POETS ON THIS PAGE: T. S. ELIOT * W. OWEN * E. FIELD * T. ROETHKE * L. HUGHES * L. BOGAN * JAMES WRIGHT * G. KINNELL * R. HUGO * D. WAGONER * S. HEANEY * K. DOUGLAS * D. H. LAWRENCE * J. BETJEMAN
Part I (of VI) of BBC program on T. S. Eliot:
Alec Guinness reads “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”:
John Gielgud reads Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi”:
La Figlia Che Piange [Young Girl Weeping]
O quam te memorem virgo*
Stand on the highest pavement of the stair— Lean on a garden urn— Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair— Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise— Fling them to the ground and turn With a fugitive resentment in your eyes: But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair. So I would have had him leave, So I would have had her stand and grieve, So he would have left As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised, As the mind deserts the body it has used. I should find Some way incomparably light and deft, Some way we both should understand, Simple and faithless as a smile and shake of the hand. She turned away, but with the autumn weather Compelled my imagination many days, Many days and many hours: Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers. And I wonder how they should have been together! I should have lost a gesture and a pose. Sometimes these cogitations still amaze The troubled midnight and the noon’s repose.
By T. S. Eliot, 1888 – 1965
*the quotation is from Virgil’s “Aeneid”, I, 326 and may be translated: “O, how should I call you, virgin?”
English poet from World War I:
Anthem for Doomed Youth
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? Only the monstrous anger of the guns. Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle Can patter out their hasty orisons. No mockeries for them from prayers or bells, Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs-- The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells; And bugles calling for them from sad shires. What candles may be held to speed them all? Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes. The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall; Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds, And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
by Wilfred Owen
Dulce Et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, Till on the haunting flares we turned out backs And towards our distant rest began to trudge. Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines* that dropped behind. Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!---An ecstasy of fumbling, Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; But someone still was yelling out and stumbling And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime... Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. If in some smothering dreams you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in, And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin; If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--- my friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.*
by Wilfred Owen
*Five-Nines were German cannon that frequently fired shells holding poison gas.
*Dulce . . . mori is from Horace’s Latin and may be translated as “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”
And now for something completely different:
CURSE OF THE CAT WOMAN
It sometimes happens that the woman you meet and fall in love with is of that strange Transylvanian people with an affinity for cats. You take her to a restaurant, say, or a show, on an ordinary date, being attracted by the glitter in her slitty eyes and her catlike walk, and afterwards of course you take her in your arms and she turns into a black panther and bites you to death. Or perhaps you are saved in the nick of time and she is tormented by the knowledge of her tendency: That she daren't hug a man unless she wants to risk clawing him up. This puts you both in a difficult position-- panting lovers who are prevented from touching not by bars but by circumstance: You have terrible fights and say cruel things for having the hots does not give you a sweet temper. One night you are walking down a dark street And hear the pad-pad of a panther following you, but when you turn around there are only shadows, or perhaps one shadow too many. You approach, calling, "Who's there?" and it leaps on you. Luckily you have brought along your sword and you stab it to death. And before your eyes it turns into the woman you love, her breast impaled on your sword, her mouth dribbling blood saying she loved you but couldn't help her tendency. So death released her from the curse at last, and you knew from the angelic smile on her dead face that in spite of a life the devil owned, love had won, and heaven pardoned her.
by Edward Field
Tim Gracyk reads Edward Field’s “New Yorkers”:
My Papa’s Waltz
The whiskey on your breath Could make a small boy dizzy; But I hung on like death: Such waltzing was not easy. We romped until the pans Slid from the kitchen shelf; My mother's countenance Could not unfrown itself. The hand that held my wrist Was battered on one knuckle; At every step you missed My right ear scraped a buckle. You beat time on my head With a palm caked hard by dirt, Then waltzed me off to bed Still clinging to your shirt.
by Theodore Roethke
from The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke, Anchor Books, 1974.
