Archive for the Poetry Category

Elegy, by Coles

Posted in Music, Poetry, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on November 20, 2015 by telescoper

Last night on Radio 3 there was a concert involving music by Cecil Coles (among others). Coles – who, as far as I know, was no relation – was killed in action in the First World War, in April 1918. In fact he was shot and mortally wounded by a sniper while working as a stretcher-bearer trying to rescue injured soldiers from a wood, a task for which he had volunteered. He was 29 when he died and not much of his work as a composer survives. In the interval of the Concert I heard this recording of a work by Coles, which I think is very touching. It’s a setting of one of the Elegiac Stanzas (“Sic Juvat Perire”)  by Thomas Moore. Here’s the text:


When wearied wretches sink to sleep,
How heavenly soft their slumbers lie!
How sweet is death to those who weep,
To those who weep and long to die!

Saw you the soft and grassy bed,
Where flowrets deck the green earth’s breast?
‘Tis there I wish to lay my head,
‘Tis there I wish to sleep at rest.

Oh, let not tears embalm my tomb, —
None but the dews at twilight given!
Oh, let not sighs disturb the gloom, —
None but the whispering winds of heaven!

And here is the setting by Cecil Coles:



Posted in Poetry with tags , , on November 15, 2015 by telescoper

Sur mes cahiers d’écolier
Sur mon pupitre et les arbres
Sur le sable sur la neige
J’écris ton nom

Sur toutes les pages lues
Sur toutes les pages blanches
Pierre sang papier ou cendre
J’écris ton nom

Sur les images dorées
Sur les armes des guerriers
Sur la couronne des rois
J’écris ton nom

Sur la jungle et le désert
Sur les nids sur les genêts
Sur l’écho de mon enfance
J’écris ton nom

Sur les merveilles des nuits
Sur le pain blanc des journées
Sur les saisons fiancées
J’écris ton nom

Sur tous mes chiffons d’azur
Sur l’étang soleil moisi
Sur le lac lune vivante
J’écris ton nom

Sur les champs sur l’horizon
Sur les ailes des oiseaux
Et sur le moulin des ombres
J’écris ton nom

Sur chaque bouffée d’aurore
Sur la mer sur les bateaux
Sur la montagne démente
J’écris ton nom

Sur la mousse des nuages
Sur les sueurs de l’orage
Sur la pluie épaisse et fade
J’écris ton nom

Sur les formes scintillantes
Sur les cloches des couleurs
Sur la vérité physique
J’écris ton nom

Sur les sentiers éveillés
Sur les routes déployées
Sur les places qui débordent
J’écris ton nom

Sur la lampe qui s’allume
Sur la lampe qui s’éteint
Sur mes maisons réunies
J’écris ton nom

Sur le fruit coupé en deux
Du miroir et de ma chambre
Sur mon lit coquille vide
J’écris ton nom

Sur mon chien gourmand et tendre
Sur ses oreilles dressées
Sur sa patte maladroite
J’écris ton nom

Sur le tremplin de ma porte
Sur les objets familiers
Sur le flot du feu béni
J’écris ton nom

Sur toute chair accordée
Sur le front de mes amis
Sur chaque main qui se tend
J’écris ton nom

Sur la vitre des surprises
Sur les lèvres attentives
Bien au-dessus du silence
J’écris ton nom

Sur mes refuges détruits
Sur mes phares écroulés
Sur les murs de mon ennui
J’écris ton nom

Sur l’absence sans désir
Sur la solitude nue
Sur les marches de la mort
J’écris ton nom

Sur la santé revenue
Sur le risque disparu
Sur l’espoir sans souvenir
J’écris ton nom

Et par le pouvoir d’un mot
Je recommence ma vie
Je suis né pour te connaître
Pour te nommer


by Paul Éluard (1895-1952)

To his love, by Ivor Gurney

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on November 11, 2015 by telescoper

He’s gone, and all our plans
Are useless indeed.
We’ll walk no more on Cotswolds
Where the sheep feed
Quietly and take no heed.

