3_s._ 6_d._ _net_ - 2_s._ _net_
Oxford Poetry 1915 Oxford Poetry 1916 Oxford Poetry 1917 Oxford Poetry 1918 Oxford Poetry 1919 Oxford Poetry 1920
7_s._ 6_d._ _net_
Oxford Poetry 1917-19
EDITED BY ALAN PORTER, RICHARD HUGHES, ROBERT GRAVES
OXFORD BASIL BLACKWELL MCMXXI
PRINTED AT THE SHAKESPEARE HEAD PRESS STRATFORD-UPON-AVON
The Editors of this year’s Oxford Poetry, the work of undergraduates who have been in residence since the date of the last collection, have attempted to make the volume more representative of Poetry and less representative merely of Oxford than its predecessors. There is always at Oxford a fashion in verse as much as in dress, and, to judge from the bulk of contributions submitted, this fashion has not changed materially since last noted and recorded in print. Mr Jones-Smith, of Balliol, still writes musically of brimming chalices, vermilion lips, chrysoprase, lotuses, arabesques and darkling spires against glimmering skies; Miss Smith-Jones, of Somerville, is equally faithful to her scarlet sins, beloved hearts, little clutching hands, little pattering feet, rosaries, eternity, roundabouts, and glimmering spires against darkling skies. Exclusion of these worn properties has given the fewer writers than usual represented here, extended elbow room, and a chance of showing some individual capacity for better or worse.
Most of the pieces have already appeared serially in _The London Mercury_, _The Spectator_, _The Westminster Gazette_, _The New Statesman_, _The Nation and Athenæum_, _The Observer_, and the other leading literary reviews.
For permission to use copyright poems, our thanks are due to Messrs Christophers, publishers of Mr Golding’s ‘Shepherd Singing Ragtime,’ and to Messrs Sidgwick and Jackson, publishers of Mr Rickword’s new volume ‘Behind the Eyes.’
F. N. W. BATESON (_Trinity_) Trespassers Page 1
EDMUND BLUNDEN (_Queen’s_) The Watermill 2 The Scythe 4 That Time is Gone 7 The South-West Wind 8 The Canal 9 The March Bee 11
LOUIS GOLDING (_Queen’s_) Ploughman at the Plough 12 Portrait of an Artist 13 Shepherd singing Ragtime 14 Ghosts Gathering 18 Silver-badged Waiter 20
ROBERT GRAVES (_St John’s_) Cynics and Romantics 21 Unicorn and the White Doe 22 Sullen Moods 25 Henry and Mary 27 On the Ridge 28 A Lover since Childhood 29
ROSALEEN GRAVES (_Home Student_) Night Sounds 30 ‘A Stronger than he shall come upon him ...’ 32 Colour 33
BERTRAM HIGGINS (_B.N.C._) White Magic 34
RICHARD HUGHES (_Oriel_) Singing Furies 35 The Sermon 37 Tramp 38 Gratitude 40 Judy 42 Ruin 43
ALAN PORTER (_Queen’s_) Introduction to a Narrative Poem 44 Summer Bathing 47 Country Churchyard 49 Museum 50 Lost Lands 52
FRANK PREWETT (_Christ Church_) Come Girl, and embrace 53 I went out into the Fields 54 Comrade, why do you weep? 56 The Winds caress the Trees 57
EDGELL RICKWORD (_Pembroke_) Complaint of a Tadpole confined in a jam-jar 58 Regret for the Depopulation of Rural Districts 60 Complaint after Psycho-Analysis 61 Desire 62 Trench Poets 63 Winter Prophecies 64
F. N. W. BATESON
Gauntly outlined, white and still, Three haystacks peer above the hill; Three aged rakes thrust sprawlingly Fantastic tendons to the sky. In the void and dismal yard Farmer’s dog keeps rasping guard, Challenging night’s trespassers, The solemn legions of the stars; Growling ignominious scorn At Cancer and at Capricorn. The yellow stars, serene and prim, Tolerantly stare at him.
I’ll rise at midnight and I’ll rove Up the hill and down the drove That leads to the old unnoticed mill, And think of one I used to love: There stooping to the hunching wall I’ll stare into the rush of stars Or bubbles that the waterfall Brings forth and breaks in ceaseless wars.
The shelving hills have made a fourm Where the mill holdings shelter warm, And here I came with one I loved To watch the seething millions swarm. But long ago she grew a ghost Though walking with me every day; Even when her beauty burned me most She to a spectre dimmed away--
Until though cheeks all morning-bright And black eyes gleaming life’s delight And singing voice dwelt in my sense, Herself paled on my inward sight. She grew one whom deep waters glassed. Then in dismay I hid from her, And lone by talking brooks at last I found a Love still lovelier.
O lost in tortured days of France! Yet still the moment comes like chance Born in the stirring midnight’s sigh Or in the wild wet sunset’s glance: And how I know not but this stream Still sounds like vision’s voice, and still I watch with Love the bubbles gleam, I walk with Love beside the mill.
The heavens are thralled with cloud, yet gray Half-moonlight swims the fields till day, The stubbled fields, the bleaching woods;-- Even this bleak hour is stolen away By this shy water falling low, And calling low the whole night through, And calling back the long ago And richest world I ever knew.
The hop-kiln fingers cobweb-white With discord dim turned left and right, And when the wind was south and small The sea’s far whisper drowsed the night; Scarce more than mantling ivy’s voice That in the tumbling water trailed. Love’s spirit called me to rejoice When she to nothingness had paled:
For Love the daffodils shone here In grass the greenest of the year, Daffodils seemed the sunset lights And silver birches budded clear: And all from east to west there strode Great shafted clouds in argent air, The shining chariot-wheels of God, And still Love’s moment sees them there.
