1977 is a single poem of book length in four parts corresponding roughly to the seasons. Since writing Night Out half-a-dozen years earlier I’d wondered on and off about engaging with a poem of similar length or greater: eventually the idea of writing a kind of diary-poem for the year came to me. I let the possibility brew for twelve months and dived in. (Later book-length poems are 1984 – an entirely different concept – School and Quickself.) I thought I’d let public and private jostle together in a haphazard sequential way somewhat as they do in the general scheme of things. I hoped to leave a record of a kind of a ‘year in motion’: at the very least it was an exhilarating exercise.

Part 1  /  Part 2  /  Part 3  /  Part 4


the diary-poem of a year


I drink to the new year. Now the plan
is real that I have harboured twelve months long.
To write, to write, to sail, caught by the wind
and etch a trackless course out on the sea.
No diary of the times, no “log” is this
that speaks of fact by sequence, but a net
slung out and spinning lines and images
to hold the year in motion, as I go
upon my voyage.
Entering on the year
and mapless space I halt as I set out;
and take my glasses off and polish them.

I drink to British Rail. Convolvulus of fog
sticking in the rails and in sides of carriages
and in all the union-minded points and signals.
For it so happens, on the first day of the year
I sat in a train, the train sat on the rails,
the driver sat on his hands, and union rules sat on initiative.
Sat, sat, sat on the will to go.
The working year is powered too grievous-slow.

Rules cloning men.
Sit in the driver’s cab and do nothing
because you are a fireman left over from the days of steam.
Sit in the driver’s cab and do nothing
because you are a driver with no guard (but a fireman).
Sit in the driver’s cab, the driver’s cab,
England, Mother of Parliaments, and mouth and do nothing
left over from the days of steam.

England expects every man to do his Duty.

Duty is Rules, Rules, Rules
left over from the days of men.

And the next morning I was in a fair church
exhorted to pray for peace in the world
and men’s hearts. I have not often prayed
nor now; for I was horrified
at a prayer the service used. ‘We are not worthy
so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table.
But you are the same, Lord,
whose nature is always to have mercy.
Grant us therefore, gracious Lord,
so to eat the flesh of your dear son…’
I sat and fumed at those I was with,
at their blindness, as the ego fouls piety,
the atrocity lodged in words . . .
while they knelt. At the end, the gross image done
of Christ-in-man,
all stood – and there was light in the white church.

And there was light as the new ice crackled
in the church of my garden the morning after,
and there were people all day who took a pew
freshly seated about the floor of the house.
This was happening up and down the road
for no good reason except it always has,
and to the spirit of the shuffling congregation
that trudges earth’s floor in the casual conversation
of souls, I raise a glass, shout, pledge the year
and christen years to come. Let man be neighbourly
and the rest is dross, shavings, the off-chance
scraps of reality the media make news.
Yesterday there was a fire in South Road
and three daughters died. Only their dance of life
stands out like a piece of news that does not die.

Dabble in the pain,
magic mirror, two-way screen,
show us our last wound and scar,
dabble in the pain.
Dabble in the pain,
funeral type on stiff-sheet page,
photo in the magazine –
dabble in the pain.
This is 1977 –
dabble in the pain.

Imagination is a private thing.
None shares at last his suffering.
But where one holds a microphone, ten hold their breath –
and glamorise the way to dusty death.

Nor is it only death they are switched onto,
the TV assassins, staring at their bed of pain,
but all the heart’s poor frills and ecstasies
pumping about them in dilute confusion.
While radio plays, a civilised anaemia of sound,
with women’s pukka voices bred from the drama-schools,
and a virgin-bass heartiness of men,
usually about marriage, bounce off the window-sills
and ricochet with devices, to keep the ironing going.
The year is filled with centuries of nonsense!
I’ll switch it off then, leave it to the peasants.

And tell you, instead, of a school
in darkest London. Here there are rows of fruitsellers
sitting at desks in a withered country
with a biro stuck to their empty hands
scratching the deeds and articles to relinquish
their name, their name . . .
their feeling for the first-fruits of the earth.
The place is black with laughter and misunderstanding
of trivial acts meant both to offend and amuse . . .
one must be at home to amuse.
Give me a feather great bird a feather to fly
somewhere under the sun
where I can hear the surf of my own country,
and see the busy angry people
that are one people –
but here I’ll take the plaster from my eyes,
and slowly, coldly, see my way
to being a brick in the wall, a servant-mechanic.

I am no-one from Pakistan.
I start in the wrong form (my mother says I am eleven).
I spend my time gambling, bunking off lessons.
Now I am sixteen and reading slowly,
but I have learnt one thing at my school –
to like it here.

It is difficult to see the white children.
When the flags were raised for the school’s 40 nations
in parade before parents at prizegiving,
the Union Jack was both for all and some,
the other flags for some. So the English –
by which I mean, those with an English mind –
are used to make the others feel at home;
and so accept a certain loss of colour.
It is difficult to see our own children
who have run to us from London streets
and talk with knowing sharpness. It is difficult
to be on their side. For it is impossible
to make the mind of the school “an English mind”.

Too many
and too quickly
from too far.

It is so easy to crumble the good of the school
in the fingers of murderous words. To shatter the glass
and kick the toilets down, desecrate walls,
vandalise lockers, tear books. It is so easy
to snipe at substance; and so hard, so hard
to accompany the substance in its worth.
The fact of help determinedly given
to scores and scores and scores of newborn people.
No, let us vandalise as schoolboys do,
but with our uglier weapons, those of words.
It is the teacher’s way, to criticise
the house he lives in.

And we have a new dwelling complete with car-park
and gyms, theatre. And in it there could alter
a little, a very little, the mute story
of a chipped stone in the wall, the Balham soul.

Too many
and too quickly
from too far.

It will be many years
before the stone is whole,
and little enough that’s due to us.
What role
will a new school take – what structure give?
It will be many years
before the scholars with the scoundrels flow,
and Balham live.

Too few
too slowly
are near.

Let man be neighbourly. The school may bring a good wind
to the fortunes of the town. So long in life, so long
to close the door against the wild cold air
seething in nations and communities
and in our skulls. So long to raise the ramparts
that fortify against the senseless stones
of chaos and clashing needs. Never will it be done,
the spark across the gap, true-circuit city
and powerful man. But it is what we are trying.

In the brief second between birth and dying
we fight the door.

Time for a football match! Twenty thousand boots
clumping their way voraciously to a feed,
a banquet of kicks, side-tackles and shrewd passes.
Stump in the straggle-queue till through the turnstile,
batten upon the benches, sway and shout
as your team, my team, his and her team
try the impossible – to be a team.
The farce of luck vies with the thread of skill
that snaps and re-snaps, re-asserts itself,
clinches opponents in a granny-knot
which they slip free, to cast out their own line.
With toffee lockjaw stared I at the pitch
and saw, instead, a tournament of knights
straight out of Chaucer; and I saw the exchange
of money, looking down upon that floor,
the self-important back-and-forth of brokers;
I saw the battle-hard certainties of men
flogging their Q.E.D. yet still unproven;
I saw a muddy canvas in a frame
and England pictured – still I spun on the tide
of chances and half-chances near the goal.
You must see soccer raw to glimpse the country.
(And yet I thought a pound was steep for entry.)

Out of that to the muck
of the worst decision in the West this year.
Abu Daoud is freed and the French sell planes.
Kill off the Jewish athletes – France goes to it,
swelling the nerve it takes to kill, to blackmail.
Discard the Munich policeman who died with them.
And Israel’s last-but-one Olympic team –
what are they to the French? A raspberry to them and all such!
So jeer at Geoffrey Jackson, “people’s prisoner”,
honk at the Tylers, holding out under a tree,
and a fingers-up to the government that risked them!
And all who risk good lives that terrorists
earn not so much by terror – children, adults,
hardest of all the governments behind them
counting the seconds out in armchairs – dirty them,
French yahoos, who sold Daoud with their planes
for an oily handshake with Egypt. For the athletes’ blood.

And in the following days
the French tongue has its uses:
to seduce with bland

I drink to mid-Jan. Broomstick branches jut
in the streetlight yellow of a grumbling dark road
at 6 p.m. Feet petition at bus-stops. Wheels
grind home or off to entertainment. Night’s in charge.
And in the morning it has left its wealth
in silver-paper and swift gambling-tables
soon lightly rolled back, thrown aside by day.

Day beyond the printed word.
Out of the nighthouse of bone, rough body,
the mind opens to light, water and sound.
Move into a second home, a neighbourhood of clothes,
encounters with food and time, the world’s back-yard of people.
And day is a fork in the hand, driven under the foot,
the means, the machine of life: and we are the flowers of that day.

Time to go back, go back
over the hill of Britain. There is a plain
inhabited by heather and dwarf thistles
and giant hanging stones.
Arranged in gateways
they stand before the sunrise and were mighty
when Angle-land began.
There was a storm
in the last minutes of last hundred years –
an anger-wind from West – a gateway fell.
The whole land cried Stonehenge is not to go
– the headline to our century’s first day.

The cold stone stands. An edge shifts, slides,
a toppling mountain towers above the thistles –
Stonehenge is not to go – yet further gone.
But the ancient spirit speaks against the wind.

am I
in circles of treetrunk stone
the calendar of man

5,000 years is nearer in the night.
Present upon the darkness figures loom,
hauling, hitching, hoisting with massive care.
The sun bursts on the heelstone – hear them shout,
millions of worshippers in the godhead sky!
They chose the spot – their god knows how –
to make a year-clock accurately run.

am I
in circles of treetrunk stone
the calendar of man

a kind of writing

Stonehenge watch out this paltry year for me,
and to your glorious words I dedicate
these useless shards of mine. Oh that our century would
look back, look back!

But always forward. ‘We must adjust to changing times,’
the President said, ‘and keep to the proved and old
by way of a new spirit, a new beginning.’
Change has us by the throat. ‘We will seek mercy,
humility, justice. Build unity and grow tolerance.
Boost the family, forge productive work,
underline the law and cancel out privilege,
re-pinnacle the Government. All this
in four years. Eight if you insist.’

It must happen, must happen, must happen. We want something out of this.
What happen? Not what that damn teddy-bear said,
but something’s got to break, man, something’s got to give.
Just pin your eyes back, analyse. It’s the way to live.

It has us by the throat. We are geared to it, dead set,
junkies, craving for change. There is always an unused vein
to hit. Somewhere on this tired body, an unworn vein
to use. Somewhere, somewhere – find the kill.

Forward into the future! Can we not see
the root of life is in the past
the stem takes water from the past
and petals open by the virtue
of a two-way route, unhindered
making now from promise of the past

‘All aboard the Peanut Special’

‘This side of the world’ (his deep thoughts run)
‘is ours, not his, hers, yours
or mine – and I shall keep it so.’
The American dream endures.

But we are on the train. The patched-up line is running
to Washington. And Britain is on it, and Europe –
the Carter closeness has railroaded us.
We too are the people of Plains.

What’s it like on the Peanut Special?
Try not to watch the driver –
he seems to drive with his hand on his heart.
He’s a dodger of minefields of some art,
but I’d give up my place for a fiver.

Yet rather here than elsewhere, if we can
slow down, and let the argument subside.
Let meetings of the East and West take colour,
the slight co-operation come to view.
Let us not buzz with issues (though it mean lives)
but wrench our gaze from the screaming small wheels
to the infinitesimal leap of the larger one.
Let the rhetoric of politicians not race our thoughts.
Let us glean reassurance from the past Earth
that took its time. But how, how hunt this wild flower
if it mean lives?

This is the dirt in the air:
I rail against the French,
and you the Irish, he the Greek –
and cook up our own stench.

