Thursday, 21 June 2012

"Let Them Walk, Let Them Walk..."

The churches sink like wrecks beneath the sand,
The city walls were false and would not stand;
   A self-sure, self-regarding ignorance
Is walking where Augustine raised his hand.

The manuscripts turn brown from long decay,
Their keeper nurses doubts about his pay;
   Outside the revellers invoke the moon
Although to what advantage none can say.

And when the centuries have wandered by,
Inconsequential as a pulsing eye,
   The peering scholars analyse the dust
But cannot find its meaning though they try.

A party soon arrives. A guide holds forth
(My mind regards the swallows in the north)
   The ancient land is swaddled in its soil;
The pilgrims rush to see what things are worth.

The midnight whisper cannot be refused,
The urgent with the trivial confused;
   Did the disputatious Fathers pass their time
In gentle musing on what once was mused?

Give me the vigour to instruct my soul,
Released from wordplay and the easy dole,
   To pay attention when the lamp is low
And shadows flicker on the sacred roll.

The darkness and the light are each in each,
And no-one knows just what it is they teach.
   Your footprints die behind you as you walk –
The unremitting sign is in your reach.

© April 1980

Thursday, 14 June 2012

The Artist

The artist at his cafe table sat
Morosely sucking coffee from his thumb;
His head was filled with other artists’ chat
And Mandeville his agent had not come.

Behind the square the day was setting fast
Whilst shadow like a plague spread all around,
A woman with a screaming child pushed past
And rain like bodies tumbled to the ground.

What now might stir his artificial mind?
What rage like Homer’s smoulder in his loins?
These days he never wrote before he’d dined,
Content to be a scavenger for coins.
Far off, the sea flung questions at the land
In language he would never understand.

© October 1981

Monday, 4 June 2012

Hearing Thunder

A purple, fleshy sinew of lightning snarls
In the east. A thunderclap roars, disturbing
Business and dreams of longevity as
   Once more the old gods lunge after power,

Arousing our subservience to the
Hatred in us. Who would not shiver at that
Moment’s knowledge, when flesh is made witness to
   Its sagging grip and every head

Which dares think has to struggle aghast with two
Centuries of freewill? The Chancelleries chatter
With telexed diplomacy, but the gods
   Of iron, the appetitive gods,

Are caressing delighted human flesh,
Urging a passion of sprinkled blood, heads
As trophies and privileges in country
   Dachas. On wintry nights behind

The neon defences of a febrile
City I consider my textbooks of
Human progress; from big-bellied Socrates,
   Snatching the ethical from the hands of

State or tribal cults, to a vendor, loud on
A street corner, dealing more fairly more
Of the time, licensed by the relevant
   City Department. In the Marches

War is endemic but restaurants and bars
Prefer news of exciting marital
Strife. Yet despite the fury, the clash of
   Fast talkers, blithely pocketing

Whatever they can, we discover daily –
Half-buried by peremptory orders,
Scorned by harsh words and flashlights – paradigms
   Of the Good Life – even an apology

On the subway can help. Each morning on
Waking I think, “Innocent men will go
To their deaths, the culpable will live out their lives
   In a trashy splendour.” But the

Brilliant, scouring morning light, which has
Outlived pogroms and showcase trials, will not
Bow down before historical facts: it
   Amazes with its optimism.

© January 1982

In A Summer Garden

When you were gone I sat alone
And hearkened to the summer hour;
The sky was slightly out of true,
And baking in the steady heat
Like fields of over-muscled wheat
   The garden lawn turned blue;
Reminded with a humid power
Of sadness in the insects’ drone,
The distant doves’ decaying coo,
My mind patrolled the walled-in grounds
Like some poor sentry on his rounds,
   And ceased to think of you.

Who can imagine what it meant
To hold an empire in your hand,
To struggle with the northern hordes
While Stoic fingers on the sky
Wrote, “There is no final why,”
   To the clashing of the swords;
To languish on the beaten sand
Where only the condemned were sent,
And hear your fate upon the boards
As hangmen came to disabuse
A mind intent upon its muse
   And roughly cut the cords?

Honour to him who late at night
Dismissed his household to their beds,
And turned the pale moon of his face
To sift those fragments of the sage
Which gave coherence to the page
   And taught what was the case;
Who wept for all the broken heads
Defeated in their final fight
To halt the passing of the race,
And sought to find within the wreck
Salvation of the intellect
   And quested after grace.

The way of mind, the way of flesh
Are opposite and reconciled.
The teacher sitting in his cave
Has found the dew beneath the stones,
The emptiness beneath the thrones,
   The power of the wave;
The artist by his skill beguiled
Paints what is true that’s in the dress
Which all the flowers of summer have,
And both have knowledge of the right
But cannot comprehend the light
   Within a stone-built nave.

My love, the blooms upon this rose
Are lips to welcome your return;
This sunken garden is the bed
Where nakedness discovers in
The blush upon each other’s skin
   A blessing of the dead.
Let all the mealy-mouthed who spurn
Such moments from their cheap repose
Go cluster where the Laws are read;
The frankness of your honest eyes,
The honest frankness of your cries,
   Say more than kissing said.

Our love may be a lonely sigh
Against the twilight in the wood,
And all the story of the past
May only live in that domain
Because we tell the tale again
   In words which will not last;
But Eros with his pricking blood
Is yoked to Agape, and I,
Who know not how the cards are cast,
Must in the circle of my arms
Enfold you from the fierce alarms,
   The night which comes on fast.

© August 1980