A thick hot haze had choked the valley grounds Long since, the dogday sun had gone his rounds Like a dull coal half lit with sulky heat; And leas were iron, ponds were clay, fierce beat The blackening flies round moody cattle’s eyes. Wasps on the mudbanks seemed a hornet’s size, That on the dead roach battened. The plough’s increase Stood under a curse. Behold, the far release! Old wisdom breathless at her cottage door ‘Sounds of abundance’ mused, and heard the roar Of marshalled armies in the silent air, And thought Elisha stood beside her there, And clacking reckoned ere the next nightfall She’d turn the looking-glasses to the wall.
Faster than armies out of the burnt void The hour-glass clouds innumerably deployed; And when the hay-folks next look up, the sky Sags black above them; scarce is time to fly. And most run for their cottages; but Ward The mower for the inn beside the ford, And slow strides he with shouldered scythe still bare, While to the coverts leaps the great-eyed hare.
As he came in, the dust snatched up and whirled Hung high, and like a bell-rope whipped and twirled, The brazen light glared round, the haze resolved Into demoniac shapes bulged and convolved. Well might poor ewes afar make bleatings wild, Though this old trusting mower sat and smiled, For from the hush of many days the land Had waked itself: and now on every hand Shrill swift alarm-notes, cries and counter-cries, Lowings and crowings came and throbbing sighs. Now atom lightning brandished on the moor, Then out of sullen drumming came the roar Of thunder joining battle east and west: In hedge and orchard small birds durst not rest, Flittering like dead leaves and like wisps of straws, And the cuckoo called again, for without pause Oncoming voices in the vortex burred. The storm came toppling like a wave, and blurred In grey the trees that like black steeples towered. The sun’s last yellow died. Then who but cowered? Down ruddying darkness floods the hideous flash, And pole to pole the cataract whirlwinds clash.
Alone within the tavern parlour still Sat the gray mower, pondering his God’s will, And flinching not to flame or bolt, that swooped With a great hissing rain till terror drooped In weariness: and then there came a roar Ten-thousand-fold, he saw not, was no more-- But life bursts on him once again, and blood Beats droning round, and light comes in a flood.
He stares, and sees the sashes battered awry, The wainscot shivered, the crocks shattered, and by, His twisted scythe, melted by its fierce foe, Whose Parthian shot struck down the chimney. Slow Old Ward lays hand to his old working-friend, And thanking God Whose mercy did defend His servant, yet must drop a tear or two And think of times when that old scythe was new, And stands in silent grief, nor hears the voices Of many a bird that through the land rejoices, Nor sees through the smashed panes the sea-green sky, That ripens into blue, nor knows the storm is by.
THE TIME IS GONE
The time is gone when we could throw Our angle in the sleepy stream, And nothing more desired to know Than was it roach or was it bream? Sitting there in such a mute delight, The Kingfisher would come and on the rods alight.
Or hurrying through the dewy hay Without a thought but to make haste We came to where the old ring lay And bats and balls seemed heaven at least. With our laughing and our giant strokes The echoes clacked among the chestnuts and the oaks.
When the spring came up we got And out among wild Emmet Hills Blossoms, aye and pleasures sought And found! bloom withers, pleasure chills; Like geographers along green brooks We named the capes and tumbling bays and horseshoe crooks.
But one day I found a man Leaning on the bridge’s rail; Dared his face as all to scan, And awestruck wondered what could ail An elder, blest with all the gifts of years, In such a happy place to shed such bitter tears.
THE SOUTH-WEST WIND
We stood by the idle weir, Like bells the waters played, The rich moonlight slept everywhere As it would never fade: So slept our shining peace of mind Till rose a south-west wind.
How sorrow comes who knows? And here joy surely had been: But joy like any wild wind blows From mountains none has seen, And still its cloudy veilings throws On the bright road it goes.
The black-plumed poplars swung So softly across the sky: The ivy sighed, the river sung, Woolpacks were wafting high: The moon her golden tinges flung On these she straight was lost among.
O south-west wind of the soul, That brought such new delight, And passing by in music stole Love’s rich and trusting light, Would that we thrilled to thy least breath Now all is still as death.
There so dark and still Slept the water, never changing, From the glad sport in the meadows Oft I turned me.
Fear would strike me chill On the clearest day in summer, Yet I loved to stand and ponder Hours together
By the tarred bridge rail-- There the lockman’s vine-clad window, Mirrored in the tomb-like water Stared in silence
Till, deformed and pale In the sunken cavern shadows, One by one imagined demons Scowled upon me.
Barges passed me by, With their unknown surly masters And small cabins, whereon some rude Hand had painted
Trees and castles high. Cheerly stepped the towing horses, And the women sung their children Into slumber.
Barges, too, I saw Drowned in mud, drowned, drowned long ages, Their gray ribs but seen in summer, Their names never:
In whose silted maw Swarmed great eels, the priests of darkness, Old as they, who came at midnight To destroy me.
Like one blind and lame Who by some new sense has vision And strikes deadlier than the strongest Went this water.
Many an angler came, Went his ways; and I would know them, Some would smile and give me greeting, Some kept silence--
Most, one old dragoon Who had never a morning hallo, But with stony eye strode onward Till the water,
On a silent noon, That had watched him long, commanded: Whom he answered, leaping headlong To self-murder.
‘Fear and fly the spell,’ Thus my Spirit sang beside me; Then once more I ranged the meadows, Yet still brooded,
When the threefold knell Sounded through the haze of harvest-- Who had found the lame blind water Swift and seeing?
THE MARCH BEE
A warming wind comes to my resting-place And in a mountain cloud the lost sun chills; Night comes, and yet before she shows her face The sun flings off the shadows, warm light fills The valley and the clearings on the hills, Bleak crow the moorcocks on the fen’s blue plashes, But here I warm myself with these bright looks and flashes. And like to me the merry humble bee Puts fear aside, runs forth to meet the sun And by the ploughlands’ shoulder comes to see The flowers that like him best, and seems to shun Cold countless quaking windflowers every one, Primroses too; but makes poor grass his choice Where small wood-strawberry blossoms nestle and rejoice. The magpies steering round from wood to wood, Tree-creepers flicking up to elms’ green rind, Bold gnats that revel round my solitude And most this pleasant bee intent to find The new-born joy, inveigle the rich mind Long after darkness comes cold-lipped to one Still hearkening to the bee, still basking in the sun.
