Archive for the Literature Category

Law like Love – W.H. Auden

Posted in Poetry with tags , on July 10, 2018 by telescoper

Law, say the gardeners, is the sun,
Law is the one
All gardeners obey
To-morrow, yesterday, to-day.

Law is the wisdom of the old,
The impotent grandfathers feebly scold;
The grandchildren put out a treble tongue,
Law is the senses of the young.

Law, says the priest with a priestly look,
Expounding to an unpriestly people,
Law is the words in my priestly book,
Law is my pulpit and my steeple.

Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose,
Speaking clearly and most severely,
Law is as I’ve told you before,
Law is as you know I suppose,
Law is but let me explain it once more,
Law is The Law.

Yet law-abiding scholars write:
Law is neither wrong nor right,
Law is only crimes
Punished by places and by times,
Law is the clothes men wear
Anytime, anywhere,
Law is Good morning and Good night.

Others say, Law is our Fate;
Others say, Law is our State;
Others say, others say
Law is no more,
Law has gone away.

And always the loud angry crowd,
Very angry and very loud,
Law is We,
And always the soft idiot softly Me.

If we, dear, know we know no more
Than they about the Law,
If I no more than you
Know what we should and should not do
Except that all agree
Gladly or miserably
That the Law is
And that all know this
If therefore thinking it absurd
To identify Law with some other word,
Unlike so many men
I cannot say Law is again,

No more than they can we suppress
The universal wish to guess
Or slip out of our own position
Into an unconcerned condition.
Although I can at least confine
Your vanity and mine
To stating timidly
A timid similarity,
We shall boast anyway:
Like love I say.

Like love we don’t know where or why,
Like love we can’t compel or fly,
Like love we often weep,
Like love we seldom keep.

by W.H. Auden (1907-1973)


The Workman’s Friend

Posted in Poetry with tags , on July 6, 2018 by telescoper

When things go wrong and will not come right,
Though you do the best you can,
When life looks black as the hour of night –
A pint of plain* is your only man.

When money’s tight and hard to get
And your horse has also ran,
When all you have is a heap of debt –
A pint of plain is your only man.

When health is bad and your heart feels strange,
And your face is pale and wan,
When doctors say you need a change,
A pint of plain is your only man.

When food is scarce and your larder bare
And no rashers grease your pan,
When hunger grows as your meals are rare –
A pint of plain is your only man.

In time of trouble and lousey strife,
You have still got a darlint plan
You still can turn to a brighter life –
A pint of plain is your only man.


by Flann O’Brien (aka Brian O’Nolan; 1911-1966)


*plain here means `stout’ (e..g Guinness).


June, by Francis Ledwidge

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on June 19, 2018 by telescoper

Broom out the floor now, lay the fender by,
And plant this bee-sucked bough of woodbine there,
And let the window down. The butterfly
Floats in upon the sunbeam, and the fair
Tanned face of June, the nomad gipsy, laughs
Above her widespread wares, the while she tells
The farmers’ fortunes in the fields, and quaffs
The water from the spider-peopled wells.
The hedges are all drowned in green grass seas,
And bobbing poppies flare like Elmo’s light,
While siren-like the pollen-staind bees
Drone in the clover depths. And up the height
The cuckoo’s voice is hoarse and broke with joy.
And on the lowland crops the crows make raid,
Nor fear the clappers of the farmer’s boy,
Who sleeps, like drunken Noah, in the shad
And loop this red rose in that hazel ring
That snares your little ear, for June is short
And we must joy in it and dance and sing,
And from her bounty draw her rosy worth.
Ay! soon the swallows will be flying south,
The wind wheel north to gather in the snow,
Even the roses spilt on youth’s red mouth
Will soon blow down the road all roses go.

by Francis Ledwidge (1887-1917*)

*One of Ireland’s foremost poets of the First World War, Ledwidge was killed in action on 31st July 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele.

Thoughts Suggested by a College Examination – Byron

Posted in Literature with tags , , , on May 24, 2018 by telescoper

High in the midst, surrounded by his peers,
Magnus his ample front sublime uprears:
Plac’d on his chair of state, he seems a God,
While Sophs and Freshmen tremble at his nod;
As all around sit wrapt in speechless gloom,
His voice, in thunder, shakes the sounding dome;
Denouncing dire reproach to luckless fools,
Unskill’d to plod in mathematic rules.

Happy the youth! in Euclid’s axioms tried,
Though little vers’d in any art beside;
Who, scarcely skill’d an English line to pen,
Scans Attic metres with a critic’s ken.

What! though he knows not how his fathers bled,
When civil discord pil’d the fields with dead,
When Edward bade his conquering bands advance,
Or Henry trampled on the crest of France:
Though marvelling at the name of Magna Charta,
Yet well he recollects the laws of Sparta;
Can tell, what edicts sage Lycurgus made,
While Blackstone’s on the shelf, neglected laid;
Of Grecian dramas vaunts the deathless fame,
Of Avon’s bard, rememb’ring scarce the name.

