DONNA ELVIRA speaks (from THE DON JUAN TRIPTYCH) (by John Heath-Stubbs)

But once, in the market-place,
I peered between the curtains of my litter
And saw a gypsy-girl dancing among the crowd;
Flaunting like a flower her brown body, she fixed her eyes –
Eye of a gypsy, eye of a wolf –
Upon the man she wanted, and drew him forward,
Swaying her hips and arms, and her young breasts,
To the rhythm of castanets and clapping hands;
She seemed as ancient
As a goddess painted on a cave’s flat wall
In red and yellow ochre; and beckoned him –
A tall young mule-driver – to love as to destruction.
Then my blood cried that I was one with her,
And one with the shifting moon, and the harsh sea,
And the hungry grave, the last of all your lovers.

from ARS POETICA (by John Heath-Stubbs)

One thing imprimis I would have you remember:
Your poetry is no good
Unless it move the heart. And the human heart,
The heart which you must move,
Is corrupt, depraved, and desperately wicked.


You have got to make the language say
What is has not said before;
Otherwise, why bother – after a millennium
(And a bit more) of English poetry – and you a wren
Rising from the eagle’s back?
Work against language. It is your enemy.
Engage in a bout with it,
But like a Japanese wrestler
You will overcome by not resisting.


So through patience, perseverence, luck and that sort of thing
(I can only wish you luck)
You may arrive at an actual poem –
An interjected remark
At a party which has been going on
For quite some time (and will, we trust, continue);
A party at which you are not
A specially favoured guest
And which you will have to leave before it is over.

Let us hope the others will occasionally recall it.

But to you it will seem a little world.
You will look at your creation and see that it is good.
In this you will be mistaken;
You are not, after all, God.

TO A POET A THOUSAND YEARS HENCE (by James Elroy Flecker & John Heath-Stubbs)

(This is James Elroy Flecker’s original poem, written around 1912)


I who am dead a thousand years,
And wrote this sweet archaic song,
Send you my words for messengers
The way I shall not pass along.

I care not if you bridge the seas,
Or ride secure the cruel sky,
Or build consummate palaces
Of metal or of masonry.

But have you wine and music still,
And statues and a bright-eyed love,
And foolish thoughts of good and ill,
And prayers to them who sit above?

How shall we conquer? Like a wind
That falls at eve our fancies blow,
And old Maeonides the blind
Said it three thousand years ago.

Oh friend unseen, unborn, unknown,
Student of our sweet English tongue,
Read out my words at night, alone:
I was a poet, I was young.

Since I can never see your face,
And never shake you by the hand,
I send my soul through time and space
To greet you. You will understand.


(This is John Heath-Stubbs’ response to Elroy Flecker’s poem, written 50 years or so later)


I who am dead a thousand years
And wrote this crabbed post-classic screed
Transmit it to you – though with doubts
That you possess the skill to read,

Who, with your pink, mutated eyes,
Crouched in the radioactive swamp,
Beneath a leaking shelter, scan
These lines beside a flickering lamp;

Or in some plastic paradise
Of pointless gadgets, if you dwell,
And finding all your wants supplied
Do not suspect it may be Hell.

But does our art of words survive –
Do bards within that swamp rehearse
Tales of the twentieth century,
Nostalgic, in rude epic verse?

Or do computers churn it out –
In lieu of songs of War and Love,
Neat slogans by the State endorsed
And prayers to Them, who sit above?

How shall we conquer? – all our pride
Fades like a summer sunset’s glow:
Who will read me when I am gone –
For who reads Elroy Flecker now?

Unless, dear poet, you were born,
Like me, a deal behind your time,
There is no reason you should read,
And much less understand, this rhyme.