PLOUGHMAN AT THE PLOUGH
He behind the straight plough stands Stalwart, firm shafts in firm hands.
Naught he cares for wars and naught For the fierce disease of thought.
Only for the winds, the sheer Naked impulse of the year,
Only for the soil, which stares Clean into God’s face, he cares.
In the stark might of his deed There is more than art or creed;
In his wrist more strength is hid Than the monstrous Pyramid;
Stauncher than stern Everest Be the muscles of his breast;
Not the Atlantic sweeps a flood Potent as the ploughman’s blood.
He, his horse, his ploughshare, these Are the only verities.
Dawn to dusk with God he stands, The Earth poised on his broad hands.
PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST
I have been given eyes Which are neither foolish nor wise, Seeing through joy or pain Beauty alone remain.
I have been given an ear Which catches nothing clear, But only along the day A song stealing away.
My feet and hands never could Do anything evil or good: Instead of these things, A swift mouth that sings.
SHEPHERD SINGING RAGTIME
(_For F. V. Branford_)
The shepherd sings: ’_Way down in Dixie, Way down in Dixie, Where the hens are dog-gone glad to lay...._’
With shaded eyes he stands to look Across the hills where the clouds swoon, He singing, leans upon his crook, He sings, he sings no more. The wind is muffled in the tangled hair Of sheep that drift along the noon. The mild sheep stare With amber eyes about the pearl-flecked June. Two skylarks soar With singing flame Into the sun whence first they came. All else is only grasshoppers Or a brown wing the shepherd stirs, Who, like a slow tree moving, goes Where the pale tide of sheep-drift flows.
See! the sun smites With molten lights The turned wing of a gull that glows Aslant the violet, the profound Dome of the mid-June heights. Alas! again the grasshoppers, The birds, the slumber-winging bees, Alas! again for those and these Demure things drowned; Drowned in vain raucous words men made Where no lark rose with swift and sweet Ascent and where no dim sheep strayed About the stone immensities, Where no sheep strayed and where no bees Probed any flowers nor swung a blade Of grass with pollened feet.
He sings: ‘_In Dixie, Way down in Dixie, Where the hens are dog-gone glad to lay Scrambled eggs in the new-mown hay...._’
The herring-gulls with peevish cries Rebuke the man who sings vain words; His sheep-dog growls a low complaint, Then turns to chasing butterflies. But when the indifferent singing-birds From midmost down to dimmest shore Innumerably confirm their songs, And grasshoppers make summer rhyme And solemn bees in the wild thyme Clash cymbals and beat gongs, The shepherd’s words once more are faint, Once more the alien song is thinned Upon the long course of the wind, He sings, he sings no more.
Ah now the dear monotonies Of bells that jangle on the sheep To the low limit of the hills! Till the blue cup of music spills Into the boughs of lowland trees; Till thence the lowland singings creep Into the dreamful shepherd’s head, Creep drowsily through his blood; The young thrush fluting all he knows, The ring dove moaning his false woes, Almost the rabbit’s tiny tread, The last unfolding bud. But now, Now a cool word spreads out along the sea. Now the day’s violet is cloud-tipped with gold. Now dusk most silently Fills the hushed day with other wings than birds’. Now where on foam-crest waves the seagulls rock, To their cliff-haven go the seagulls thence. So too the shepherd gathers in his flock, Because birds journey to their dens, Tired sheep to their still fold.
A dark first bat swoops low and dips About the shepherd who now sings A song of timeless evenings; For dusk is round him with wide wings, Dusk murmurs on his moving lips.
_There is not mortal man who knows From whence the shepherd’s song arose: It came a thousand years ago._
_Once the world’s shepherds woke to lead The folded sheep that they might feed On green downs where winds blow._
_One shepherd sang a golden word. A thousand miles away one heard. One sang it swift, one sang it slow._
_Two skylarks heard, two skylarks told All shepherds this same song of gold On all downs where winds blow._
_This is the song that shepherds must Sing till the green downlands be dust And tide of sheep-drift no more flow;_
_The song two skylarks told again To all the sheep and shepherd men On green downs where winds blow._
You hear no bones click, see no shaken shroud. Though no tombs grin, you feel ghosts gathering. Crowd
On pitiful crowd of small dead singing men Tread the sure earth they feebly hymned; again
With fleshless hand seize unswayed grass. They seize Insensitive flowers which bend not. Through gross trees
They sift. Nothing withstands them. Nothing knows Them nor the songs they sang, their busy woes.
‘Hence from these ingrate things! To the towns!’ they weep, (If ghosts have tears). You think a wrinkled heap
Of leaves heaved, or a wing stirred, less than this. Some chance on the midnight cities. Others miss
The few faint lights, thin voices. Wretched these Doomed to beat long the windy vacancies!
Some mourn through forlorn towns. They prowl and seek --What seek they? Who knows them? If branches creak
And leaves flap and slow women ply their trade, Those all are living things, but these are dead,
All that they were, dead totally. What fool still Knows their extinguished songs? They had their fill Of average joys and sorrows. They learned how
Love wilts, Death does not wilt. What more left now? But one ghost yet of all these ghosts may find Himself not utterly faded. Through his blind
Some old man’s lamp-rays probe the darkness. Sick Of his gaunt quest, the ghost halts. The clock’s tick
Troubles the silence. Tiredly the ghost scans The opened book on the table. A flame fans,
A weak wan fire floods through his subtle veins. No, no, not wholly forgotten! Loves and pains
Not suffered wholly for nothing! (The old man bends Over the book, makes notes for pious ends,
--Some curious futile work twelve men at most Will read and yawn over.) The dizzy ghost,
Like some more ignorant moth circles the light... Not suffered wholly for nothing!... ‘A sweet night!’
The old man mumbles.... A warmth is in the air, He smiles, not knowing why. He moves his chair
Closer against the table. And sitting bowed Lovingly turns the leaves and chants aloud.
