Adam's Complaint by Denise Levertov

Some people,
no matter what you give them,
still want the moon.

The bread,
the salt,
white meat and dark,
still hungry.

The marriage bed
and the cradle,
still empty arms.

You give them land,
their own earth under their feet,
still they take to the roads.

And water: dig them the deepest well,
still it's not deep enough
to drink the moon from.

(to Contents)


Meeting Poets by Eunice de Souza

Meeting poets I am disconcerted sometimes
by the colour of their socks
the suspicion of a wig
the wasp in the voice
and an air, sometimes, of dankness.

Best to meet in poems:
cool speckled shells
in which one hears
a sad but distant sea.

(to Contents)


The Poet Walking by Ivor Gurney

I saw people
Thronging the streets
Where the Eastway with the old
Roman Wall meets -
But none though of old
Gloucester blood brought,
Loved so the City
As I - the poet unthought.
And I exulted there
To think that but one
Of all that City
Had pride or equity
Enough for the marvelling
At street and stone,
Or the age of Briton,
Dane, Roman, Elizabethan -
One grateful one - true child
Of that dear City - one worthy one.

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The Incense Bearers by Ivor Gurney

Toward the sun the drenched May-hedges lift
White rounded masses like still ocean-drift,
And days fill with heavy scent of that gift.

There is no escaping that full current of thick
Incens; one walks, suddenly one comes quick
Into a flood of odour there, aromatic,

Not English; for cleaner; sweeter, is the hot scent that
Is given from hedges, solitary flowers, not
In mass, but lonely odours that scarcely float.

But the incense bearers, soakers of sun's full
Powerfullness, give out floods unchecked, wonderful
Utterance almost, which makes no poet grateful,

Since his love is for single things rarely found,
Or hardly. Violets blooming in remote ground,
One colour, one fragrance, like one unacompanied sound -

Struck upon silence, nothing looked for, hung
As from gold wires: this May incense is swung,
Heavy of odour, the drenched meadows among.

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Hallaig by Sorley MacLean

Time, the deer, is in Hallaig Wood
There's a board nailed across the window
I looked through to see the west
And my love is a birch forever
By Hallaig Stream, at her tryst

Between Inver and Milk Hollow,
somewhere around Baile-chuirn,
A flickering birch, a hazel,
A trim, straight sapling rowan.

In Screapadal, where my people
Hail from, the seed and breed
Of Hector Mor and Norman
By the banks of the stream are a wood.

To-night the pine-cocks crowing
On Cnoc an Ra, there above,
And the trees standing tall in moonlight -
They are not the wood I love.

I will wait for the birches to move,
The wood to come up past the cairn
Until it has veiled the mountain
Down from Beinn na Lice in shade.

If it doesn't, I'll go to Hallaig,
To the sabbath of the dead,
Down to where each departed
Generation has gathered.

Hallaig is where they survive,
All the MacLeans and MacLeads
Who were there in the time of Mac Gille Chaluim:
The dead have been seen alive,

The men at their length on the grass
At the gable of every house,
The girls a wood of birch trees
Standing tall, with their heads bowed.

Between The Leac and Fearns
The road is plush with moss
And the girls in a noiseless procession
Going to Clachan as always

And coming boack from Clachan
And Suisnish, their land of the living,
Still lightsome and unheartbroken,
Their stories only beginning.

From Fearns Burn to the raised beach
Showing clear in the shrouded hills
There are only girls congregating,
Endlessly walking along

Back through the gloaming to Hallaig
Through the vivid speechless air,
Pouring down the steep slopes,
Their laughter misting my ear

And their beauty a glaze on my heart.
Then as the kyles go dim
And the sun sets behind Dun Cana
Love's loaded gun will take aim.

It will bring down the lightheaded deer
As he sniffs the grass round the wallsteads
And his eye will freeze: while I live,
His blood won't be traced in the woods.

(Trans. Seamus Heaney)

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Two translations of Pangur Ban (anon.)

Pangur Ban

I and Pangur Ban my cat,
'Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
'Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.

'Tis a merry task to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur's way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.

'Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
'Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!

