It is a moving thing
to see in this figure
how the maker
has shown the girl
or young woman
plaiting her hair
so that the arm and fingers
as they move,
the tress itself,
are one piece in the clay,
fused, that no part
of the model should crack
in the oven,
that no part of the moment
Just two feet high -
it might have been
an image for her tomb:
but who knows that
about this girl
who has no name,
no story? Even
the tongue she spoke
is blocked, obscure:
dust upon dust,
twenty five centuries,
And the figure half turns,
to stare at me,
as though I
could give a name:
as though death did not
as though there were
a body there,
a spirit that I must see,
And I try to imagine
those who called
the craftsman in,
saying to him:
You knew, you knew her well,
make her for us, make her
as we knew her in this life.
And it was
as he had seen her last,
sitting outside the house,
debonair in the morning,
plaiting her hair in the sun,
the hands and fingers quickly
pushing in and out
so closely that
the moment and the movement
and the maker saw
that they were one.
In memoriam S.B.C.... more »
FOR REBECCA, BORN AT MIDWINTER
Cockcrow at midwinter dark, air moving,
and then a slow
incantation from each tree,
as when the light comes slowly, crossing
centuries of dark on dark moving, slowly
the candour of the sun, as water
almost pauses for the brim, waiting
one slow moment, then goes beyond
a hesitation not its own,
steeping a new element,
so the light, so the fire
on water, earth and air: slow
Into each trick
of your head,
deft heiress, into
or reaching out
your fingers make,
each glance that blurs
about our awe,
come the centuries:
the spirit and mortality,
the virtue of our kind,
come random through
the strict inheritance,
deep ending of our past.
I watch you now and watch
how once a saint bent with your knee,
ghost-cosseted: and I may feel
the mad or innocent
throbbing in your pulse
or think that one who paints
an orange beast upon a rock
lingers in your smile. Newly-born,
here are those they hanged
and those who brought the harvest in:
the men at battle, grinning,
who learned the dialect of death,
who now lie buried, blank,
beneath the peat or bush.
It was for you the women died,
who, starved, and sick with hate,
have you for triumph now, you
once more their birth. Here
is ghostly policy and rage,
the labour and the knowledge.
O small thing, made, that lies
within your mother's arms,
you are the coming from, and all
that is to be.
Small and yet
a thing that bubbles
in itself, considering
itself: is godly
in its way, its
knowledge of the path
to take, the openings
of fate: and it will lose
that impotent serenity,
will, in itself
and as itself, choose
just what to know,
the posture fit
for day and night,
a fresh dexterity
of hand and heart, new
reachings of the will, within,
This shortest day in which
we saw you first
will send its light and shadow
through long seasons
of your own. Sleep now,
in the sanctity of birth:
you hold within your fist
the blessing and the curse,
all growing and all blight.
Hold your testament,
hold it as you must
within a fist
as blind and potent as a nut,
all those whom Adam
or the older gods begat.... more »
All afternoon across the next-door garden
two men are calling to each other,
imitating birds (first the doves).
I am recuperating. One of them,
I imagine from the sound, is raking leaves
while the other
clips an ornamental shrub or rosebush.
I narcotise myself in sun,
absorbing all the bubble of their noise,
the cooing, whistle and odd chirrups,
and cannot tell what man is bird
or bird is man, only that here is life,
a casual, pleasing thing
that takes its quality from wit.
Lazily, I glory in the noise,
half-smiling fall asleep
or fall into a hush or daydream
where all at once there is no sound,
a silence so acute the garden quivers.
I woke one night and saw a man
explode with death, a snorting arch of agony:
around his bed the nurses
tried to beat him back to life.
There was such silence in the ward,
drugged, I fell asleep
and when I woke the bed was vacant,
I wake and hear the double calls once more:
sunbirds in a bush
and then the cry of starlings -
surely they are real this time
or do I long for imitation,
a greed of mimicry,
humour that makes art?
The lawns unblur in sun,
the trees become clear-cut:
I hear each sound give way to sound
and then once more a bubbling laugh
that only just could be a dove,
is human only by its fun and craft.
From the street I hear them shout goodbye.
A shadow crawls across my chair,
a touch of cold,
and yet the green is now so vivid, quickly bright,
amid the smoke of dusk.
