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Poetry

Know that you aren’t alone at evening

Monday, 22 July, 2019

The novelist and poet Vikram Seth divides his time between India, England and the USA. His most famous work is A Suitable Boy, which was published in 1993. With its 1,488 pages and 591,552 words, the book is one of the longest novels ever printed in the English language. The very first work that Seth published, however, was a book of poems and All You Who Sleep Tonight, from which this is taken, appeared in 1990.

At Evening

All you who sleep tonight
Far from the ones you love,
No hand to left or right
And emptiness above —

Know that you aren’t alone
The whole world shares your tears,
Some for two nights or one,
And some for all their years.

Vikram Seth

Evening candle

“Life is not easy for anyone here. Loss and fear, failure and disappointment, pain and ill-health, doubt and death – even those who have escaped from poverty have no escape from these. What makes life bearable is love – to love, to be loved, and – even after death – to know that you have loved and been loved.” — Vikram Seth


Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore

Thursday, 18 July, 2019

Filmmakers Ciaran Vaughan and Myles Shelly made a short video accompaniment to Seamus Heaney reading his poem Postscript. The clip was filmed in County Clare — mainly around Finavarra, where the poem is based.

Postscript

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open


Stolen sweets are always sweeter

Sunday, 16 June, 2019

The English poet and dramatist Thomas Randolph was born on this day in 1605 at Newnham in Northamptonshire. He was one of the most popular playwrights of his time and was expected to become Poet Laureate after Ben Jonson, but his untimely death at 29 prevented this.

Fairy Song

We the fairies blithe and antic,
Of Dimensions not gigantic,
Though the moonshine mostly keep us,
Oft in orchards frisk and peep us,

Stolen sweets are always sweeter;
Stolen kisses much completer;
Stolen looks are nice in chapels;
Stolen, stolen be your apples.

When to bed the world are bobbing,
Then’s the time to go orchard robbing;
Yet the fruit were scarce worth peeling
Were it not for stealing, stealing.

Thomas Randolph (1605 –1635)


The Boris Limerick

Thursday, 13 June, 2019

And they’re off! The 10 rivals for the Conservative Party leadership face the first ballot of Tory MPs this morning. The money here is on Boris Johnson. He’s a winner and he won The Spectator President Erdogan Offensive Poetry competition in 2016 with this Limerick.

There was a young fellow from Ankara
Who was a terrific wankerer
Till he sowed his wild oats
With the help of a goat
But he didn’t even stop to thankera.


Leopards at Knole

Sunday, 2 June, 2019

Vita Sackville-West, the English poet, novelist and garden designer, died on this day in 1962, aged 70. Her home, the magnificent Knole House, located within a 1,000-acre estate in Kent, was given to Thomas Sackville by Queen Elizabeth I in the sixteenth century, and Vita was born there in 1892, the only child of cousins Lionel Edward Sackville-West and Victoria Sackville-West.

Vita’s mother, who was raised in a Parisian convent, was the illegitimate daughter of Lionel Sackville-West and a Spanish dancer, Josefa de Oliva, known as Pepita. Pepita’s mother was an acrobat who had married a barber, and Vita inherited some of this adventurousness. Her most famous intrigue was with Virginia Woolf, who celebrated their relationship in the novel Orlando. What Vita Sackville-West did not inherit, however, was Knole. The English aristocratic custom of the day was followed by the Sackville-West family, preventing Vita from inheriting her beloved home on the death of her father, a source of life-long bitterness to the poet. The estate followed the title and was bequeathed instead by her father to his nephew Charles.

Leopards at Knole

Leopards on the gable-ends,
Leopards on the painted stair,
Stiff the blazoned shield they bear,
Or and gules, a bend of vair,
Leopards on the gable-ends,
Leopards everywhere.

Guard and vigil in the night
While the ancient house is sleeping
They three hundred years are keeping,
Nightly from their stations leaping,
Shadows black in moonlight bright,
Roof to gable creeping.

Rigid when the day returns,
Up aloft in sun or rain
Leopards at their posts again
Watch the shifting pageant’s train;
And their jewelled colour burns
In the window-pane.

Often on the painted stair,
As I passed abstractedly,
Velvet footsteps, two and three,
Padded gravely after me.
– There was nothing, nothing there,
Nothing there to see.

Vita Sackville-West (1892 – 1962)

Vita Sackville-West


It’s time to turn the lock, and poke the fire

Tuesday, 28 May, 2019

It was Dorothy Parker who said, “I hate writing, I love having written.” Among the many things we love that she wrote is Hearthside, which is very appropriate as we head to a place where, “Under deeper skies than mine / Quiet valleys dip and shine / Where their tender grasses heal / Ancient scars of trench and tomb.”