So in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Ban, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

trans. Robin Flower

Myself and Pangur

Myself and Pangur, my white cat,
have much the same calling, in that
much as Pangur goes after mice
I go hunting for the precise

word. He and I are much the same
in that I'm gladly "lost to fame"
when on the Georgics, say, I'm bent
while he seems perfectly content

with his lot. Life in the cloister
can't possibly lose it's luster
so long as there's some crucial point
with which he might by leaps and bounds

yet grapple, into which yet sink
our teeth. The bold Pangur will think
through mouse snagging much as I muse
on something naggingly abstruse,

then fix his clear, unflinching eye
on our lime-white cell wall, while I
focus, insofar as I can,
on the limits of what a man

may know. Something of his rapture
at his most recent mouse capture
I share when I, too, get to grips
with what has given me the slip.

And so we while away our whiles,
never cramping each other's styles
but practicing the noble arts
that so lift and lighten our hearts,

Pangur going in for the kill,
with all his customary skill
while I sharp-witted, swift, and sure
shed light on what had seemed obscure.

trans. Paul Muldoon

Here are the first two stanzas of the original - written in Irish in a German monastary in the 8th Century:

Pangur Bán (anon.)

Messe ocus Pangur Bán,
cechtar nathar fria saindan:
bíth a menmasam fri seilgg,
mu memna céin im saincheirdd.

Caraimse fos (ferr cach clu)
oc mu lebran, leir ingnu;
ni foirmtech frimm Pangur Bán:
caraid cesin a maccdán.

(to Contents)


I Am by John Clare

I am - yet what I am, none cares or knows:
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am the self-consumer of my woes --
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shadows in love's frenzied stifled throes
And yet I am, and live-like vapours tost

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteem:
Even the dearest that I love the best
Are strange-nay, rather, stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man hath never trod
A place where woman never smiled or wept
there to abide with my creator God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie
The grass below, above, the vaulted sky.

(to Contents)


Language has not the power by John Clare

Language has not the power to speak what love indites:
The Soul lies buried in the ink that writes.

(to Contents)


The Cool Web by Robert Graves

Children are dumb to say how hot the day is,
How hot the scent is of the summer rose,
How dreadful the black wastes of evening sky,
How dreadful the tall soldiers drumming by,

But we have speech, to chill the angry day,
And speech, to dull the roses's cruel scent,
We spell away the overhanging night,
We spell away the soldiers and the fright.

There's a cool web of language winds us in,
Retreat from too much joy or too much fear:
We grow sea-green at last and coldly die
In brininess and volubility.

But if we let our tongues lose self-possession,
Throwing off language and its watery clasp
Before our death, instead of when death comes,
Facing the wide glare of the children's day,
Facing the rose, the dark sky and the drums,
We shall go mad, no doubt, and die that way.

(to Contents)


The Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
xxxxdom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his
xxxxOf the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
xxxxAs a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and
xxxxRebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, - the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
xxxxBuckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
xxxxFall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

(to Contents)


Moonrise by Gerard Manley Hopkins

I awoke in the Midsummer not to call night, in the white and the walk of the morning:
The moon, dwindled and thinned to the fringe of a finger-nail held to the candle,
Or paring of paradisaical fruit, lovely in waning but lustreless,
Stepped from the stool, drew back from the barrow, of dark Maenefa the mountain;

A cusp still clasped him, a fluke yet fanged him, entangled him, not quite utterly.
This was the prized, the desirable sight, unsought, presented so easily,
Parted me leaf and leaf, divided me, eyelid and eyelid of slumber.

(to Contents)


Wodwo by Ted Hughes

What am I? Nosing here, turning leaves over
Following a faint stain on the air to the river's edge
I enter water. Who am I to split
The glassy grain of water looking upward I see the bed
Of the river above me upside down very clear
What am I doing here in mid-air? Why do I find
this frog so interesting as I inspect its most secret
interior and make it my own? Do these weeds
know me and name me to each other have they
seen me before do I fit in their world? I seem
separate from the ground and not rooted but dropped
out of nothing casually I've no threads
fastening me to anything I can go anywhere
I seem to have been given the freedom
of this place what am I then? And picking
bits of bark off this rotten stump gives me
no pleasure and it's no use so why do I do it
me and doing that have coincided very queerly
But what shall I be called am I the first
have I an owner what shape am I what
shape am I am I huge if I go
to the end on this way past these trees and past these trees
till I get tired that's touching one wall of me
for the moment if I sit still how everything
stops to watch me I suppose I am the exact centre
but there's all this what is it roots
roots roots roots and here's the water
again very queer but I'll go on looking

(to Contents)


The Sunlight on the Garden by Louis MacNeice

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.

