Tag: poetry

Philip Larkin’s Shorts


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If I was any good at Photoshop, this picture of poet Philip Larkin would have shown him wearing shorts. Great big baggy shorts and, below them, bare feet. You’d imagine he was just about to go for a paddle and laugh like a drain. But unlike Steve Austin, the Bionic Man – remember him? – we don’t have the technology.

Larkin did – as much as he needed, anyway. He took this proto-selfie using a timer. Behind him rises the steel skeleton of the brand-new university library where he was to serve out his working days as Chief Librarian. The following poem – perhaps his last – was written on an 80th birthday card to the university’s Vice-Chancellor, after whom the new Brynmor Jones Library was named:

By day, a lifted study-storehouse; night
Converts it to a flattened cube of light.
Whichever’s shown, the symbol is the same:
Knowledge; a University; a name.

Contrasting images become resolved in a wider concept. The zoom lens of the poet’s attention moves in and out, shifting its focus, seeking deeper truths within life’s random clutter. Philip Larkin’s shorts – short poems, of course, and not truncated trousers! – resemble his photographs, I think, in that both capture a whole world in a sudden flash of insight.

My favourite Larkin photo has to be this one. I imagine him setting up the timer and then composing himself with canny deliberation for this knowing self-portrait at once serious, gentle, vulnerable, revealing, funny. And above all, like his poems, honest.

 

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This is the first thing’

This is the first thing
I have understood:
Time is the echo of an axe
Within a wood.

 

‘To put one brick upon another

To put one brick upon another,
Add a third and then a forth,
Leaves no time to wonder whether
What you do has any worth.

But to sit with bricks around you
While the winds of heaven bawl
Weighing what you should or can do
Leaves no doubt of it at all.

 

Days 

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.
Midwinter Waking
Paws there. Snout there as well. Mustiness. Mould.
Darkness; a desire to stretch, to scratch.
Then has the – ? Then is it – ? Nudge the thatch,
Displace the stiffened leaves: look out. How cold,
How dried a stillness. Like a blade on stone,
A wind is scraping, first this way, then that.
Morning, perhaps; but not a proper one.
Turn. Sleep will unshell us, but not yet.
Myxomatosis
Caught in the centre of a soundless field
While hot inexplicable hours go by
What trap is this? Where were its teeth concealed?
You seem to ask.
                            I make a sharp reply,
Then clean my stick. I’m glad I can’t explain
Just in what jaws you were to suppurate:
You may have thought things would come right again
If you could only keep quite still and wait.
First Sight
Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold. As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth’s immeasurable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.

Home is so sad

Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft

And turn again to what it started as,
A joyous shot at how things ought to be,
Long fallen wide. You can see how it was:
Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. That vase.

 

As Bad as a Mile

Watching the shied core
Striking the basket, skidding across the floor,
Shows less and less of luck, and more and more

Of failure spreading back up the arm
Earlier and earlier, the unraised hand calm,
The apple unbitten in the palm.

 

Take One Home for the Kiddies

On shallow straw, in shadeless glass,
Huddled by empty bowls, they sleep:
No dark, no dam, no earth, no grass –
Mam, get us one of them to keep.

Living toys are something novel,
But it soon wears off somehow.
Fetch the shoebox, fetch the shovel –
Mam, we’re playing funerals now.

 

The Little Lives Of Earth And Form
The little lives of earth and form,
Of finding food, and keeping warm,
Are not like ours, and yet
A kinship lingers nonetheless:
We hanker for the homeliness
Of den, and hole, and set. And this identity we feel
– Perhaps not right, perhaps not real –
Will link us constantly;
I see the rock, the clay, the chalk,
The flattened grass, the swaying stalk,
And it is you I see.
BBC Yorkshire looks through the lens of Philip Larkin ...

Acts of Worship

“Human beings have a great need for rituals. We go in for uniforms and pageants. Our rituals tend to be militaristic or religious.”  –  Opher Goodwin

Opher and I have been talking about this for a while and we agree that it would be good to write some secular rituals that acknowledge the wonder of life: rituals that don’t require belief, religion or celebrate violence. He suggested we look back over past posts for writing that might fit this description. Here are a few things I found, starting with a moment of secular epiphany exclusively available to the blog community!

A few days ago I read three WordPress posts back-to-back whose mutual connections set my head spinning.

The first called for sustainability to become the new religion, dedicated to our offspring, where blasphemy would be conspicuous consumption and the failure to recycle.

The second described how university scientists have determined the best technology to suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and try to reverse global warming. It turns out to be trees.

The third spoke of a spirit of inquiry which forgets previous knowledge, questions without agenda, listens with openness and curiosity … and suggested tree-climbing as an example of natural investigation teeming with insight and revelation.

These three ideas are fascinating, although I’d be inclined to put the phrase ‘new religion’ in inverted commas to show it was a metaphor. And my partner observed that a mass outbreak of tree-climbing might damage rapidly-depleting woodlands – sensibly suggesting artificial climbing-walls as an alternative – though she took my point that such leisure opportunities would abound with a concerted push to ‘re-wild’ the environment.

But what excited me most was the conjunction of ideas. Each of them appeared to correspond with one of Buddhism’s Higher Worlds – Compassion, Learning, Realisation. Now I’m no expert but I’ve heard that these three activities, practised side by side, can lead to enlightenment or nirvana. This, I understand, is a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self and the subject is released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth.

I’m not a magical thinker so would want to interpret this in psychological and, therefore, social terms. Not so much I, then, more I & I – the two that is one. My thoughts go back to the good friend who told me how his depression lifted once he realised he was more like other people than unlike them. Instead of focusing on differences, he concluded, it helps to seek common ground.

