Favourite Poems

Instead of a Letter

 

Raining again, again my heart

is merely a blue-green mess of bruises, again

I am drenched in your red, green, yellow neons Warsaw

and Budapest;

Who’d have thought you’d have grown grey like my hair

like the rain,

like wind in the trees,

who’d have thought it?

Here you are every crumbling wall,

each flickering nightlight, each glowing

salute of roses,

you are every new house

and each new storey.

I press your hair to my face but the wind is slack,

it slips between my fingers,

and nothing remains but the sky in retreat,

and my heart which grows heavier,

between you, between me,

between earth and sky,

leaping without a parachute

in free fall.

 

István Bella (1940 – 2006)

 

 

Music Comes

 

Music comes

Sweetly from the trembling string

When wizard fingers sweep

Dreamily, half asleep,

When through remembering reeds

Ancient airs and murmurs creep,

Oboe oboe following,

Flute answering clear high flute,

Voices, voices — falling mute,

And the jarring drums.

At night I heard

First a waking bird

Out of the quiet darkness sing. . .

Music comes

Strangely to the brain asleep!

And I heard

Soft, wizard fingers sweep

Music from the trembling string,

And through remembering reeds

Ancient airs and murmurs creep; Oboe oboe following,

Flute calling clear high flute,

Voices faint, falling mute,

And low jarring drums;

Then all those airs

Sweetly jangled — newly strange,

Rich with change . . .

Was it the wind in the reeds?

Did the wind range

Over the trembling string;

 

Into flute and oboe pouring

Solemn music; sinking, soaring

Low to high,

Up and down the sky?

Was it the wind jarring

Drowsy far—off drums?

Strangely to the brain asleep

Music comes.

 

John Freeman (1880—1929)

 

 

from London Trivia

 

Where Covent-Garden’s famous temple stands

That boasts the work of Jones’ immortal hands,-

Columns, with plain magnificence, appear,

And graceful porches lead along the square:

Here oft my course I bend, when lo! from far,

I spy the furies of the Foot-ball War:

The ’prentice quits his shop, to join the crew,

Increasing crowds the flying game pursue.

Thus, as you roll the ball o’er snowy ground,

The gath’ring globe augments with every round.

But whither shall I run? The throng draws nigh,

The ball now skims the street, now soars on high,-

The dext’rous glazier strong returns the bound,

And jingling sashes on the pent-house sound . . .

 

John Gay (1685—1732)

 

 

From Craniology

 

’Tis strange how like a very dunce,

Man —with his bumps upon his sconce,

Has lived so long, and yet no knowledge he

Has had, till lately, of Phrenology —

A science that by simple dint of

Head—combing he should find a hint of,

When scratching o’er those little poll-hills,

The faculties throw up like mole-hills;

A science that, in very spite

Of all his teeth, ne’er came to light. . . .

The science thus — to speak in fit

Terms — having struggled from its nit,

Was seized upon by a swarm of Scotchmen,

Those scientifical hotch-potch men. . . .

These men, I say, made quick appliance

And close, to phrenologic science,

For of all learned themes whatever,

That schools and colleges deliver,

There’s none they love so near the bodles,

As analysing their own noddles . . .

 

Thomas Hood (1799—1845)

 

 

Nobbut God

 

“First on, there was nobbut God.”

Genesis I v. 1, Yorkshire Dialect trans.

 

First on There was silence.

And God said:

‘Let there be clatter.’

The Wind, unclenching,

Runs its thumbs

Along the dry bristles of Yorkshire Fog.

The mountain ousel

Oboes its one note.

After rain

Water lobelia

Drips like a tap

On the tarn’s tight surface—tension.

 

But louder,

And every second nearer,

Like chain explosions

From furthest nebulae

Light-yearing across space:

The thudding of my own blood.

‘lt’s nobbut me,’

Says God.

 

Norman Nicholson OBE (1914—87)

 

 

I Shall Paint My Nails Red

 

because a bit of colour is a public service.

because I am proud of my hands.

because it will remind me I’m a woman.

because I will look like a survivor.

because I can admire them in traffic jams.

because my daughter will say ugh.

because my lover will be surprised.

because it is quicker than dyeing my hair.

because it is a ten—minute moratorium.

because it is reversible.

 

Carole Satyamurti (1939—)

 

 

Oranges and Walnuts (Still life by Luis Meléndez)

We always remembered that Spanish still life

of walnuts and oranges.

We loved the coherence of its browns

and gold and almost green, the harmonious

light. The boxes held our eyes

with their persuasive geometry. Angles, triangles,

curves — the language of pure form in a world

of things, imperfections. You began

to talk about that lone orange almost

 

out of the picture — the one I’d missed: a reject,

was it, in a society of mellow aflluence?

And yet, I said, the atoms of this fugitive fruit

have come from the fire of stars.

 

Daphne Gloag (1933—)

 

 

The Future

 

A Wanderer is man from his birth.

He was born in a ship

On the breast of the river of Time,

Brimming with wonder and joy

He spreads out his arms to the light,

Rivets his gaze on the banks of the stream.

As what he sees is, so have his thoughts been.

Whether he wakes,

Where the snowy mountainous pass,

Echoing the screams of the eagles,

Hems in its gorges the bed

Of the new-born clear—flowing stream;

Whether he first sees light

Where the river in gleaming rings

Sluggishly winds through the plain;

Whether in sound of the swallowing sea —

As is the world on the banks,

So is the mind of man.

 

.. . Haply, the river of Time —

As it grows, as the towns on its marge

Fling their wavering lights

On a wider, statelier stream —

May acquire, if not the calm

Of its early mountainous shore,

Yet a solemn peace of its own.

 

And the width of the waters, the hush

Of the grey expanse where he floats,

Freshening its current and spotted with foam

As it draws to the Ocean, may strike

Peace to the soul of the man on its breast —

As the pale waste widens around him,

As the banks fade and dimmer away,

As the stars come out, and the night-wind

Brings up the stream

Murmurs and scents of the infinite sea.

 

Matthew Arnold (1822—88)

 

A Poem

July 7, 1941

 

I want to live.

I want to laugh and give comfort,

fight battles, love and hate,

hold heaven in my hand,

be free to breathe and shout:

I don’t want to die. No!

No.

 

Tragedy

Dec. 23, 1941

 

This is the hardest: to give yourself

and know that you are unwanted,

to give yourself fully and to think

that you vanish like smoke into the void.

 

Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger (1924 – 1944)

 

© Copyright retained by the authors:

‘Instead of a Letter’ from The Colonnade of teeth: modern Hungarian poetry. Bloodaxe, 1996.

‘Nobbut God’ from Collected Poems, Faber 8: Faber, David Higham Associates 2008.

‘I Shall Paint my Nails Red’ from Stitching the Dark: New and Selected Poems, Bloodaxe, 2005.

‘Oranges and Walnuts’ from A Compression of Distances, Cinnamon Press, 2009.

‘A Poem’ and ‘Tragedy’ from Harvest of Blossoms: Poems from a Life Cut Short, Northwest University Press 2006.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Replies to “Favourite Poems”

  1. It was hard to narrow down each writer’s outpouring. But something about courage and integrity found in each of these poems stood out for me.

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