muses I would chooseTo place you under Clio’s care
For whom you wrote your saddest songs
And mourned Pandora in a blues.
When all the ills have flown around
A human landscape now gone bare
And men have done their pointless wrongs,
Your poems find forgotten hope
And cherish with the springs of sound
Our basic tendency to cope.
As I towards the doubtful closeOf one more century of woe
Seek something like a saving poise
To match the beauty of the rose,
I turn to you who had no care
For those who know because they know
And shout a self-fulfilling noise,
Who rather in the liberal arts
Held consultations from the Chair
And called attention to the parts.
At night I lie awake and tryTo fit an honest sort of truth
To lines which do not wave a flag
Nor glibly dabble in a lie.
But truth’s a thing that’s hard to tell,
For which not many have the tooth,
Though you behind a Latin tag
Or in your most commanding way
Advised whomever would do well,
“Write simply by the light of day.”
These February storms are suchThat any man might gladly bow
And spend the starving months within
His damp and undistinguished hutch.
Instead you call me to my task:
“Live when it most matters – now;
And do not say it is not sin
When you the formal problem shirk;
Of every poem always ask,
‘What is this and does it work?’”
====================© February 1981