It seems so long ago I left my princedom.
Perched in the rocky hillside is a green field
within a circling mountain stream, a white bridge
that took a blazered boy towards his playground,
the chapel and Big School.
Since then he has fought
a world of wars. Since then his ship has sunk
below a space of seas. Since then . . .
but see him
enter a girls’ school behind Chapel Market,
a youngman master of the classroom. Hate
burns up at him from the sea monster’s eyes.
All the girls in a class, desk-motionless,
wait for a kill. But one or two are there
with stories, poems that they will show him later . . .
and now the boat turns dizzily in a whirlpool.
What is this crashing tide of boys and girls
off Archway Road? Islanded in the staffroom,
and drawn down outside to an anonymous hell,
still he can catch at bits of paper, rescue
somehow, a precious craft. Which then was stoned-at,
shattered-by-winds, dishevelled-by-waves, mast-stricken
in an expanse, a random-spot of chaos
that called itself a school, by Gipsy Hill.
Ah God, what a sweet breeze still blew my way
of poems! Even in the dark, this monster’s cave
where heads were smashed against the wall, and bones flew . . .
what was the music on the air? I hear it
faintly or loudly, all my working days,
I who was nothing, less-than-nothing, No-Name –
I stove the monster in and left the cave.
Then for a while on Circe’s island. The youngman
captain heard a song and entered harbour,
mooring to a holly-tree off Edge Hill.
He drank the good mulled wine at Christmas, ate dates –
and suddenly all about were piglets feeding,
boars and sows in attendance, Wimbledon Catholics.
He tugged the rope clear. Steered to No-place. Steered
blind, without bearings, and fetched up at Balham.
Then the winds shrieked. With an amental howl
of storm, the sky itself tore at his ears.
Desk-lids banged inside the back of his head.
A grimace filled his eyes. Angry jaws
made of his skull a bedlam in the classroom –
and half was his own shouting. And still there
in words and lines of poetry by children
fell the sweet rain.
Now it is forty years since I set out,
light years, dark years. For long I ploughed a fine course
along the sweep of Twyford Crescent where
I learnt to navigate by all the stars.
By then, in truth, it was my ship-companions
that I too led. So many who taught with me,
at their own work in the sails, or on the look-out,
who cheerfully disregarded me, and yet
ran a quick ship, at least to a degree
to my direction – now I look back and see them
seated in various pose about a classroom
they did not know was mine. Here less of poetry,
more of the way of the world. But always the air
shook with poems unspoken, in the young foreheads
that glanced about me, sudden innumerable gusts,
children of London, flowers of the sky.
Always it seemed a wild grove lay all near,
On a wide lonely tack I struck out
to Krishna’s town, and to a Haven of Peace,
to where the moon lay on its back, and people
had names that whispered like a magic charm,
to each a meaning. In a conspiracy
of gods and goddesses I was invited up
to lightning and the thunder and the rainbow.
The King of the Sun was there, and Searing Joy,
their voices living in the elements
created in the heat of the wordy soul.
And I spoke out the poetry of the great
in my own tongue. Still I would sit with children
and show them how to write, and hear them think,
and let them be. A hundred and fifty moons
and I sailed back, through a few short-lived gales,
to a remembered swan-road.
What is this field
off Eastern Road, on the side of a hill,
before the sea? This chapel, this Great Hall?
As if I came back to that schoolboy princedom,
to learn but now to teach, only in dreams
the same. It is permitted me to visit
but not to stay. To teach a time as light
as holiday. And now the arms are pointing –
“Go here, go there, go anywhere but back in!”
I must again to the wars. I must again
out to the rocky seas. I must again
beyond a safe horizon, frailer now.
And I rejoice. I am king in my kingdom.
I will go out, and work, and catch at sheets
of sweet words that make human sense in chaos.
I will go out to touch tomorrow’s minds.
I will go out and sail into the future.
I will go out and still learn how to be.