For as simply as the Plainsfolk take a train for that great station –
a group of people sound more wrong if we run down their nation.

Wrongs. Such wrongs. How tired I am of wrongs.
A tennis player remarked today that he enjoyed his life:
‘It’s a booming game and booming business, where the perks are rife,
you make friends with the rich enough to do the things they want,
enjoy good food, live in nice places, fly out for a jaunt;
all this is in top tennis, and since I enjoy the game
I’ll aim to stay a part of it – and keep the perks the same.’
This happy man who plays the game well, though you may despise
contentedness, and I do not – try not to criticise.

A woman passed me on a Balham pavement –
a child was sticking out from the top of her coat
face to face with her.

What parts of the sky will be a road to that child?

Will he be a concert-pianist, music pouring from his shirt-sleeves?

Or will he play the penny whistle on a freezing night for small coins?

Whichever one, speak of songs not wrongs.

The year begins to open. Midwinter spring
has its own main route to summer. The temper of light
unfreezes, on a rare day: the air cold-burns
on autumn’s other side. The time’s new character
comes slap upon the day. And wealth is minted.

And wealth is minted. Turning from the year
and flash of fortune in the air too early –
(the minute-hand brushes five in the hour – )
I find true fortune, wrongs all burnt away.

She sat in lamplight in a red armchair,
self-contained, petite, middle-aged,
careful of her speech. A daughter married,
a son at college with problems, husband with heart-strain,
herself with her own certainties and silence.
She has learnt to be careful with the truth.
I asked her, ‘Do you go back to Poland ever?’
She spoke a long time, words of gold on gold.

‘Yes, I have been back twice. In 1970
I saw my sister. There were differences.
There they do not mind asking for money
to make a journey or buy something special.
Here we do not ask. And we have less
than they imagine, money to do things with.
I do not hold to Poland now. They say
it should mean more. But what I lived for then
is altered now, and buried in the time.

‘Some things I shall not forget. I took a tram
through the ghetto streets. People were lying on the road,
dying on their faces. Why the Germans did that . . .
and they shot my brother, and my father saw it,
it disturbed his mind. The boy was between two groups,
for the men and the children – running, and they shot him.
A soldier walked over to him and shot him again.

‘I will remember prison, my shame in there.
Because I was in the Underground, my mother too.
They killed her. I was glad to see
she has a hero’s grave.

‘When Russia automatically took over
we came here, to the Government-in-Exile.
After five years we knew it did not exist.
But to go back was risky in the new régime.

‘We had a family, everything to do.

‘I belong here now. It is a good country
to hold the passport of. It is not “nervy”.
Sometimes I go to Polish Mass, but the young
are not like us and there are more of them.
The parish church is nearer. Why we did all that . . .
I am not sure it was right. Poland is in the claws
of Russia and Germany. I am sorry for the country,
not in the mould now. I speak the language
and all say I am Polish. Yet all I know
who live around me like the trees on the road
carry another version of the same story.
My need is here now.’

Some stories end ten books before their time.
The character survives his actual death:
rusted in his shell he does no more
than in unhope or hating, spend his breath.
Inhabit clothes, continue a numb body,
exist for nought – and chuck his soul away.
But some are chaptered in the stars, –
and soldered to the sky they gain by day
a natural touch, the grace and zest of words –
sweep of the wind and singing birds
and in the night a brilliant pause, a rest.
The motion of the stars is understood
though not translated; and the story ends
in an unguessed continuance. Stories should.

The War is still alive, brains are burning with it,
families hacked away by it, countries churning out of it.
Though we seem to forget, it will take a few years yet
to get away from it.

But in the war that follows War,
the struggling to spring-season
after the axe, is courage more
germane and forceful than before:
to foster greenleaf reason.

Not yet the new leaf but the lighter day
rides with my poem-horse thundering through the year,
and in the colours carried on his back
there comes to light (so quelling for a time
the red of anger, yet soon overcome)
the gold tint of experience.
Those words
so unadorned, redress the year’s small days:
in her quiet life I saw the sun ablaze.

How can we get out of thinking of disasters?
(Snow in Buffalo, in Buffalo the snow,
8 trapped in their car, every way no go)
How can we get out of cursing politicians?
(Blue of the clear-sky view, red in tooth and claw,
orange or is it yellow? – room for a motley fellow)
How can we get out of cul-de-sacs of mind?
(Card A reads DISASTER, card B THEN ONE BLAMES . . .
puzzles enigmas stratagems and games)
How can we get into the year’s full treasure-house?
(Stop reading life like newsprint, still keep the peepers open,
in or out of it let a story happen)

Meanwhile with glasses off I feast my eyes
on a bowl of life at the closest, clearest range:
five hyacinths in a circle, veering apart,
each flower a crowded song of sextuplet bells;
from the dried purple-skin bulbs in crumbly black earth
spring up in waterfall strength the green ski-leaves;
but the forest is overpowered by its flowers,
magenta, powder-blue, pink, pink and white,
leaning, in a green arm-wave, ladies of light.

As they are, only Van Gogh could have painted these.
But there is more than one picture my mind has painted
of scenes in the street, of the nerve of life in trees,
the sky, or the sun on sea, or the star-unstinted
mass of night. I have many times painted these
with my mind (being illiterate with a brush)
and it is the raw nerve that shows beautiful
of the universe, that my mind has wanted to touch
by the way of art. I could never fulfil
the need to paint – especially glimpses of people:
a large black man in the seat of an underground train,
a small boy on his knee, face like a scrubbed apple
tilted aslant to the other’s, not in plane,
nor the white against black, as it seemed; yet the peace of the two
made harmony round these technical tensions.
Neither was smiling. The smaller face seemed new
against the older, in shadow. All the pretensions
of art-plus-a-social-motive are gathered here;
and none was then. And another time I saw
at a ticket-barrier, a painting of words heard clear.
As the crowd sludged through in the station’s mindless roar,
a ticket-collector either side of the gap
chatted and laughed across the heads of the crowd.
Their words must have been lost under the slap
of general noise; yet I saw them talking aloud –
I could hear them hearing each other, and picture it too.
To say that one was black and one was white,
a man and a woman – would seem to prink up the true.
But it was. And those lost words, heard, were a riveting sight.

There are many ounces of freshness (millions) packed up in the day
and covered over, wedged up, spread out thin over a coating
of gelatinous mind-patterns. So much fact is frittered away
in the hiss and smoke of theory. The new seems not worth noting.

But there is a new side to life in England.
The posturing’s gone. Can you not feel a light rain
on this old rock? New voices, new drives, a new reason?
We are starting again.

But to the year. The jasmine danders out
and the richer yellow of the ground-humble crocus.
A wet and zesty feel about the garden
has me waking from a winter-coma:
barking their way to sight are the hounds of Spring.

And now it is the lovers’ day.
Messages fly in warm profusion
and all anonymously say
thine and mine make sweetest fusion,
a locked-up casket love, and so forth.
Sealed up as in potter’s kiln
is sweethearts’ yearning, now to go forth
nicknamed out of A.A.Milne.

This is what our love comes down to,
insufficient find of words:
shopsoiled words from Woolworths bound to
lionlimb love, array of birds,
instincts quickening together.
If I try to pen a line,
inside me Pooh Bear hums to Kanga,
‘Be my honey Valentine.’

But I’ll better that low jingling.
He who died on the Roman road,
Valentinus, had he an inkling
of the schmaltz his name bestowed
on love, would surely have re-croaked.
As much for him as anyone
I order Pooh Bear’s words revoked:
and now my love-song is begun.

To praise the woman made known to me
is my honour. First, she is kind;
not tolerant-smiling kind but giving-kind;
a quick concern in her thoughts that puts behind
divisive manner.

To praise the woman made known to me
is my honour. Then, she is sharp;
not hen-jabbing sharp but intelligent-sharp,
in touch with all sides of life at once: and no harp
has sounded finer.

Then, she is close to me;
and trees-together close though we turn away
we are in love. Nor can I pass this day
without a glimpse of her the other day
in bath-demeanour:

for she sat light
in morning-light; knees together, arms forward,
head up, hair back; and all was light and forward
and singing. To praise the woman made known to me
is my honour.

This was played and sung by a troubadour
in a bower of sun, in a smoky, mail-dinging hall,
the Queen’s Court, or an old barn in a village.
I loose a love-shaft in and out of time
to add or not its breath to the wind that wanders
minstrel-like among the fields of song.

Meanwhile, take the seriousness of this:

City of London and Westminster, South.
Peter Leonard Brooke, ‘Conservative’;
William George Boaks, ‘Air Road Public Safety’;
Dennis William Delderfield, ‘New Britain’;
Ralph Oakden Herbert, ‘Christ, Country, Commonwealth, Christian Constitution’;
Paul Terence Kavanagh, ‘National Front’;
Michael Lobb, ‘National Party’;
Peter Charles Mitchell, ‘Campaign for Homosexual Civil Rights’;
Malcolm Murray Noble, ‘Labour’;
Angus Muir Scrimgeour, ‘Liberal’;
William Frederick Thompson, ‘Christian Outreach to Britain, Anti-Pornography’.

What can it be, this molehill in a ferment?
– This is democracy. No further comment.

I wish we laughed like the Rhine women
who run around on “Fast Women’s Eve”
and claim kisses, and cut ties off.
They were dancing in the Chancellery,
descendants of the washerwomen of Beuel,
and the Federal Government fell through for a day.

I wish it would happen at Westminster.

But a Cabinet change or two at Crosland’s death
is the mark here. And a Benn-Williams debate
on the public ownership theme – the inter-function
of Labour’s mind and heart.
A dead theatre of ideas,
sold to the outside world by a grandfather-clock:
going, going, going, going, gone.
Can you hear the theme-tune of the 10 o’clock news?

By the margin of the Thames I sat down and slept . . .
and cardboard figures on the ends of sticks
strutted forward into a rigged spotlight:
the beam was narrow, artificial, cold.

Shall I tell you where the sun is shining?

At a locomotive factory in Prague
22 out of 14,000
signed against the charter of human rights . . .
the rest have cut the strings. A lack of puppets
exists, outside the Government: teachers, technicians, clerks,
thousands on the production line are saying

Sans job, sans benefits – still they add their name
to Charter 77; and Russia’s shame.

The dissident movement is beginning to shift.
The landslide element has not yet come adrift;
but the teeth of workers are starting to tear at it.
When the mountain moves – we may inherit it.

Well, at least that would bring us out fighting.

Meanwhile I prefer to think about potatoes
tumped away under the dark lid of ground.
They will declare the earth’s unblindfoldness
in sweetest Spring.

God, how I hate you, Thomas Stearns.
Your poem denies that green leaves spring,
that water runs; that the shoot yearns
towards the sun, no lingering:
that the fibres of the body sing
piano to fortissime;
and that the mind’s no hamstrung thing.
T.S.Eliot, go away.

You’ve queered the pitch for fifty years.
You drained the English language land
of a new, modern flower: the fierce
tenderness that Owen planned.
You took the earth and left it sand.
You took our red and left it grey.
You took our terrain – still unmanned.
T.S.Eliot, go away.

Yes, you were holy. But it’s time
you took your holiness elsewhere.
So rare a flower, your orchid-rhyme
fed on dead matter. The word-air
never was cleared. Now I declare
your time is up, you’ve had your say,
the skies have heard your saint’s despair.
T.S.Eliot, go away.

Why ‘The Waste Land’? The land’s a yob
deaf to the roots – but never waste.
The land itself does heaven’s job
and heaven is in the land replaced.
And so with souls. With undue haste
a perfect poet towards God turns, 
to leave life’s lovely land debased.
God, how I hate you, Thomas Stearns.