(to Contents)


The Unexplorer by Edna St. Vincent Millay

There was a road ran past our house
Too lovely to explore.
I asked my mother once -- she said
That if you followed where it led
It brought you to the milk-man's door.
(That's why I have not travelled more.)

(to Contents)


Visitor by Les Murray

He knocks at the door
and listens to his heart approaching.

(to Contents)


Punkpoem by Dambudzo Marechera

In the song
Are waterfruits;
In the plush and flow
Firestars eternally fixed.

Guitar strings lash
My back, draw blood -
The out-of-control voice
Skids shrieking across

Tarmac audiences.

(to Contents)


Opening lines from The Seafarer - three translations

May I for my own self song's truth reckon,
Journey's jargon, how I in harsh days
Hardship endured oft...

trans. by Ezra Pound

I can sing a true song about myself,
tell of my travels, how in the days of tribulation
I often endured a time of hardship...

trans. by Kevin Crossley-Holland

This verse is my voice, it is no fable,
I tell of my travelling, how in hardship
I have often suffered laborious days...

trans. by Edwin Morgan

Mæg ic be me sylfum soðgied wrecan,
siþas secgan, hu ic geswincdagum
earfoðhwile oft þrowade...

from the 10th Century Exeter Book

(to Contents)



in which I'll have
been guest, a name,
sweated down from the wall
up which a wound licks.

trans. by Ian Fairley

(to Contents)


from Obeservations in the Art of English Poesie by Thomas Campion

Follow, followe,
Through with mischiefe
Arm'd, like whirlewind,
Now she flyes thee;
Time can conquer
Loves unkindnes;
Love can alter
Times disgraces;
Till death faint not
Then, but followe.
Could I catch that
Nimble trayter,
Skornefull Lawra,
Swift foote Lawra,
Soone that would I
seeke avengement?
Even submissely
Prostrate then to
Beg for mercye.

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To Fine Lady Would-Bee by Ben Jonson

Fine Madame Would-Be, wherefore should you feare,
That love to make so well, a child to beare?
The world reputes you barren; but I know
Your 'pothecarie, and his drug sayes no.
Is it the paine affrights? That's soone forgot.
Or your complexion's losse? You have a pot
That can restore that. Will it hurt your feature?
To make amends, yo'are thought a wholesome creature.
What should the cause be? Oh, you live at court,
And there's both losse of time and losse of sport
In a great belly. Write, then, on thy wombe,
Of the not borne, yet buried, here's the tombe.

(to Contents)


Oppenheim's Cup and Saucer by Carol Ann Duffy

She asked me to luncheon in fur. Far from
the loud laughter of men, our secret life stirred.

I remember her eyes, the slim rope of her spine.
This is your cup, she whispered, and this mine.

We drank the sweet hot liquid and talked dirty.
As she undressed me, her breasts were a mirror

and there were mirrors in the bed. She said Place
your legs around my neck, that's right. Yes.

(to Contents)


Climbing Suilven by Norman MacCaig

I nod and nod to my own shadow and thrust
A mountain down and down.
Between my feet a loch shines in the brown,
It's silver paper crinkled and edged with rust.
My lungs say No;
But down and down this treadmill hill must go.

Parishes dwindle. But my parish is
This stone, that tuft, this stone
And the cramped quarters of my flesh and bone.
I claw that tall horizon down to this;
And suddenly
My shadow jumps huge miles away from me.

(to Contents)


Waking by Sheila Wingfield

When Lazarus
Was helped from his cold tomb
Into air cut by bird-calls,
While a branch swayed
And the ground felt unsteady:
I must, like him, with all force possible
Try out my tongue again.

(to Contents)


Scotland by Alastair Reid

It was a day peculiar to this piece of the planet
when larks rose on long thin strings of singing
and the air shifted with the shimmer of actual angels.
Greenness entered the body. The grasses
shivered with presences and sunlight
stayed like a halo on hair and heather and hills.
Walking into town, I saw, in a radiant raincoat,
the woman from the fish-shop. 'What a day it is!'
cried I, like a sunstruck madman.
And what did she have to say for it?
Her brow grew bleak, her ancestors raged in their graves
as she spoke with their ancient misery:
'We'll pay for it, we'll pay for it, we'll pay for it!'

