• This poem makes use of George Orwell’s novel 1984.
• The footnote was added when the Poet Laureateship, turned down earlier in the year by Philip Larkin, was accepted by Ted Hughes.
Yes! I can tell of the courage of kings,
Spear-Danes’ glory in days gone by,
princely warriors and powerful deeds!
First in England
this flame was burning
I saw the pages
frazzle, the phrases
glitter like bits of stone –
like jewel-rock in
the Dark Ages tunnel –
so the poem burnt on
saga of the Danes
from across the sea,
the flames lit the stone . . .
I saw such alloy
of word sound speech
name and tribe, customs
of England word-heard
in a cavern unlocked
the waters shone
the world danced with men and women
I heard that one was Onela’s queen
neck-close bed-fellow of the warlike king of the Swedes.
A thousand years ago
they wrote down Beowulf,
to a pagan story
lent Christian touches,
a vast stone conglomerate
of words still embedded
of words knocked clean away
of Fate, Love, Worth
of the flame of one man.
He was Beowulf,
slayer of Grendel
and Grendel’s mother
(the she-wolf of the sea)
and of the dragon.
Of men the mildest and most gentle,
kindest to his people, most eager for glory.
I, Winston Smith
from the foul pavements
of a modern city
lit on a word-hoard
an Aladdin’s cave
of lamps and goblets
burning with oil
and brimming with wine
words before Newspeak
the language went dry.
In The Seafarer is the waves’ coldness,
foot-locking chill and a man who knows he must
cast off again. In The Wanderer
is the anguish, the alien anguish
of one far from his lord. The Dream of the Rood
has a torrent of words from a cross speaking,
gabbling the blood of Christ. Anglo-Saxon
ferrying freshness, harshness, coldness,
a stream of change over pagan rocks,
the voice of the loner, ferrying sadness,
here in England the echoes still tumble,
a language for singing.
I stand in the cave.
I, blasted day and night
by the megaphone of the Party,
riddled by the telescreen
that pins me to my chair,
I, smeared and smudged
and untruth’s abettor
in the office where I work,
in the canteen where I chat,
in the street where I stare straight ahead,
pick up shining objects
and the old is made new.
Mr Chaucer, what a friend, he has all the time in the world to spend, on the path to Canterbury or Rome, he makes his readers feel at home. He names the rascal, knows his measure; he puts in words the gourmet’s pleasure; the huntsman’s joys he follows through, he loves the man of learning too. He shows us characters and their dress, but underneath a seriousness is carried by that motley lot: the Church is mocked but God is not. He can dislike no man, not he, but praises the variety. A perfect romance too he made, the tale of Troilus and Criseyde, in which the reader weeps for both, a boyish heart, a broken oath. One character from all his writing has all humankind delighting in her statement of the “I”: the Wife of Bath will never die. Chaucer you saw people various, saw them solemn and hilarious, saw the colours they were dressed in, saw the trades that they were best in.
But there were more personal asides.
Your flair for character does not ride alone,
a natural Catholic order goes with it.
I ride with you to Canterbury; England rides
with Rome, corrupt and living. Who decides
to blame Society then? It isn’t known.
And yet oneself one blames: a quieter tone
your ballads’ truth and gentleness permit.
Round the sides of the cave
villages of people,
a fair is going on,
arguments in strange accents,
colours of the open.
I, Winston Smith, a shambles
six hundred years on
and touch again
the vessel of history, a poem.
Pearl, picture of pleasure to me,
prize of possession but heaviest hurt,
when your surpassing shape I see
to loss of all loveliness I’m alert.
For grandeur soon brings grief to be –
the sorrow’s sudden, I’ll assert –
and clothed in fairest finery
is an adieu none may avert.
Yet what decreed you must desert
a father’s love – O little girl?
Now lying deep beneath the dirt,
yet ever present is my pearl.
A fourteenth-century voice in the mind of Oceania
will teach it again to feel.
