James Fenton Poems

WAS THAT YOUR IDEA OF LOVE?

Was that your idea of love?
Was that your idea of love?

Those brilliantly confected lies -
They hit me straight between the eyes.
Was that your idea of love?

That endless digging for the dirt,
That motive-seeking where it hurt -
Was that your idea of love?

And all those accusations you made
About the subtle ways you'd been betrayed -
Was that your idea of love?

It felt like drowning. It felt like an immersion
In a dark sea of blame
Until I found out that it was all a diversion.
You had a secret game.
You had a game to play and you played rough.
Was that your idea of love?

Funny I never noticed it creeping up on us,
This vengefulness and spite.
Funny how long I went on thinking
There must be a simple way to put things right.
And funniest of all to think of you
Pretending to seek professional advice,
When what you wanted was to be shot of me
At any cost to anyone,
At any price
To me . . .

Was that your idea of love?
Was that your idea of love?

Resentfulness disguised as charm,
That care in plotting future harm -
Was that your idea of love?

That skilful use of evidence
To batter down each last defence -
Was that your idea of love?

That conjuring of bad from good,
That mimicry of victimhood -
Was that your idea of love?

You certainly deserve congratulation
On an effective campaign.
I'd like to know the terms for outright capitulation
But I suppose you've made it plain
They're going to be tough.
Is this your idea of love?

Be shot of me I beg you. Let me be.
Tell me again you want no more of me.
Was that the reckoning?
Was that the sum?
Or is there more of this -
Is there more of this to come?

Is this your idea of love?
Is this your idea of love?

Be shot of me I beg you. Let me be.
Tell me again you want no more of me.

Is this your idea of love?... more »

YELLOW TULIPS

Looking into the vase, into the calyx, into the water drop,
Looking into the throat of the flower, at the pollen stain,
I can see the ambush love sprung once in the summery wood.
I can see the casualties where they lay, till they set forth again.

I can see the lips, parted first in surprise, parted in desire,
Smile now as a silence falls on the yellow-dappled ride
For each thinks the other can hear each receding thought
On each receding tide.

They have come out of the wood now. They are skirting the fields
Between the tall wheat and the hedge, on the unploughed strips,
And they believe anyone who saw them would know
Every secret of their limbs and of their lips,

As if, like creatures of legend, they had come down out of the mist
Back to their native city, and stood in the square,
And they were seen to be marked at the throat with a certain sign
Whose meaning all could share.

_____

These flowers came from a shop. Really they looked nothing much
Till they opened as if in surprise at the heat of this hotel
Then the surprise turned to a shout, and the girl said,
‘Shall I chuck them now
Or give them one more day? They've not lasted so well.'

‘Oh give them one more day. They've lasted well enough.
They've lasted as love lasts, which is longer than most maintain.
Look at the sign it has left here at the throat of the flower
And on your tablecloth - look at the pollen stain.'... more »

THE WATCHER IN THE SQUARE

I wake in the night with a start.
A log settles in the grate
And what was that?
A cat? A rat?
I hate them both with all my heart.
What business have they being up so late?

And what about that man
On the dark side of the square?
What harm has he
In mind for me?
What dark malevolent plan?
What business has he standing watching there?

The night is on the tiles.
A mood settles on the moon.
It gives the faintest of all watery smiles.
It will be gone soon.

But when the smile is gone
And darkness has its day
The watcher at my window will watch on.
He will not slip away.

The lovers hurry by
The watcher in the square.
They seem so busy in their ecstasy.
Hatred has time to spare.

Hatred knows no land,
No hearth, no wife, no brood,
And time lies heavy on the hater's hand
And cold as the moon's mood.

Though I take the forest track
Or ride the mountain trail
I'll never shake the watcher off my back,
The wizard off my tail.

In the stable lantern's soot,
In the soft step on the stair,
I shall glimpse the eye, I shall waken to the foot
Of the watcher in the square.... more »

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