This poem was written almost entirely in the 1960s. It was a maze of scraps, single lines, disconnected phrases, verses, semi-sections; and at the time the theme was not clear. I thought it was about “growing up”. It stayed buried in three folders for its separate parts for over forty years. Neither the poem itself nor any part had a title.

When at last I looked into the folders again, resolved to make them justify their existence or be gone, the various titles and subtitle came to me, and the whole thing fell into place. It was as if I had been working on the jigsaw for many years. Some material was scrapped, some new invention was needed. Now at last I am liberated from it and it from me.  JW

Part 1 – The Dark House  /  Part 2 – Blind Alley /  Part 3 – Outside


the birth of a poet


White daffodils       fused with sunset,
the heart’s fortune.       They disobey
my first melancholy.
  Come world, good world,
stop sniffing in the grass       and come to heel.
He turned from me,       the old retriever,
or I let him go,       he was pulling so fast.
Come world, good world.
On Loch Lomond water
the sun burnt yellow,       and stones in grass
and straw in bushes       and planks of wood
on disused rails       half in water
started a story.

I wander out upon a cold cold night
seeking a place inside my body’s self
in which to be my final easy master.
The traffic comes and goes through lighted streets
and busy people brush the darling air
all unconcernedly behind their faces
in haste to be at home. Shop windows flare,
impressing lucky gazers, hand in hand.
The pavement sets my robot feet in line,
the corners of the various ghosted streets
direct my body in safe expedition
of senses overworked, of which the first
are eyes. In such a scene I know myself,
for night is come and fallen are the stars.

A scene of doubt       and dear delight –
the blind honour       of adolescence.
In utter loneliness       and nearly mad
I shall play back       these former utterances –
the tantrums of       a tensed-up boy.
In sonnet shape       and later in song
they will release,       self-ransoming,
reel off scot-free,       unscale into man,
a lizard student       who smiled and slunk
in versatile oddness.
Oh pretty brain,
oh social consciousness!       Each blasé student
is under-bled –       and the hard worker
wastes his time.       Gaseous shapes
float in restaurants,       noble and classless,
politics-burbling;       gaseous shapes
huddle in pubs,       middle-class knobbly,
politics-burbling.       Out of school
into the laundrette –       where town meets gown
in the same grey whirl.       One reads Dickens,
the other reads Dickens.       One is a serviette,
the other a Daily Mirror.
Let us now praise
goodhearted zombies,       graters on empty pipes
and neo-Fascists.       Let us applaud
the umbrella-serious,       the degree-getters,
the salary-hopeful.       Let us abhor
the dogcollar-earnest,       the introverted
and those who write poetry.       O bubble bubble,
pretty, pretty brain!

Quite drowned among the impenetrable future
and ragged impervious past, voices are hidden:
a wise old man, a city of admirers,
an elegant mother, a quick responsive friend,
a girl. I poke in my own lucklessness,
and turn the logs which once had burned so sane
to a curt lovers’ deadlock.
There is a wall,
hard, massive, bare-faced and invisible,
that cuts me off from all I want to do.
If I attempt to find a door, it opens
only to slam and slam in a mad storm.

These are my short and inexpensive years
in which I pay for all my dreams with dust.

Each vivid pleasure kicks high-heeled to boredom.

There is a door,       and what is perfect
passes through it.       Fumble, fluster,
boil and bluster,       mumble.
Shadows on the wall       attract attention:
a grotesque mother,       a lonely child,
Medusa’s head,       a listening wolf –
but the snakes skedaddle       back to fingers,
a pack of ghosts       is startled off –
and the human shape       sits petrified.
Blind eager eyes       lodge in the self.
Alive and alone.

At length the trees
boast our bones.
The wind outlives
the skyscrapers.
We are always building:
let us calm down.
By the river
great quiet descends.

In a quick botch
of public and private       we are dragged to the door.
The mind unlatches       prayer and colour
from the hard day.
After school
I made crab salads       in a café kitchen
in the Lake District,       and scoured the stove,
and cut the eyes       out of potatoes,
deep in doubt       of self-discovery,
asking too much.
The knife slipped in
that the years draw out:       and I walked for miles
along the lakes,       blessed by the road.
Here there was wind       and the going was good,
open country,       land above water,
and the hills knew a person       as I walked from Windermere
up to Penrith.
Out on my own
I have learnt to breathe –       and I sniff the air
for the richest scents!       He is free to breathe
who branches out alone.       People are nose-blocked
by a noisy apathy.
How often at parties
the air is too thin!       How often at meetings
the scent is sneezed away!       How often at Oxford
they sneered.
Students slide together
on glistening frog-muscle.       They are taught to leap
in pious frills.       The honest searcher
is not befriended.
There is no pity
in public, in public:       no pure emotion
that is not murderous.       Oh let us preserve
our kicked-in silent face –       each person keep
his special freedom.