Never had I imagined the brilliance of bereavement
or the excellence of re-meeting
though in a dream.
When I saw Julia again
the Party had killed our love.
In these times in the West of England
the rock of language was a hillside
covered by poets with the wildflower of alliteration.
Over many a field went Piers Plowman
dreaming or sharply awake; and the Green Knight strode
fee-fi-fo-fum at Gawain: so clear is the air
in these and other poems the cave is gone
By the power of the imagination the sun shines
and grass creeps over Airstrip One
by the Pearl-dream, by Langland’s dream
by the glitter of fact throughout the Gawain fantasy
simply by such freedom and freshness
England is let return.
Cast off your dead spirit
I say to Parsons, who when his children shopped him
would have rewarded them with thanks and pocket-money
Cast off your dead spirit
I say to Charrington, agent provocateur
subtle fisherman reeling in Party fish
then clubbing them
Cast off your mask
I say to O’Brien, a light on the Party control panel
robotic intelligence working on heads
with the wrench of kindness itself
So in light impossibly shed from the fourteenth century
I say to Eurasia, Eastasia and our own land-mass
forever dropping threats or bombs
Cast off fear
In this furthest room of darkness
up against the hard fact of human alteration
I, the last man, claim access
to poems of the past
I see the land operating a humming-top
up to the time when poetry grew quiet
so many exotic words
French and Persian
Hybrid, Comical, Plain Flukey
I hear the anger of Skelton strike against the cave walls
and the music of Spenser runs as the clear Thames beside me
I am free
What an Alhambra
this cave, this clearing
I see now how each girl and boy
may read old plays and turn a key to the past
Each girl and boy will see in straight lines of poetry
the sonnet triumph over railway tracks
a stanza richer than an oil refinery
This is my dream: that the cave of literature
be opened for all to see
shields and helmets and huge shining jars
buckles and bracelets and jewels set in the eyes of skulls
People carved from many-layered rock
battles have reeled about me as I have held
expressions of a certain heart and mind
the speaking rock, and water of pure language
the word of Shakespeare
Birds are suddenly near me outside the cave
calling of dawn: Winston, come out, be freed
but outside Shakespeare does not exist
that rock, that water, those ornaments
are sludge in a mindless cement-mixer
little brushes pick over the language
for bright-grain and discard it
a universally grey compound
makes lower buildings in our minds
the birds are nonsense: Shakespeare does not exist
minds that could knife the air are now mere pins
yet in the dark a stage like a dancing-floor
Romeo and Juliet
happiest creatures when they met
each to each soon turns so sweet
love is in their youth complete
see the world with cruel hands
of harm that no-one understands
turn against them and destroy
loudest love of girl and boy
I am Iago at the roulette wheel
staking every last cent on a little silver ball
that will only stop jumping with my death.
Othello is in my sights: I have him now –
a Curse on the Thick-lips!
Rock and water . . . the cave has become a grotto;
a smithy with stone that’s heated to the highest:
Wash me in steep-down gulfs of liquid fire!
Othello that was so cool in love and war
madly claws at the “truth”, seeks to know more.
Only a poet knows there is no truth
but states of mind and action that give rise
to fresh appreciation in men’s eyes
of Nature’s hand. It steals from hothead youth
its ignorance, replacing it with pain;
it gives to age the pain of knowing too much;
yet each of these is made to start again,
recovered from that harsh and painful touch.
Shakespeare alone put death in context: he
saw the tumbledown road of man’s misfortune
lead into fresh beginnings; yet did he see
some sheer Truth, for which men the Gods importune?
There’s none, apart from what in poetry lies . . .
the truth of Art, that’s touched with Love’s surprise.
Outside in London I have seen sculptures
grotesquely asquat new lawns;
cacophonous music worms into the cracks of concert-halls;
paintings are of nothing, slits in a canvas;
Art is an insult.
