ARGUING WITH GOD (by Elizabeth Bartlett)

I’m going to meet Him
arguing madly
and behaving badly,
scratching and biting

I’m not going to lie
down like a dog and die.
I’m going to gird my loins
in a Biblical way
and have them say
I went out fighting.

I’m going to write letters
to my elders and betters.
I’m going to protest loudly
to all who can hear
that what they all fear
is there in the writing.

I’m going to tell them
that it’s not an Amen,
but a Hallelujah instead.
Don’t make me swear
on the book or wear
a shroud for igniting.

I’m not going to admit
to the shame of it.
I’m going to meet Him
arguing madly
and behaving badly,
scratching and biting

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BADGER (by John Clare)

When midnight comes a host of dogs and men
Go out and track the badger to his den,
And put a sack within the hole, and lie
Till the old grunting badger passes by.
He comes and hears – they let the strongest loose.
The old fox hears the noise and drops the goose.
The poacher shoots and hurries from the cry,
And the old hare half wounded buzzes by.
They get a forked stick to bear him down
And clap the dogs and take him to the town,
And bait him all the day with many dogs,
And laugh and shout and fright the scampering hogs.
He runs along and bites at all he meets:
They shout and hollo down the noisy streets.

He turns about to face the loud uproar
And drives the rebels to their very door.
The frequent stone is hurled where’er they go;
When badgers fight, then everyone’s a foe.
The dogs are clapped and urged to join the fray’
The badger turns and drives them all away.
Though scarcely half as big, demure and small,
He fights with dogs for hours and beats them all.
The heavy mastiff, savage in the fray,
Lies down and licks his feet and turns away.
The bulldog knows his match and waxes cold,
The badger grins and never leaves his hold.
He drives the crowd and follows at their heels
And bites them through – the drunkard swears and reels.

The frighted women take the boys away,
The blackguard laughs and hurries on the fray.
He tries to reach the woods, an awkward race,
But sticks and cudgels quickly stop the chase.
He turns again and drives the noisy crowd
And beats the many dogs in noises loud.
He drives away and beats them every one,
And then they loose them all and set them on.
He falls as dead and kicked by boys and men,
Then starts and grins and drives the crowd again;
Till kicked and torn and beaten out he lies
And leaves his hold and crackles, groans, and dies.

THE LAWS OF GOD, THE LAWS OF MAN (by A. E. Housman)

The laws of God, the laws of man,
He may keep that will and can;
Not I.

The laws of God, the laws of man,
He may keep that will and can;
Not I. Let God and man decree
Laws for themselves and not for me;
And if my ways are not as theirs
Let them mind their own affairs.
Their deeds I judge and much condemn,
Yet when did I make laws for them?
Please yourselves, say I, and they
Need only look the other way.

But no, they will not; they must still
Wrest their neighbour to their will,
And make me dance as they desire
With jail and gallows and hell-fire.
And how am I to face the odds
Of man’s bedevilment and God’s?
I a stranger and afraid
In a world I never made.
They will be master, right or wrong;
Though both are foolish, both are strong.

And since, my soul, we cannot fly
To Saturn nor to Mercury,
Keep we must, if keep we can,
These foreign laws of God and man.

THE CONDEMNED (by C. S. Lewis)

“Easy to kill, not easy to tame. It will never breed
In a zoo for public pleasure”

There is a wildness still in England that will not feed
In cages; it shrinks away from the touch of the trainer’s hand,
Easy to kill, not easy to tame. It will never breed
In a zoo for public pleasure. It will not be planned.
Do not blame us too much if we that are hedgegrow folk
Cannot swell the rejoicings at this new world you make
—We, hedge-hogged as Johnson or Borrow, strange to the yoke
As Landor, surly as Cobbett (that badger), birdlike as Blake.
A new scent troubles the air—to you, friendly perhaps—
But we with animal wisdom have understood that smell.
To all our kind its message is Guns, Ferrets, and Traps,
And a Ministry gassing the little holes in which we dwell.

(Now, please click on the image and read the article. Oh and yes, the author of this poem is the C. S. Lewis.)

CITY OF SHADOWS by Ariana Franklin (Review)

Berlin, 1922 and 1932

Sometimes you read a historical novel which turns out to be a real eye-opener. It will be set in a period you thought you knew and deal with a situation you have been familiar with for years – and you find you were quite mistaken. It is like travelling back in a time-machine: oh, wow – so this is how it really was!

City of Shadows teleported me back to Berlin in 1922, and then, in Part II, 1932. The terrible post-war poverty (exactly the same as in post-war Leningrad – I’ve been reading a biography of Anna Akhmatova, the great Russian poet and will post a review of it here soon), the black market and the racketeers, the first ominous indications of the rise of Hitler and nazism: then ten years later, the organised brutality as Hitler makes his bid for the Chancellorship while his personal army smashes all opponents and gradually takes over even the police force, meaning that the many murders they commit will not even be investigated.

One such racketeer is “Prince Nick”, a self-styled member of the defunct Russian royal family living in exile in Germany. In fact, of course, he is just a con-man with a pseudo-elegant veneer and – now – a lot of money. His secretary / personal-assistant, based at the largest of his chain of night clubs, is Esther Solomonova, a multilingual Russian Jew who is extremely beautiful when seen in profile from the right, but had the left side of her face smashed by an axe in one of the two progroms she miraculously survived.