When glasses snap in party conversation,
and at my head a man on bended knee
levels a rifle in point-blank accusation –
a streak of wearying strength leans up in me.
The world retreats into a host of colours
and people merely talk. I cannot tell
what is my role, but if I am not callous
but listen, listen, it may turn out well.
The morning left me free to face the weather
and so I dared to prove its liberties –
to stumble down a hill of stones and heather
and shelter in a wilderness of trees.
Though rain may sweep the earth, hail fly in showers,
such innocence reprieves my inward powers.

Celebration       of natural music,
the clear gift of silence.
An age of stars
caught in the hand –       and pure luck sounding
in the deep waters.
I am part of a chance
As the hand opens
time re-appears       in its second-rate rhythm:
the catcalls of life,       the harsh silver angles,
cars hooting round corners,       money giggling in fingers –
the obsequious jangling       of a jukebox waterfall.
(Riverpilot Time       soft-pedals us awake,
pipes to no purpose       and blares us to sleep.)
Bleary melodies       infect us with
a shallow sanity.
An insipid college
in a Fauntleroy city;       and a squashy dead tutor.
Arts at Oxford.       Foolscap and gowns.
A crinkly chocolate-box:       ‘Black Magic’ – try one
with a soft centre.       The unctuous mind
bungs up meek lives.
Belly-strutting dons
block out the vents       to the individual voice;
and comb out the fur       of their caged-in minds;
and shaking with phobia       lean heavily upon
the deadweight apparatus       of the sloth of centuries;
and in all righteousness       rope in raw students,
and smother them       with the smug smatterings
of culture and office,       falling bits of soot,
and smear them over       with mental smut –
for they spread false fire,       these failure people,
in a cool pretence       at competence.
Smirk and smoulder,       let them grow bolder,
smoke and smudge,       then they won’t budge –
so the old fix the young       as failure people.
With personality tricks,       the advantage of age,
they set them up       like a frame of skittles,
to zero in on the target       of a hollow bumptiousness
in a limp nation.       Aim well – and watch them
bowl each other over.       This target is Oxford’s
dead centre.
Instant stuntedness.
Yours for a couple       of stunts.
Yours for a bowlegged       ambition.
Yours for an impotent       mimicry.
Jump into the ring –       then walk on stilts
without a wrong step,       and repeat whatever’s said
without adding or changing       anything.
Yours to be proud of.       Yours to pander to.
Yours sincerely.
You older ones,
quit scorn. I write       half-baked and out of dough,
browned off and loafing about.       I am in a blur.
I feel dimly       there is too much yeast.
Yet strapped in a haze       of different temperatures,
I am ready to be       as whole as bread
when God at last       will free me
to live and die.
This shifting poem
by choice and chance       contains the shape
of a changing texture.       You older ones,
quit scorn. I write       that I may become man.
I tell the truth.
A human being
has a head on his shoulders.       He can see and sense
the quickest way.       Quickest, quick-set
in times of quiet       he captures, confirms
a creative course –       quirk-free, unquarrelled –
the all-alive quickening.       Through the locked strain,
the determined list       and dogged listlessness,
he is led, if he listens,       to love.
But first the long era       of blame, blind blame,
and self-abuse.

A spirit of disgust and private shame
indelibly washed against an unsure face
revealed to others, as it did to me
a cess-pool of incompetence and guilt.
My natural benefits, the only rescue,
were mocked as odd and narrow, something weak
because they were strong. Sensible childish friends
pampered my soul – but though my heart’s blood warmed me,
I have no talent for God.
At length I grew
to have myself in charge and honoured trust;
forgot myself; saw Oxford’s puny worth,
the quiet-minded or sarcastic dons;
and threw the fog onto the outside world
with reason catapult and handstrength anger.

My consistency       is still treacherous.
I am as helpless       to secure my hopes
as the tide untying       knots of sand.
In warmth there is weakness –       friends wave, facts waver –
in strength destruction.       Moods are blown up.
The moon is shipwrecked       in the tide.
But I trust in truth.
In a heavy air
of misty gravel       my brain hangs on.
Sometimes a small bell       whistles and dies,
a tiny alarm.       What woke me to
this tunnelgrit darkness,       engine-rush, this
intensity?       First a small matter
of not being wanted.
The wrong has rankled
against all reason.       I cannot forget
the friendless child.       Oh stop my voice
reviling my mother.

