English poetry

Poems in English


Memories bursting like tears or waves

On some lonely Adriatic shore

Beating again and again

Threshings of green sea foam

Flecked like the marble Leonardo

Chipped for his ‘Moses’.

And my tears came as suddenly

In that dream, criss-crossed

With memory and desire.

Grandad Nicky had worked

Down the pits for a pittance

To bring up his six children

But nothing left over for more

Than a few nuts and an orange

For six Christmas stockings

So hopefully hung, weighted by pennies,

Stretched across the black mantle.

So Lawrence-like and yet not, grandad

A strict Methodist who read only a vast Bible

Hunched in his fireside chair insisting

On chapel three times on Sundays.

Only in retirement did joy and wisdom

Enter him, abandoning chapel he took

To the Friends or Quakers as they called them then

And somehow at seventy the inner light

Consumed him.

Gruff but kind was my impression:

He would take me for walks

Along abandoned railways to the shutdown

Pipeworks where my three uncles

Worked their early manhood through.

It would have delighted Auden and perhaps

That was the bridge between us

Though we were of different generations

And by the time I began to write he had died.

All are gone except some few who may live still

But in their dotage. After my mother’s funeral

None wanted contact: I had been judged in my absence

And found wanting.

Durham was not my county,

Hardly my country, memories from childhood

Of Hunwick Village with its single cobbled street

Of squat stone cottages and paved yards

With earth closets and stacks of sawn logs

Perfuming the air with their sap

In a way only French poets could say

And that is why we have no word but clichй

‘Reflect’ or ‘make come alive’ or other earthbound

Anglicanisms; yet it is there in Valery Larbaud

‘J’ai senti pour la premiere fois toute la douceur de vivre’-

I experienced for the first time all the joy of living.

I quote of their plenitude to mock the absurdity

Of English poets who have no time for Francophiles

Better the ‘O altitudo’ of earlier generations –

Wallace Stevens’ “French and English

Are one language indivisible.”

That scent of sawdust, the milkcart the pony pulled

Each morning over the cobbles, the earthenware jug

I carried to be filled, ladle by shining ladle,

From the great churns and there were birds singing

In the still blue over the fields beyond the village

But because I was city-bred I could not name them.

I write to please myself: ‘Only other poets read poems’

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