Suddenly intense the silence floods the colour
And nothing sings in the hush.... more »
MY PREDAWN OWL
Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit
The scent of God, redolent and tart,
Who lies within a winter dream,
Hovers in the reek of guavas
Contained within the wooden bowl.
Tonight the owl who glides between
Dream and waking, dark and light,
The owl who guides the soul of all
Who sleep within this house,
Now glides along its aerial
Labyrinth, from east to south
From north to west,
Above and through the leafless boughs.
O ancient wing, O sacred ghost,
Hoo-hooing through my open door,
O anti-Sun that calls and dips
Below the False Cross summoning
The distant years, you tell me, tell me:
The past is all the fact I have,
Memory my only fiction,
Below the silent sanction of the stars.... more »
This morning we moved North again
Through strange bush.
We know the enemy still follows:
By night we see their fires,
By day their dust.
The old men talk, still,
Of our ancestors from North:
About the rich forests
And swarming game,
And of our return
Which is ordained
In the stars.
I see no sign of this North.
There are smaller trees
And unknown roots, more snakes
And fewer birds.
On a long journey
The land must change.
I think they will cut us off tomorrow.
There was dust this evening
On our right flank. Is it because
They do not want to fight
Among the hills ahead?
Mountains were our country:
They fear ambush and they are right.
There is no mercy between us:
They are so many.
On watch tonight I stare
At one point in the blank sky.
A star glitters. At once
It is there, as though my staring
Brought it out.
Was it ordained?
This star is in the South.
The women and the children sleep
In the warm heart of the camp.
It is not death I fear
But the thought that birth will stop.
I fear the end of my people.... more »
THE BILLIARD ROOM
The play of his power,
the living, you can smell
it in this room: the cues glitter like weapons,
the green nap of the table
was a battle ground for him where conflicts broke
in the strategy of a game.
And I remember hearing,
at night above my head,
the sound of a glass breaking and a burst
of rich laughter: then silence,
except for the powerful tread, the pacing
from angle to angle,
and the crack of a cannon
as the white slammed into the red. It's
all snuffed out now of course, like a long
Havana cigar, a Hoyo de Monterey perhaps,
smoked down for an inch or two, and never
much more. The act has gone, his gesture,
casual on an evening thirty years ago,
is obsolete: now
only a sense of ritual
pervades the room and feeds
familiar on the tokens of his power:
a German ceremonial sword,
he captured in South West, stands rigid
in a shell case: against one wall an old
propeller rots (and somewhere stuck in a drawer
there's an album showing photographs of the crash)
so that objects of steel and brass, records
of dead encounter, have made this room
a potent place, the temple of my caste
where I must pay homage, the sour pietas
of son to father, the unforgiving
love that looks for only one thing in the past:
conflict as barren as dust. I have no God
but a giant who paces above my head,
who blusters nightly that in his turn
my son shall have his saga of Fee, Fie, Fum,
to grind my bones to make his bread.
Though I stand by a half opened window
and breathe in the air,
the dust still stirs about me,
raised by a step on the floor,
and the smell that comes up is the smell of old power,
unbreaking love, unfinished war.... more »
THE HOUSE ON THE FRONTIER
From the Italian of Eugenio Montale
Forget. You have forgotten
that house on the frontier,
the cliff that waits for you,
desolate, sheer above rocks.
You do not remember
the night your thoughts
swarmed about the house,
For years a gale has lashed the walls.
When you laugh you are unhappy.
For no reason the compass
swings crazily. You cannot guess
what way the dice will fall.
You have forgotten. Another time
distracts your memory. The thread
winds round and I . . .
I hold one end, but the house
goes back and back and the cock
on the roof is dark with smoke:
it spins and has no pity.
I hold one end
but you are alone.
At night I cannot hear
the sound of your breathing.
Yes, here is the horizon -
and once or twice I have seen
the lights of a passing tanker.
Is this where we cross? (And always
the breakers that swarm on the rocks,
the crumbling away.) You
do not remember the house, all night
it has been my own.
I do not know who has entered it
or who it is that has left.... more »
TO HAVE LOVE
To have love and then lose it:
the white hail in the orchard
lying with leaves it has stripped
and the storm moving away.... more »