The engine thunders
into blackness.       Burnished are the rails.
Tear, tear, tear       the paper of the air!
Let the rails cover her.       These papers are false:
I am in the right.
Sleek anger drives home
through the gleaming night.
The tunnel enters
a shriek of slogans.       Fluorescent cartoons
stream from the walls.       I am painted black,
hooting at myself,       headlit by lampoons.
Words fight in the furnace,       white hot, white light.
My voice howls down       the burning night.
A child’s joy, a child’s toy       my model righteousness,
a single engine       running in my head,
uncoached, uncoupled,       without direction
working to order,       speeding up, slowing down,
straining to find level,       pistons pounding,
jagged words, coal burning,       a grandiose design
caught in the light       at the tunnel’s exit,
a machine in motion,       dead on the track,
shining black with wheels.       O see the beauty
of a finished power!

In the dark cab
the journey started.       Then the long walks
in the country.       I cycled in a storm,
afraid that the lightning       would touch the handlebars.
Just the pedals.       What was I doing?
I had to demand,       not knowing why,
an explanation       of the sky.
Once I could not       enter a forest.
And on the staircase,       by the portrait
of a knight-in-armour       shining grim,
a door slammed open       through the wall,
such light came in.
A child hits the pool,
creating the world       in a millionaire splash
of anger-brightness.
This is his;
this is him.

In Cornwall I ran
happy-alone,       ventured near the goats,
threw up pennies       into the air,
knew the village.
But then we moved.
She started a school,       had her own child.
I was not known.
Over the years
I heard her scorn,       her witless comments,
her withering tone,       her tired contempt,
her little interest,       her raucous laugh,
her numbskull arguments,       her imbecile rage –
and not a word       of recognition.
I waited silent       for the sentence to finish.
In the dark house       no thanks were given,
nothing happened,       and I lived in abeyance,
meriting little,       earning nothing.
My pennies were lost.
Target for the blotch
inside her head       I kept well back:
it did not wash.       And I edged clear,
never accepted       her picture of me,
never played up:       and so it swings
maniacally       behind her eyes,
her helpless eyes,       telling her fault,
swinging encrusted       through the years,
age-mouldering,       since guilt took root
over the blotch.
Now I am
the grime in her brain.

I was hit and hated
by an adoptive mother.
Home was where
I waited for orders.
Or the insinuating dirt
of destructive criticism.
But her filth
has stayed with her.

The lines stretch out,
rising on edge.       I had Asian ’flu,
slightly feverish,       a strange dull nightmare,
woke in gibberish,       spoke to someone
waving my hand,       saw him pretend
to understand –       and came to myself
in hidden shame,       went on with the act
till Matron came.
I’d wake into
my skeleton.       The flesh was jelly,
the bones came through.       I’d bend my hand
round the bed-rail,       not touching it,
holding on.
Terror of bone:
but bursting the terror       invincible fact –
I shall go mad       unless I hold on.
Terror of bone.
Watershed flesh.
Bedrock of bone.       Actual fact,
factual act.       Words are stupid:
they are the flesh.       But are they also
nurse to bone?
This question is
beyond my grasp.
Terror of bone:
the present grinding       upon the present,
the future grating       into the past.
The moving world       upon the still
terror of bone.
I shall go mad
unless I hold on.
A shadow moving
beyond the substance;       knowledge gained,
ebullience lost;       the forces of space
beating down,       self on self
bearing down …
Here comes the black cab,
driven in despair,       passing the station
of my delirium,       drawing away
safely to future       in the momentum
of past time.       I am aboard
the sad delusion.       But it’s true,
she didn’t want me.
The mind surrenders
to the wheels.       I cannot forget
the friendless child,       discounted and silent,
slave to sadness:       a stone-cold corpse
was his heart in him:       no hearth he found
but December’s numbness,       adult indifference.
I hated her       with unhindered heart
over a senseless       gap in time –
eighteen years,       the anaemic time –
for her dislike       in its slack disguise –
for her social sweetness       that blessed her sadism –
for her sloth, her grubbiness,       her blackmail, her murder –
and I hate her now,       with all my heart
I hate her.       I love her.
On my ninth birthday       we sat on a wall
with crisps and raisins.
She ran a school
that rambled like summer       till it went bankrupt.
Then I was sent       to senior school.
In the garden wood       I saw spiders playing;
the web they travelled       shimmered with dust.
In the garden wood       I found the duck’s eggs;
I threw a stick       and it hit the nest.
But I lost my bearings       on the long train journey –
there was nothing living       I could trust.
In the garden wood       were classrooms and buses!