Such is the youth whose scientific pate
Class-honours, medals, fellowships, await;
Or even, perhaps, the declamation prize,
If to such glorious height, he lifts his eyes.
But lo! no common orator can hope
The envied silver cup within his scope:
Not that our heads much eloquence require,
Th’ ATHENIAN’S glowing style, or TULLY’S fire.
A manner clear or warm is useless, since
We do not try by speaking to convince;
Be other orators of pleasing proud,—
We speak to please ourselves, not move the crowd:
Our gravity prefers the muttering tone,
A proper mixture of the squeak and groan:
No borrow’d grace of action must be seen,
The slightest motion would displease the Dean;
Whilst every staring Graduate would prate,
Against what—he could never imitate.

The man, who hopes t’ obtain the promis’d cup,
Must in one posture stand, and ne’er look up;
Nor stop, but rattle over every word—
No matter what, so it can not be heard:
Thus let him hurry on, nor think to rest:
Who speaks the fastest’s sure to speak the best;
Who utters most within the shortest space,
May, safely, hope to win the wordy race.

The Sons of Science these, who, thus repaid,
Linger in ease in Granta’s sluggish shade;
Where on Cam’s sedgy banks, supine, they lie,
Unknown, unhonour’d live—unwept for die:
Dull as the pictures, which adorn their halls,
They think all learning fix’d within their walls:
In manners rude, in foolish forms precise,
All modern arts affecting to despise;
Yet prizing Bentley’s, Brunck’s, or Porson’s note,
More than the verse on which the critic wrote:
Vain as their honours, heavy as their Ale,
Sad as their wit, and tedious as their tale;
To friendship dead, though not untaught to feel,
When Self and Church demand a Bigot zeal.
With eager haste they court the lord of power,
(Whether ’tis PITT or PETTY rules the hour;)
To him, with suppliant smiles, they bend the head,
While distant mitres to their eyes are spread;
But should a storm o’erwhelm him with disgrace,
They’d fly to seek the next, who fill’d his place.
Such are the men who learning’s treasures guard!
Such is their practice, such is their reward!
This much, at least, we may presume to say—
The premium can’t exceed the price they pay.

by George Gordon Byron (1788-1824)


The Absence, by R.S. Thomas

Posted in Poetry with tags , on May 16, 2018 by telescoper

It is this great absence
that is like a presence, that compels
me to address it without hope
of a reply. It is a room I enter

from which someone has just
gone, the vestibule for the arrival
of one who has not yet come.
I modernise the anachronism

of my language, but he is no more here
than before. Genes and molecules
have no more power to call
him up than the incense of the Hebrews

at their altars. My equations fail
as my words do. What resources have I
other than the emptiness without him of my whole
being, a vacuum he may not abhor?

by R.S. Thomas (1913-2000)

When youthful faith has fled

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on May 9, 2018 by telescoper

When youthful faith has fled,
PU Of loving take thy leave;
Be constant to the dead –
PUThe dead cannot deceive.

Sweet modest flowers of spring,
PUHow fleet your balmy day!
And man’s brief year can bring
PUNo secondary May.

No earthly burst again
PUOf gladness out of gloom;
Fond hope and vision vain,
PUUngrateful to the tomb!

But ’tis an old belief,
PUThat on some solemn shore,
Beyond the sphere of grief,
PUDear friends will meet once more.

Beyond the sphere of time,
PUAnd sin, and fate’s control,
Serene in changeless prime
PUOf body and of soul.

That creed I fain would keep,
PUThat hope I’ll not forego;
Eternal be the sleep,
PUUnless to waken so.

by John Gibson Lockhart (1794-1854). The last three verses of this poem were adapted by Hubert Parry as No. 4 `There is an old belief’ in his Songs of Farewell.


May Day, by Phillis Levin

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on May 1, 2018 by telescoper

I’ve decided to waste my life again,
Like I used to: get drunk on
The light in the leaves, find a wall
Against which something can happen,

Whatever may have happened
Long ago—let a bullet hole echoing
The will of an executioner, a crevice
In which a love note was hidden,

Be a cell where a struggling tendril
Utters a few spare syllables at dawn.
I’ve decided to waste my life
In a new way, to forget whoever

Touched a hair on my head, because
It doesn’t matter what came to pass,
Only that it passed, because we repeat
Ourselves, we repeat ourselves.

I’ve decided to walk a long way
Out of the way, to allow something
Dreaded to waken for no good reason,
Let it go without saying,

Let it go as it will to the place
It will go without saying: a wall
Against which a body was pressed
For no good reason, other than this.


by Phillis Levin