Now – now, as low I stooped, thought I,
I will see what this snowdrop is;
So shall I put much argument by,
And solve a lifetime’s mysteries.
A northern wind had frozen the grass;
Its blades were hoar with crystal rime,
Aglint the light-dissecting glass
At beam of morning-prime.
From hidden bulb the flower reared up
Its angled, slender, cold, dark stem,
Whence dangled an inverted cup
For tri-leaved diadem.
Beneath these ice-pure sepals lay
A triplet of green-pencilled snow,
Which in the chill-aired gloom of day
Stirred softly to and fro.
Mind fixed, but else made vacant, I,
Lost to my body, called my soul
To don that frail solemnity,
Its inmost self my goal.
And though in vain – no mortal mind
Across that threshold yet hath fared! –
In this collusion I divined
Some consciousness we shared.
Strange roads – while suns, a myriad, set –
Had led us through infinity;
And where they crossed, there then had met
Not two of us but three.
I love all films that start with rain:
rain, braiding a windowpane
or darkening a hung-out dress
or streaming down her upturned face;
one big thundering downpour
right through the empty script and score
before the act, before the blame,
before the lens pulls through the frame
to where the woman sits alone
beside a silent telephone
or the dress lies ruined on the grass
or the girl walks off the overpass,
and all things flow out from that source
along their fatal watercourse.
However bad or overlong
such a film can do no wrong,
so when his native twang shows through
or when the boom dips into view
or when her speech starts to betray
its adaptation from a play,
I think to when we opened cold
on a starlit gutter, running gold
with the neon of a drugstore sign
and I’d read into its blazing line:
forget the ink, the milk, the blood –
all was washed clean with the flood
we rose up from the falling waters
the fallen rain’s own sons and daughters
and none of this, none of this matters.
Rising on a trail of fire
To touch the stars
The manchild cradled
In his husk of steel goes forth;
His rendezvous – the goddess
Shrouded close in silver mist,
The lady moon.
Dark visored, heavy shod,
He walks upon her breast,
Seeking from each particle
The secrets of eternity
In Time’s grey dust
That hugs her body like a shroud.
He drags his toe and heaps
The moondust deep,
And knows her beauty
Is as priceless as his dreams.
He falters, life-breath leaking
From a vent in clouded mist,
He falls and clutches at the stones,
Her garments sliding through his
Like the spilling of his life.
Grey dust is now his shroud,
Her breast his pillow
In his dreamless sleep.
The goddess slumbers, satisfied.
Her call is answered,
She is conqueror
Not vanquished, as forever
She embraces him in her cold arms.
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.
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
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.
This tomcat cuts across the
zones of the respectable
through fences, walls, following
other routes, his own. I see
the sad whiskered skull-mouth fall
wide, complainingly, asking
to be picked up and fed, when
I thump up the steps through bush
at 4 p.m. He has no
dignity, thank God! has grown
older, scruffier, the ash-
black coat sporting one or two
flowers like round stars, badges
of bouts and fights. The snake head
is seamed on top with rough scars:
old Samurai! He lodges
in cellars, and the tight furred
scrotum drives him into wars
as if mad, yet tumbling on
the rug looks female, Turkish-
trousered. His bagpipe shriek at
sluggish dawn dragged me out in
pyjamas to comb the bush
(he being under the vet
for septic bites): the old fool
stood, body hard as a board,
heart thudding, hair on end, at
the house corner, terrible,
yelling at something. They said,
‘Get him doctored.’ I think not.