Poor trussed-up lad, what piteous guise Cloaks the late splendour of your eyes, Stiffens the fleetness of your face Into a mask of sleek disgrace, And makes a smooth caricature Of your taut body’s swift and sure Poise, like a proud bird waiting one Moment ere he taunt the sun; Your body that stood foolish-wise Stormed by the treasons of the skies, Star-like that hung, deliberate Above the dubieties of Fate, But with an April gesture chose Unutterable and certain woes! And now you stand with discreet charm Dropping the napkin round your arm, Anticipate your tip while you Hear the commercial travellers chew. You shuffle with their soups and beers Who held at heel the howling fears, You whose young limbs were proud to dare Challenge the black hosts of despair!
CYNICS AND ROMANTICS
In club and messroom let them sit At skirmish of ingenious wit; Deriding Love, yet not with hearts Accorded to those healthier parts Of grim self-mockery, but with mean And burrowing search for things unclean, Pretended deafness, twisted sense, Sharp innuendoes rising thence, And affectation of prude-shame That shrinks from using the short name. We are not envious of their sour Disintegrations of Love’s power, Their swift analysis of the stabs Devised by virgins and by drabs (Powder or lace or scent) to excite A none-too-jaded appetite. They never guess of Love as we Have found the amazing Art to be, Pursuit of dazzling flame, or flight From web-hung blackness of night, With laughter only to express Care overborne by carelessness; They never bridge from small to great, From nod or glance to ideal Fate, From clouded forehead or slow sigh To doubt and agony looming by, From shining gaze and hair flung free To infinity and to eternity-- They sneer and poke a treacherous joke With scorn for our rusticity.
UNICORN AND THE WHITE DOE
‘Alone Through forests evergreen, By legend known, By no eye seen, Unmated Unbaited Untrembling between The shifting shadows The sudden echoes, Deathless I go Unheard, unseen,’ Says the White Doe.
Unicorn with bursting heart Breath of love has drawn On his desolate crags apart At rumour of dawn,
Has volleyed forth his pride Twenty thousand years mute, Tossed his horn from side to side Lunged with his foot.
‘Like a storm of sand I run Breaking the desert’s boundaries, I go in hiding from the sun In thick shade of trees
Straight was the track I took Across the plains, but here with briar And mire the tangled alleys crook Baulking my desire.
Ho, there! what glinted white? (A bough still shakes) What was it darted from my sight Through the forest brakes?
Where are you fled from me? I pursue, you fade; I run, you hide from me In the dark glade.
Towering straight the trees grow, The grass grows thick. Where you are, I do not know, You fly so quick.’
‘Seek me not here Lodged among mortal deer,’ Says the White Doe, ‘Keeping one place Held by the ties of space,’ Says the White Doe. ‘I Equally In air Above your bare Hill crest, your basalt lair, Mirage reflected drink At the clear pool’s brink With tigers at play In the glare of day Blithely I stray, Under shadow of myrtle With Phoenix and his Turtle For all time true, With Gryphons at grass Under the Upas, Sipping warm dew That falls hourly new, I, unattainable Complete, incomprehensible No mate for you. In sun’s beam Or star-gleam, No mate for you No mate for you,’ Says the White Doe.
Love, do not count your labour lost Though I turn sullen, grim, retired Even at your side; my thought is crossed With fancies by old longings fired.
And when I answer you, some days Vaguely and wildly, do not fear That my love goes forbidden ways Hating the laws that bind it here.
If I speak gruffly, this mood is Mere indignation at my own Shortcomings, plagues, uncertainties; I forget the gentler tone.
‘You,’ now that you have come to be My one beginning, prime and end, I count at last as wholly ‘me,’ Lover no longer nor yet friend.
Friendship is flattery, though close hid; Must I then flatter my own mind? And must (which laws of shame forbid) Blind love of you make self-love blind?
Do not repay me my own coin, The sharp rebuke, the frown, the groan; But stir my memory to disjoin Your emanation from my own.
Help me to see you as before When overwhelmed and dead, almost, I stumbled on that secret door Which saves the live man from the ghost.
Be once again the distant light, Promise of glory, not yet known In full perfection--wasted quite When on my imperfection thrown.
HENRY AND MARY
Henry was a worthy king, Mary was his queen, He gave to her a snowdrop Upon a stalk of green.
Then all for his kindness And all for his care She gave him a new-laid egg In the garden there.
Love, can you sing? I cannot sing. Or story-tell? Not one I know. Then let us play at queen and king, As down the garden walks we go.
ON THE RIDGE
Below the ridge a raven flew, And we heard the lost curlew Mourning out of sight below Mountain tops were touched with snow; Even the long dividing plain Showed no wealth of sheep or grain, But fields of boulders lay like corn And raven’s croak was shepherd’s horn To slow cloud shadow strayed across A pasture of thin heath and moss. The North Wind rose; I saw him press With lusty force against your dress, Moulding your body’s inward grace, And streaming off from your set face, So now no longer flesh and blood But poised in marble thought you stood; O wingless Victory, loved of men, Who could withstand your triumph then?
A LOVER SINCE CHILDHOOD
Tangled in thought am I, Stumble in speech do I? Do I blunder and blush for the reason why? Wander aloof do I, Lean over gates and sigh, Making friends with the bee and the butterfly?
If thus and thus I do Dazed by the thought of you, Walking my sorrowful way in the early dew, My heart pierced through and through By this despair of you, Starved for a word or a look will my hope renew.
Give then a thought for me Walking so miserably, Wanting relief in the friendship or flower or tree, Do but remember, we Once could in love agree Swallow your pride, let us be as we used to be.
Faintly through my window come Sounds of things unheard by day, Things that nightly speak and play, But by day again go dumb.
Uncouth owls, with shuddering cry, Flap great wings in horrid grief Flap and swoop on journeys brief, Hooting long and miserably.
Lurching in unsteady flight Comes a lean bat, singing shrill, Stumbles on my window sill, And staggers off into the night.