She does not approve of Nick’s activities, but has little choice. It is work for him or starve in the streets.

She is particularly disapproving when Nick decides to take up the cause of a young woman named Anna Anderson, a patient in a mental asylum who claims to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia, the only survivor of the massacre of the Czar and Czarina and their children.

Nick’s only interest, Esther knows, is Anastasia’s claim to the Romanov family fortune deposited in a bank in London.

But Esther comes to feel responsible for Anna when she realises that someone actually is hunting the poor woman, that it is not just paranoia, a fantasy, and that this “big man” who appears regularly once every six weeks, will stop at nothing to kill her. Anna claims that it is the Cheka, the Soviet hatchet-men, who have marked her down for assassination because she is the heir to the throne of “all the Russias”.

Esther does not agree.

Neither does Detective Inspector Schmidt, whose task it is to catch the assassin when he starts killing those around Anna in order to get to her. Schmidt is a good man caught up in a terrible situation where everything he believes in – freedom, equality, justice – is being systematically replaced by tyranny, racism and injustice.

In Esther Solomonova, the good man recognises the good woman.

But is Anna Anderson Anastasia? Other books have been written about her, arguing the toss one way or the other. And that doubt remains in this book right till the last pages. I have no intention of revealing the stunning ending, though I must say there are clues in the earlier chapters I should have noticed. Look for those clues, but don’t cheat and go peering at the back of the book – you will ruin the story for yourself!

I must also say that when I picked up this book I knew it would be well written, but I didn’t expect it to be as good as the wonderful Adelia books. In fact it is even better. It is one of the half-dozen or so best historical novels I have ever read. I only wish the author, Ariana Franklin (pen-name of Diana Morgan) was alive to hear me say that. And to write more books like it. She will be greatly missed.

BARBARA (by Jacques Prévert)

(from the French of Jacques Prévert)

Remember Barbara
The rain teeming down in Brest that day
And you striding smiling
Beaming streaming with water
Through the rain
Remember Barbara
The rain teeming down in Brest
And I passed you in rue de Siam
You smiled
And me I smiled too
Remember Barbara
I who didn’t know you
You who didn’t know me
Remember
Remember at least that day
Never forget
A man taking shelter in a doorway
And he called your name
Barbara
And you ran across to him in the rain
Streaming with water beaming delighted
And threw yourself into his arms
Remember that Barbara
And don’t mind me if I address you in this familiar way
I talk like this to all those I love
Even if I only ever saw them once
I talk like this to all those who love each other
Even strangers
Remember Barbara
Never forget
That right and happy rain
On your happy face
On that happy town
That rain on the sea
On the arsenal
On the Ouessant boat
Oh Barbara
What stupidity the war
What has become of you now
In that rain of iron
Of fire of steel of blood
And he who hugged you in his arms
With so much love
Is he dead disappeared or still alive
Oh Barbara
The rain is teeming down in Brest
As it did before
But it is not the same and all is ruined
It is a rain of terrible grief and desolation
It is not even any longer
That storm of steel of blood
Merely clouds
Starving like dogs
Dogs washed away
In the river of water falling on Brest
To decay far away
Far far away from Brest
Of which nothing is left.

AND WHILE WE’RE IN BREST IN THE 1940s, how about this abomination?

German soldiers entering a Soldatenbordell in Brest, France (1940). The building is a former synagogue.

LINES FROM NO-MAN’S-LAND by Michael Daugherty (Book Review)

This collection of fifty or so poems is actually made up of three smaller collections. The first, “Once Upon a Time Please”, contains only three poems I would want to return to again and again. “Berlin 29/1/33”, “Both Sides”, and this one:

ANYONE’S

In one room of a damned metropolis
a lonely madman works on a plan.

In an all-night corner coffee bar
a statistic prays for one last fix.

Under frozen branches in black park
pale fingers fumble with elastic.

Twelve inches away from the late-night news
a myopic spinster weeps in colour.

Someone somewhere begins a letter
to anyone’s silent son or daughter.

The third collection, “Lines from No Man’s Land”, seems to be about a failed marriage. It is simply a poet whingeing, therapeutic writing, and probably better left unpublished.

However – and I do hope you are still with me, for this is a big however – the second collection, “Love Should Be”, is a series of gems in which the poet sees and feels and notes in perfectly crafted lines what others see but lack the imagination to feel or the will, or the skill, to note. As I say, they are all gems, but I must draw attention to “Do You Need Love?”, and to “Escape”

ESCAPE

They found him eventually, of course:
face down in a stinking ditch, hidden by
bracken and gorse and bramble. After more

than thirty barred and bolted years, a dim
number became a public name, four terse
lines in the local paper conceding

him existence posthumously. I’m glad
he died outside, pleased he at least clawed back
that week to himself, that one lousy week

in an antiseptic lifetime, defied
those grim samaritans with needles full
of reason, eluded their muscular

compassion, electric understanding.
Yes, they found him in the end, the sick one,
the freak, the mad thief who stole one whole week

and spent it all. I see sane eyes above
neat uniforms beside that rotting ditch,
hear thoughts in trained minds click like rusted locks. 

And finally, my own personal favourite from this whole collection, a six-star poem if ever there was one, Wheat Field With Crows (for Vincent and too many others)” – the Vincent being, of course, Vincent van Gogh. It is perfect.