(to Contents)


Handbag by Ruth Fainlight

My mother's old leather handbag,
crowded with letters she carried
all through the war. The smell
of my mother's handbag: mints
and liptsick and Coty powder.
The look of those letters, softened
and worn at the edges, opened,
read, and refolded so often.
Letters from my father. Odour
of leather and powder, which ever
since then has meant womanliness,
and love, and anguish, and war.

(to Contents)


Ghost Writers to the Emperor by Pauline Stainer

They still inhabit language,
caught between the unsaid
and the unsayable,
hands dappled as apricots
in the latticed light

making their mark
like elephants at a salt-lick,
until only the text
and its inspired omissions
risk the silence.

(to Contents)


Valley Candle by Wallace Stevens

My candle burned alone in an immense valley.
Beams of the huge night converged upon it,
Until the wind blew.
The beams of the huge night
Converged upon its image,
Until the wind blew.

(to Contents)


Anecdote of the Jar by Wallace Stevens

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
and tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion everywhere.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

(to Contents)


Tinily a star goes down by Iain Crichton Smith

Tinily a star goes down
behind a black cloud.

Odd that your wristwatch still should lie
on the shiny dressing-table

its tick so faint I cannot hear
the universe at its centre.

(to Contents)


A Thicket in Lleyn by RS Thomas

I was no tree walking.
I was still. They ignored me,
the birds, the migrants
on their way south. They re-leafed
the trees, budding them
with their notes. They filtered through
the boughs like sunlight,
looked at me from three feet
off, their eyes blackberry bright.,
not seeing me, not detaching me
from the withies, where I was
caged and they free.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxThey would have perched
on me, had I nourishment
in my fissures. As it was
they netted me in their shadows,
brushed me with sound, feathering the arrows
of their own bows, and were gone,
leaving me to reflect on the answer
to a question I had not asked.
'A repetition in time of the eternal
I AM.' Say it. Don't be shy.
Escape from your mortal cage
in thought. Your migrations will never
be over. Between two truths
there is only the mind to fly with.
Navigate by such stars as are not
leaves falling from life's
deciduous tree, but spray from the fountain
of the imagination, endlessly
replenishing itself out of its own waters.

(to Contents)


When you go by Edwin Morgan

When you go,
if you go,
And I should want to die,
there's nothing I'd be saved by
more than the time
you fell asleep in my arms
in a trust so gentle
I let the darkening room
drink up the evening, till
rest, or the new rain
lightly roused you awake.
I asked if you heard the rain in your dream
and half dreaming still you only said, I love you.

(to Contents)


Boy from the Shore by George Mackay Brown

When horsemen at the inn-yards say
'Return to her'
I stay beside the barrel, drinking.
When the old women urge,
'Bring her a gift of fish'
I take nothing but hunger into your house.
When the elders insist
'Break bread together'
You are the witch in the flame, I the fiddler,
At the gate of loaves and fishes.
Each Sabbath silence
Our tree is crammed with birds,
And when the villages dance
Then we lie quiet all night with mixed hair.

(to Contents)


A Gift by Don Paterson

That night she called his name, not mine
xxxx and could not call it back
I shamed myself, and thought of that blind
xxxx girl in Kodiak

who sat out on the stoop each night
xxxx to watch the daylight fade
and lift her child down to the gate cut
xxxx in the palisade

and what old caution love resigned
xxxx when through the misty stare
she passed the boy to not her bearskinned
xxxx husband but the bear

(to Contents)


The Birth of Shaka by Oswald Mtshali

His baby cry
was of a cub
tearing the neck
of the lioness
because he was fatherless.

The gods
boiled his blood
in a clay pot of passion
to course in his veins.

His heart was shaped into an ox shield
to foil every foe.

Ancestors forged
his muscles into
thongs as tough
as water bark
and nerves
as sharp as
syringa thorns.

His eyes were lanterns
that shone from the dark valleys of Zululand
to see white swallows
coming across the sea.
His cry to two assassin brothers:

"Lo! you can kill me
but you'll never rule this land!"

(to Contents)


The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson

A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood.
A fox saw the mouse, and the mouse looked good.

"Where are you going to, little brown mouse?
Come and have lunch in my underground house."

"It's terribly kind of you, Fox, but no –
I'm going to have lunch with a gruffalo."