But the mind jumps at us. A tap is pouring blood
seeped from a lake where 200 Africans lie
headless. That was 5 years ago in Uganda,
but the discoloured water still bursts out
in a Kampala kitchen in front of my eyes.
Spillage is everywhere and non-stop,
Amin is everywhere and non-stop,
I pulled white butterflies’ wings as a boy,
now we townsfolk shelter behind a screen
the other side of which is attack.

Or townsfolk.

Bay and howl at the Eliot moon:
the light you are seeing will warm you soon.

But he opened the mind’s sluices. And it was done by others
in art, psychology and stone. The novel and the play.
Two World Wars and an ever-flickering screen
glint in the teeth of the current. A long, long scream of men
and the century’s by, the years wash over the rocks.
We are out in the open, somewhere around the stars.

No, not this way, the para-real, contortion.
– That’s what he does to you. Isn’t the man a caution?

But recognise, this once-and-only Spring,
a visiting-card held in the hand of the wind.
It tells of summer’s characteristics
like a pass of identity, like a genetic code
held to facilitate its own arrival.
For these are winter’s last official days.

The wind is redolent of birth,
buds popping open, colour usurping grass,
children all over the garden shouting.
This part of the planet will be rich.

The planet is a-wandering
the nowhereness of space.
The local sun is squandering
richness on its face.
The planet is a half-brick slung
by a forgotten hand,
cast out. Yet each year it is young.
Who’d understand?

The planet is a-wandering
the nowhereness of space

Out of the sunlight there has sprung
a flower, a fern,
a forest full of the chattering tongue,
the mind to learn.
Look! in the blaze of flowers to come
what mind will see
the first stage of this living sum,
or last degree?

The local sun is squandering
richness on its face

Who knows where Spring has come from? What mind stars?
O beautiful form,
night-Earth, seas richer than the moon or Mars,
your breath is warm.
The planet is a half-brick slung
by a forgotten hand,
cast out. Yet each year it is young.
Who’d understand?

We go on exploring in ceaseless wonder
lands fertile and waste. There has been a Spring
at the back of all rocks in space: like ours, like ours,
like ours. Is it not a vernal impulse
that put a Viking lander on the red planet?

There has been a Spring
at the back of all rocks

What is the furthest rocket-fuel? To see for ourselves
the first-hand at work. Can it be our work too?
In A.D. 8 of the Space Age I circled Mars:
first I saw dust and the wind blowing:
then slopes. Rocks like grains of pepper. Desert.

What is the furthest rocket-fuel? To see for ourselves

They checked the soil for life and drew a blank.
But I say I saw life. For in my view
on such a foray what we are looking for
is not a new plant but a sense of Nature.

The further news of Time’s creation. Spring.


The year is introduced. Its name is known
to one at least who writes out poems and cheques.
Money outruns the days of a month. Bills are dropping
airy hints in their computer print-outs
like a conspiracy: an ultimatum.
God! but the land is obsessed with money. Who knows
that there are twenty-six letters that mean far more
than the fancy capital L that is the pound sign?
Money is a necessity like eating:
buying the way. But the dirt in the nails
in the hands that claw for extra is for keeps.
The fighting-for-food is done with claws
and fighting-for-gain – but when it comes to spoil,
claws are for sheathing.

And always the flick of silver across a table
watched by a pair of eyes. And the abacus beads
are shot across the mind: again and again
the income’s counted, matched with contract, till
the notched sticks fit, the computations tally.
The mind goes crazy like a pinball machine
lighting up buffers, when it thinks of more.
But where to draw the line? Before those beads
change to the treasure of a rosary:
before a needful chore becomes a prayer.

The figuring I must do with cash
for our sake and the children’s
is like repairing a Wall Street crash.
Each month I’m in the doldrums.

I hack away at school all day,
I bark, breathe fire and bellow.
But when at last I hit the hay
my salary is my pillow.

But whether by mismanagement
or a more gifted touch
the hour is come, my sleep is spent:
the bills are far too much.

And I must sharpen a pencil, sharpen
wits, and do my sums
to make ends meet and leave them open.
Alack! the uppance comes.

The month’s in shadow, half burned down.
How is it that I see
born of expense, a gorgeous bird
inhabit each month’s tree?

The figuring I must do with cash
is not confined to numbers.
A phoenix rises from the ash,
half January’s, half December’s.

Money allied to hope. That’s how I see it,
the obverse of the claws. A carry-over
of promise, trust, is hammered in each coin.
That is what the strikers do not see.

They have a case, indeed they have a case
in the back room of ‘The Times’, in Leyland tool-rooms –
often unanswerable in strikers’ terms.
But look at Leyland. First it was a place
along the line to Wigan, where they made
buses and lorries. Then it was a name
in Birmingham and Oxford, in the world:
‘Leyland lose ten million pounds a week!’
But none is lost where it is still a place
still turning out a product, buses, lorries.
When name’s too big for place or person,
used for power instead,
like as not it has a curse on.
Like as not it’s dead.

They have a case. But the first question is
what are they striking for? Food, gain – or spoil?
If food, pay double the demand. If gain
a worker takes a fair risk on his worth.
(Not so in present state, but in Utopia?)
If spoil, the hazard’s little, and the test
is not of worth but viciousness of talons.
This is the modern striker.

They think they strike for better pay
who only hammer coins one way
and reap new coin-crops glittering down
from fruit-machine – not up from ground
then come to harvest-time and see
a bent, defeated currency
who struck for more – and worked the less
in unconvincing idleness.

Now we have a new look to government
though scarcely more than a fleeting expression.
Callaghan lets Steel in the main gates
and a new voice chunters in the playground:
the papers lap it up, the Liberals love it.
It is still some way to the rooms beyond,
and the school keeper is notoriously fierce.
In other words they wouldn’t be seen dead
doing the Hokey-Cokey with the Liberals,
the Labour Party – if it were done in earnest.
But a flicker of softness in those set brows,
long rooms at Westminster, is not unacceptable
to a public bored with the heavy denials
of other compartments of thought. A welcome diversion.

Not the new look you were looking for
child of the forties, son of the flag,
not the new hope you were hoping for
child of the fifties, spark of the sunset,
not the new show has yet shown up
child of the sixties, spawned with the box,
not a new drive are we driven to
child of the seventies. But a new box-channel.

Is it hopeless?
New look, new hope, new show, new drive:
are we out of it, prisoners in the groove?
Today is the anniversary of Beethoven.
We remember because we must, seeing he told
the true tale of government: by optimism.

Hear him.
The passionate dialogue of the Kreutzer Sonata,
the simple sketch of the heart in Für Elise,
the ocean-tide of symphonies, piano’s deep currents,
the note struck from the centre of emotion
explosively winning the air, dinning the vaults
with the richness of man . . .
his restlessness, his depths, his gaiety, his freedom
his look his hope –
turn a deaf ear old man to the sounds outside –
those dull notes thrumming pointlessly as rain –
conquer the way ahead – the world’s torn years –
like a man with victory. Then today stride out
into the new, all who in soul attend
an old event. Take note of Beethoven’s death
and summon his music to your mind:
remember that it can be dome again.

In the ill of the year
rain wanders down the greening road
the wind aches in the face of journeys
the same road is to be crossed again and again.
Under the tunnel of dreams I crawl to work
and know of no hope, no enlightenment
the same maze is to be crossed again and again.
In the ill of the year
the show we put on like a peacock’s feathers
has lost its look: the same, the same, the same
makes a cinder of the brain; and emptiness of summer.
The year goes round in the same curve
the year goes round in the same curve
the stars are lost on the same curve
and then the cinder’s dead.

In the brilliant sweep of light in dark
the torrential boundless outpour of space
in all the planetary matter, riff-raff of comets
quarks, black holes
on a flukey edge of existence we look out –
where are we in the archaeology of the sky?

In one pinpoint of light
nowhere now here

Take time off: consider a skill
supremely unimportant and testing.
Seventy thousand are suddenly still,
two more still. To start the contesting
a ball is bounced at improbable speed
each side of a table; then butted, cut, biffed
back over the net, as opponents spring-kneed,
rubber-wristed, imperil it, almost as swift.
This is a dance of deadly intent
as the dart arrows down and the arrow darts back
and the white ball incredibly caught is then bent
by the bat, as defence falls into attack:
and the imperceptible spin is mistaken,
soft-patted but slipped to assailable space,
and the spinner has stunned the return, the point’s taken:
each dancer is in his first motionless place.

This is the World Championships at Birmingham.
This is Sport.

The radar is on at the table.
for survival.

I have learned what I like about sport:
the panther man who tracks and strikes –
the leopard lady hurtling home –
the plotted accuracy of the killing touch
in human terms.

To state the obvious, recall the menace
of darker terms – would not assist the name
of table-tennis.

Now that the year is lit, and branchwood takes
its pearl, budstick, untutored leaves,
I tell of our own flame in all our children.
For they catch life from us, and what we know
is theirs. In warmth or coldness it is theirs.

You climb a mountain for yourself; and savour
wine of the elderflower for its own flavour.
Sons and daughters stay where they belong.
But what we know is what we propagate:
and that’s the burden of the Great Debate.
To let the fire fall – and to stoke it strong.

To let the fire fall. The honour of men and women
in one, is to have children. How they survive the seas
and sands and slopes and mountain snows, is of them:
not parents’ prize. O there is too much nesting
in the same tree.

So to let fall the fire of knowledge
with unpainted flames
is the part of the teacher: and if nigh impossible,
the second part is less perfectible still.
To feed those flames until they take on root
and are mind’s flower.

The air spark-flickers. Leaves like children’s faces
people the flowering globe. And I have seen
a face spit-full of despair on television:
a real face in a mediocre play;
a sixteen-year-old swining in the lost time
of a foul future. Half his brain is rubbed out
by what he sees must come at him. Pig-years.
The other half’s obscured under the scum
of ten years lost at school.

They are learning about the terms of the Great Debate,
but still – and always now – place too much weight
on fairness, equal chances, handouts for all to see
of books, equipment, bodies. The Great Dependency.

Give me a school under a hedge
(but out of the hands of the I.L.E.A.)
and I will sharpen the human edge.
Give me a school under a hedge –
and I don’t mind the thick end of the wedge,
but I must grasp it, plane it my way.
Give me a school under a hedge
(but out of the hands of the I.L.E.A.).

Demand the clear sky
unclouded by envy, uncluttered by unused wealth
in schools. Demand the spaciousness a tree has
for every leaf and branch. This is not cubic feet
so much as mental growing-room: a home
for a throng of minds. Nor do I want mud banks
instead of seats, desks, tables; but a touch
of the al fresco imagination . . . a home
for the mind to be light and responsive in.
One day we may have this for every child.

a steady drizzle
the good soil sown with stones, and weeds confused with flowers.
The turmoil of the state collective farm
in an atmosphere drenched with political ambition.

If it will clear the air
let the Debate shout down
counters of votes, power-salesmen –
but it is never on.
Politics too far gone.
And though Ms Williams seems
to have the touch to attain clear space –
it’s dreams. Monkey-house. Babel. Dreams.

I have no answer. But at this light time
to ask for two things seems no crime:
more loyalty in staffs at large,
less clerk-work for teachers in charge.

Term ends. I went out to the sea
to learn. All day the white lines saunter
into the still point of their end;
and manes a moment long are sacrificed –
but all has slow return. Earth has its space here.
Time is bare. It has a mystery
for me, landlubber, that I would not care
to touch too deeply; but there is something mixed
in with the element, Christ-like to my mind.
I must go down to the natural force
by day to watch, by night to listen
a moment long, to a fact at source.
In words it is, that Christ is risen.