I KNEW A WOMAN
I knew a woman, lovely in her bones, When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them; Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one: The shapes a bright container can contain! Of her choice virtues only gods should speak, Or English poets who grew up on Greek (I’d have them sing in chorus, cheek to cheek). How well her wishes went! She stroked my chin, She taught me Turn, and Counter-turn, and Stand; She taught me Touch, that undulant white skin; I nibbled meekly from her proffered hand; She was the sickle; I, poor I, the rake, Coming behind her for her pretty sake (But what prodigious mowing we did make). Love likes a gander, and adores a goose: Her full lips pursed, the errant note to seize; She played it quick, she played it light and loose; My eyes, they dazzled at her flowing knees; Her several parts could keep a pure repose, Or one hip quiver with a mobile nose (She moved in circles, and those circles moved). Let seed be grass, and grass turn into hay: I’m martyr to a motion not my own; What’s freedom for? To know eternity. I swear she cast a shadow white as stone. But who would count eternity in days? These old bones live to learn her wanton ways: (I measure time by how a body sways).
by Theodore Roethke
Where were the greenhouses going, Lunging into the lashing Wind driving water So far down the river All the faucets stopped? So we drained the manure-machine For the steam plant, Pumping the stale mixture Into the rusty boilers, Watching the pressure gauge Waver over to red, As the seams hissed And the live steam Drove to the far End of the rose-house, Where the worst wind was, Creaking the cypress window-frames, Cracking so much thin glass We stayed all night, Stuffing the holes with burlap; But she rode it out, That old rose-house, She hove into the teeth of it, The core and pith of that ugly storm, Ploughing with her stiff prow, Bucking into the wind-waves That broke over the whole of her, Flailing her sides with spray, Flinging long strings of wet across the roof-top, Finally veering, wearing themselves out, merely Whistling thinly under the wind-vents; She sailed until the calm morning, Carrying her full cargo of roses.
by Theodore Roethke
from The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke, Anchor Books, 1974.
Yale lecture about Langston Hughes:
Text to the above video:
THE WEARY BLUES
Droning a drowsy syncopated tune, Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon, I heard a Negro play. Down on Lenox Avenue the other night By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light He did a lazy sway . . . He did a lazy sway . . . To the tune o' those Weary Blues. With his ebony hands on each ivory key He made that poor piano moan with melody. O Blues! Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool. Sweet Blues! Coming from a black man's soul. O Blues! In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan-- "Ain't got nobody in all this world, Ain't got nobody but ma self. I's gwine to quit ma frownin' And put ma troubles on the shelf." Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor. He played a few chords then he sang some more-- "I got the Weary Blues And I can't be satisfied. Got the Weary Blues And can't be satisfied-- I ain't happy no mo' And I wish that I had died." And far into the night he crooned that tune. The stars went out and so did the moon. The singer stopped playing and went to bed While the Weary Blues echoed through his head. He slept like a rock or a man that's dead.
by Langston Hughes
My old man's a white old man And my old mother's black. If ever I cursed my white old man I take my curses back. If ever I cursed my black old mother And wished she were in hell, I'm sorry for that evil wish And now I wish her well. My old man died in a fine big house. My ma died in a shack. I wonder where I'm gonna die, Being neither white nor black?
by Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again” read by Danez Smith:
3 poems written and read by Louise Bogan:
I had come to the house, in a cave of trees, Facing a sheer sky. Everything moved, -- a bell hung ready to strike, Sun and reflection wheeled by. When the bare eyes were before me And the hissing hair, Held up at a window, seen through a door. The stiff bald eyes, the serpents on the forehead Formed in the air. This is a dead scene forever now. Nothing will ever stir. The end will never brighten it more than this, Nor the rain blur. The water will always fall, and will not fall, And the tipped bell make no sound. The grass will always be growing for hay Deep on the ground. And I shall stand here like a shadow Under the great balanced day, My eyes on the yellow dust, that was lifting in the wind, And does not drift away.
