Archive for the Poetry Category

The Sunlight on the Garden

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on June 21, 2015 by telescoper

The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold;
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.

Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.

The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying

And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.

by Louis MacNeice (1907-1963)

Lines Composed on the Occasion of the Death of Sir Christopher Lee

Posted in Film, Poetry with tags on June 11, 2015 by telescoper

So. Farewell
Then Christopher Lee.
You starred in many
Hammer Horror films.

Dracula, for example.
Keith’s mum says
You were sexy
In that.

But sadly now you
Are no longer

I think there
Was also
A film in
Which you played
Alan Whicker,

But I may be wrong
On that

Oh, and you were in
Lord of the Rings,
too. As
Ian McKellen.

     by P. Coles (aged 52)

Sailing to Byzantium

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on June 7, 2015 by telescoper

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unaging intellect. 

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium. 

O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity. 

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Night Sky

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on May 30, 2015 by telescoper

What they are saying is
that there is life there, too:
that the universe is the size it is
to enable us to catch up.

They have gone on from the human:
that shining is a reflection
of their intelligence. Godhead
is the colonisation by mind

of untenanted space. It is its own
light, a statement beyond language
of conceptual truth. Every night
is a rinsing myself of the darkness

that is in my veins. I let the stars inject me
with fire, silent as it is far,
but certain in its cauterising
of my despair. I am a slow

traveller, but there is more than time
to arrive. Resting in the intervals
of my breathing, I pick up the signals
relayed to me from a periphery I comprehend.

by R.S. Thomas (1913-2000)

Dust, by Phyllis King

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on May 19, 2015 by telescoper

I do not know what dust is.
I do not know where it comes from.
I only know that it settles on things.
I cannot see it in the air or watch it fall.
Sometimes I’m home all day
But I never see it sliding about looking for a place to rest when my back is turned.
Does it wait ’til I go out?
Or does it happen in the night when I go to sleep?
Dust is not fussy about the places it chooses
Though it seems to prefer still objects.
Sometimes, out of kindness, I let it lie for weeks.
On some places it will lie forever
However, dust holds no grudges and once removed
It will always return in a friendly way.

by Phyllis April King

Benjamin Appl and James Baillieu

Posted in History, Music, Poetry with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2015 by telescoper

Yesterday evening I crossed the border from Brighton into the Labour stronghold of Hove (actually), All Saints Church to be precise. The purpose of my mission was to attend a recital of songs by German baritone Benjamin Appl accompanied at the piano by James Baillieu. This was my fourth Brighton Festival event in as many days, but the shows I have attended have been very different so I have no regrets about booking this particular sequence.

This recital was performed in the nave of All Saints Church in a sideways configuration so the musicians were on one side rather than at the end towards the altar. I have never been to this venue before but it’s quite a regular one for musical events. I suppose they use this arrangement for the more intimate kind of music-making, such as the singing of Lieder, so the performers can be as close as possible to the audience.

The programme consisted of songs either from or inspired by Eastern Europe. The concert began with three fairly well known songs by Franz Liszt based on poems by Heinrich Heine but then continued with six Heine settings by Anton Rubinstein (his Op. 32) which I’d never heard before. These songs are direct and uncluttered and I found them rather charming. The first half closed with The Biblical Songs by Antonín Dvořák, his Opus 99. Based on extracts from the Book of Psalms these very touching works were written when the composer heard his father was gravely ill.

After a short interval and a quick glass of overpriced Pinot Grigio, we continued with Six Songs Op. 90 by Robert Schumann, who also provided the finale with his intensely moving Requiem which was written later but subsequently added to the Opus 90 collection. In between these works by Schumann we heard a selection of songs from Terezin (German name Theresienstadt) the site of a concentration camp. These pieces are much lighter than the art songs surrounding them in the programme, but are invested with a deep sense of tragedy by the circumstances in which they were composed and also performed. The song Wiegala, for example, is a lullabye written by Ilse Weber, a Jewish lady who worked for some time as a nurse in Terezin. She sang it for countless children destined for the gas chambers, and when the time came for her and her son to be murdered she sang it for him too as they walked together to their deaths.

As an aside here I thought I would plug a CD of music from Terezin I bought a while ago that features Anne Sofie von Otter singing some of the heartbreaking songs written by the inhabitants of Terezin. It’s highly recommended, though I have to admit I find it hard to listen to it without bursting into tears.