But I deny the words. There are no words
to match the fact of sheer, Earth-driven strength
on a tide of blessing. So it lashes the land’s edge,
drowns the rocks, drags back; working from the deep pits
and under the moon, it goads the neighbour man
to notice for a second its pure being.
So I standing on shore
translate a word of thunder
into a Word. I do no more
than wonder.

Then feel a fool. For what has Christ
who bent to wash the sweat-dirt from the feet
of those who worked for him, up-ending power,
in common with the dervish of the sea?
But I think of Him. The sun on the manes of foam
is there and gone. And I make nothing of it,
walk up the path, returning to home-prose –
and I deny He rose and entered my life.

put down the letters, black on white
hold up the paper-chain words
Discard this prettiness. Deny. Deny.
He healed, turned food to more, had ways
of using life, to show it good to praise
Discard this prettiness. Deny. Deny.
He told the use of power that never lies
in self, but leaves for other agencies
and never dies
Discard this pettiness. Quick. Exorcise
these letters black on white
these Christmas decorations, Easter frills,
words of belief. Light fills
the shore and hillside, farm-life, bush, my heart.
And I can say He lives. His power. His art.

No, not enough for Church, or Faith, or Priest;
but enough for me. This Easter-tide, at least.

Out in the North Sea oil has slammed the surface,
veering for Norway. An upsurge blew the system,
it is roaring out, and only a spark is needed
for an inferno. Experts are on the spot
or near it. Meanwhile a black shape moves
at Sweno’s land. I would not be out there.

And yet I would; for there is the deepest spark
of hope. The North Sea has a fire for us.
(But media-dogged, hamlet-enscribed, we shiver.
We are too far south to know what’s going on.)

the sea-bed, mud, rock. Sink
the shaft in place, fire-structure. Burn in the cold.

The crisis past, the dynamo remains,
ripping out wealth to add to Britain’s gains.

Turn, let the spark burn, turn.

is not my theme.
O come, admire
I’ll make it via
a different gleam.
is not my theme.

Something constant, hands kneeling to work,
water washing clean, a baby crying to be fed,
something constant like song, or up-and-down speech,
the unknown waves in the air relating people;
a wind, cry, murmur. All like a constant flicker
before which my spirit leans, prostrate, no more
than witness, ready to serve. This is the value
of constancy, that it informs of the spark
behind the clamour of day, demands of the hour:
the local account of time.

O my star, I cannot stay in your brightness
nor steer my ploughing ship still to your gleam;
my light, I cannot come too near your lightness
but turn to dust in your beam.
Time has the boat round, sees me off-course;
or adds mass to impulse – I settle coarse.
O my sun
blind as an atom I wander in my self’s dream.

To your love
I am blind, I make use of your care. like a pig bask –
but your love
is to earn and not own. If I like a man ask
by deeds, not requiring – the day flashes by,
nights are like eiderdowns – but if I do not try
(or I try too slow) Time takes me to task, to task.

O my love I am moved about in dark rocking water
pounded by whims of the second, thrashed by desires, by deep greed
– for an hour when we married I was near the flowers on the altar –
my days are now scattered on earth like a few dead seeds.
Yet my light shines, all loves in one. The Creator
draws me to land, and to grow. To have faith and be freed.

Yes, I believe in what you do, Christian, but I
am not inclined to worship things in the sky.

I saw extraordinarily faith, constancy, freedom
alight as one in the United Kingdom.

under hammerbeam roof
the centuries haunt the hall. Royalty
reigns on a stair-platform. The Lords and Commons
have pew for throne. The mace is covered. Hear me!

An Address to the Queen

I remember when they said he was dead they stopped the programme we were all jumping about the floor Music and Movement or somesuch something about up a tree the grownups listened all day and we got mugs I preferred the Festival of Britain

Been going all my life (it seems like) Lillibet they called the goat in the New Forest Charles younger’n me Anne same birthday as sister’s

Never properly realised just begun what it’s about used to say keep us in touch with historical experience of country or similar

or family model, all that, continuity

but I like this Jubilee a ring of bells England England

it is England.

That’s it then, retire backwards. I’m just sorry it
won’t lead directly to my being Laureate.

patchwork quilt of a country
road steeple pub farm council-house snooker-hall
I know what makes you green
light straight rain on May twilight
apple-white, recent grass
I walk down the road
of your past few years, to when George died
a mountain was climbed, we were smaller than we knew
in Egypt, new Africa; and now
no longer on the previous page, behindhand
we learn again what size is (as do all).
steel fence grindstone island
holding in the clutch of red-hot hand
sharp edge, scalding drive –
the skill to beat earth’s metals, shape and weld
a gleaming city
O in this land there is hope
to forge from many makes of men
the new way. Elizabeth my queen
if I vouchsafe a Jubilee wish, hear it:
that while state after state proclaims
your country let an instinct tell
for tolerance.

So I the idiot self and subject true
make plea, my country, to be heard by you.
I was not present in Westminster Hall
when Queen and Lords and Commons sat for all
on makeshift thrones. In that short ceremony
honour-of-nation grew from Jubilee;
the heart’s wildflower. It spreads. I wear it.
It means the kingdom has a home in me;
and whether on Royalty or the Economy –
that if I have an opinion, I’ll air it.

the tread is dreadful of boots across the water.
Paisley is punctured, but the thug-balloon rises;
the Provisional I.R.A. have naxalite hearts;
the tread
is dreadful.
“When I grow up I shall kill British soldiers.”
All that is built in a road
the casing of day
is fractured, pane-blasted
light and dark pour too strongly in
eyes singe to blindness
phrases are shocked from tongues

Child you have galloped in the green meadow
past dandelion-deep grass to the stile
where you can see the black land burn its shadow
a mile ahead of you. The Golden Mile.

Even in this plague of the Devil
aborting love in children, for loyal lies

In the cracked plate of Ireland; the hand with broken fingers

In the hurt gusted over to us, but not over us

In the great dam of Ulster, all the little bitternesses
repelling the want to go on

In what may be its last hour in that land

I see, whole and uninjured, working in freedom
– yet lodged in its own excess – the United Kingdom.

For time, the kind of time a Jubilee tells
has no hours at hand but a peal of bells


And I pray for joint ways-of-life in the world, our kingdom.

Lambing was hard this year.
Shepherds’ oilskins and their spares were soaked,
dogs were wearied in the buffeting wind.
Lean after last summer’s drought, the ewes
had sodden wool all winter, then all spring.
The sheep man’s struggle
against carrion crows, and the cost of winter feed
was carried out in wrong clothes: no good light gear’s invented.
Lambs drowned and froze. But after eight months, the sun
has come to Romney Marsh and the Yorkshire Wolds.
And warm light has them frolicking in their folds.

Let hill men face all weathers; so do I.
I trudge through cold, inadequately clothed,
and move about the hill in the falling sky.
My shepherd is a self that I have loathed
inside myself; he ranges without end
for ever on the hills. God is his friend.

I watch him go; would shout at him to stop
except I cannot stop. I watch him search
for younglings – he will wait to see them up.
I turn my back and leave him in the lurch,
but know that he will call me to break stride
to see them foot-firm at their mother’s side.

Christ, you do my work for me. If I
look on and all too quickly look away,
you are the self of which my self is shy.
And though I throw a stone at you by day,
forget at dark – you go where life is fine
and my ghost follows you. Your way is mine.

How else can I say
anything at all
that is not nonsense?
How else recall
the habit of youth
that knew musts and mustn’ts,
large from small?
How else can I experience the truth?

De Kinderen zijn vrij! Why should I care
Dutch schoolchildren are freed? Not cardboard dummies for guns,
propped up on the adult stage, they go their own way.

Meanwhile we wait it out, outside the train.

the terrorist mind wears out; the paper-thin
resistance tears. Listen for their tears.

For a snarled heart to soften
a dead soul to draw breath
there’s a payment often.

Then make it if it comes.
An open heart should make it if it comes.
To drown the use of terror I’d risk death.

Now they are lighting fires for friendship
over the Commonwealth. What heat reaches
past the old atlas red, is a smoky issue;
but a goodwill gesture has its festival.
The best bonfire was on West Hill
Wandsworth where a hundred waited
to see the Queen come back from Epsom.
Bits of bunting from roof to gatepost,
a flag and photo in the window,
this was the tribute of the houses
where a straggle of passers-by
stayed to see Her Majesty.
Some were regulars. “Late this year,
stopped for the last race maybe, but she’ll come.”
Most had strayed from shops or up the hill,
enquired, to stand by in the late sun an hour.
Groups of people twisted round a junction,
a black car with a small high flag . . . we flare up,
cheer the Queen Mother who smiles prettily;
now die down. But the hill is burning,
chatter and colour, in sunny expectation
of the next royal car. Who thinks of leaving?
Here on an idle road in London
no thousands rave, a few score stand . . .
and here she is. The car slows. They both wave.
The bonfire roars. We all turn outwards, home.

The extra holiday ends in English weather.
The fireworks vanish up the Thames. Those colours
the water shone back, showered in the sky.
But showers less poetical descend
on troop-parades, street-parties, all. No Wordsworth, –
the heavens aren’t with us in our Jubilee.

Back to work, back to school, back to front –
a million biros at the ready –
the accepted oddity in life, Stage 1.

Turn the searchlights on
from the high towers. Call the guards
to count all present and issue certificates.
Compel the mind.

This alien force that grew in Adam’s garden
Rats and mice. The mind.
needs trainer-humaniser – and needs warden.
An open prison-house has been designed
in which that mobbing energy’s confined.
Rats and mice. The mind.

Now all who in the garden tender lie
Get it right. Get marks.
are raised, co-opted to humanity;
and sworn in at an august ceremony
where vanity barks
Get it right. Get marks.

The garden has been built on. Overall
Scurry, feed. Mouse mouse
we have a pleasure-dome – or prison-house.
The tree is structured to a hall.
What are we at inside, who stood up tall?
Scurry, feed. Mouse mouse

So many matchstick Adams, test-tube Eves
In your lines. Quick march
The tree of knowledge shed its leaves
(we hoard them, press, them, test for starch) . . .
that there could be a new Spring, who believes?
In your lines. Quick march

The garden-mind slabs over. Fake the heart
On your marks. Get set.
in line with fashion’s feeling. Square the debt
to life, with perfect outline. So we start
to plan response: and blank out art.
On your marks. Get set.

Each his own Adam, somewhere among the shams
Step it out. Survive.
had his own mind. But as the winner damns
the loser, in the rat-race of exams,
he loses it to stay alive.
Step it out. Survive.

The searching light-beam
reveals all in order. Pass them through.
The guards are called off: no more doors to lock
this year.

Spreading ink-blot from university pens
scratching their own name over and over again
in their own survival. Thousands of inky minds
saturated with so-called knowledge, with “facts” –
God, you are destroying the stuff of the universe!


But a British laser pulse of light
100 micro-micro-seconds long
will create the stuff of the universe in Britain.
It will lay the atoms bare,
electron-free. Plasma will occur.
(It does not occur naturally in Britain.)
And scientists will watch this to infer
more of the habits of nuclear fusion.

And the working of stars.

Yes, I believe in science; and know I must
accept exams, part of man’s outward thrust.
For we must find
what lies beyond: in the missile of the mind.

that lives beyond will help us to live at home.
The richness of stars is in my copper beech.
And now I celebrate the longest day
by entertaining that tree in my speech.

This summer day more light will reach
a festival of leaves; and so I say
the richness of stars is in my copper beech.

And going out a teacher I will teach
a child the world the better, if I may,
by entertaining that tree in my speech.