In a shop I found a paperweight from the past,
a lump of glass with the softness of rainwater
and pink coral, a useless, beautiful thing;
the Thought Police smashed it of course.
In Macbeth are dogs barking
first scenting a kill, then driving down the land
mad with blood, trampling their mistress
and rounding up on their master, the butcher king.
One final bite: Scotland is new again.
In King Lear
an old dragon rises, the dragon of envy
to break up the country.
Swift and shy, the deer of love
crosses, re-crosses the plot.
The ape and wise man meet in madness.
Blindness is all. But after stormiest weather . . . a certain
visibility is restored.
I sit in the dark cave. Edgar is leading his father
past his ill thoughts, away from the exit of death.
I think of the tiddlywink plays the Party puts on.
Pinter. Stoppard. Ayckbourn.
Shakespeare, the shame of it, Shakespeare!
The cave is light compared with outside day
where farce or foolishness is called a play.
In The Tempest
a High Tory arranges the country
as it damn well ought to go.
A “short sharp shock”: then mercy, forgiveness . . .
or otherwise magisterial, the bride’s father
has the groom pick up a thousand logs of wood
to show he’s worth his salt
the salt in the play’s the magic, and the light music
spun from the spume of the sea
If there were secrets
saved from an early glinting ocean-world
that later man could put no hand to, find them
hidden in Prospero’s isle
the spirit parts of the human – O to be freed –
Sebastian, Trinculo, human parts of the spirit –
Miranda staring at the brand-new many –
the sea glinting against white cliffs
in a new world, those secrets discovered
for an instant transform this cave (my life) and then
darkness, yet left with the words . . .
These words that by now had refined
that instrument of life, the mind
stepped up the battle of the wits
by means of warring opposites
internal confrontation, till
good had turned bad, good sunk to ill
without examples to remind us
of characters that do not blind us
of what continues to be brave –
these mighty words were Shakespeare’s slave.
His sonnet-form is a boat so well constructed
that is can be forgotten; you may ride
so close to the sea it seems uninterrupted
a force of Nature, that with you inside
will undertake the motions of the heart.
But then you feel the oarblades of the mind
propelling it; and know you sit apart
and start to see how well it’s been designed.
Those powerful, regular blades: the sea’s salt lash
and surge, its sweetness too, the open skies
of knowledge; yet protected, not awash
you breast a new horizon . . . realise
perhaps, the unity among these three:
the vessel, and the journey, and the sea.
as I look up
at the blank sheet of poetry now
am I cut off, alone?
Do the others not remember the past?
They mouth the slogans:
‘Perception is static.’ ‘We are land animals.’ ‘The boats are broken.’
Do they believe them?
Is it the Thought Police
in fact on inner patrol?
Why is it
that to the modern gods
of the trite, the meagre, the perverse-ugly
we do not shout NO shout NO shout NO
for twenty years
have shouted this, a whisper
and the remarkable voice of Hamlet strikes up in ensemble
here mocking Osric – ‘Dost know this waterfly?’ –
now thinking of self-slaughter – ‘O God, O God!’ –
gladly with friends – ‘Good lads, how do ye both?’ –
madly attacking the two frail women about him
with words ‘unbated and envenom’d’. Hamlet
who ‘prov’d most royally’, found clear sight at last –
clean-swats out waterfly Art, from a strong past.
the face of O’Brien winking at me in the Ministry of Love no darkness four fingers are five are five are five he tortures me insane his ugly face all-knowing all-seeing five five he sees my mind I love I see this ugliness One-Party-State one vast white wall and one blind spot’s unneeded still the smudge returns my mind returns five fingers five but I see four the dial screams up I see I see I do not see I sit outside the Chestnut Tree they give me gin a chessboard too I hear the Voice they want me to at last I hear I see it plain Big Brother whitens out my brain Big Brother takes away the pain
I stare horrified
Outside the cave
this was me.
this is Man.
