Archive for Poetry

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)

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)

“The Whale”, by John Donne

Posted in Literature with tags , , , on August 2, 2022 by telescoper

A beached Sperm Whale (Dutch woodcut, 1598)

At every stroake his brazen finnes do take,
More circles in the broken sea they make
Than cannons’ voices; when the aire they teare:
His ribs are pillars, and his high arch’d roofe
Of barke that blunts best steele, is thunder-proofe:
Swimme in him swallow’d Dolphins, without feare,
And feele no sides, as if his vast wombe were
Some inland sea, and ever as he went
He spouted rivers up, as if he meant
To joyne our seas, with seas above the firmament.

He hunts not fish but as an officer,
Stayes in his court, at his own net, and there
All suitors of all sorts themselves enthrall;
So on his backe lies this whale wantoning,
And in his gulfe-like throat, sucks every thing
That passeth neare. Fish chaseth fish, and all,
Flyer and follower, in this whirlpool fall;
O might not states of more equality
Consist? and is it of necessity
That thousand guiltlesse smals, to make one great, must die?


These are Stanzas XXXII and XXXIII from “Metempsycosis” by John Donne (1572-1631); posted because they feature in the programme I watched yesterday.


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)

“March” by A.E. Housman

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

The Sun at noon to higher air,
Unharnessing the silver Pair
That late before his chariot swam,
Rides on the gold wool of the Ram.

So braver notes the storm-cock sings
To start the rusted wheel of things,
And brutes in field and brutes in pen
Leap that the world goes round again.

The boys are up the woods with day
To fetch the daffodils away,
And home at noonday from the hills
They bring no dearth of daffodils.

Afield for palms the girls repair,
And sure enough the palms are there,
And each will find by hedge or pond
Her waving silver-tufted wand.

In farm and field through all the shire
They eye beholds the heart’s desire;
Ah, let not only mine be vain,
For lovers should be loved again.

by Alfred Edward Housman (1859-1936)

At Day-Close in November by Thomas Hardy

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on November 21, 2021 by telescoper

The ten hours’ light is abating,
And a late bird wings across,
Where the pines, like waltzers waiting,
Give their black heads a toss.

Beech leaves, that yellow the noon-time,
Float past like specks in the eye;
I set every tree in my June time,
And now they obscure the sky.

And the children who ramble through here
Conceive that there never has been
A time when no tall trees grew here,
That none will in time be seen.

by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

Unsolved, by John McCrae

Posted in History, Poetry with tags , , , , on November 11, 2021 by telescoper

The poet John McCrae served with distinction in the Canadian Field Artillery during the First World War, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He died in 1918, of pneumonia, shortly before the end of the conflict.
McCrae is best known for writing the poem In Flanders Fields, the imagery of which led to the adoption of the poppy as the emblem of Remembrance Day (11th November i.e. today). He wrote many other interesting poems, however, so I thought I’d share one here to celebrate his life.

Amid my books I lived the hurrying years,
Disdaining kinship with my fellow man;
Alike to me were human smiles and tears,
I cared not whither Earth’s great life-stream ran,
Till as I knelt before my mouldered shrine,
God made me look into a woman’s eyes;
And I, who thought all earthly wisdom mine,
Knew in a moment that the eternal skies
Were measured but in inches, to the quest
That lay before me in that mystic gaze.
“Surely I have been errant; it is best
That I should tread, with men their human ways.”
God took the teacher, ere the task was learned,
And to my lonely books again I turned.

by John McCrae (1872-1918)


A Day in Autumn, by R.S. Thomas

Posted in Maynooth, Poetry with tags , , on October 5, 2021 by telescoper

Tree-lined Avenue at Maynooth University


It will not always be like this,
The air windless, a few last
Leaves adding their decoration
To the trees’ shoulders, braiding the cuffs
Of the boughs with gold; a bird preening

In the lawn’s mirror. Having looked up
From the day’s chores, pause a minute,
Let the mind take its photograph
Of the bright scene, something to wear
Against the heart in the long cold.

by R.S. Thomas (1913-2000)