"A gruffalo? What's a gruffalo?"
"A gruffalo! Why, didn't you know?

He has terrible tusks, and terrible claws,
And terrible teeth in his terrible jaws."

"Where are you meeting him?"
"Here, by these rocks,
And his favourite food is roasted fox."

"Roasted fox! I'm off!" Fox said.
"Goodbye, little mouse," and away he sped.

"Silly old Fox! Doesn't he know,
There's no such thing as a gruffalo?"

On went the mouse through the deep dark wood.
An owl saw the mouse, and the mouse looked good.

"Where are you going to, little brown mouse?
Come and have tea in my treetop house."

"It's terribly kind of you, Owl, but no –
I'm going to have tea with a gruffalo."

"A gruffalo? What's a gruffalo?"
"A gruffalo! Why, didn't you know?

He has knobbly knees, and turned-out toes,
And a poisonous wart at the end of his nose."

"Where are you meeting him?"
"Here, by this stream,
And his favourite food is owl ice cream."

"Owl ice cream! Toowhit toowhoo!"
"Goodbye, little mouse," and away Owl flew.

"Silly old Owl! Doesn't he know,
There's no such thing as a gruffalo?"

On went the mouse through the deep dark wood.
A snake saw the mouse, and the mouse looked good.

"Where are you going to, little brown mouse?
Come for a feast in my logpile house."

"It's terribly kind of you, Snake, but no –
I'm having a feast with a gruffalo."

"A gruffalo? What's a gruffalo?"
"A gruffalo! Why, didn't you know?

His eyes are orange, his tongue is black,
He has purple prickles all over his back."

"Where are you meeting him?"
"Here, by this lake,
And his favourite food is scrambled snake."

"Scrambled snake! It's time I hid!"
"Goodbye, little mouse," and away Snake slid.

"Silly old Owl! Doesn't he know,
There's no such thing as a gruffal...?"


But who is this creature with terrible claws
And terrible teeth in his terrible jaws?
He has knobbly knees, and turned-out toes,
And a poisonous wart at the end of his nose.
His eyes are orange, his tongue is black,
He has purple prickles all over his back.

"Oh help! Oh no!
It's a gruffalo!"

"My favourite food!" the Gruffalo said.
"You'll taste good on a slice of bread!"

"Good?" said the mouse. "Don't call me good!
I'm the scariest creature in this wood.
Just walk behind me and soon you'll see,
Everyone is afraid of me."

"All right," said the Gruffalo, bursting with laughter.
"You go ahead and I'll follow after."

They walked and walked till the Gruffalo said,
"I hear a hiss in the leaves ahead."

"It's Snake," said the mouse. "Why, Snake, hello!"
Snake took one look at the Gruffalo.
"Oh crumbs!" he said, "Goodbye, little mouse!"
And off he slid to his logpile house.

"You see?" said the mouse. "I told you so."
"Amazing!" said the Gruffalo.

They walked some more till the Gruffalo said,
"I hear a hoot in the trees ahead."

"It's Owl," said the mouse. "Why, Owl, hello!"
Owl took one look at the Gruffalo.
"Oh dear!" he said, "Goodbye, little mouse!"
And off he flew to his treetop house.

"You see?" said the mouse. "I told you so."
"Astounding!" said the Gruffalo.

They walked some more till the Gruffalo said,
"I can hear feet on the path ahead."

"It's Fox," said the mouse. "Why, Fox, hello!"
Fox took one look at the Gruffalo.
"Oh help!" he said, "Goodbye, little mouse!"
And off he ran to his underground house.

"Well, Gruffalo," said the mouse. "You see?
Everyone is afraid of me!
But now my tummy's beginning to rumble.
My favourite food is – gruffalo crumble!"

"Gruffalo crumble!" the Gruffalo said,
And quick as the wind he turned and fled.

All was quiet in the deep dark wood.
The mouse found a nut and the nut was good.

(to Contents)


The Uncertainty of the Poet by Wendy Cope

I am a poet.
I am very fond of bananas.

I am bananas.
I am very fond of a poet.

I am a poet of bananas.
I am very fond.

A fond poet of 'I am, I am'-
Very bananas.

Fond of 'Am I bananas?
Am I?'-a very poet.

Bananas of a poet!
Am I fond? Am I very?

Poet bananas! I am.
I am fond of a 'very.'