in a ringinglow road of the air I meet her
after the Party’s coup de grâce
she was cold
I too felt nothing
she is here she is here
light musicbells of the air down time
that something does not crack that is human
Yes it is love
that’s now a minus sign
it was supercilious in Donne, wry in Marvell, earnest in Herbert
sucked out in the Reformation
to make a clean country
and as the freshness went a kind of majesty grew
the self-conscious kind
you died at last in the seventeenth century
re-born a lesser being
with the new eyes of the Renaissance
and so one looks again at the Metaphysicals
as at a precocious child
Donne’s fieriness, Marvell’s finality, Herbert’s gift for friendship
I am in a new era
as the sense of self begins to take charge
and Science separates out from the thrum of life
and language freezes into ORDER ORDER
Did it start here?
Big Brother on the face of Britain
that new enquiring child that the Protestant mind muffled
so the artist inevitably froze
in Latinate Miltonics and Augustan prose
and grandeur, nobility as though in paralysis
in an outstretched gesture in Lycidas or in Pope’s delicacies
made a Parthenon of poetry of the time . . .
but reason soon parts company from rhyme
I come to the Romantics
first Gray, then Blake
a dark hedge, a cock shrilling above it
and I see what the language has kept
from Shakespeare till the nineteenth century
from Beowulf to where I sit
in this life-cave
from Beowulf until now
through contortions of the state, usurpations
of springs of speech and cataracts of feeling
by ‘those who know’, the scholars, media-men
the barren cartographers
of province, heartland and boundary-line
gratuitously and in error determining
who we best are
Through such a strained terrain has run unerringly
– deeper here, higher there, through many turnings –
the freshness of the word.
So this is what we must look for after Shakespeare:
and everywhere it lightens and delights,
the freshness of the word appearing at all intervals
the mind, powerful, on a fine leash straining –
rebelling – knotting – but at last obeying
straight-speaking of the heart.
Busy young fool, unruly Donne,
how can your speech
from out of London, into London reach,
Time’s arc between, so casually overrun?
How is it that your rhetoric has no fear?
touches your fretful lines, dries up all blot,
to let Love’s utterance strikingly appear.
Marvell, boy, the nag you ride
is Sweet Catastrophe
that at each fence you coolly guide,
to take it at a full-tilt stride –
so runs your poetry.
Good Herbert, who of all dead men
to me is the least dead,
who sits in shadow smiling, but whose head
is unoriginal and a bore . . .
the soul’s at ease with living when
the outward mind’s no more.
the easy Protestant jaws nearly had me
I the last man
somewhere down the cavern of time
somehow escaped that dread orthodoxy
it takes the mind at a single gulp
so Big Brother
has his hoardings
has the Eye
but I escaped that damned intellectual surrender
protesting no belief in God
but still cannot flail past His image
in this suffocating semi-Christian country
Of Man’s Worst Arrogance, of his Pursuit
Of Nobel Laureate, and Booker Prize,
The Short-List that brought Death into the Arts,
Sing Heavenly Muse, while with Light-Finger’d Touch
I trill the pages with Allusions, Names,
And stink of History in the Schoolbook sense.
My name is Milton, Dante, Eliot; I
Shall open forth the Wonder of my Mind
To all you Tourists here; and you shall see
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhyme.
Provided that you don’t first Choke to Death
Or die of Boredom, I can guarantee
A Glitt’ring Panoply of Way-out Names
And Light-Years of my regular Blanked-out Verse.
Now Spirit of the Universe, if You
Would turn your Head this way a little please,
I’d be oblig’d if You would give the Nod
If I take on this Lowly Audience
And justify the ways of God to men.
the sleek white-bellied shark waits idly by
protesting soul-greed is humility
as I flake through rock-shelf leaves of poetry
that words and phrases matter less and less
the quills that wrote them battle more and more
that God emasculated Catholic man
and built up Sin
to occupy dark minds; that what was rock
is papier mâché . . .