What do I need of church, or priest to preach,
these words of red light on my way?
The richness of stars is in my copper beech,

they hang there, at a fortune each,
hidden in leaves. For this I pay
by entertaining that tree in my speech.

Against the vrooming road, the bus’s screech,
a quiet delight. My heart is free today
(the richness of stars is in my copper beech)
by entertaining that tree in my speech.


P.C. Wilson writhing on the ground
as the newspapers begin to kick the police.
THE SUN SAYS blank all. Editorial unprinted.
The Times wags index finger. Alleluia Callaghan
commends the row to stop. He cannot deny
in the Labour Government, the Labour mind
a nodding-through of violence to gain ends.
What are we coming to?

a tradition of tolerance for Mrs Desai
for the West Indians who carried a union banner

Among the workers’ army I keep my mouth shut
behind the backs of police we throng the road
to stop (but one will cheer) the coach of fools.

to work, to make the unpopular choice.
To be man
when dinosaurs are loose. The country feeds them
(blind to the lashing tail) with tribute of students
in yearly sacrifice.
The coach of fools
struggles against the tide, through Grunwick gates:
find them all medals. And to the police force, medals.

The Unions live in Animal Farm.
As lumbering beasts with minds unkempt,
intent upon the maximum harm, 
the Unions live. In Animal Farm
I hear the sound of an ancient charm,
Run-with-the-herd. None is exempt.
The Unions live in Animal Farm,
as lumbering beasts, with minds unkempt.

Tom Jackson bluffs the postal workers
and loses. Dinosaurs strut the land.

Wait, little land, for the roc and the dodo,
the archaeopteryx, the mobman to be gone.

Joe Gormley deals bluntly with miners
and has no hand to play. They show the winning card:
“£135 or we stop the country.”
The lesson is sharp: leaders lead us only
as it suits the led. Union leaders are putty;
football managers dirt to the whim of the crowd;
M.P.s out who looked at the Common Market;
even a judge is unsafe. Away with Authority!
– My God, it does my head good to be out on its own.

The few million others about are there
for company, of course, friendship. What else?

For stringing you up on their eyes if you go wrong.

Wait, little land, for the tin gods to wither away,
the college silver to wear through, the yes-man to be gone.

Last, through time’s mists, to the human.

Two black-brown chicks in my shed
partners of light at a day old
the dark behind them, announce
their unobtrusive egos

in the heat of noon they evade
the foster-mother’s wing
(who sat three weeks while they grew)
and perch on their own two feet,

the finest things in the land.

Let us make our own statements.

Some are meaningless, like a delightful moment
on ice. So at the London Palladium
time after time in the John Curry show
ephemera of vision succeed: say their all.
The thrill of nerve and colour
lit with the movement of the keeling skates
spoke in a perfect sentence, time after time.
And at each full stop one would clap
as if the phrases sang on through the mind.

Le Valse Glace
was such a rhapsody; white-gleaming hero
darting among the ranks of other soldiers –
snatches of ballroom life – now here, now gone.
And then a graver, more constructed moment:
three girls, three Graces, gliding in a spaced freedom,
sisters of silence, a Petite Suite for Harp.
Then a remarkable forest-scene: the deer-man
obeying instinct; gauche and at one with the sun;
or gambolling, dashing. We heard Debussy and saw
in forest light, L’aprés-midi d’un faune.
Before the break, a randy, rowdy scene:
powerful, swell on the shining floor,
girls in jeans and boys in purple jackets
criss-cross the hall, dazzle each other, dally,
linger along the side or in dark corners,
while the plush compère motivates their Jazz Suite.

on ice with human colour. Let the light play
patterns of the now and past. More deeply
after the break the bodies probed the air
to catch the spirit’s story. First in folk song:
a duo of non-skaters sang it straight,
while in a silent dance and recitative
the others mirrored meaning. A ballad’s tale
was prettily expressed; and then a moment
the Earth stopped turning as a boy was a boat
and young boy too, in time to the Skye Boat Song.
‘Speed, bonny boat. like a bird on the wing –’
a sailing second in the Folk Song Fayre.
Then Icarus.
The bird, birdman, soaring, circling, seeking
close by the sun, the heights, till his tattered wings
gave way, and full in the great orange disc he drowned.
At first the father fitting the wings
then the experiment, the take-off darts
until a launching, a skating-skimming – then flying
till the wild beautiful climax stopped the flight.
These were the moments –
the bird, the boat –
of further life in art: but to conclude
we saw Sir Arthur Sullivan on Ice
a pantomimic ending to the day.
So many theme-tunes came up in the music –
he called it Winter 1895,
the programme too – but his (with Gilbert’s) name
was re-worked in that deft and comic ease.
A park, a frozen afternoon: two spinsters
avid to stay upright, arms locked, were whirling
inches off the horizontal mode;
sailors were picking up girls, near-literally;
a balloon-seller and a newspaper-boy
veered towards their fortunes; a flat-foot tramp –
no skates at all! – stumped on and off the stage;
and all appeared and re-appeared; two children
engaged in chase-with-balloon as gents read papers
on a quiet skive through park. The informal show
was carried off in form: the newspaper-boy
took on the high spot: and the afternoon closed
a curtain on the memorable stage.
Merry of soul I sailed on a day
over the sea to Skye.

– These throwaway themes, expressive of the self,
said all, said nothing. Skating’s a fine art
but like the self, is fancy, has no heart.

What is it we must be
to be human? Not particles of mass-porridge,
simmering to the flame, or thickening
in mass-neglect. Not the hyperbole
of skates and ice-dust, glancing across the rink . . .
the stasis-whirl. In and out of life
obedience, dullness, and the lightning-gestures
declaring difference, in the event of self.
shout swear whistle: but the centre of life’s
not self but others. Here a parade of people.

is this perceived more strongly than at death.
I stood on a side of hill, High Wycombe’s graveyard
as they tumbled chalk in her grave. She was my sister.
I see her now, bicycling in a forest –
on a scrap of paper she wrote her skimming-away,
the last line is her epitaph now. She wrote
on the highest tree the last bird sang

child who scaled the height of cities’ theory
who understood the Far Left at 14
and mapped its path out in her mind
who argued like a sharp bird; and who lived
in frail nest, the whole sky gawping with eyes

perched in the air, ever railing
at the winged minds that flew too close
– the whole sky cluttered, wing-cluttered with minds

in air’s invisible forest people stand
eying me with their brains

nowhere to go, to hide


unique in sudden interest, in the giving response of a smile
at length she battered the water with her wings.

She has become for all,
her name, her young life common property now.

Love her.

Lie at the heart of the land,
and by your death redeem
the wretched greyness of life
that visits West and East
where the wind blows in cities –
and let your vision clear
of People without a State –
the sight no-one has seen –
for it will shine like the day
one day when I too sleep,
dreaming the oldest dream.

Now that I see her struggle to be human
I can salute – too late – a sharp small woman

who burnt at heart with others’ need-to-be;
but knew of others too originally,

not quite in their perspective. Slightly erring
she saw too much; and was confused in caring.

But as she journeyed near her own mid-winter,
she took her light right from the sun’s centre.

In the midst of solutions

Vance and Owen advancing with nylon rope
on a mock-up mountain of Rhodesia
they know cannot be climbed for real

governments keeping at bay the neutron bomb
they know is to be used

the ordinary man pondering on his Union
how to slate, keep face, and support, keep faith

Everyman working on the angles

how to avoid a Third World War

how to keep sport clean

in the midst of the solution process

the problem is this: the name is not the centre.
A label pawed, hot, sticky with overhandling,
it is not the centre. That is a kind of giving;
politically a compromise. It comes
when the name, or main identity term, is changed.

We have been stuck on Rhodesia eleven years.
Thinking will move, the search for justice hurry
when we think of the new name.

A person rarely changes name –
yet he will change his sights
and see elsewhere, with altered aim,
a vista of new heights
and unfamiliar ways to roam.
The adult has evolved
when, unexpectedly at home –
the job-equation’s solved.

Never that easy: but the sides will balance,
the terms submit to control, even as the job changes.
Alter sights, I say, alter sights
as ground conditions alter. As and when,
as and if, and stroke or. A compromise
is called for, or a technical defeat. Give ground
and gain it somewhere new. And still the dream
will come – with many changes – into being.

Never forget the dream.
You army, you out-of-work mob
who slammed the classroom door
last week – you time-marking corps –
you shower without a job –
you in the bottom stream
by choice – you heap on the floor –
never forget the dream.

Never forget the dream
you who forgot to grow up,
you nouveaux riches on the dole,
a quarter million on roll,
rusted already, like scrap –
vacant, without a theme –
selling your own lives cheap –
never forget the dream.

Never forget the dream:
and leave the centre free
for love. You who survive,
you with tremendous drive,
an era of energy,
forgive my letting off steam.
Take this advice from me:
never forget the dream.

All is change. But the constant year
is gooseberry-busy and delights in poppies;
and all her wealth comes on like potato-coins
white in the dark earth, clean. I sense a time
of rich recess, unparliamented, and hot.
What small things are at work?

Big-foot and flexing tongue: four-winged raiders
in correspondence with flowers.
Bees solitary and social: alcoholics; indolents
afloat in air, hedge-drifters . . . or hung close,
tongue-furring the frames that stick in garden hives
to clam with honey. Look for the tiny eggs:
those commas, minute, against the coming winter.
The bees will keep their chain.

dividing up the angles of finesse
with a slice of luck and stroke of daring. Within
the tiny constellation on the green
of fieldsmen, their white sign in slow rotation –
are bowler, bat and ’keeper on one beam
whose tension lights the outfield. Thus the game
has its own microcosmic universe,
its field of force; and many pay to watch.
(And this amazes some, who by ignoring
its cosmic relevance – find cricket boring.)

splashing in salt water at Southsea, every one
a well-made drop of water, finely formed,
on good terms with the wind. In the clutch of sea
they seem as if at home, as given to air
they fall in with the tidal race, or else
stay put, intent, along the shingly sand.
Sea and the children are summer,
their work A1 (till term starts in September),
attendance first-rate, application – all there.
A holiday report would clear the air.

are mine. What have they taken from me?
have cut into the cake of self: I have no memory
and little mind for things. Two children own me,
they have the largest share-holding – they keep
the old firm in good shape. They have given me health,
life, love. And the irreplaceable humour
in the sight of others differently growing.

Launching out into space
on a chartless way, uncheckable –
or going down,
the tip of the forest is seen, the rest is flood –
but the humour is of this world:
the shared joke, the life together lived.
Both of you
have all the sun in August; all the chatter
of a clear stream, quick-moving; all the light
of a battalion of shine-blades of grass. And each
has his ‘hello’ . . . his own goodnatured gambits
to gain a laugh, direct the comedy.
Grow, my two sons: I cannot point you out
directly, to reveal my love that grows
deeper upon time’s line. When the comedy ends
and you gesticulate in another setting
and I nailed up, and laughter dead between us
think of this: that in my life’s warm season
you were the summer sun.

Whichever way the steeple-vane blows
in this cold head of mine – your mother knows.

And you too I will rage at far too loud.
But she – I say no more – is proud

to find warmth from within. To manage –
though all winds wreck us – to outwit the damage.

as I grapple with the sail, to bring the boat round
over the side of the year-world. And as I wait
to find direction in myself, my sailing –
stay somewhere near me. Stay.

Because I know that she will stay
in hailing-distance, I can turn
my craft, my poem-boat away,
because I know that she will stay.
Though out of sight and far astray
in local stress – I can return,
because I know that she will stay
in hailing-distance. I can turn.