I am of very fond bananas.
Am I a poet?

(to Contents)


Casabianca by Elizabeth Bishop

Love's the boy stood on the burning deck
trying to recite "The boy stood on
the burning deck". Love's the son
xxxx stood stammering elocution
xxxx while the poor ship in flames went down.

Love's the obstinate boy, the ship,
even the swimming sailors, who
would like a schoolroom platform, too
xxxx or an excuse to stay
xxxx on deck. And love's the burning boy.

(to Contents)


Dinogad's Petticoat (anon.)

Dinogad's speckled petticoat
was made of skins of speckled stoat:
whip whip whipalong
eight times we'll sing the song.
When your father hunted the land
spear on shoulder club in hand
thus his speedy dogs he'd teach
Giff Gaff catch her catch her fetch!
In his coracle he'd slay
fish as a lion does its prey.
When your father went to the moor
he'd bring back heads of stag fawn boar
the speckled grouse's head from the mountain
fishes' heads from the falls of Oak fountain
Whatever your father struck with his spear
wild pig wild cat fox from his lair
numless it had wings it would never get clear.

From the Welsh (trans. Gwyn Williams)

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Girl (anon.)

How are you so smooth-faced
So slender-waisted?
Have you braided the sun's hair
Swept the moon's courtyards clean?

I haven't braided the sun's hair
Or swept the moon's courtyards
I stood outside and watched
Lightning dancing with thunder
Lightning outdanced thunder
By two or three apples
Four oranges.

From the Serbian (trans. Anne Pennington)

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Looking for the Celts by Gwyneth Lewis

The Duchess of Mecklenburg straightens her back,
surveys her fellow enthusiasts,
all digging in soft Salzkammergut rain.
She swaps her mattock for a favourite pick,
glances up at the Hallstatt peak
then, rested, tackles the grave again.

He’s close. She can smell him. With trembling hands,
she sorts bone splinters and pottery shards,
sets them aside with the Celtic coins.
She drops to her knees, forgetting her crew,
scrambles then gives a triumphant cry
as she touches his chest, his barbarian loins.

The Duchess of Mecklenburg, an eminent archaeologist, was one of those responsible for excavating the Celtic salt mines in Hallstatt, Austria, at the turn of this century.

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January 20th, 1798 by Dorothy Wordsworth

The green paths down the hillside are channels for streams. The young wheat is streaked by silver lines of water running between the ridges, the sheep are gathered together on the slopes.

After the wet dark days, the country seems more populous. It peoples itself in the sunbeams.

The garden, mimic of spring, is gay with flowers. The purple-starred hepatica spreads itself in the sun, and the clustering snow-drops put forth their white heads, at first upright, ribbed with green, and like a rose bud when completely opened, hanging their heads downwards, but slowly lengthening their slender stems.

The slanting woods of an unvarying brown, showing the light through the thin net-work of their upper boughs.

Upon the highest ridge of that round hill covered with planted oaks, the shafts of the trees show in the light like the columns of a ruin.

from the Alfoxden Journal (Note: all paragraph breaks are mine.)

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A thought suggested by a view of Saddleback in Cumberland by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

On stern Blencartha's perilous height
The winds are tyrannous and strong;
And flashing forth unsteady light
From stern Blencartha's skiey height,
As loud the torrents throng!
Beneath the moon in gentle weather,
They bind earth and sky together.
But oh! the sky and all its forms, how quiet!
The things that seek the earth, how full of noise and riot!

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Stars Sliding by Ivor Gurney

The stars are sliding wanton through the trees,
The sky is sliding steady over all.
Great bear to Gemini will lose his place
And Cygnus over world's brink slip and fall.

Follow-my-Leader's not so bad a game.
But were it leap-frog: O to see the shoots
And tracks of glory: Scorpions and Swans tame
And Argo swarmed with Bulls and other brutes.

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A Work for Poets by George Mackay Brown

To have carved on the days of our vanity
A sun
A ship
A star
A cornstalk

Also a few marks
From an ancient forgotten time
A child may read

Then not far from the stone
A well
Might open for wayfarers

Here is a work for poets -
Carve the runes
Then be content with silence

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The Poet by George Mackay Brown

Therefore he no more troubled the pool of silence.
But put on mask and cloak,
Strung a guitar
And moved among the folk.
Dancing they cried,
'Ah, how our sober islands
Are gay again, since the blind lyrical tramp
Invaded the Fair!'