by Louise Bogan
CLICK HERE TO SEE THE FULL TEXT OF BOGAN’S POEM “The Meeting”
Great poem by James Wright:
TO THE MUSE
It is all right. All they do Is go in by dividing One rib from another. I wouldn't Lie to you. It hurts Like nothing I know. All they do Is burn their way in with a wire. It forks in and out a little like the tongue Of that frightened garter snake we caught At Cloverfield, you and me, Jenny So long ago. I would lie to you If I could. But the only way I can get you to come up Out of the suckhole, the south face Of the Powhatan pit, is to tell you What you know: You come up after dark, you poise alone With me on the shore. I lead you back to this world. Three lady doctors in Wheeling open Their offices at night. I don't have to call them, they are always there. But they only have to put the knife once Under your breast. Then they hang their contraption. And you bear it. It's awkward a while. Still it lets you Walk about on tiptoe if you don't Jiggle the needle. It might stab your heart, you see. The blade hangs in your lung and the tube Keeps it draining. That way they only have to stab you Once. Oh Jenny. I wish to God I had made this world, this scurvy And disastrous place. I Didn't, I can't bear it Either, I don't blame you, sleeping down there Face down in the unbelievable silk of spring, Muse of the black sand, Alone. I don't blame you, I know The place where you lie. I admit everything. But look at me. How can I live without you? Come up to me, love, Out of the river, or I will Come down to you.
by James Wright
a wonderfully funny prose poem:
THE WHEELING GOSPEL TABERNACLE
Homer Rhodeheaver, who was the evangelist Billy Sunday's psalmodist and shill at the offertory, did something in the year of Our Lord 1925 that made both of my parents almost ecstatic with happiness all the rest of their lives until they died within a few months of each other in 1973. Just as the Reverend Doctor Sunday was admonishing the congregation in congress assembled with his customary warning that they warn't no virtue in the clinking of shekels, a wicked sound; just as the Reverend Doctor was in full oratorical blos- soming cry in praise of each silken soft certain rustle of one twenty-dollar bill against another in the wicker collection-plate; just as the former semi- professional baseball player of the Lord God Almighty Lord of Hosts was advising how as "Bruthern, a twenty don't take up no more room in that there plate than a wun" — it happened. One of Dr. Sunday's locally hired ushers glided to the minister's side and with ghostly discretion reported to the evangelical ear that the cops from Pittsburgh had just left Weirton, West Virginia, and were hurtling down the West Virginia Route Forty in their prohibition-style armored Cord cars, bound to catch Homer Rhodeheaver in full song. He was wanted in Pittsburgh on a paternity charge. By the time the Pittsburgh cops burst into the Wheeling Gospel Tabernacle, it was as empty and dark as the waiting- room of a speakeasy. Where had the brethren gone? Some thought that Dr. Sunday ascended. I lean toward the opinion that the two laborers in the vineyards of the Lord skinned the populace of Benwood down the river the next day, and that possibly Homer had time between hymns to make some lonely widow happy. The year was 1925. My mother and father got one of their chances to laugh like hell for the sheer joy of laughter before the Great Depression began.
by James Wright
The late Galway Kinnell recites his poem “The Bear”:
PULLING A NAIL
In the year of my birth my father buried this spike, half in hemlock half in oak, battered the flat of its head into the dead center of the round dent of his last blow. He would have struck in quick strokes filled with inertia and follow-through. He would have hit at the precise moment the direction of force in the hammer exactly lined up with the axis of the nail. As friction tightened, he would have hit harder, striking up shock waves that struck back in his elbow and shoulder. Near the end, when his arm grew weak and his hand could barely hang on, he would have gone all out and clobbered the nail, crushed it into itself, with each blow knocking off kilter every new tilt of the head. I hack and scrape but can't get the hammer's claw to catch under the rim of the nail, and I have no nail pull or pry bar. But looking back in time I see my father, how he solved it when in the same fix: angling the claw of his hammer like a chisel, he cosied it up to the nail head, then taking a second hammer, smacked the face of the first, and kept on smacking it, until the claw gouged grooves for itself in the bruised wood and grudged under. So I do as my father did. Now begins what could be called carpenters' arm wrestling, and also, in this case, transrealmic combat between father and son. We clasp right hands (the flared part of the hammer handle, his hand) and press right elbows to the hemlock (the curved hammer head, his steel elbow) and pull. Or rather, I pull, he holds fast, lacking the writ to drag me down where he lies. A nail driven so long ago ought to be allowed to stay put, until the