Hearthside

“If I seek a lovelier part,
Where I travel goes my heart;
Where I stray my thought must go;
With me wanders my desire.
Best to sit and watch the snow,
Turn the lock, and poke the fire.”

Dorothy Parker (1893 – 1967)

Hearthside


Smell the sea, and feel the sky

Friday, 17 May, 2019

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

John Masefield, Sea Fever

Yohan Terraza

Image: The French photographer Yohan Terraza was born in 1980 in Bordeaux. His style of landscape photography is influenced by romantic painters such as J. M. W. Turner.


Until only the mountain remains

Saturday, 11 May, 2019

The birds have vanished into the sky
And now the last cloud drains away
We sit together, the mountain and me,
Until only the mountain remains.

Li Bai (701 – 762)

Mountains


Epitaph for an enemy

Saturday, 27 April, 2019

The Anglo-Irish poet Cecil Day-Lewis (or Day Lewis) was born on this day in 1904. Along with being the father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis, celebrity chef Tamasin Day-Lewis and critic Sean Day-Lewis, he was the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1968 until his death in 1972. “The poet’s inverted snobbery in dropping the hyphen in his name on his publications (beginning in 1927) has been a source of trouble for librarians and bibliographers ever since,” is how his biographer at the Poetry Foundation puts it.

Cecil Day-Lewis became a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1935 and he practiced the Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist faith until the early 1950s. He renounced it in 1960 and his detective story, The Sad Variety (1964), written using the pseudonym Nicholas Blake, is a derisive portrayal of doctrinaire communists and their role in the brutal suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising. While the works of his poetic friends Auden and Spender have endured the test of time, his own verse has faded. The visceral sentiment at the heart of Epitaph for an Enemy continues to pulsate, however.

Epitaph for an Enemy

You ask, “What sort of man
Was this?”
— No worthier than
A pendulum which makes
Between its left and right
Involuntary arcs
Proving from morn to night
No contact anywhere
With human or sublime —
A punctual tick
A mere accessory of Time

His leaden act was done
He stopped, and Time went on.

Cecil Day-Lewis (1904 – 1972)

The enemy


Wilde Easter

Monday, 22 April, 2019

As Oscar Wilde lay dying in Paris in November 1900, the priest who received him into the Catholic Church was Father Cuthbert Dunne. When the Dublin cleric ended his days in Mount Argus Monastery, the young Brendan Behan was living nearby in Kildare Road. Like Wilde, he also became a professional wit and, referring to that last-minute conversion, Behan commended Wilde for shedding his sins as life ebbed away. He also reminded the world slyly that the two of them had enjoyed their bisexuality:

“Sweet is the way of the sinner
Sad, death without God’s praise
My life on you, Oscar boy,
Yourself had it both ways.”

Oscar Wilde’s Easter Day was published in 1894, six years before that famous deathbed conversion in Paris. It’s a bitter-sweet poem.

Easter Day

The silver trumpets rang across the Dome:
The people knelt upon the ground with awe:
And borne upon the necks of men I saw,
Like some great God, the Holy Lord of Rome.
Priest-like, he wore a robe more white than foam,
And, king-like, swathed himself in royal red,
Three crowns of gold rose high upon his head:
In splendour and in light the Pope passed home.
My heart stole back across wide wastes of years
To One who wandered by a lonely sea,
And sought in vain for any place of rest:
“Foxes have holes, and every bird its nest,
I, only I, must wander wearily,
And bruise my feet, and drink wine salt with tears.”

Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900)


The violent passion of a learned mistress

Saturday, 13 April, 2019

The Irish writer Frank O’Connor (1903 – 1966) is best known for his short stories. Neil Jordan’s award-winning film The Crying Game was inspired in part by O’Connor’s short story, “Guests of the Nation”, which is set during the Irish War of Independence and recounts the doomed friendship between members of an IRA unit and the two British Army hostages they are holding.

O’Connor’s work as a teacher of the Irish language provided the linguistic basis for his many translations into English of Irish poetry, including his initially banned translation of Brian Merriman’s Cúirt an Mheán Oíche (The Midnight Court). A Learned Mistress is the work of an anonymous Irish poet from the 17th century and it’s filled with the murderous passion expressed by the spokeswoman of a ménage à trois.

A Learned Mistress

Tell him it’s all a lie;
I love him as much as my life;
He needn’t be jealous of me –
I love him and loathe his wife.

If he kills me through jealously now
His wife will perish of spite,
He’ll die of grief for his wife –
Three of us dead in a night.

All blessings from heaven to earth
On the head of the woman I hate,
And the man I love as my life,
Sudden death be his fate.

(Translated from the Irish by Frank O’Connor)