Under the last dead lamp
When all the dancers and masks had gone inside
His cold stare
Returned to its true task, interrogation of silence.

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A Battle in Ulster by George Mackay Brown

Remarking, 'It is not my taste
To Wheeze on a white pillow
Nor to toil gravewards on a stick, murdered slowly
By avarice, envy, lust,'
Einar ran where the swords fell thickest.

An Irish axe
Struck the right shoulder of Sweyn the skald.
'In future,' said Sweyn,
'I will write my poems with the left hand.
I will sup a sinister broth.'

Near the end of the battle
Rolf returned to the ship, downcast.
'Gudrun,' he said, 'is a proud woman.
She will not bed with boys.
Hard wounds I sought
For thigh and chest and forehead today.
All I have got
Is a broken tooth, an eye as blue as an oyster,
And my pinkie scratched.
From now on, Gudrun,
I will court less particular girls.'

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Behaviour of Fish in an Egyptian Tea Garden by Keith Douglas

As a white stone draws down the fish
she on the seafloor of the afternoon
draws down men's glances and their cruel wish
for love. Slyly her red lip on the spoon

slips-in a morsel of ice-cream; her hands
white as a milky stone, white submarine
fronds, sink with spread fingers, lean
along the table, carmined at the ends.

A cotton magnate, an important fish
with great eyepouches and a golden mouth
through the frail reefs of furniture swims out
and idling, suspended, stays to watch.

A crustacean old man clamped to his chair
sits coldly near her and might see
her charms through fissures where the eyes should be
or else his teeth are parted in a stare.

Captain on leave, a lean dark mackerel
lies in the offing, turns himself and looks
through currents of sound. The flat-eyed flatfish sucks
on a straw, staring from its repose, laxly.

And gallants in shoals swim up and lag,
circling and passing near the white attraction;
sometimes pausing, opening a conversation:
fish pause so to nibble or tug.

Now the ice-cream is finished,
is paid for. The fish swim off on business:
and she sits alone at the table, a white stone
useless except to a collector, a rich man.

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Postcard by Maragaret Atwood

I'm thinking of you. What else can I say?
The palm trees on the reverse
are a delusion; so is the pink sand.
What we have are the usual
fractured coke bottles and the smell
of backed-up drains, too sweet,
like a mango on the verge
of rot, which we have also.
The air clear sweat, mosquitos
& their tracks; birds, blue & elusive.

Time comes in waves here, a sickness, one
day after the other rolling on;
I move up, its called
awake, then down into the uneasy
nights but never
forward. The roosters crow
for hours before dawn, and a prodded
child howls & howls
on the pocked road to school.
In the hold with the baggage
there are two prisoners,
their heads shaved by bayonets, & ten crates
of queasy chicks. Each spring
there's a race of cripples, from the store
to the church. This is the sort of junk
I carry with me; and a clipping
about democracy from the local paper.
Outside the window
they're building the damn hotel,
nail by nail, someone's
crumbling dream. A universe that includes you
can't be all bad, but
does it? At this distance
you're a mirage, a glossy image
fixed in the posture
of the last time i saw you.
Turn you over, there's the place
for the address. Wish you were
here. Love comes
in waves like the ocean, a sickness which goes on
& on, a hollow cave
in the head, filling and pounding, a kicked ear.

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The Jungle Husband by Stevie Smith

Dearest Evelyn, I often think of you
Out with the guns in the jungle stew
Yesterday I hittapotamus
I put the measurements down for you but they got lost in the fuss
It's not a good thing to drink out here
You know, I've practically given it up dear.
Tomorrow I am going alone a long way
Into the jungle. It is all grey
But green on top
Only sometimes when a tree has fallen
The sun comes down plop, it is quite appalling.
You never want to go in a jungle pool
In the hot sun, it would be the act of a fool
Because it's always full of anacondas, Evelyn, not looking ill-fed
I'll say. So no more now, from your loving husband Wilfred.

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Poem 98 by Catullus (two translations)

Poem 98 – Catullus (trans. Peter Whigham)

The same can be said of you, Victius
as of any open mouthed bore
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxsuffering from halitosis.
With that tongue of yours one can actually credit
your licking, at will, besmeared boots and buttocks.
If you wish to prostrate the company –
you will effectively accomplish your purpose.