structure it serves crumbles into its ill-fitting cellar hole, or on a freezing night flaps up and disappears in a turmoil of flame and smoke and its blackened bones; or until the nail discovers it has become merely a nail hole filled with rust. A spike driven long ago resists being pulled--worse than a stupefied wisdom tooth, whose roots, which have screwed themselves into the jaw bone, refuse to budge; worse even than an old pig who hears the slaughterer's truck pull up and rasp open its gate and rattle its ramp into place; and grunts, and squeals, and digs in. Slipping for leverage a scrap of quarter-inch wood under the hammer, I apply a methodology I learned from unscrewing stuck bottle lids: first, put to it the maximum force you think you can maintain, and second, maintain it. Just as when an earthworm pulls itself out of a cul-de-sac, cautious end pulling adventurous end, stretching itself almost in two until the stuck end starts to come free, so this nail, stretched and now starting to let go, utters a thick squawk— first sound it has made since my father brought down his hammer full force on it, adding a grunt of his own, and thudded it home--and a half inch of newly polished steel stutters out of fibrous matter intended to grip it a good long time, if not forever. My fulcrum this time a chunk of inch board, I pull again, again creating a chaotic ruckus, and another segment of bright steel screeches free. Helped along this time by a block of two-by-four lying on its inch-and-three-quarter side, I leverage out another noisy half-inch. At last, standing the block up on its three-and three-quarter inch side, I pull hard, hold the pressure, and the entire rest of the nail, almost too hot to handle, extrudes in an elegant curve of defeated matter. It seems I've won. But in matters like this winning doesn't often feel exactly like winning. It's only a nail, I know, an earthen bit. Bent. Very possibly torqued. And yet my father drove it to stake out his only hope of leaving something lasting behind. See, there he is now, bent at his workbench, in the permanent gloom of the basement of the house on Oswald Street that he built, as he did everything he did, alone, probably driving all but a few dozen of its ten thousand nails himself. A dark yellowish aura, like the dead glow of earliest electricity, unused to being harnessed, hangs above his head. He's picking over a small heap of bent nails, chucking some, straightening out others back into usefulness in the rectilinear world. At this one he pauses. He lifts it to the light, sights along it as if he doubts it can ever be used again. I take it from his hand just before he fades out of sight. In it I can feel the last heat of our struggle. Thumb and forefinger hold the nail to the bench, bent side up, forming a little wobbling bridge between then and now, between me and him, or him and me, over which almost nothing of what mattered to either of us ever passed. A hammer still floats in the space he had been standing in. I pluck it out of the air and use it to hammer the nail up and down its length, rotate it to keep the bend on top, hammer it, rotate it, hammer it, well into the night. The cellar windows become light. It is late. I don't think I will ever straighten it out.
by GALWAY KINNELL
Richard Hugo gives background to and reads “Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg”:
Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg
You might come here Sunday on a whim. Say your life broke down. The last good kiss you had was years ago. You walk these streets laid out by the insane, past hotels that didn’t last, bars that did, the tortured try of local drivers to accelerate their lives. Only churches are kept up. The jail turned 70 this year. The only prisoner is always in, not knowing what he’s done. The principal supporting business now is rage. Hatred of the various grays the mountain sends, hatred of the mill, The Silver Bill repeal, the best liked girls who leave each year for Butte. One good restaurant and bars can’t wipe the boredom out. The 1907 boom, eight going silver mines, a dance floor built on springs— all memory resolves itself in gaze, in panoramic green you know the cattle eat or two stacks high above the town, two dead kilns, the huge mill in collapse for fifty years that won’t fall finally down. Isn’t this your life? That ancient kiss still burning out your eyes? Isn’t this defeat so accurate, the church bell simply seems a pure announcement: ring and no one comes? Don’t empty houses ring? Are magnesium and scorn sufficient to support a town, not just Philipsburg, but towns of towering blondes, good jazz and booze the world will never let you have until the town you came from dies inside? Say no to yourself. The old man, twenty when the jail was built, still laughs although his lips collapse. Someday soon, he says, I’ll go to sleep and not wake up. You tell him no. You’re talking to yourself. The car that brought you here still runs. The money you buy lunch with, no matter where it’s mined, is silver and the girl who serves your food is slender and her red hair lights the wall.