What struck me most about this recital is that the greatest Lieder are often very simple and often very brief. Some of the greatest songs by, for example, Schubert areas simple that only a genius could have written them
I think it’s the focus that gives each its power and the variety within each collection means there’s always something to hold the listener even in a long programme. Yesterday I complained about the limitations of a programme featuring only one voice, yet this one also featured only one voice but was an unqualified success. The difference, I think, is that these songs were meant to be performed the way we heard them last night…

I really enjoyed this concert. Benjamin Appl has a wonderful baritone voice, and very few vocal mannerisms or affectations. He just lets the music do its stuff. It was an amazingly mature performance for such a young man.I shouldn’t forget the flawless accompaniment provided by James Baillieu either.

Apparently Benjamin Appl was the last private pupil of the late Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. That provides me with an excuse to include this version of the song Morgen! (Tomorrow!) Opus 27(4) by Richard Strauss, which was performed last night as an upbeat encore to an evening of intensely emotional music.

Und morgen wird die Sonne wieder scheinen
und auf dem Wege, den ich gehen werde,
wird uns, die Glücklichen sie wieder einen
inmitten dieser sonnenatmenden Erde…
und zu dem Strand, dem weiten, wogenblauen,
werden wir still und langsam niedersteigen,
stumm werden wir uns in die Augen schauen,
und auf uns sinkt des Glückes stumme Schweigen..

The first line translates as “And tomorrow the Sun will shine again…” Here is Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing it:


The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler

Posted in Music, Poetry with tags , , , , on May 14, 2015 by telescoper

Now fully in Brighton Festival mode, last night I went to the Theatre Royal for the first night (and indeed the English premiere) of The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler, which continues until Saturday at the same venue. The show is a collaboration between Vanishing Point and the National Theatre of Scotland and continues at the Theatre Royal until Sunday (17th May).

If you don’t know who Ivor Cutler was, he was a Scottish poet and songwriter who gained a cult following through his many appearances on BBC Radio programmes, notably with John Peel. I was introduced to him by an undergraduate friend of mine, Richard Allen, himself a Scot, who loved Ivor Cutler’s poetry and had many cassette tapes of performances by the poet in which he either spoke the poems or sang them to a musical accompaniment, often a harmonium. I loved listening to Ivor Cutler’s voice on these recordings, which added an extra dimension of lugubriousness to the whimsical and at times downright bizarrely comic verses. Many of his poems are about the various bizarre ways in which people try (and usually fail) to communicate with each other. Some of these are joyously silly but they also, like the very best jokes,  convey quite profound things about the limitations of language. Here, for example, is Ivor Cutler’s inimitable hymn to the joy of Morse Code:

Little Black Buzzer is one of the pieces included in The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler, but the show is far more than a collection of the poet’s work. It’s also an exploration and celebration of the life of one of the great eccentrics, from his impoverished childhood, through his period of critical and popular success, his long relationship with another poet, Phyllis King , and his old age in which he suffered from dementia, arthritis and Parkinson’s disease. Music and poetry, life and death, joy and sadness, comedy and tragedy are all woven together in a fitting tribute to a unique individual who lived an extraordinary life.

I don’t need to describe the production in detail because there’s a video trailer that gives a very accurate idea:

My verdict on The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler is that it’s the best thing I’ve seen in a theatre for decades. If you’re in Brighton then get yourself to the Theatre Royal and see this show. You won’t regret it.

P.S. The Beautiful Cosmos of the title comes from this poem, which I have posted before:

You are the centre of your little world
and I am of mine.
No one again we meet for tea
we’re two of a kind.

This is our universe…
cups of tea.
We have a beautiful cosmos,
you and me.
We have a beautiful cosmos.

What do we talk of whenever we meet:
nothing at all.
You sit with a sandwich,
I look at a roll.
Sometimes I open my mouth,
then shut it.

We have a beautiful cosmos,
you and me.
We have a beautiful cosmos.

You are the centre of your little world
and I am of mine.
No one again we meet for tea
we’re two of a kind.

This is our universe…
cups of tea.
We have a beautiful cosmos,
you and me.
We have a beautiful cosmos.


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