As yet much glints. Swift’s anger shakes me. I
have trembled with its feeble echo when
I hear Big Brother shouting from the sky.
(But not in the ‘Two-Minutes Hate’. Not then.)
What pebbles are these? Stone-cool, or anger-blushing,
Or water-light reflecting . . . never rushing
But fixed in place, proceed unhurried by,
These artefacts of Pope’s that do not die.
But do they live? And how much feeling have they?
Suspended animation is their forte.
Great Alexander, whom clipped lines obey,
Doth sometimes water make, but cannot pee.
A correct little boy
no longer the Metaphysicals’ angel-face
but imitating the ways of adults, his elders –
thank God they don’t exist.
I was told once of a giant called Homer
who told long stories of seas, and every word
was a boat that rode in the sea of his hand . . . but that was
Oldspeak, not studied now.
Now, between dark walls, I hear
the sound of awful correctness.
Samuel Johnson, Ian Paisley, BB tubed through the most ordinary mouths
Newspeak fidgeting inside ancient skulls
and trumpeted now out of newspaper columns and down all main roads
Winston Winston wake up mother what do you want
Winston look at me you know who I am
you know why you are here
I see only blue sky I have been with Julia
I am outside with Julia
Winston you are confused you do not matter
but what you think matters
your mother disappeared in the proles – forget her
you betrayed Julia – forget her
I am here to tell you what to see
to tell you what you know
you know what it is to be alive today
you know what is asked of you
Now open your ears and hear the sound of poetry today
open your eyes and look at the new facts, the true facts
Now you can see Me
In this ice-freezing cave
I shut my eyes and see
young men strutting like cockerels
an endless fanfare on the tops of rooves
the adolescent boy of England grins nervously
he has a Cause
Freedom whistles down from the treetops
everyone who is anyone breathes ozone for a time
Poetry is no more the making of people
but the lucid attenuation of single thoughts
a Man at the start of the Movement spoke out (too briefly)
Blake’s voice, a little crazed
My mother groaned! my father wept.
Something from Shakespeare’s time I kept,
Helpless, naked, piping loud:
And burst this boyish cloak, this shroud.
Too young and old, too old and young;
But I the middle note have sung,
And for a moment sanity
Sounds out, the centuries down, from me.
This Messianic fellow
at least stands on two feet in all the débris,
rock-clutter and fall of the ‘Book of English Verse’
– so many are tumbled, stunned, sprawled
but breathe out in perfect accents till their dying day
their new angle on things.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the ‘Romantic Movement’
Ladies and Gentlemen, a view of a beach cluttered with beautiful, dying fish –
look you, my non-existent audience, at the Nineteenth Century!
I hear the march of boots, boots, up and down the shires,
and hill-tops up and down the land display their warning fires.
I sit here in this ice-cold cave, and make out these old pages,
and nineteenth-century England stirs and comes awake by stages . . .
What is this prehistoric terror, New Space Threat, this lightning?
Is it land-cleaving laser-beam, or some Earth-prowling night-thing?
The old threat of the future, it was always met before –
but Oceania sleeps for good, in 1984.
Verse slept, the land woke.
But first with their lovely poise
came a few fifteen-year-olds celebrating
what it was to be alive.
Hand-in-hand with Nature and the heart’s affections
they stole upon the universe with delight
and managed to extract the syrup of things.
Willie Wordsworth with a gravitas beyond his years
and years beyond his quiet-boy’s mind
first managed the communion.
Percy, simply enraptured, flew the poetry-bird
round the Magic Roundabout,
while John ached, ached to be a nightingale.
O these were not men, or men but not Man, who ether-floated
by day, and wound a maypole with marvellous patterns,
at night harking back to the child.
How can one not be unfair
to these step-descendants of Chaucer and the Elizabethans
down a mutilated line?
England whose stone went mush, how can one not look
for a more striking shell-hatching, a person vital and speaking
from out the damp cloths of a nation’s imagination?