by Richard Hugo
The Milltown Union Bar
You could love here, not the lovely goat in plexiglass nor the elk shot in the middle of a joke, but honest drunks, crossed swords above the bar, three men hung in the bad painting, others riding off on the phony green horizon. The owner, fresh from orphan wars, loves too but bad as you. He keeps improving things but can’t cut the bodies down. You need never leave. Money or a story brings you booze. The elk is grinning and the goat says go so tenderly you hear him through the glass. If you weep deer heads weep. Sing and the orphanage announces plans for your release. A train goes by and ditches jump. You were nothing going in and now you kiss your hand. When mills shut down, when the worst drunk says finally I’m stone, three men still hang painted badly from a leafless tree, you one of them, brains tied behind you back, swinging for your sin. Or you swing with goats and elk. Doors of orphanages finally swing out and here you open in.
by Richard Hugo
video from Kicking the Loose Gravel Home: Richard Hugo by Annick Smith (1976)
For David Wagoner’s “The Shooting of John Dillinger Outside the Biograph Theater, July 22, 1934” click the link below and keep scrolling down the page to get the whole poem:
THE SILENCE OF THE STARS
When Laurens van der Post one night In the Kalahari Desert told the Bushmen He couldn't hear the stars Singing, they didn't believe him. They looked at him, half-smiling. They examined his face To see whether he was joking Or deceiving them. Then two of those small men Who plant nothing, who have almost Nothing to hunt, who live On almost nothing, and with no one But themselves, led him away From the crackling thorn-scrub fire And stood with him under the night sky And listened. One of them whispered, Do you not hear them now? And van der Post listened, not wanting To disbelieve, but had to answer, No. They walked him slowly Like a sick man to the small dim Circle of firelight and told him They were terribly sorry, And he felt even sorrier For himself and blamed his ancestors For their strange loss of hearing, Which was his loss now. On some clear night When nearby houses have turned off their visions, When the traffic dwindles, when through streets Are between sirens and the jets overhead Are between crossings, when the wind Is hanging fire in the fir trees, And the long-eared owl in the neighboring grove Between calls is regarding his own darkness, I look at the stars again as I first did To school myself in the names of constellations And remember my first sense of their terrible distance, I can still hear what I thought At the edge of silence where the inside jokes Of my heartbeat, my arterial traffic, The C above high C of my inner ear, myself Tunelessly humming, but now I know what they are: My fair share of the music of the spheres And clusters of ripening stars, Of the songs from the throats of the old gods Still tending ever tone-deaf creatures Through their exiles in the desert.
by David Wagoner
Poem by the Nobel prize-winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney:
OLD SMOOTHING IRON
Often I watched her lift it from where its compact wedge rode the back of the stove like a tug at anchor. To test its heat she'd stare and spit in its iron face or hold it up next her cheek to divine the stored danger. Soft thumps on the ironing board. Her dimpled angled elbow and intent stoop as she aimed the smoothing iron like a plane into linen, like the resentment of women, To work, her dumb lunge says, is to move a certain mass through a certain distance, is to pull your weight and feel exact and equal to it. Feel dragged upon. And buoyant.
Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests; snug as a gun. Under my window, a clean rasping sound When the spade sinks into gravelly ground: My father, digging. I look down Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds Bends low, comes up twenty years away Stooping in rhythm through potato drills Where he was digging. The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft Against the inside knee was levered firmly. He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep To scatter new potatoes that we picked, Loving their cool hardness in our hands. By God, the old man could handle a spade. Just like his old man. My grandfather cut more turf in a day Than any other man on Toner’s bog. Once I carried him milk in a bottle Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up To drink it, then fell to right away Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods Over his shoulder, going down and down For the good turf. Digging. The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge Through living roots awaken in my head. But I’ve no spade to follow men like them. Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests. I’ll dig with it.
by Seamus Heaney,
From Death of a Naturalist. Copyright 1966 by Seamus Heaney. Reprinted with the permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC.
