WILLOW-SONG (by Roy Blackman)

A beautiful poem for the wonderful Dorothy Nimmo

(for Dorothy Nimmo and in homage to Anne Stevenson)

I went down to the river
to see the winter willow,
the old white willow blazing in the sun.
The river soiled and swollen,
dead weeds flat and matted,
the willow had collapsed and most was gone.

The inner trunk was rotten,
like chunks of painters’ ochre
to grind and scatter on an Old One’s grave.
I went down to the river
for comfort in mid-winter
but comfort wasn’t what the river gave.

The willow’s near immortal:
the roots around its ruin
will flaunt new shoots to flutter in the sun;
next winter by the river
the bush burn on, as ever,
but Dorothy my dear be dead and gone.

A willow is a flicker,
rivers aren’t immortal,
seas, planets, solar systems come and go;
everything pours forward
towards its dissolution;
her living and her writing made it slow.

I’ll go down to the river
and cut a wand of willow
and plant it in my garden in the sun.
Each winter that is left me
I’ll see it growing brighter
to blaze a little while when we’re both gone.

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(from) TWELVE SONGS (by W. H. Auden)

(XI)

Stop all the clocks. Cut off the telephone.
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone.
Silence the pianos, and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin. Let the mourners come.

Let the aeroplanes circle, moaning, overhead,
Scribbling on the sky the message, He Is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves.
Let traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my north, my south, my east and west,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song.
I thought that love would last for ever. I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now. Put out every one.
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean, and sweep up the wood,
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

 

AT PARTING (by Ann Ridler)

But when you are sad, think, Heaven could give no more.

Since we through war awhile must part
Sweetheart, and learn to lose
Daily use
Of all that satisfied our heart:
Lay up those secrets and those powers
Wherewith you pleased and cherished me these two years.

Now we must draw, as plants would,
On tubers stored in a better season,
Our honey and heaven;
Only our love can store such food.
Is this to make a god of absence?
A new-born monster to steal our sustenance?

We cannot quite cast out lack and pain.
Let him remain – what he may devour
We can well spare:
He never can tap this, the true vein.
I have no words to tell you what you were,
But when you are sad, think, Heaven could give no more.

REMEMBRANCE (by Emily Brontë)

Sweet Love of youth, forgive if I forget thee,
While the world’s tide is bearing me along

Cold in the earth – and the deep snow piled above thee,
Far, far removed, cold in the dreary grave!
Have I forgot, my only Love, to love thee,
Severed at last by Time’s all-severing wave?

Now, when alone, do my thoughts no longer hover
Over the mountains, on that northern shore,
Resting their wings where heath and fern-leaves cover
That noble heart for ever, ever more?

Cold in the earth, and fifteen wild Decembers
From those brown hills have melted into spring:
Faithful indeed is the spirit that remembers
After such years of change and suffering!

Sweet Love of youth, forgive if I forget thee,
While the world’s tide is bearing me along:
Sterner desires and other hopes beset me,
Hopes which obscure, but cannot do thee wrong!

No later light has lightened up my heaven;
No second morn has ever shone for me:
All my life’s bliss from thy dear life was given,
All my life’s bliss is in the grave with thee.

But when the days of golden dreams had perished,
And even Despair was powerless to destroy,
Then did I learn how existence could be cherished,
Strengthened, and fed without the aid of joy;

Then did I check the tears of useless passion,
Weaned my young soul from yearning after thine;
Sternly denied its burning wish to hasten
Down to that tomb already more than mine.

And even yet I dare not let it languish,
Dare not indulge in Memory’s rapturous pain;
Once drinking deep of that divinest anguish,
How could I seek the empty world again?

TO LARA (by Virginia Rounding)

“out of fiction into history and the death camps,
lost in a multitude of women with no names”

I went searching for my muse and I found you –
sleeping between freshly laundered sheets
while wolves you took for dogs were howling
in the dark beyond your safety zone.

Iced rowanberries in the snow and strong white arms –
your concentration in the library at Yuryatin –
abandoned weeping on the coffin of your lover:
you stole my mind to live through for a time.

The sleigh is swallowed into distance. In your final
understated disappearing a part of me goes too –
out of fiction into history and the death camps,
lost in a multitude of women with no names.

Julie Christie as Lara in David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago

THE TRIPLE FOOL (by John Donne)

“I am two fools, I know—
For loving, and for saying so
In whining poetry”

John Donne’s handwritten draft of his great poem “The Triple Fool.” Via the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.

I am two fools, I know—
For loving, and for saying so
In whining poetry;
But where’s that wiseman that would not be I,
If she would not deny?
Then, as th’ earths inward narrow crooked lanes
Do purge sea waters fretful salt away,
I thought, if I could draw my pains
Through rhymes vexation, I should them allay.
Grief brought to numbers cannot be so fierce,
For he tames it that fetters it in verse.

But when I have done so,
Some man, his art and voice to show,
Doth set and sing my pain,
And, by delighting many, frees again
Grief, which verse did restrain.
To Love and Grief tribute of verse belongs,
But not of such as pleases when ’tis read;
Both are increased by such songs,
For both their triumphs so are published;
And I, which was two fooles, do so grow three;
Who are a little wise, the best fools be.