It is an ancient foreigner
And he seems to speak to me:
“You journeyer through poetic seas,
Hast read the Odyssey?”
And all at once I knew a tale
Of times outworn – yet never stale
But sharp and ocean-fresh and wide,
Of No-name, twenty years from home,
Who took the world’s way – but could roam
At last, back near his bride
And I cried out at this old voice
That bade me think of men
As open, forceful beings – for I
Was trapped in my cave-den
With Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
With Shame and Ecstasy,
The nineteenth-century hype, of which
O Homer, you were free.
It is time to dip my fingers into the stream
that runs louder and louder through this cave
of what is done well. To make the “I” vulnerable
with unerring music in a moment of longing
was the Romantic ideal. John Keats, John Keats –
“O what can ail thee, Winston Smith,
alone and palely mouldering?”
“The television’s always on
and no bards sing.
I met a poet in the woods,
he looked all right, long beard and all,
but when he oped his lips, he did
I went down to the library,
a balding poet (Phil) was there.
My lack of feeling fits (he said)
my lack of hair.
I cycled down to Cornwall fast,
it seems some Charlie there could rhyme.
But he was only six years old
and past his prime.
I went inside some old farm gates
and there I saw a steaming Ted
astride a bull’s back, trying to write
and damn near dead.
I wandered past a nunnery.
A Kathleen poetess-fairy there
atop a bluebell, shouted, ‘Off,
you naughty bear!’
I went into a graveyard next.
A Betje-ghost lives there alone.
His poems (as ever) go chuckle chuckle
And then I woke and found me here
on this rock-floor,
and now I don’t care to go out,
not any more.
And that is why I moulder here,
with the box on,
for when I search for it, far or near –
your magic’s gone.”
Gone . . . gone . . . the very word’s a bell
that sounding from the meadows of the past
recites a way of life, a loveliness
that could not last.
And Byron too, with his glass-clinking echo,
and Tennyson as well,
still ringing out in distant lordliness,
and mournful Arnold, have so much to tell,
and robust Browning, clipping out his notes,
Christina, and Elizabeth, whose hearts
sing well, are well
but took small part, of sisters or of wives . . .
all, all are past, melodious poets’ lives,
all held together in one limpid echo
Gone . . .
And here we have Hopkins ripping into the ring
sparring at the time, landing hammer-blows, thumping himself
himself and shadowself poor Jackself on the splintered floorboards
as the century burst through to find the individual
I would not have no no I would not have
any way you look at it put her in before me
given her to the rats before me
but my skull was to be stared through by those gleaming eyes
my face chewed my tongue bitten my inner ear deafened
I was to have rats inside my head
this is what they said in room 101
how could I stop them stop them stop them
then I found the offer they were looking for
and I gave them her gave them her gave up her
in a form of words
do it to her do it to her do it to JULIA
no no I would not have
any way you look at it I would not I could not
English poetry save me you would not let warmth go
you would not let love out of your hands
but you did
The cave is NOW
Suddenly filled with harsh light
the room is clattered with tin shelves on wheels
I am in a library
The poetry of the past is packed away in tin boxes
a number of metal sheets are in the desk in front of me
they make up its surface
In the distance an army of people at their work
bend over their desks and hammer away at new words
obliterating this, transporting that, tweezer-shifting letters
It is my work too, to tidy up the past
scanning for anomalies (in the light of future events)
to show the inevitability of Now
This is what the educated do, but for a moment
I sat here as in a cave and saw the past as a person
and for a further moment
I can see this century’s output, before my hands
dance to a godless brain . . .
When I am dead think only this of me,
that there was someone in this stone-dead time
who tried to live a little, and could see
quick and alive in English plays and rhyme
a gesture, or a calling-out, a voice
at times more faintly, or more loudly heard
at which the individual might rejoice.
And I responding with an outspoken word
gave somehow back (though in ungainly fashion)
an atom of the strength I had received,
an echo of the warmth, the kindliness,
to small effect (for little was my ration)
but gladdening some. And if my word achieved
continuance . . . the time’s dead word is less.
