THE LAKE ISLE OF INNISFREE (by W. B. Yeats)

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, and a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

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BEACHCOMBER (by George MacKay Brown)

Monday I found a boot –
Rust and salt leather.
I gave it back to the sea, to dance in.

Tuesday a spar of timber worth thirty bob.
Next winter
It will be a chair, a coffin, a bed.

Wednesday a half can of Swedish spirits.
I tilted my head.
The shore was cold with mermaids and angels.

Thursday I got nothing, seaweed,
A whale bone,
Wet feet and a loud cough.

Friday I held a seaman’s skull,
Sand spilling from it
The way time is told on kirkyard stones.

Saturday a barrel of sodden oranges.
A Spanish ship
Was wrecked last month at The Kame.

Sunday, for fear of the elders,
I sit on my bum.
What’s heaven? A sea chest with a thousand gold coins.

If you have ever been to Stromness you will recognise this scene instantly. And if you were there before 1996, you might well have passed George (that’s him) as you walked along that little road. He was a novelist as well as a poet (you can find my reviews of two of his novels  VINLAND and MAGNUS on this site) but his masterpieces, at least in my opinion, are his short stories. I’ll do a review of one of the collections sometime soon.

THE SORCERER (by A. J. M. Smith)

“the bright water will go swish
Over our naked bodies”

There is a sorcerer in Lachine
Who for a small fee will put a spell
On my beloved, who has sea-green
Eyes and on my doting self as well.

He will transform us, if we like, to goldfish:
We shall swim in a crystal bowl,
And the bright water will go swish
Over our naked bodies; we shall have no soul.

In the morning the syrupy sunshine
Will dance on our tails and fins
I shall have her then all for mine
And Father Lebeau will hear no more of her sins.

Come along, good sir, change us into goldfish.
I would put away intellect and lust,
Be but a red gleam in a crystal dish,
But kin of the trembling ocean, not of the dust.

from ULYSSES (by Alfred Lord Tennyson)

“my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. All times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea. I am become a name
For always roaming with a hungry heart;
Much have I seen and known – cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honoured of them all –
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravelled world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me –
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads – you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

LOVE SONG (by Sheenagh Pugh)

If I were a bank manager
and your debts were mounting,
I’d extend your overdraft
without even counting.

If I were an examiner
and you hadn’t a clue,
I’d give you the answers
and all my love, too.

If I were a shopkeeper
I’d use no lock;
you could lift my spirits,
my heart, and my stock.

If I were a constable
I’d turn a blind eye
to your stash, and smile
as the smoke wafted by.

If I were a magistrate
I’d fine you a kiss;
if I were your doctor
I’d be up for malpractice

but if I were me
and loved you that way,
you’d never guess,
and I’d never say.

THE NINTH COMMANDMENT (by Barney F. McClelland)

For this, I traveled an hour through
snow and Christmas traffic –
Latte-sipping, graduate program poets
and an uncomfortable chair.

An earnest young man stands,
delivers his vision of innocence.
A childhood peopled with grandfathers
hunting for arrowheads and fossils
in dry creek beds in Connecticut
or Kentucky – I can’t remember which –
my attention taken by her, his girl.
Adoring, yet cool, in her smart girl glasses,
black hair wound tight as watch springs,
and those legs, long enough
to hold your shoulders like a vise.

He now tells us he is a tree –
imagining his leafy fingers
outstretched to the sky –
while I imagine mine
reaching under her blouse.
I ask myself why he isn’t writing about her?
As he tells how his branches scrape the water
her branches scraping my back,
The wind sings to him,
She nearly breaks my eardrum
with her screaming.
He tastes the summer rain
I taste blood where she’s
bitten my lower lip.

Now he’s in a schoolroom
in Indiana or Illinois,
his obsession with geography brings
me back to earth and the question
of why doesn’t he write about her?
But, he will – someday – the day she leaves him
and every day after that
when she steps out of his
vision of innocence and
into someone’s a little less so.

DREAMS (by Walter de la Mare)

Be gentle, O hands of a child
Be true: like a shadowy sea
In the starry darkness of night
Are your eyes to me.

But words are shallow, and soon
Dreams fade that the heart once knew;
And youth fades out in the mind,
In the dark eyes too.

What can a tired heart say,
Which the wise of the world have made dumb?
Save to the lonely dreams of a child,
‘Return again, come!