“Vergissmeinnicht” [“Forget Me Not”] by British poet Keith Douglas, who fought & died in World War II, read by John Gielgud:
Three weeks gone and the combatants gone returning over the nightmare ground we found the place again, and found the soldier sprawling in the sun. The frowning barrel of his gun overshadowing. As we came on that day, he hit my tank with one like the entry of a demon. Look. Here in the gunpit spoil the dishonoured picture of his girl who has put: Steffi. Vergissmeinnicht. in a copybook gothic script. We see him almost with content, abased, and seeming to have paid and mocked at by his own equipment that's hard and good when he's decayed. But she would weep to see today how on his skin the swart flies move; the dust upon the paper eye and the burst stomach like a cave. For here the lover and killer are mingled who had one body and one heart. And death who had the soldier singled has done the lover mortal hurt. *Vergissmeinnicht = Forget me not.
by Keith Douglas
BBC program about Douglas:
Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me; Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings. In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide. So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.
by D. H. Lawrence
Not every man has gentians in his house in soft September, at slow, sad Michaelmas. Bavarian gentians, big and dark, only dark darkening the daytime, torch-like, with the smoking blueness of Pluto's gloom, ribbed and torch-like, with their blaze of darkness spread blue down flattening into points, flattened under the sweep of white day torch-flower of the blue-smoking darkness, Pluto's dark-blue daze, black lamps from the halls of Dis, burning dark blue, giving off darkness, blue darkness, as Demeter's pale lamps give off light, lead me then, lead the way. Reach me a gentian, give me a torch! let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of this flower down the darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on blueness even where Persephone goes, just now, from the frosted September to the sightless realm where darkness is awake upon the dark and Persephone herself is but a voice or a darkness invisible enfolded in the deeper dark of the arms Plutonic, and pierced with the passion of dense gloom, among the splendor of torches of darkness, shedding darkness on the lost bride and her groom.
by D. H. Lawrence
from Complete Poems
Penguin 20th Century Classics
— Originally published (posthumously) in Last Poems, 1932
Read by the author, former Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, Sir John Betjeman:
The bells of waiting Advent ring, The Tortoise stove is lit again And lamp-oil light across the night Has caught the streaks of winter rain In many a stained-glass window sheen From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green. The holly in the windy hedge And round the Manor House the yew Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge, The altar, font and arch and pew, So that the villagers can say 'The church looks nice' on Christmas Day. Provincial Public Houses blaze, Corporation tramcars clang, On lighted tenements I gaze, Where paper decorations hang, And bunting in the red Town Hall Says 'Merry Christmas to you all'. And London shops on Christmas Eve Are strung with silver bells and flowers As hurrying clerks the City leave To pigeon-haunted classic towers, And marbled clouds go scudding by The many-steepled London sky. And girls in slacks remember Dad, And oafish louts remember Mum, And sleepless children's hearts are glad. And Christmas-morning bells say 'Come!' Even to shining ones who dwell Safe in the Dorchester Hotel. And is it true, This most tremendous tale of all, Seen in a stained-glass window's hue, A Baby in an ox's stall ? The Maker of the stars and sea Become a Child on earth for me ? And is it true? For if it is, No loving fingers tying strings Around those tissued fripperies, The sweet and silly Christmas things, Bath salts and inexpensive scent And hideous tie so kindly meant, No love that in a family dwells, No carolling in frosty air, Nor all the steeple-shaking bells Can with this single Truth compare - That God was man in Palestine And lives today in Bread and Wine.
by John Betjeman
Those moments, tasted once and never done, Of long surf breaking in the mid-day sun. A far-off blow-hole booming like a gun- The seagulls plane and circle out of sight Below this thirsty, thrift-encrusted height, The veined sea-campion buds burst into white And gorse turns tawny orange, seen beside Pale drifts of primroses cascading wide To where the slate falls sheer into the tide. More than in gardened Surrey, nature spills A wealth of heather, kidney-vetch and squills Over these long-defended Cornish hills. A gun-emplacement of the latest war Looks older than the hill fort built before Saxon or Norman headed for the shore. And in the shadowless, unclouded glare Deep blue above us fades to whiteness where A misty sea-line meets the wash of air. Nut-smell of gorse and honey-smell of ling Waft out to sea the freshness of the spring On sunny shallows, green and whispering. The wideness which the lark-song gives the sky Shrinks at the clang of sea-birds sailing by Whose notes are tuned to days when seas are high. From today's calm, the lane's enclosing green Leads inland to a usual Cornish scene- Slate cottages with sycamore between, Small fields and tellymasts and wires and poles With, as the everlasting ocean rolls, Two chapels built for half a hundred souls.
by John Betjeman