Rupert, frolicsome seventeen-year-old
whom everyone liked as you entered a room,
you missed the age of discretion. And in letters
who has passed it, grown to become a man?
There is but one, who died on the day after.
Alone among the moderns
you wrote with a full heart,
with anger, seething wayward lines
‘The pity of war’ you said, but only
might stir you now, of the complacency
in which we live
who’d shatter continents, who mis-use
What seized us?
The mind, heart, eyes of a second Ice Age.
The foretaste of a nuclear night.
Anticipation in Art
and self-styled poets now squeeze thin tubes of life
in narrowed circles, desperately slow
hoping, perhaps, their efforts lead towards
a kind of Centre, out from which to start
joyful again – but knowing there is no Centre . . .
the journey is empty, vain, utterly vain . . .
In this ice-blindness, this complete cold
am I, Winston Smith, in a collapsed universe of gesticulating shadows
and the pain begins to reach me, of our new loss
as the mind fastened over the heart . . .
Let us go then, Tom and James
let us go and teach young Sam his games
we will play chess in the launderama
while Britain botches poetry, novels, drama
the door opens, in comes Aldous
“It’s mate in seventeen” you could have fooled us
the door opens, in comes Ezra
you play Chinese chess, he’ll play Chineserer
the door opens, in runs Bertrand
“I’ll prove they’re alive” he says and shakes each pawn by the hand
Wittgenstein sees this, dashes through a closed door
gets the whole room in perpetual check and offers himself a draw
Who are all these banging on the glass?
The future subtle thinkers in doggerel, light prose, farce
begging to be included.
See how the once rich terrain was denuded!
they tell me the highest honour in the land
a simple goblet carved from rock, the oldest of the ornaments
is to be presented
not to a killer of dragons and leader of his people
not to a serf who saw more than his master
not to someone who could, in his voice, touch others
but to someone who specialises in the low-key.
I am the library man. I can
heroicise the trite
with something not so sharp as wit
and not so strong as spite,
so infantilely bright.
And with apologetic smile
of one who knows his rate
and knows that he is valued as
the Mediocre Hit,
I sip from my pure cup. I am
the English Laureate.
four fingers are five are five are five
all the billboards on the road gabble nonsense
I live I see I am
in the time
They have me
we are in the post-Auden landscape
brittle shadows of what was song and feeling
dance and shatter
over a thousand magazines
a phrase here, a line there
instantly sneered at, stamped on by its author
– the Thought Police at work
There is no future
only a sad sifting-through of sand
to a greater aridity
the manufactured wars go on, statistics dominate
and love comes second-best
It was always so in action
but never so in words
Lay your tired poet’s head
in the quicksand arms of Time.
English language, go to bed.
Now the silver bells of rhyme
are no more rung, and now blank verse
has lost its stride, and can but creep,
and verse is all that is perverse . . .
English language, go to sleep.
Time and the bell have buried the day
sing leia la la leia la la
the black cloud carries the sun away
Eliot’s music, here to stay
leia la la
in this rock
at this point of darkness in the tunnel
as I strive, with the aid of a novel, to inch further
set here, locked, twisted and thrown together
are a thousand useless lumps in a trash-heap millennium
heads that once spoke, shouted, sang
all gargoyle-skulls, together mixed
to coalesce at length to next year’s word . . .
and in with the medley
– at the most distant remove of all, yet cousins –
are William Shakespeare, Winston Smith and I.
Hoo now boy it was me
none of yer fancy
decorative scratchings and that
but me, Ted, the man they asked
to paint the bull on the cave wall
Because I am the Dante Gabriel Rossetti of the farmland
I can do you a pre-Raphaelite on all that matters:
dog-shit, wolf-howl, lamb’s innards
I can show you a zombie head, by peeling back the landscape
with such precision and care
you will see it as your own.