To Vicitus the Stinkard - Catullus (trans. Richard Burton)

Rightly of thee may be said, an of any, (thou stinkingest Victius!)
Whatso wont we to say touching the praters and prigs.
Thou wi' that tongue o' thine own, if granted occasion availest
Brogues of the cowherds to kiss, also their . . . .
Wouldst thou undo us all with a thorough undoing (o Victius!)
Open thy gape -thereby all shall be wholly undone.

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A Cranefly in September by Ted Hughes

She is struggling through grass-mesh - not flying,
Her wide-winged, stiff, weightless basket-work of limbs
Rocking, like an antique wain, a top-heavy ceremonial cart
Across mountain summits
(Not planing over water, dipping her tail)
But blundering with long strides, long reachings, reelings
And ginger-glistening wings
From collision to collision.
Aimless in no particular direction,
Just exerting her last to escape out of the overwhelming
Of whatever it is, legs, grass,
The garden, the county, the country, the world -

Sometimes she rests long minutes in the grass forest
Like a fairytale hero, only a marvel can help her.
She cannot fathom the mystery of this forest
In which, for instance, this giant watches -
The giant who knows she cannot be helped in any way.

Her jointed bamboo fuselage,
Her lobster shoulders, and her face
Like a pinhead dragon, with its tender moustache,
And the simple colourless church windows of her wings
Will come to an end, in mid-search, quite soon.
Everything about her, every perfected vestment
Is already superfluous.
The monstrous excess of her legs and curly feet
Are a problem beyond her.
The calculus of glucose and chitin inadequate
To plot her through the infinities of the stems.

The frayed apple leaves, the grunting raven, the defunct tractor
Sunk in nettles, wait with their multiplications
Like other galaxies.
The sky’s Northward September procession, the vast
soft armistice,
Like an Empire on the move,
Abandons her, tinily embattled
With her cumbering limbs and cumbered brain.

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Inside Ayers Rock by Les Murray

Inside Ayers Rock is lit
with paired fluorescent lights
on steel pillars supporting the ceiling
of haze-blue marquee cloth
high above the non-slip pavers.
Curving around the cafeteria
throughout vast inner space
is a Milky way of plastic chairs
in foursomes around tables
all the way to the truck drivers' enclave.
Dusted coolabah trees grow to the ceiling,
TVs talk in gassy colours, and
round the walls are Outback shop fronts:
the Beehive Bookshop for brochures,
Casual Clobber, the bottled Country Kitchen
and the sheet-iron Dreamtime Experience
that is turned off at night.
A high bank of medal-ribbony
lolly jars preside over
island counters like opened crates,
one labelled White Mugs, and covered with them.
A two-dimensional policeman
discourages shoplifting of gifts
and near the entrance, where you pay
for fuel, there stands a tribal man
in rib-paint and pubic tassel.
It is all gentle and kind.
In beyond the children's playworld
there are fossils, like crumpled
old drawings of creatures in rock.

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A Divine Image by William Blake

Cruelty has a Human Heart,
And Jealousy a Human Face;
Terror the Human Form Divine,
And Secrecy the Human Dress.

The Human Dress is forged Iron,
The Human Form a fiery Forge,
The Human Face a Furnace seal'd,
The Human Heart is hungry Gorge.

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Bookworm by Norman MacCaig

I open the second volume
of a rose
and find it says, word for word,
the same as the first one.

The waves of the sea
annoy me, they bore me;
why aren't they divided
in paragraphs?

I look at the night
and make nothing of it -
those black pages
with no print.

But I love the gothic script
of pinetrees and
on the pond the light's
fancy italics.

And the cherry tree's petals -
they make
a sweet lyric, I appreciate
their dying fall.

But it's strange, girl, how I come back
from the library of everything
to stare and stare
at the closed book of you.

When will you open to me
and show me the meaning of all
the hard words
in the lexicon of love?

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Horoscope by Norman MacCaig

I know there are words I don't understand
like apogee and azimuth.
I know there are diagrams that pretend to be
diagrams of the past and gossips
of the future.

It's my pretty Now I'm in love with
that won't stand still
to be measured. The past
has gone to a far country; and as for the future
there's no future in it.
But my pretty Now, I love her, I love her,
because she shows herself off to me
and will always be faithful.

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