Wild duck, waking on the marsh, Din against my sleepy senses; Like the wind on creaking fences Comes their croaking, faint and harsh.
There’s a little bush I hear Muttering, frightened, half-asleep; Now a leafy voice, more deep, Rustles vague comfort, soothes its fear.
Water flows not as by day. A new tone through its voice has crept. Streams that in daylight laughed and leapt And had humorous things to say,
Speak so gravely now, and mutter Of things secret, scarcely guessed, Winds’ and Waters’ veiled unrest, Griefs too big for man to utter.
Of the days before man came The days when man shall be no more, And Earth again be ruled by Four, Air and Water, Earth and Flame.
Now a sudden silence falls; Until like rocking, silver boats Come the curlew’s ripply notes How far the curious music calls!
And sweet twitters whisper clearly From the tree tops dimly seen Piping from the shadowy green That the dawn is here, or nearly.
‘A STRONGER THAN HE SHALL COME UPON HIM...’
And then he was seized by one who was stronger than he, Seized and tamed and bound and forced to obey; From the swinging choice of evil or good he was free; Good was no longer; evil had vanished away He left to another the gain or loss of the day.
Was he driven or drawn? What matter? He was content. He yielded him, body and soul, to the whirl of War As one yields to the high sea-wind, and is buffered, bent To his will, when, shouting, he stamps in over the shore Triumphant, driving all things like dust before.
Can aught but a rock stand firm, or question his might Who tosses the leaves and clouds from a hand so strong? The trees and grasses bow in awe of his might, And men in the mountains, hearing his giant-song, Yield, and are hurried--whirled--hounded along.
Thus he yielded to War, who was stronger than he-- No time to think--no time to ponder and weigh-- He was swept like a straw on the wind--and yet he knew himself free Was it freedom or bondage, this? In truth, it were hard to say; But, slave or king, he bowed his head to obey.
Flowers, thick as stars, lay Splashed about the roadway-- Flowers nodding up and down, Gold, lilac, fern-brown, Colour in which to drown. The Channel was a dark blue streak, With pools rosy like the cheek Of a girl too shy to speak, And coloured clouds went tossing past, Warm and windy, Vivid and quaint, Faint and eager and vast.
Colour, thick as dust, lay Spattered about the highway-- Colour so bright that one would think White, blue, cherry-pink Were made to clutch and drink, Colour that made one stop and say, ‘Earth, are you Heaven to-day?’ Colour that made one pray. Lumps of colour, liquid and cool, Cool and near, Clear and gay Tumbled about my way.
BERTRAM HIGGINS (B.N.C.)
You came, but still, with heart full-given to gladness, I paused, as one stands stricken ere he falls; Not yet my fumblings swept their bounds, clogged sense its Weakling walls.
Quaint spaceless musings held me--idiot Mind was Gaped and gilled like a fish to suck through slow Tentative pores swift sweetness of strange waters’ Ebb and flow.
Yet how could I praise in darkness?--Life, like a sodded Seed, moved in drought-sleep and cleft its clay Freshly it seemed, though each sap-season spired its Stalks into day:
Till now (ah, deft magician!) your wand hovers Over all Spirit--over those lost grey fields Where one frail flower, with burning stem, glad, gradual Petals yields;
And whose past pitiful bitter blooms live only In the flushed mockery of remembering lovers.
THE SINGING FURIES
The yellow sky grows vivid as the sun, The sea glittering, and the hills dun.
The stones quiver. Twenty pounds of lead Fold upon fold, the air laps my head.
Both eyes scorch: tongue stiff and bitter. Flies buzz, but no birds twitter:
Slow bullocks stand with stinging feet, And naked fishes scarcely stir, for heat.
White as smoke, As jetted steam, dead clouds awoke And quivered on the Western rim. And then the singing started, dim And sibilant as rime-stiff reeds That whistle as the wind leads. The North answered, low and clear; The South whispered hard and sere, And thunder muffled up like drums Beat, whence the East-wind comes. The heavy sky that could not weep Is loosened: rain falls steep, And thirty singing furies ride To split the sky from side to side. They sing, and lash the wet-flanked wind: Sing, from Col to Hafod Mynd And fling their voices half a score Of miles along the mounded shore: Whip loud music from a tree, And roll their paean out to sea Where crowded breakers fling and leap, And strange things throb five fathoms deep.
The sudden tempest roared and died: The singing furies muted ride Down wet and slippery roads to hell; And, silent in their captors’ train Two fishers, storm-caught on the main; A shepherd, battered with his flocks; A pit-boy tumbled from the rocks, A dozen back-broke gulls, and hosts Of shadowy, small, pathetic ghosts, Of mice and leverets caught by flood, Their beauty shrouded in cold mud.
Like grippt stick Still I sit: Eyes fixed on far small eyes, Full of it: On the old, broad face, The hung chin; Heavy arms, surplice Worn through and worn thin. Probe I the hid mind Under the gross flesh: Clutch at poetic words, Follow their mesh Scarce heaving breath. Clutch, marvel, wonder, Till the words end.
Stilled is the muttered thunder: The hard, few people wake, Gather their books and go-- Whether their hearts could break How can I know?
When a brass sun staggers above the sky, When feet cleave to boots, and the tongue’s dry, And sharp dust goads the rolling eye, Come thoughts of wine, and dancing thoughts of girls: They shiver their white arms, and the head whirls, And noon light is hid in their dark curls: Noon feet stumble, and head swims. Out shines the sun, and the thought dims, And death, for blood, runs in the weak limbs.
To fall on flints in the shade of tall nettles Gives easy sleep as a bed of rose petals, And dust drifting from the highway As light a coverlet as down may. The myriad feet of many-sized flies May not open those tired eyes.
The first wind of night Twitches the coverlet away quite: The first wind and large first rain Flickers the dry pulse to life again: Flickers the lids burning on the eyes With sudden flashes of the slipping skies. Hunger, oldest visionary, Hides a devil in a tree, Hints a glory in the clouds, Fills the crooked air with crowds Of ivory sightless demons singing--
Eyes start: straightens back: Limbs stagger and crack: But Brain flies, Brain soars Up, where the Sky roars Upon the back of cherubim: Brain rockets up to Him. Body gives another twist To the slack waist-band; In agony clenches fist Till the nails bite the hand. Body floats light as air, With rain in its sparse hair:
Brain returns, and would tell The things he has seen well: Body will not stir his lips: Brain and Body come to grips.