Complete the round of the year. I promise this:
to make allowance for whatever venture
that you embark on, since you have so well
endured my moods and absences of heart.
It is a windy summer. What restores me
to see the human side and keep true line,
is a visit out to an old farm cottage
in Kent . . . the strongest life I know,
a little old lady at the end of her voyage.

In a creaky cottage dating back
four or six hundred years
she cherishes a cuckoo-clock
(a cheap and modern cuckoo-clock)
that hardly keeps the hours.

She lets her mongrel dog grow fat
for lack of exercise
but Susie has a springing coat
(a black dog-sparkling springing coat)
and sweet wise-cracking eyes.

She served the farm: and now she stays
in a tied cottage-hut
alone. She could have had a flat
well-wardened, dog-permitting – but
not mistress of her ways,

her days to come, her days to go.
She looks out at the flowers
and cries sometimes that she must go
with all that beauty there. I know
a richness more than theirs

and yet as frail. She keeps good house,
her garden is weed-clear,
and she will knit for children’s use
a perfect cardigan. See her,
a half-deaf, shrill, non-nonsense dear . . .

If solitude is what we wear
beneath the snake-skin she is bare

unduped, unduping. In her eighties
she’s not hardy but her fate is

Mrs Bicknell
you are standing at the door
I in the car or getting out
the scene is timeless

Back to the world of snake-skin, sticks and stones:
a Lewisham march, a fudge of issues
created smack out of a duplicity
our “leaders” aid, the Press abet.
Who tells the facts about the National Front?
It is a movement venting a frustration
at too much change, not asked for, for the worse.
It is the blindest anger
at England with a small “e” (other lands
have clout of proper nouns – and we are clouted).
There is an answer
that none has made to the undertaker in Tooting
who sees his streets fragmented, torn-up, lost
to the ways of other lands: to patent newcomers.
There is a reason
unwritten on the statue of Edward the Seventh
outside the Tube, where a rage of foreigners
cross, like pigeons, unseeing, and call it home.
It is worse it is worse
to the few who are caught in the short run –
the rat-trap of change.
Since this is not admitted the NF exists.
It is worse it is worse
for those whose stage is stampeded. And it is better
that England has become a part of the world.
In Lewisham the other day
a vent was found. Let them say it!
Let them decry and march, distort, inflame –
the police are there if the flames run amok.
(Time after time it is a Left-Wing flare-up.)
Let them say it, for something needs to be said.
The National Front, like Kirkup’s poem,
should not be prosecuted. Then they will founder:
the image of Christ is more than an onanistic whim.
And Britain will survive a kick of impatience.
If this country has anything to its name
in the roar and tide of the world, it is this:
we are not hitlers here.

across the whole damn field. Only those
too old, too young or too silent
to be of use, are themselves:
the rest of us slough skins as we move in time.
Our eyes are hooded. We fake issues
and slither in time’s narrowing, to turn,
recoil. Our undigested burdens,
heavy, discomforting, bring twisted movements
as we complicate our actions, slowly trace
the winding ways of the world. We propel
a serial argument, speaking out of
incalculable stance: the double-minded
shifting backtracking misadventure
the mind has made its own. The adult mind.

To see clear
and see straight is illusive: a mass of light
has countless corridors. I revisit an hour
of light time spent away from argument;
a field of clover in Shropshire, on the hill
of morning. It was the early time of the world,
damp with the first hours. No-one had risen yet.
I was alone but you were standing by me,
we said and felt the things of our communion,
the freshness of the hillside was your hand.
The world had not yet woken. You were with me
in the early loneliness and quiet;
and bathed in air’s clear water, face and being,
we knew of times that were and times to come.
Round in a tumbling circle by the sky
lay Earth’s first ruin, shaped in fields and hills;
and we were in a garden, unworked, open,
before the rise of city-building man.
I was alone but you were walking with me
among the grass, the small wild flowers, the clover,
our secrets shared, our otherness of life
held by the wind in one. I asked no questions
nor did I look at you for you were there,
and from the brow of morning we could see
houses stirring down the centuries,
people about their days and ways to come.

I was alone but you were walking with me,
we said and felt the things of our communion,
the freshness of the hillside was your hand.

Later on in the day the police were looking
for gypsies (but the trouble was, they’d gone).
They took over a stretch of the North Road
in Nottinghamshire to have a horse race on.
Two families bet two grand each, south and north;
and over seven miles the north horse won.
Two-fifty gypsies watched – two hundred side bets –
a decent use was made of the A1.
The villagers complained. The police are looking
for gypsies (but the trouble is, they’ve gone).

Would you have them off the roads of England?

Villagers, be not aghast;
you saw a race. And more, you saw the past.

Occasionally to see past and future
(as on a clover hill where deep in love
I touched upon a sense of living man)
or future (as, to hold a grandchild’s child)
or past (a street crowded with chattering tinkers)
is time out from an argument – the Now
tirade – a hothead, ever-present fury.
World be at peace, at peace: it comes and goes,
the freedom field, clear sight, unguarded, gone.
(And this is what religion passes on:
not love but sight which comes from it – to know
of God before and after – or to know
of tender certainties in human time.)
Take time out from the argument: and see
the foreign times of others, distant news
of other days and ways. Because you see
such distances – the differences of mind
now suffered, are less angry, less flushed-cheek
blood-fever. More like 98.4.

Look at a carnival.
Steel band and man with a spear
catching the rhythm, pointing a crowd
in a shuffle-on-down by Portobello Road.
In a revel of streets what’s wrong? the dog-tired kerb
at last looks up; the crossroads high in colour
are old in movement, deep and new in song.
A town’s for people – and the streets are solid
to witness it: there is no car-space here.

The reggae floats inch down the strand
with all on holiday, nothing planned
except to keep the beat of the band
like a hot cake in the land
of Notting Hill;
and here and there impromptu chants
start up, processions of half-dance;
a free unquestioning advance
in Notting Hill.

In a revel of streets what’s wrong? What’s right?
Two whites and two blacks having a fight;
a teenage charge, a street in flight;
and blatant theft from noon till night
in Notting Hill.
Two boys split fivers – to rehearse
for their mid-teens? a lady’s purse
is at their feet. There’s plenty worse
in Notting Hill.

Two equal stanzas: but the good
may mean more (in my book, it should).

I left the pavement in sunshine
as the crazy dancer turned a corner
and the crowd came with him into Westbourne Grove.
Beer-cans clanking, a light metal drum
conking a melody of sun . . . while before them
a colourful maniac spun and sprang
and inspired. So we set off nowhere
down the road for the best of reasons . . .
I stopped at the next turn. Other reasons
turned me off. I went on my own way
moralising, muttering . . .
but look. A carnival’s for joining in.

If we will do so

whether in a game of cricket in the back garden
or the ecumenical, inhabited Earth –

in work, or an hour’s unwinding,
a moment’s wonder . . . if we are not withdrawn
too much to be at one each now and then –

we will not have lost sight of something good.

The dove of Peace.

Meanwhile a vulture rips at Grunwick’s intestines –
by night the body is restored – and then
no food or water, and the tearing beak
dives in. Die Grunwick, die each natural body;
the names may change, the heart will live again.
The struggle is more vital now: as more
say heart, so many thousands more say hell.
Let it go on.

In the unruly air
autumn is coming, and I see
before the sudden dark, that it is there.

Red bits of autumn on the shed
have words for me:
I pass them over, leave them lightly read.

No need to stare,
to look through till I see
a bare roof – the virginia creeper dead.

It is impossible not to doomwatch
in the dark air when wind shifts visibly
and everywhere is black shapes waving
in a landscape of the mind.
The coercion of the time
not fought, has fate about it: England is dying
the pundits say (aware of their own death).
But to anticipate the end is wrong.
Face death-in-time, and fear it – holler at risk –
but do not jump the months ahead and say
it’s winter now.

Autumn’s the finest word:
filter of light, and a touch
of loss (if it’s rightly heard).

Autumn is filter of light,
the rays refract a blessing;
it is no halcyon sight

of clear serene . . . but a dance,
a fire. There’s heat in the word:
the sun has its last chance.

Autumn’s the finest word.
Furnace of light – and a touch
of loss can be overheard.

No word says more (or as much).

In the school the air is darker than usual,
the staff are disturbed, the staff are angry:
thefts smashed doors assaults on girls on teachers –
the staff are stymied. There are three or four boys
we cannot expel. It is all in the dark:
no daylight proof. Yet day after day
one or two of this three, four or five
should be picked up, put away, or just out
but they stay. They are ruining a new school
with ease. The air is hysterical, nervous,
on the fringe of storm. It does not break out
in the open. And we cannot exclude
these boys from the facilities of the school
upon the grounds of suspicion only.

The air is heavy with irony.
Summer is closing its doors: the finest season –
to the aesthetic sense – is leaving the stage.
And already the reality of autumn is with us: the wastage,
unrecognised death, the twist of a brittle leaf,
all in the ground. Autumn is dust, dust, dust.
Unreal laughs, unmeant, untender
electrify the sky.
Winter is coming on.

But not yet. I can report true richness
in this same land, in this same school.
A boy has Shakespeare in his eye –
and life is well. All’s well.


Did you hear about the Bishop of Jamaica
he was an out-of-work waiter
he went to Mallow in County Cork
in clerical dress and with a clerical walk

He preached a sermon and then went
to tea with nuns in a convent
and held a Mass, God’s word to say
for a canon who died the other day

This bogus bishop told strangers
he was on the side of the angels
the saints and all that sort of thing –
and they stopped in the street to kiss his ring

And then a priest got suspicious
and telephoned other religious
and they found the man was no man of God –
but I think he was. Now isn’t that odd.

So is the season fraudulently open,
a baritone of largesse that turns to whisper
and then is gone. And so it sang true music.
How easy is misjudgement in the rush
of windmill mind from one time to another,
from pair of eyes to pair of eyes, to speak
on half-caught issue, fumbled fact? I know him,
Jamaica’s Christ who tired of setting tables
and sang out rich instead. A name-imposter –
but will God sue? or shut the Gates? Name’s nothing,
an accident, a gift of men. Good waiter,
you could have served the Eucharist to me.

I know him too, a nutter down the road,
here since the Flood, talks at the lift of an eyebrow
of 29 years on the buses, of bombs in the garden,
his family sense, his blinding hard graft,
the War seems magnified out till now, he compels
your mind with his faith. One issue stands out clear:
the road’s a racetrack. He will cure this hell,
force police and councillors to make it well.
And though the problem’s less
of speeding traffic, than a need of his
to heckle from the kerb – crack down on cars –
a man of God is this.

The garden grows dark early; but the late roses
hang in the streets of air. A town of autumn
tumbles behind the house; sweetest of all
are blackberries just inside the boundary.
Here is a town to be at home in. Nothing
has ‘Keep Out’ on it; all is for the taking.
Walk out into wind fruit and early darkness –
Nature has no reservations now.


And not to the stars
the far shine of a tree
does light strike in Nature
but to the close
society of grass
here at the feet
of self. Such a journey
through months of light
I made; now I stand
in a darker time.
Then on.
In the pitch of storm
it’s men of faith
who rule the mind
(and land and all)
though hooted at,
forgotten. Men of conviction.

Storm is imminent
always. In the flicker of light
through a year
we know it is not far away.

He who would make roads safe –
and he who would give life –
in their numbers
pilot a spinning star.

Wherever whoever whenever
these are
I see them, thank them for a home.

Wherever whoever whenever


I speak of the spirit, not the black literal marks
that make up name. Steer my wayward sailing.

Babycham v. Old Tawny
in 2 corners of the Liberal ring.
Innocent fizz prejudged the winner –
but it’s good to watch a fight.
So goes the world along.