A paradox here is that variety is the spice of life. Living with paradox is a condition of life and nothing to be ashamed of, as the poet Walt Whitman memorably observed:

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large — I contain multitudes.”

Poets celebrate and, yes, sing the praises of life in all its rich diversity. Appreciating the full breadth of earthly existence enriches our shared experience. Only connect and we come to see the beauty of our mutual ‘heaven on earth’.

So to speak. Which is where the search for new ways to communicate comes in. Someone – perhaps Salvation Army founder William Booth, perhaps not – once asked Why should the devil have all the best tunes? Well, I wonder, has the time has come to ask Why should organised religion have a monopoly on the language of celebration? Common ground, for me, is hallowed ground. An indivisible sense of life as sacred is our common birth-right and therefore sacrosanct from all attempts to brand any part of life as sacrilegious. Without contraries, said the poet William Blake, there is no progression.

To become enlightened, perhaps, is to understand how time can be both finite and forever. The poet John Keats, acutely aware of the likelihood that he would die at a young age, concluded that life was a process of soul-building. By ‘soul’, he didn’t mean something separate or separable from our flesh and bones – much as modern science makes no significant distinction between mind and body.

Time to Keats was precious. The friend I mentioned earlier would have appreciated this verse from Ode On Melancholy:

But when the melancholy fit shall fall
       Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
       And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
       Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
               Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
       Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
               And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.

Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water. This is the inscription on John Keats’ gravestone, dictated by him on his deathbed. He needn’t have worried. He is gone but his words live on forever. He is also remembered for his notion of ‘negative capability’, a quality he saw in Shakespeare, evident ‘when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’.

In other words, open the doors of perception. Perhaps we serve (and save) time best by indulging our natural love of serendipity. And things being various, let our legacy be to keep them that way …

… here endeth the lesson!

Phew! Thanks for bearing with me thus far – and here are those previously-promised past-post poems, including some acrostics. The final piece was composed together with other bloggers.

I doubt if any fall into the bags of hymn or psalm – too personal, probably – but they might encourage further attempts by me or anyone else who fancies a go. Please share if you know of others who might want to contribute.

Songs, poems, prose and links all welcome …

 

o Gaia hold us rapt within your arms
that life be one with love and one with all
let sense be always open to your charms
and spirit never falter at your call
o Gaia keep our step upon the way
that leads to wild places sacred shrines
where pilgrims catch a glimpse of yesterday
and dream of leaving children cryptic signs
o Gaia turn our thoughts to simple joys
and tune our hearts to nature’s steady beat
that we might hear the hush beneath our noise
and feel the dance begin to move our feet
for only celebration stirs the blood
enough to build an ark against this flood

 

S top the clock & turn back time to
O nce Upon when world was green &
I nnocent of crime we lived by
L etting well enough alone.

 

G o through, bold wanderer, no lock prevents your
A ccess to a world of open wonder. Do not
T ake your burden of passing years. Wear your
E xperience lightly. Look again through child eyes.

 

A child discovers wonders every day
And paints a golden picture of his world,
As stepping-stones to island haunts make way
For archipelagos and tales untold.
O where can he belong who seeks from birth
The answers to all questions – keys of mind
To treasure-chests of truths – but here on Earth
In free and equal friendship with his kind?
Though walls arise imagination soars
Beyond their shadow to a sunlit land
Where smiles greet strangers, sorrow opens doors
And dreams come true by popular demand.
The child I was once painted this in gold
And will not let me rest now I am old.

 

listen to the band play guitar
people come from very far
standing in a crowd you can’t hide
and your joy is multiplied

open up your eyes
this is no surprise
don’t look to the skies
just see it
in their eyes

an old man stumbles in the street
all he can hear is the passing feet
go up to him and hold his hand
feel his life running out like sand

open up your eyes
this is no surprise
don’t look to the skies
just see it
in his eyes

live your life just for yourself
line your nest and count your wealth
build your walls as high as the skies
you can’t buy a mirror that will tell you lies

open up your eyes
this is no surprise
don’t look to the skies
just see it
in your eyes

 

to expect nothing
is to keep a door open
to pleasant surprise

 

S ome things, you say,
A re blessed and some are
C ursed. But my
R eligion worships
E ach and every
D ifference with rapture.

 

H ere’s to the unsung lives
O f you, our countless forebears, unknown
M akers of our hearts
A nd minds.  May we
G race the world that once you walked,
E ver mindful of those who are still to come.

 

Each life bears upon
Or else ought to bear upon
The lives of others

Symbiosis of the web
A spider spins intricate

In shoots of fine silk
Like the pearl net of Indra
Interconnected                                                                 Christine Valentor

Connections breed fair patterns
Of symmetry and fractals

All bound together
Universal complexities
Nature can breed life                                                        dave ply

Sun, moon and seas sing in tune
A chorus to greet each dawn

Falling on the earth
Within white flesh, five ripe seeds
The fragrant orchard                                                         cathum

Arachne weaves worldwide webs
Eight wise fingers feel the pulse

High wire artist
Show how to nurture nature
Help us spin it out

 

Image result for cobweb with dew

 

Image: Pinterest

Yer What?

My mini-fest of acrostic poems comes to an end with this response to the WordPress Daily Prompt Rhyme.

It seems to need a final line – or a few of them – all contributions welcome, the more the merrier!

 

R iderless, a word stampede gets worse –
H uman, then, to rein it into verse.
Y ou may love to babble on prosecco –
M e, I get my kicks from verbal echo.
E veryone’s a poet now, they say –

 

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Image: David Byrne