Deadly each hates the other As treacherous blood-brother: No sight, no sound shows How the struggle goes.
They sink at last faint in the wet gutter; So many words to sing that the tongue cannot utter.
Eternal gratitude--a long, thin word: When meant, oftenest left unheard: When light on the tongue, light in the purse too: Of curious metallurgy: when coined true It glitters not, is neither large nor small: More worth than rubies--less, times, than a ball. Not gift, nor willed: yet through its wide range Buys what it buys exact, and leaves no change.
Old Gurney had it, won on a hot day With ale, from glib-voiced Gypsy by the way. He held it lightly: for ’twas a rum start To find a hedgeling who had still a heart: So put it down for twist of a beggar’s tongue... _He_ had not felt the heat: how the dust stung A face June-roasted: _he_ saw not the look Aslant the gift-mug; how the hand shook... Yet the words rang his head, and he grew merry And whistled from the Boar to Wrye-brook ferry, And chaffed with Ferryman when the hawser creakt Or slipping bilge showed where the planks leakt: Lent hand himself, till doubly hard the barge Butted its nose in mud of the farther marge. When Gurney leapt to shore, he found--dismay! He had no tuppence--(Tuppence was to pay To sulky Ferryman)--‘Naught have I,’ says he, ‘Naught, but the gratitude of Tammas Lee Given one hour.’--Sulky Charon grinned: ‘Done,’ said he. ‘Done: I take--all of it, mind.’ ‘Done,’ cries Jan Gurney. Down the road he went, But by the ford left all his merriment.
This is the tale of midday chaffering: How Charon took, and Gurney lost the thing: How Ferryman gave it for his youngest daughter To a tall lad who saved her out of water-- (Being old and mean, had none of his own to give, So passed on Tammas’; glad to see her live): And how young Farmer paid his quarter’s rent With that one coin, when all else was spent, And how Squire kept it for some goldless debt... For aught I know, it wanders current yet. Yet Tammas was no angel in disguise: He stole Squire’s chickens--often: he told lies, Robbed Charon’s garden, burnt young Farmer’s ricks And played the village many lowsy tricks.
No children sniffled, and no dog cried When full of oaths and smells, he died.
Sand hot to haunches: Sun beating eyes down, Yet they peer under lashes At the hill’s crown:
See how the hill slants Up the sky halfway: Over the top tall clouds Poke gold and grey.
Down: see a green field Tipped on its short edge, Its upper rim straggled round By a black hedge.
Grass bright as new brass: Uneven dark gorse Stuck to its own shadow _Like Judy that black horse_.
Birds clatter numberless, And the breeze tells That beanflower somewhere Has ousted the bluebells.
Birds clatter numberless: In the muffled wood Big feet move slowly: Mean no good.
Gone are the coloured princes, gone echo, gone laughter: Drips the blank roof: and the moss creeps after.
Dead is the crumbled chimney: all mellowed to rotting The wall-tints, and the floor-tints, from the spotting Of the rain, from the wind and slow appetite Of patient mould: and of the worms that bite At beauty all their innumerable lives.
But the sudden nip of knives, The lady aching for her stiffening lord, The passionate-fearful bride, And beaded Pallor clamped to the torment-board, --Leave they no ghosts, no memories by the stairs?
No sheeted glimmer treading floorless ways? No haunting melody of lovers’ airs, Nor stealthy chill upon the noon of days?
No: for the dead and senseless walls have long forgotten What passionate hearts beneath the turf lie rotten.
Only from roofs and chimneys pleasantly sliding Tumbles the rain in the early hours, Patters its thousand feet on the flowers, Cools its small grey feet in the grasses.
INTRODUCTION TO A NARRATIVE POEM
The vapour, twining and twitching, seems to throw Black, precipitous boulders to and fro Light as a bandied scoff; and, look, the cliff-- Whose root claws at the midworld fire with stiff Unmolten, adamantine fingers--fails, Lurches. Above, cold and eternal gales Run worrying, shredding, eternal sunlight; snatch At the heather; puff at the flocks of cotton; scratch White scars along the bents. If strangers climb To this plateau that buffets back slow time, They stand awhile impotent, grey with fear, And feel solidity’s foundation stir.
But even here a cottage free from harms Lies havened, hugged and sheltered by the arms Of a narrow, green recess. A few stunt oaks, Elders, and barren apples beard the rocks; But, sleeker than a pool, the lawn beneath Burns white and blue, bewildering the heath. On a low wood-bench, rifted by years of rain, Warped at one end, split far along the grain, A meagre man with a waste, weary smile Reads to a boy and girl, or plays awhile Some quiet, grown-up game. He suddenly bows Head between hands: no more his children rouse Flicker or flame, by question or caress, To break the dead, monotonous, featureless Winter of grief. At last he rises, and, With empty scrutiny, feet that understand No path but falter at random, stumbles out Where tigrish winds whirry and havoc and shout. His back-blown hair, wet, smarting eyes, recall The conscious pang of life; and he must fall Faint on the ground, or whet his courage keen, Clench all his being, prise a path between The loud, inimical flaws. With even might He batters on, to earth’s and air’s despite, In storm and tumult winning peace and light.
Yet, in these roads of quiet, muniment From fury of nature, home from discontent Surely of earth’s mean, trafficking miseries, In this domain of flower and fragrance, this Green plat of smooth, immotionable ground, Why does the panther sorrow skulk around And leap like fear from unsuspected fourm? Weigh this doubt rather--if the embittered swarm Of multitudinous grief thins ever or stays From most unmerited sally; for in what ways A man may tread, and fate how seeming fair, His intimate heart is troubled, and despair Lays present ambush. Many feel the sting Of casual time like bramble-thorns, that bring A not-enduring spasm: in other blood, More sensitive, urging a froward, perilous flood, It racks like tropic ivy, whose embrace Turns travellers maniac; nor shall lapse of days, Nor drug, nor simple, medicine back the mind; They go forgetting all their manhood, find No recollection save the venom of death That whistles about their brain and sears their breath.