His body that was so quick
Is not as you
Knew it, on Severn River
Under the blue
Driving our small boat through.

You would not know him now…
But still he died
Nobly, so cover him over
With violets of pride
Purple from Severn side.

Cover him, cover him soon!
And with thick-set
Masses of memoried flowers-
Hide that red wet
Thing I must somehow forget.

by Ivor Gurney (1890-1937)

Ivor Gurney enlisted in the Gloucestershire Regiment of the British Army in 1915. He was seriously wounded in the shoulder in April 1917. He recovered and was soon sent back into battle. In September 1917, at Passchendaele, he was gassed and hospitalized again. He suffered a serious nervous breakdown in 1918 and spent much of the rest of his life in mental hospitals of various kinds. He died in 1937, of tuberculosis, in such an institution – the City of London Mental Hospital. He was a composer as well as a poet, and a short piece by him was played this morning on BBC Radio 3. I’m posting this poem today, Armistice Day, when we remember the fallen, as a reminder that the legacy of war can be brutal also for those that survive.

Aftermath, by Siegfried Sassoon

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , , on November 8, 2015 by telescoper

I think it is appropriate to post this poem by Siegfried Sassoon this Remembrance Sunday. I think it was composed sometime in 1919 and it appears in a collection published in 1920 with the same title as the poem. I think its message is clear, but it is also notable for its unusual metrical structure; it’s basically iambic but each line ends with a succession of three stressed syllables that causes the iambic rhythm to stumble. It’s a device used in classical Greek and Roman poetry to emphasize pain or discomfort on the one hand or struggle and determination on the other. Here it seems to convey both.

Have you forgotten yet?…
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same–and War’s a bloody game…
Have you forgotten yet?…
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz–
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench–
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again?’

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack–
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads–those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?…
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.

by Siegfried Sassoon (1896-1967)


Posted in Poetry with tags , , on November 2, 2015 by telescoper

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.


by Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)


The Applicant

Posted in Poetry with tags , on October 23, 2015 by telescoper

First, are you our sort of a person?
Do you wear
A glass eye, false teeth or a crutch,
A brace or a hook,
Rubber breasts or a rubber crotch,

Stitches to show something’s missing? No, no? Then
How can we give you a thing?
Stop crying.
Open your hand.
Empty? Empty. Here is a hand

To fill it and willing
To bring teacups and roll away headaches
And do whatever you tell it.
Will you marry it?
It is guaranteed

To thumb shut your eyes at the end
And dissolve of sorrow.
We make new stock from the salt.
I notice you are stark naked.
How about this suit——

Black and stiff, but not a bad fit.
Will you marry it?
It is waterproof, shatterproof, proof
Against fire and bombs through the roof.
Believe me, they’ll bury you in it.

Now your head, excuse me, is empty.
I have the ticket for that.
Come here, sweetie, out of the closet.
Well, what do you think of that?
Naked as paper to start

But in twenty-five years she’ll be silver,
In fifty, gold.
A living doll, everywhere you look.
It can sew, it can cook,
It can talk, talk, talk.

It works, there is nothing wrong with it.
You have a hole, it’s a poultice.
You have an eye, it’s an image.
My boy, it’s your last resort.
Will you marry it, marry it, marry it.

by Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)

pity this busy monster, manunkind

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on October 17, 2015 by telescoper

pity this busy monster, manunkind,

not. Progress is a comfortable disease:
your victim (death and life safely beyond)

plays with the bigness of his littleness
— electrons deify one razorblade
into a mountainrange; lenses extend
unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish
returns on its unself.
A world of made
is not a world of born — pity poor flesh

and trees, poor stars and stones, but never this
fine specimen of hypermagical

ultraomnipotence. We doctors know

a hopeless case if — listen: there’s a hell
of a good universe next door; let’s go

by e e cummings (1895-1962).



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