Archive for the Poetry Category

A Poem for St David’s Day

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on March 1, 2023 by telescoper

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!

Today is St David’s Day, and it seems apt to celebrate it with a poem by Dylan Thomas. I’ve loved this particular one since I first heard it when I was a student many years ago. I say “heard it” rather than “read it” because it was through buying a tape of the man himself reading his poems that got me hooked. I have posted this on St David’s Day before but that was many years ago and I hope you will forgive the repetition.

Fern Hill reflects about the passage of time, the loss of childhood happiness and the inevitability of death but its mood is defiant rather than gloomy. It’s full of vibrant imagery, but it’s also written with a wonderful feeling for the natural rhythms and cadences language. You can listen to Dylan Thomas reading this exactly as if it were music.


 Fern Hill

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace.

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

A Backronym for Euclid?

Posted in mathematics, Poetry, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on February 13, 2023 by telescoper
The Euclid Satellite

As a fully paid-up member of the Campaign for the Rejection of Acronymic Practices I was pleased to see the top brass in the Euclid Consortium issue instructions that encourage authors to limit their use of acronyms in official technical documents. Acronyms are widely used in the names of astronomical instruments and surveys. Take BOOMERanG (Balloon Observations Of Millimetric Extragalactic Radiation And Geophysics) and HIPPARCOS (HIgh Precision PARallax COllecting Satellite) to name just two. A much longer list can be found here.

I’m very pleased that the name of the European Space Agency’s Euclid mission is not an acronym. It is actually named after Euclid the Greek mathematician widely regarded as the father of geometry. Quite a few people who have asked me have been surprised that Euclid is not an acronym so I thought it might be fun to challenge my readers – both of them – to construct an appropriate backronym i.e. an acronym formed by expanding the name Euclid into the words of a phrase describing the Euclid mission. The best I’ve seen so far is:

Exploring the Universe with Cosmic Lensing to Identify Dark energy

But Euclid doesn’t just use Cosmic Lensing so I don’t think it’s entirely satisfactory. Anyway, your suggestions are welcome via the box below.

While you’re thinking, here is the best poetic description I have found (from Edna St Vincent Millay):

Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare. 
Let all who prate of Beauty hold their peace,
And lay them prone upon the earth and cease
To ponder on themselves, the while they stare
At nothing, intricately drawn nowhere
In shapes of shifting lineage...

At the Solstice, by Sean O’Brien

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on December 22, 2022 by telescoper

We say Next time we’ll go away.
But then the winter happens, like a secret

We’ve to keep yet never understand,
As daylight turns to cinema once more:

A lustrous darkness deep in ice-age cold,
And the print in need of restoration

Starting to consume itself
With snowfall where no snow is falling now.

Or could it be a cloud of sparrows, dancing
In the bare hedge that this gale of light

Is seeking to uproot? Let it be sparrows, then,
Still dancing in the blazing hedge,

Their tender fury and their fall,
Because it snows, because it burns.

by Sean O’Brien (born 1952)

Remembering Omar Khayyam

Posted in mathematics, Poetry, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on December 4, 2022 by telescoper

I was reminded today that 4th December is the anniversary of the death, in 1131, of the Persian astronomer, mathematician and poet Omar Khayyam. That in turn reminded me that just over year ago I received a gift of a sumptuously illustrated multi-lingual edition of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám:

Edward Fitzgerald‘s famous English translation of these verses is very familiar, but it seems there’s a more of Fitzgerald than Khayyam in many of the poems and the attribution of many of the original texts to Khayyam is dubious in any case.  Whatever you think about this collection, I think it’s a bit unfortunate that Khayyam is not more widely recognized for his scientific work, which you can read about in more detail here.

Anyway, as we approach the end of 2022 many of us will be remembering people we have lost during the year so here is a sequence of three quatrains (XXII-XXIV) with an appropriately elegiac theme:

For some we loved, the loveliest and the best
That from his Vintage rolling Time hath pressed,
    Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before,
And one by one crept silently to rest.

And we, that now make merry in the Room
They left, and Summer dresses in new bloom,
    Ourselves must we beneath the Couch of Earth
Descend–ourselves to make a Couch–for whom?

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
    Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and–sans End!

Four Quartets, No. 2. – East Coker II by T.S. Eliot

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on November 27, 2022 by telescoper

What is the late November doing
With the disturbance of the spring
And creatures of the summer heat,
And snowdrops writhing under feet
And hollyhocks that aim too high
Red into grey and tumble down
Late roses filled with early snow?
Thunder rolled by the rolling stars
Simulates triumphal cars
Deployed in constellated wars
Scorpion fights against the Sun
Until the Sun and Moon go down
Comets weep and Leonids fly
Hunt the heavens and the plains
Whirled in a vortex that shall bring
The world to that destructive fire
Which burns before the ice-cap reigns.

That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory:
A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,
Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle
With words and meanings.
The poetry does not matter.

It was not (to start again) what one had expected.

What was to be the value of the long looked forward to,
Long hoped for calm, the autumnal serenity
And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us
Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,
Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?
The serenity only a deliberate hebetude,
The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets
Useless in the darkness into which they peered
Or from which they turned their eyes.
There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.

The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been.
We are only undeceived
Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.

In the middle, not only in the middle of the way
But all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble,
On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold,
And menaced by monsters, fancy lights,
Risking enchantment.
Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.

The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.

The houses are all gone under the sea.

The dancers are all gone under the hill.

by T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)

September Song, by Geoffrey Hill

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on September 13, 2022 by telescoper

born 19.6.32—deported 24.9.42

Undesirable you may have been, untouchable
you were not. Not forgotten
or passed over at the proper time.

As estimated, you died. Things marched,
sufficient, to that end.
Just so much Zyklon and leather, patented
terror, so many routine cries.

(I have made
an elegy for myself it
is true)

September fattens on vines. Roses
flake from the wall. The smoke
of harmless fires drifts to my eyes.

This is plenty. This is more than enough.

by Geoffrey Hill (1932-2016)

(The word “deported”  alongside the dates of birth and death of a child at the beginning is of course euphemistic; the poem tells us what really happened.)

Love after Love, by Derek Walcott

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on August 15, 2022 by telescoper

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

by Derek Walcott (1930-2017)

Epilogue, by Oliver Tearle

Posted in Poetry with tags , on July 8, 2022 by telescoper

Yesterday I was looking around for a poem on the subject of goodbyes to post facetiously about the departure of Boris Johnson when I stumbled accidentally on this gem which I’m posting now, not facetiously and definitely not in any way about Boris Johnson…

Maybe our paths will cross
when this universe folds in and makes another.
Maybe, at the point

when all that is, and all that’s ever been,
collapses into everything else and is remade,
our paths will cross, however briefly, and

our terminus become a junction.
It may be a long shot. I will take it
and hope and trust our paths will cross again.

by Oliver Tearle


The Song of Wandering Aengus

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on July 2, 2022 by telescoper

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)


What would I do without this world – #PoetryDayIRL

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on April 28, 2022 by telescoper

what would I do without this world faceless incurious
where to be lasts but an instant where every instant
spills in the void the ignorance of having been
without this wave where in the end
body and shadow together are engulfed
what would I do without this silence where the murmurs die
the pantings the frenzies towards succour towards love
without this sky that soars
above its ballast dust

what would I do what I did yesterday and the day before
peering out of my deadlight looking for another
wandering like me eddying far from all the living
in a convulsive space
among the voices voiceless
that throng my hiddenness

by Samuel Beckett (1906-89)