Thus almost had it been with him, thus grief Came turbulent, and left him no relief.
The ruckling pool, torn grey by Pendry Weir, Became Cocytus to my boy time fear. Two haw-trees, pulping fat their close, green fruits Turned cuttlefish below, wagging no roots But narrow tentacles. Old Jacob Fry Tells how he drained this pool one hot July When drought had sucked the white stream thick and slow: Fish, four-foot deep, shone thirty feet below. Leaning to drop a stone, the farmboy whews Bewildered that his confident ear should lose All thud for grounding. Now he fears to stay, And walks by whistling on another day.
Here, when the black bees blundered in the heat Half-drunk, rifling the fine-flurred meadowsweet, I stripped and bathed. At first, numb for delight, I lost all thought but this--Come, you must fight Free from the swirl. But when blank eyes grew clear Like a pit-pattering mouse came fluttered fear. Now here and there slide snakish eels, now voles Bolt hizzing over the brook to round, black holes. These groping roots perhaps will grip my flesh Till I grow tired of screaming: so the mesh Will move, my bones will crackle, I sink down; So to an end. Or in some cave of brown Sluttering scum and broad, plump bladder-weeds Old fiends may sprawling meditate false deeds; One, ware of prey, slip out lean fingers, pluck Unusual meat through water’s rush and ruck.
Yet, braving all, to prove wild fancy vain, I held my breath and sank. The brook, astrain And fierce to be free, spun snarling overhead; Dull roars droned round, cold currents buffeted. Proud of this daring shewn--but doubtful, too, Of tempting fortune far--I battled through To the root-held scroll of turf on the sagging bank, And carefully muscled up. The sheep-field drank The wide-spent, white-spilt sun, the wrapping air Swung flame-like past, and, while I ran, the bare Close-nibbled grass pushed hot against my feet. The yeanlings rose and rushed with timid bleat Full-tilt at the mothering ewe; fed sleek with clover, Three cows, in mild amazement bending over The gap-set palings, rubbed their necks or chewed. But in mid-course I staggered, having trod Firm on a flat and spiny thistle; stayed Nursing my foot, half grinning, half dismayed: Then lay full length, as light-heel time were not; Pale fears, fantastic perils, all forgot.
This grave, moss-grown, marks him who once went free; Now pent--no, portionless; from sharp life lost; Mere mouldered bone-work. His unheeded name
Who, curious, pausing, may decipher? See; Thin gulled by running rain, by chipping frost Frustrated, muffled under a yellow, same,
Fat scurf of lichen, the dim characters Withstand conjecture, aimless and awry. Yet here lies one who, living, peopled earth
With indestructible fancy. Now he hears No nature’s music, who for hours would lie To hear the blue-caps click their quick, small mirth.
The day was death. A chalk road, pale in dust, Accused with leprous finger the long moors. The drab, damp air so blanketed the town No doddered oak swung leathern leaf. The chimneys Pushed oddling pillars at the loose-hung sky. May, pansy, lilac, dense as the night steam Of lowland swamps, fettered the sodden air, And, through the haze, along the ragstone houses, Blood-lichens dulled to a rotten-apple brown. Behind close doors pale women drooped and dragged In customary toils. They dusted shelves Or changed from chair to chair dull, cotton cushions: Soon, vacantly, they bore them back and wiped With languid arms the black, unspotted shelves. Such mind’s own symbols of despair they went That never movement shook a face to grief-- At first they looked no more than cheerless women, But dug deep in the plaster of their flesh Those eyes were year-dead, underpouched with blue. A word would sear the silence of a week. Of a sudden, turning a byeway corner, a cripple, Bloodless with age, lumbered along the road. The motes of dust whirled at his iron-shod crutches And quickly settled. A dog whined. The old Cripple looked round and saw no man, but gave A cruel, crackling chuckle, swung a yard, And stopped to look about and laugh again. ‘That,’ said a girl in a flat voice, ‘is God.’ She turned and slid the table-cover straight. Her mother could not answer, but she thought ‘It must be Beggar Joe, gone lately mad.’ He lumbered along the road and turned a corner. His tapping faded and the day was death.
When from this alien multitude of man These, kind or kindred, speak in approbation Of what I strove to write, for all my pleasure I feel my gross dismerit and fall shamed.
Set no regard on me: not I can pierce Clogged air and homely falsehood in prophetic Dream or sudden awakening. Sinewed phrases, There are my petty troublings of weak sight.
Shame took me once, and shame has tracked me since: My friend spoke of a man who lives bewildered, Even in London striding over mountains, Through populous roads companioning the dead.
Stars move around him and the dew falls grey; Thin firs pry through the mist. Old fables quicken-- Undine laughs by the waters, vague, uneasy: Maiden Mary sings to the sleepy Child.
Then I remembered boyhood, in whose hours Thistles were knights, old men were murderous, daytime Intractable as dream. I knew that either Hid with coarse walls imaginable worlds.
Now I am dulled, habitual now with known Earth. Never shall other-country pathways Bring me, familiar, through amazing valleys Fire-white with blossom, dark with ancient boughs.
Come girl, and embrace, And ask no more I wed thee; Know then you are sweet of face, Soft-limbed and fashioned lovingly;-- Must you go marketing your charms In cunning woman-like, And filled with old wives’ tales’ alarms? I tell you, girl, come embrace; What reck we of churchling and priest With hands on paunch and chubby face; Behold, we are life’s pitiful least, And we perish at the first smell Of death, whither heaves earth To spurn us cringing into hell. Come girl, and embrace; Nay, cry not, poor wretch, nor plead, But haste, for life strikes a swift pace And I burn with envious greed: Know you not, fool, we are the mock, Of gods, time, clothes, and priests? But come, there is no time for talk.