Concorde jets down in Kennedy Airport
Father Tom has Ireland and a dream
Ali outshuffles Earnie

I woke in October night still full of drink
from a payday binge the same night in September
my head could not remember how to think

the whole contraption useless, on the blink
I crossed the dateline in a kind of stupor
yet some faint signal carried through the ink

of night, of space – and travelled to the brink
of sense. A pulse beat. For a while, a tremor . . .
a contact spoke. I was in some great link.

But what it said I’m damned if I remember.

Stay in this world.
The stars whizz by in crotchets and quavers
unheard. The accidental sound
confirms the medley. One day
we’ll hear an Unfinished Symphony . . . transmit
unearthly tune. A radio in the head
will play the glittering cascades at will.
One night and day.
Now by telescope we start to sight-read.

A weekend wheeling barrowfuls of soil
and spading it, and lifting sacks of it,
shook out the mountain-mists, ionosphere:
I smell the clearest day. Drink, drink –
you cloud me, and the day clears to a song.
I would not be without you for too long.

But the wind keens in the land.
Cold rain-release bumps the roof: all is contention
and fight. There is an echo at Brighton
where delegates catch at ideas and threats, and are thrown
into the path of a storm. So the Labour Conference
makes a mock of democracy, for they mean
the knives are out. They will lie and swear for votes.
There will be an Election soon. But this is not thunder,
not Nature’s storm. This is a local rattling.
Glance elsewhere for the shocked face of endurance
under the barb of Nature’s force in man.
Look at Soweto schools.

teenagers on the loose. Teachers resigning. The flat
hand of South Africa wiped across Creation.
Do it Our way. Our words. Our lessons. Our minds.
Make a case for enlightened slavery.

400 years ago
Drake set out on his round, world-conquering sail.
He seized Spanish ships, took land on his way;
they weren’t high-minded in his day.
(Or if they were, we are less so than they.)
But they knew then, and he,
the meaning of the word Equality.
‘I must have the gentleman to haul and draw with the mariner
and the mariner with the gentleman . . .’
It comes in work. I think, no less than those
who’d nail Soweto hands and minds down, down –
to the dirtiest end of the deck – I think we too
who stand in fresh air and preach – we have forgotten.

Tonight is like storm in Naples
when the water starts about 10 feet up in air

it will crash in hyper-twilight

an event will come

out of Time’s net I see it
all through us

Some call it Devil, some the Bomb
to me it is a shattered home

This is what our politics should defend:
the home of country, kingdom, world;
of back street, flat and sitting-room;
the home we have created, willed;
and most of all the people there.
It’s when a Conference cares for these
not Power, that they will catch its voice:
and lend it theirs. The platform will be theirs.

The other evening
was my finest half-hour. I sat with wife and son;
he stayed up late reading. We ate chocolates and drank
in a warm room. He ate. We did nothing much.
I think we had been waiting; now he was with us
(it was the first time as such) we had grown up.

Try to take that from me.

The recognition of what does not end –
this is what our politics should defend.

Not the Order Work Obedience of new Chile
not the Survival-Expansion theme heard in China
not the market-place of liberties, West’s bazaar

but quietness and love in a room

a sense of movement in Time

the honour of life, the lucid store of home.

The Tories rattle out their sentiments
and to the Tory mind it makes good sense
but in the wider view what goes on show
at Blackpool is a panel game, a row
of skin-deep friendly faces, skilled suit-pleaders
who in unruffled accent beg to lead us . . .

The October cold sets in.
Too soon a vision like ice of Dante’s Hell
spreads, in my mind:
here, in the immense waste, tears are not wept;
they freeze, and block the eyes;
they freeze: and humankind will over-suffer

an event will come

Too soon I hear the prisoners in Fidelio
chorus a blessing to the touch of light

we’re not at zero (there are few in thrall)

but as the mercury dips I see it fall

an event will come

Who’ll warn and not be shouted down
at hints of tyranny? Too soon, too soon . . .
and yet to stay events there’s no ‘too soon’.
If facts are told the future’s not let down.

And like the lowest prisoner in Fidelio
lost voices shout ‘I dared to speak the truth!
Chains are my reward.
I suffer willingly . . .’

Who caught their echoes lately, from the same
faint jumbled sounds, made history . . . brought the name
of heroes closer, and of those to blame – ?

They are recorded by Solzenitsyn.

He heard when there
not in the Bodleian
He learnt when there
not in the Radcliffe Camera
but more, far more –
he told us.

Christ in our time

collecting from a café-shop of clatter
the quietest sound, and wafer sense of truth

wafer of suffering; the dirty straw

the empty jacket of death

Christ you showed a mirror to your country
where it could eye its motives, though it looks not

you were not shouted down

With absolute anger face
the slave-wind from the East.
It may endure a space.
But will the mind have ceased?
Will Art have played its ace
when Britain’s secret-policed?
Will millions go to waste?

They do: yet there’s release
for souls, when one has faced
the Enemy. And there’s peace.

You unpronounceable Russian, who found ways
to tell the fact, to warn –
I read your meaning, these October days.

Outside planes streak
faint lines, deliberate mish-mash
all over. Here an amazing
strand of spider’s-web, far as the Severn Bridge
lies between tree and tree. What aerial scale
includes the near and far – the great and small?
Performers in the same tent, trapeze-artists –
I know the one less apt to fall.

What is the spider’s gift?
It’s less diverse than man’s
but with its art and thrift
does all that it should do.
By sticking to a theme
it makes light of its plans.
Man everywhere falls through,
outwitted by his own scheme.

Yet the West German will’s not hi-jacked:
in not ceding to the savages on its plane
the country’s strong for good.

And everywhere the human qualities
that count, are carried on:
let planes come down, the vital strand remains.
A German pilot kept up human hope –
by taking infinite pains.

Astonishingly at wall’s foot a sunrise of pink flowers
marks a place in the year’s book, a paragraph to re-scan
when looking back (the whole year tossed aside
and somewhere lodged in the shelves). Opening at that place
we take back what we gave . . . the children, home
and garden flowering down a wall of light.
Mark the page, mark the page – a long-stemmed, precocious dawn
looking to outlast death.

If ever I say it it’s now. Lord my life
in the stream of heaven’s blessing stands.
Forgive me that I do not kneel.
Your name is Delight. I see you
when I consider love in the family bond
and see too-precious-to-talk-about spirit speaking
in those that I call mine. Great happiness
in those still newly-made; as much as if
a recognition of my own birth arrived.
I leave them on life’s ways. One who is closer
has all the future for me. If ever I say it –
Lord the main event is Now. All live it –
creation of light – and the inclusion of love.

The ugly voices of children down the road
trace a cracked hymn.
A timeless round
raised up from earth to sky.
A playground rhyme.

Sometimes an ordinary sound
outdoes, by far, a Keatsian Ode . . .

a sense of timelessness outlasting Time.

And I praise things in their location.
Near-still, a tree;
on the move, like families;
like the mad rush of children. Skateboard City!

They whirl and turn and skeeter and teeter and slide and glide and swerve and curve and skid and whizz and crouch and soar and spin-jerk, ride and roll.

They are most precisely located.

Move out of the way. They have no guide
but use the slope, get time on their side . . .
then run out of steam (a few collide).

So all assert a way.

Last night I had a dream of snowing.
No feathery touch and wind dark-blowing
in winter night; but bright it seemed,
and almost hot the snow I dreamed . . .
and so the white fell splendid down,
but not to lie like eider-down;
for those white atoms jumped, it seemed –
a zestful snow it was I dreamed.
They fall and rise, flying unresigned
upon the dry plain of my mind,
these birds, these white birds, flocks together;
and I bid welcome to the weather.
My heaven’s snow . . . this glimpsed descent,
this unprepared-for first event
of blessing in the year, my time –
absolve a ten-month’s dust and grime.
Touch with your greeting warmth my eyes
that do not see but recognise
God’s light in vision, come and gone
and still I dream it, on and on

Power cuts in Battersea
do not throw the switch

still I dream it

a jabbing, mauling rain-onslaught –
the time’s new sparring-partner –
does not threaten

I dream it

Even to hear that China kills
over and over for thinking aloud –
distributing pamphlets, by God! –
is no bar to the serene encounter
in snowlight, in my soul

on and on

A firework scuttles all over the ground
chasing someone (it might have been me).
A Jumping-Jack from many years back:
but now no longer that riotous banger
we monger; and shiners are finer to see.
Not much of a crop at the corner shop
of fizzle and sizzle – so pick up your swizzle-
stick, dish out the bubbles and keep out of trouble!
Spark in the dark, Britain’s lit, what a lark,
they are taking the bang out. Now all you who hang out
on highway and byway in this land down my way,
pack more in your poem-squibs – get more than enough in!
(Fawkes in in danger of losing his stuffing.)

Please to remember
the heat of the ember,
English is still kind of hot.
We know no reason
to sit around freezin’ . . .

but do so, more often than not.

English poets
use the warmth
of your great language. A crackling, shuddering flame
needs you, needs your stuffed doll of words
to leap at and consume. Shout and be angry,
laugh, lie like the Baron, sin or sing –
but put yourself in the way of the fire.
Do not attach yourself to a post and spin.
English poets
use the heart.
We come for the circus turns, it is true:
to watch a chameleon flame; or to see pain
expressed in a handful of sparks . . .
we gasp and admire. But beside all this
is the bang
the wealth that becomes a fire –
the news till the guy is gone –
the word-beat, soaring uproar of the heart.

English poets, do your job:
build a bonfire for the mob,

draw them in, till boiling-skinned
they see the flame stretch in the wind –

and see their spirit – catch their breath
– God, you sit around like death.

Ted Hughes, Ted Hughes, lend me your grey mare
All along, down along, out along lee
And I’ll go on a blinder to Widecombe Fair
Wi’ Stevie Smith, Stephen Spender, William Empson, Philip Larkin,
Basil Bunting, Robert Graves,
Old Uncle John Betjy and all,
old uncle John Betjy and all.

And when will you see again your grey mare?
All along, down along, out along lee
Not till you’ve slunk out of your despair
Wi’ Stevie Smith, Stephen Spender, William Empson, Philip Larkin,
Basil Bunting, Robert Graves,
Old Uncle John Betjy and all,
old uncle John Betjy and all.

Now Friday came and Saturday noon
All along, down along, out along lee
And no grey mare came a-trotting back home
But Stevie Smith, Stephen Spender, William Empson, Philip Larkin,
Basil Bunting, Robert Graves,
Old Uncle John Betjy and all,
old uncle John Betjy and all.

Now Ted Hughes has got to the top of the hill
All along, down along, out along lee
And he spends his life there a-writing his will
Wi’ Stevie Smith, Stephen Spender, William Empson, Philip Larkin,
Basil Bunting, Robert Graves,
Old Uncle John Betjy and all,
old uncle John Betjy and all.

And the old grey mare she stole up and she laughed
All along, down along, out along lee
To see the bent figure, so doleful and daft
Wi’ Stevie Smith, Stephen Spender, William Empson, Philip Larkin,
Basil Bunting, Robert Graves,
Old Uncle John Betjy and all,
old uncle John Betjy and all.

But this isn’t the end o’ this shocking affair
All along, down along, out along lee
For the bent man continues his horrid career
Wi’ Stevie Smith, Stephen Spender, William Empson, Philip Larkin,
Basil Bunting, Robert Graves,
Old Uncle John Betjy and all,
old uncle John Betjy and all.