I went out into the fields In my anguish of mind, And sought comfort of the trees For they looked to be kind.
‘Alas!’ cried they, ‘who have peace?-- We are prey that is caught, The sun warms us, the blast chills, And we understand not.’
On rolled the world with fools’ noise, But I strode in tears’ wrack; Would God, fools, I too were fool, Or had light that I lack.
I held the fields all day, I, a madman, too; My spirit called aloud To sift the false from true.
The troubled sun turned black, Earth heaved to and fro, Whene’er I spurned the flowers Lifting heads to grow.
Trees reached their hands to stay, Whistled birds to me, ‘Spurn one, thou spurnest all, Brother, let things be.
For not their heads alone Bleed, but the stars fade And all things grieve, for we One fabric are made.’
The heavens and earth do meet And all things are true, So trample ye no flowers Lest skies lose their blue.
Comrade, why do you weep? Is it sorrow for a friend Who fell, rifle in hand, His proud stand at an end?
The harsh thunder-lipped guns Roll his dirge deep and slow, Where he makes his dreamless bed, Head to head with a foe.
The sweet lark beats on high, For the joy of those who sleep In quiet embrace of earth. Comrade, why do you weep?
The winds caress the trees, Woman to man is led, And I too have my love, Though she comes not to bed.
Beyond the heat of flesh, Which has its place and day, We hold our keen delights In spirit, earth away.
Mount me on high, O soul, Expand me my desires, So shall I clasp in love Even the heavenly fires!
COMPLAINT OF A TADPOLE CONFINED IN A JAM-JAR
What reveries of far-off days These withered plaques of duck-weed raise!
The creeping wretches, the crowded pond, A death in life, no Culture, no Beyond.
Light and No-light in dull routine; Thought and No-thought two shades of green.
The fair ideals all creatures need Smothered beneath the inferior weed.
For highest aspirations stop With breathing, at the water’s top.
O Fairy Metamorphosis For Being to become What Is.
Here ceaseless radiance fills my sphere, The Lamp my Moon, all night, bright, near.
And clustering on the crystal wall Great strawberries iconistical.
No strife to propagate the kind But leisure to improve the mind;
Till curious sensations range About the tail and hint at change.
The weed with flowers stars the sky And monstrous forms go dimly by.
Tail fades! The vestiges of gills Swell with rare æther from the hills.
Now Time reared up in rocky crests Where flaming fowl involve their nests,
Across the rippled Stream of Space Throws shadows that obscure this place;
But in the valleys pipers play: ‘Over the hills and far away.’
REGRET FOR THE DEPOPULATION OF RURAL DISTRICTS
I have seen villages grow suddenly From dust and stand upright in the air With comfortable homes grouped round a spire; And in the fields strong women bending Down to coarse toil to nourish unborn women. But in the gardens, languid with flowers’ fragrance Girls linger on close lawns for unknown happenings, Tearing a petal in long shining fingers. So waiting whilst pear blossom apple blossom And white plum blossom are fallen down to earth, And the white moon fallen. Then a heap of dust That once was named, loved and familiar Lies unsubstantial in the eternal sunlight. Whence faint thoughts Stirring far down in twilight consciousness Move dark-boughed yew-trees over graves and stars.
COMPLAINT AFTER PSYCHO-ANALYSIS
Now my days are all undone, Spirit sunken, girls forgone, I will weave in other mesh Than fading bone and flesh.
Into cold deserted mind Drag the relics of the blind; And raise from wives none other sees Substantial families.
Hunt through woods of maidenhair Tangled in the shining air The forms of ecstasies achieved, Not then believed.
O Unicorns and jewelled Birds And trampling dappled moonlight herds, In icy glades now slain With arrows bright as pain.
Leap, Moon, from the berg’s pale womb! Frail Bride, out of Earth’s tomb! The stars are ashen cold Beneath their gold.
As the white sails of ships across the ocean, The last sounds fade when the sun has declined. I am alone. There is no motion Rippling the clear waters in the mind.
Only now the madrepores’ frail tentacles Sway languidly before they fall asleep; And waiting in their dark pinnacles The virgin medusae watch and weep.
Moving darkly among the forests of weed Ancient memories drag their crinkled shells To glades where crimson tree-trunks bleed Thickly, and hushed are the faint sea-bells.
Out of that silent depth loveless arising Undine sheds on the water her shining hair, Softly calleth her soul, devising A fragrance of music in the air.
I knew a man, he was my chum, But he grew blacker every day, And would not brush the flies away, Nor blanch however fierce the hum Of passing shells. I used to read, To rouse him, random things from Donne, Like ‘Get with child a mandrake-root,’ But you can tell he was far gone, For he lay gaping, mackerel-eyed, And stiff and senseless as a post, Even when that old poet cried, ‘I long to talk with some old lover’s ghost.’
I tried the Elegies one day; But he, because he heard me say, ‘What needst thou have more covering than a man?’ Grinned nastily, and so I knew The worms had got his brains at last. There was one thing that I might do To starve the worms; I racked my head For healthy things and quoted _Maud_. His grin got worse, and I could see He laughed at passion’s purity.
He stank so badly, though we were great chums I had to leave him; then rats ate his thumbs.
Cities with tall and graceful spires I know Mirrored in pools and rivers silver bright, That wither if the softest wind should blow And by a stone are blotted out of sight. Frailer they are than curvèd leaves of snow Fluttering down from the dark trees of night Slowly, and then unutterably slow, And ceasing as most quietly comes the light.
Water is carved like fern and stone takes on The flush of life when flesh lies quiet as stone; Whilst sinister and clownish, bright and wan, With solemn affectations the old Moon Spins dooms and weirds and meltings of the bone And universal silence to be soon.
Simple typographical errors were corrected.
Page 2: “fourm” was printed that way.
Pages 53-57: The poems of Frank Prewett are untitled except in the Table of Contents, so two consecutive blank lines are the only visible boundaries between them in some versions of this eBook.