For a bitter turn to this tragedy is
All along, down along, out along lee
Folk see the mare and they think she is his
Wi’ Stevie Smith, Stephen Spender, William Empson, Philip Larkin,
Basil Bunting, Robert Graves,
Old Uncle John Betjy and all,
old uncle John Betjy and all.

Now the mare has been freed and given her head
All along, down along, out along lee
Will folk look her way and forget about Ted,
Stevie Smith, Stephen Spender, William Empson, Philip Larkin,
Basil Bunting, Robert Graves,
Old Uncle John Betjy and all,
old uncle John Betjy and all.

I gave her a spin, oh won’t you do the same
All along, down along, out along lee
And leave the bent man an anthologised name
Wi’ Stevie Smith, Stephen Spender, William Empson, Philip Larkin,
Basil Bunting, Robert Graves,
Old Uncle John Betjy and all,
old uncle John Betjy and all.

I woke again today;
first to the crumpled place
and time where body lay
then to the day it was

The fresh sweet water’s drawn
from the well of November.
A day not all our own
but given to remember

Thankyou who won with life
and pain, this prize of place
where I turn to my wife
where we, at peace, embrace

Not rain, but rain-grit, the wind bike-wheel-twisting –
head down I cross the Kalends and the Ides
towards a pay-chit. 4 more working weeks
are off the calendar and into coin
already owed. Blinder darker wearier
I find a check-point. This is working life.

yours is a worn road. As the ever-new
confronts the ever-old, and children learn –
you pay a price. Your mind stops. And you earn.

in Britain’s comprehensives, say how rich
is this new soil? By adding what to which
was such a sharpness, such a virtue found?
What fortune to be born from this new ground!

in London rat-runs

And the track veers downhill. Cold, clear and light
my journey now. (One can outride the night.)

In Italy the students of violence are shattering legs
with bullets aimed at freedom. Who will rescind
this bye-law of our time, CONSCIENCE CONDONES?
For consciences can feed on bitter fungus.
Young men hear straight a vicious twist of words
and flower bitter-deadly. Who will set straight
the issue of the Word – that no wind warp
its meaning, to an act that nothing condones?
Who will articulate words in their truth?
Who will re-set the link?

It stays
as it is

Freedom-fighters cleaning out universities –
flush yourselves down the pan.
Peddlers of the word that’s milked of Word . . .
print your sneer on man.
Freedom-fakers, harden a tender planet
if you can.

The link
words and the truth
stays awkward

it is slipped
slipped opens
to deadliness

No true word, no Word, no natural truth:
but love.

And always its appearance that belies
the being. So with Sadat’s hour-long speech
made in Jerusalem – where is the gift
behind the word? So with speeches the world over.

For the abuse of the word
I first and foremost blame
silver spoons, silver spoons
offering unearned fame
respect for the asking, not
attention earned, words heard
because they were worth the saying.
Here’s the abuse of the word.

Silver spoons, silver spoons
first in pride of place
being born, then false positions –
‘Your Honour’ and ‘Your Grace’.
Silver spoons, silver spoons
taking the worth away
from what is uttered honestly –
ignoble yea or nay.

What is the current hallmark
etched small upon the word?
Not speaker’s birth, nor speaker’s place:
but this is overheard,
the college voice, the college tone,
the college shaking of hands
all in a college garden.
(If there’s earth on the hands

it’s college earth.) Oh Punch,
oh New Society,
oh Press, press on, the word is yours,
express humanity!
Oh wise guffaw, sharp-edged concern –
create, divulge, impart,
out of “received opinion”,
the theoretical heart.

Silver spoons, silver spoons
the polish weareth thin.
And now I see in the future
replacements made of tin.
Oh college-imitations,
so business-like and shrill,
what will you do to next year’s word?
The Word will carry, still.

It outlives its denial, speaks the sense
of what is lost and found in man’s events:

the dearness of all others, and their nearness.

was on the way. His name will be misused.
He saw the sharing man. But first accused
the white (as well he might). His brain was bruised.

Whether Outsider
can stay, with simple truth, the Insider –

Historians of our savage state, consider.

Britain is making a loss

What hopes?
B. All
now John Sod is the boss


White streets fainting in the tan of the sun,
And the Chimneys of the Decent have been toppled one by one;
The narrow, straight-backed funnels, such as Loyalty, Respect,
Authority and Discipline are knocked away and wrecked.
There is laughter like a Punkscreech on the face of Britain now,
It derides the name of laughter, like a cat-in-heat’s miaow;
And the clash of newpence summons like a medley of church bells,
And from a busted flush a Jack drops all pretence and yells,

Spotlight on Sex – Hurrah!
Flash it for Arthur Scar!
John Sod the Englishman
is propping up the bar.

For Loyalty’s in football crowds, or to a foreign land;
Respect is all in fits and starts, Respect’s a one-night stand;
Authority’s not understood, the vicar’s nor the police’s;
And Discipline’s a vanishing-act: and there they lie in pieces.

Words that are ghosts – away!
John Sod the Englishman
is lying about his pay.

There’s gas about the garden and the boiler’s on the blink
(John Sod the Englishman demands another drink).
To buy a British product is to take the British risk,
And we British well all know it – want to cut a bleedin’ disc?
And it’s not the new arrivals (at least them not more than most)
That have turned us into zombies. It’s the Nineteenth-Century Ghost!
And the way ahead is simple – since we can’t make out alone,
We will be ruled by Japanese (they’ll force a moral tone!).
For no-one gives a curse here – we’ve still got the F.A. Cup –
And the reason is quite simple – that Britannia’s time is up!

So . . . Goodnight, Victoria!
Where’s that Jap watch and car?
John Sod the Englishman
Is off to the bazaar!

Good Chesterton, you liked the English kind
and land. If I have doggerelised
your poem’s swift flight – I think you would not mind,
and have the decency to understand.

For it is smaller
the land bayed over by hounds yapping for power
unleashed by smart huntsmen who know
to make a killing, you use the lie of the land:
their hounds will bring them on.

England is smaller, England is John Sod’s land:
so for the best of reasons
firemen sit and gossip by a brazier
shipwrights spit at the idea of work
for a new ship is launched, HMS FAIRNESS
that overtakes the old reliable craft
ENDURANCE, whose ageing crew
still tread the boards, everywhere to be seen

But Britain’s pride sails out

50 years in the making

we’ve pinned our jobs to the mast. Hail Captain Jim!

The end of a year. I see myself, a battered
parcel of life in a train, pressed at the window.
Back gardens with green in them shout: I am new with change,
a euphoric crease no doubt is part of my face;
I am shunted on from a successful interview.
A job, a new job: no longer straddling-stranded
on the same ground, I move ahead, I am in
new time. (And perceive the superseasonal norm
of life – its ride of movement, change, new ground.)
The end of a year is not as its first day.

Forward – as Carter said, who now is almost
mired. Soon to provide the illusion,
though shackled-still-to-a-stop – of floating in words.

Forward, fetched on the tide. Korchnoi and Spassky
tussle on wave’s crest – mental rapiers flash –
but the round goes to the sea. So I go unforward
on a dim crest, for a time, to touch the tomorrows
of London boys and girls. For a time, a time.

It is new.
The world turning in the back garden
at night. Rock-simple its bearing;
a buried mountain, and a whisper of grass,
a rash of sand, a crumble of soil, and a fathom
of water. Below, the unmeaning hardness, the rock

We are new.
Three five-week-old white rabbits and their mother
crouch in their run; shift, sniff,
clean themselves. They are clear in the dark. (All at once
they press the netting, paw the black mat of night.)
They are patient, close. Are they not
with us, under the stars?

All is new.
Oldness itself, a thoughtwisp, floats
like new. Under so many medallions
unseen except a few, and all unknown
except some lofty-sounding names – worn on the chest
of night – we search, research a stage of matter.
We are passing through. It, we and all are new.

Now in the time
at home, a year’s end, comes a festival:
a green branch first, that stands up from the floor.
Dressed in a homespun magic stands
a prince, a household god, whose name
is breathed in many homes and lands,
and first from Germany he came.
Victoria introduced him here
and he took gladly to our homes,
to speak his steady green of fir;
and crow with red of cockerels’ combs,
and gleam with silver, beam with blue –
however children of the room
have dressed him. Child, he’s here for you;
a present. Can you tell from whom?

Meanwhile in Kingston market in dark a.m.
food is sold for Christmas:
sprouts in their green net bag, a box of red cabbages.
Stalls have just opened: there’s wood all over the place,
orange-boxes, empty trays. Vans still unloading. Twice
a collision between the same two, a seller and buyer
on their way to different stalls. A blotch-faced man shouts.
Old Mr Kent does the prices,
five sons or namesakes sell;
I spend £21 and go home for breakfast.

The finest holiday
with its Christmas-tree colour, and market-busy first days.
In dark p.m. the next day
a church is inspired by carols. I would not miss the beauty.
(Or a school hall, or faded classroom serves.)
In a dark field long gone
shepherds gather: a lamb-light is among them.
I see their clumsy backs
as I hear these children’s voices. Whose is the beauty,
God’s or man’s? for it has found a mark.

Can I not say it is both? On Christmas Eve
I sit by a room where peace eternal reigns,
the church of Our Lady of England.
French monks came
a century back to Storrington, and built here.
The Church is nowhere exiled. She will stand
in one man’s heart, or on a button of land
and in her own dear nation.
In deep of Sussex
a village wholly England.
Two horses, a light and dark
gallop in a meadow behind the church, and snort
(so I have often snorted). In the graveyard
a yewblaze bonfire sends its smoke across
an ancient tombstone. On a wild dark evening
beyond all this, a truth comes to be told.

To eat the flesh (as it is said)
I cannot stay, I cannot stay
and yet must see the midnight in
to let the humane truth begin
that lightens me today.

I love the life whose soul is strong
as Jesus shows, as Jesus shows
I love a gift (there’s only one) –
but must I like a dog gnaw bone?
To see what mankind owes

perhaps there is no other way.
To gather grace, to gather grace –
O God, open the door of your church!
Our Lady of England, end my search!
I come to take my place

but as a modern Englishman.
I will be true, I will be true
to all you ask. I will not waste
my life or others’. But to taste
that Flesh, will never do.

this village
has more than Christian in it

behind those stone cottages
and comfortable potter’s shop
the Ancient Britons
shook with pre-Christmas songs, lit fires . . .
the modranecht was tonight

Night of the mothers, who knows
what sign expressed
that dark night best?
No-one now.
But it could be a child.

In the church
a boy is lighting candles. Carols, church bells;
I pray it will not end. But then
announcement of the Fact; the Word.
So long I missed it. In the readings
a sense of dawn; a clear awakening.
Priests kiss the book. The censer swings.
Arms extend. I am deaf, blind
again, again. A white cloth
of ceremony hides all. But I had a glimpse.
I can believe. And can forsake
a land-locked mind: and know that one day I will take
food for the soul.
And so I leave
a holy village.

Is Christ born? Yes he is here is here
in relatives’ eyes and love for a day,
in the old photographs and family tree,
in faith of Christmas. No he is dead long dead.
Once and for all.

I believe in both ways for the mind
(one for a car or a bodily thing)
both ways to take if a Person will find
Beauty. (The mind stretches out like a wing – )

My year slips by, unnoticed. The last, hospitable days
close the hands on the clock: ahead, a new round
waits on the face of the globe. Now glasses clink as the notes
of voices at a host of tables spin.
George Ward celebrates. Begin smiles at Sadat.
Chaplin struts back down a yard of film
and off the stage. A cinema door swings to.
But all’s a dumb-show now. Names fade; things fade –
I stare alone at the silent screen of sky.
(Soft the water my boat comes in on. Softly
I disembark. Now I can come home
to love, to work, to laugh. No further roam.)

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