Big’uns, little’uns,       boys at school.
I had to learn       what they knew.
A little oddity       caught behind glasses,
taker of sixpences       from others’ coats,
unable sometimes       to master his bowels,
I stood spectator       to their merriment.
Skew and asquat.       What does it matter?
The picture stays       clamped round the heart
and the unthought pain       hurts and hurts,
my denumbed boyhood,       I did not cry
for ten years,       now the child cries –
I did not exist,       I did not exist,
there was nothing living       I could trust.
Marks, marks, marks,       the sublime slime –
and football, pocketmoney,       heroes, nicknames,
pariahs, cowardice,       wet pants, cheating –
the competitive maze       whirlpooled me,
and the lack of interest       knocked me silly.
Parents should help       their children to be proud.
Unprepared       as a person
I had no space       to raise my head
until as a boarder       and in the sixth form
I began to make friends –       and I found people.
In the fair heart       is innocence.
I was sixteen       and my own self
before I caught       the hand of pity,
that draws away,       that dangles me,
that lets me live.
Now every noise
attacks me, fighting       inside my head –
blue-and-yellow howls –       cannons, ricochets,
echoes, pickaxes –       and there she stands,
arms akimbo,       making a noise
like cats screaming.       Letters leap out
from floor and ceiling,       crude disjointed
tumbling knocking       in half meaning.
Other people       gentle at the side
are not involved       in the metropolis
of my being.
The good old engine
carries me blindfold       through the centre.
I stand on the footplate,       rip the used film
from my eyes,       wink at the circus
of neon voices,       and ride down my enemy.
Dark-blue police       are on my track
but I swing right round       for another attack,
her face gets nearer,       it is crying,
it’s too late now       to stop her dying,
now she is shaking       in body-despair.
Tear, tear, tear       the paper of the air!
Let the rails cover her.
She puts up no fight –
I am in the right!
The lewd thrust spears home
down the tearaway night.
The shining rails
themselves declare       their silver honour!
I cannot dispute       the rails’ intention!
But I see it again       as in a dream,
the heavy wooden arm       by the side of the track
mutely down,       not raised to stop me.
It calls me to       complete my circuit.
The train winds round,       testing the rails,
important in carriage –       for I invite passengers
on this trip.       There she stands,
sloppy warmhearted,       selfish silly shallow,
unable to suffer,       shaking red flesh,
brutal in her tears –       and so she stands always
in her own shame,       begging for love,
pressed against the stove,       unable to face cold,
being inwardly cold,       lacking in kindness
and all restraint.       I have slid out
from under her foot.       What shall I say?
There is no discussion.       There are no two ways.
Let the rails cover her.
But the points have changed!
Brake engine, blast the past!       Take a break!
But it shunts on and on,       the useless, useless truth:
I was rejected,       and in rejection
I knew my origin.
Memories tag
the roaring wheels       that churn out this poem,
whirling expressionless,       furiously thinking,
whisking up dirt,       stirring the sleepers.
But the journey is slow       down the iron road;
all too often       the wheels are inactive.
The lines are littered       but unbroken:
whether chipped and corrupt       or millimetre even,
the wheels do not care,       if the train of thought
somehow continue –       and only the metaphor
soon break down.
Memories caught
in the clatter and trundle       of the black conscious hell
caused by this parent       now ease themselves out:
mad bits of string       wrestling with the air:
but lost to the sight,       as memories of dreams,
a little recurring,       vanish and fade.
I am left with the truth.

The small boy whimpers;
she clasps her guilt.
I have lost her gift,
her outward soul.
Something is missed,
left hanging in transit.
Her warmth to me,
my warmth to anyone.

The harm is done.
She cleared the way       for my different path.
I have turned aside       from her dislike.
The harm is done.       Two people are hurt
in the world.

The engine looms –
and I drift vacant       into the suburbs,
led by a ruse       of simple streets
into a park,       trees and light air,
and on a seat       consult the dawn.
The birds are singing       in wet fresh air,
but still I play       the record of my past,
heard dimly now,       piano-soft,
a Chopin waltz.       I shut my eyes.
I listen to       the plaintive tune
of silent years.

Tense through defence
I know the strain well       and can stretch at ease,
mind in its hammock.
But the bright world
rocks it too roughly,       wrenching its dreams.

Morning raps       at the back of the skull,
events overtake       the sleeping mind,
and the fist of the world       crashes through.
As it spreads open       birds fill the air,
little busybodies       chirping with laughter
at the cack-handed antics       of the playful god,
at the way of the world –       as in heavy abandon
it jests with the dead shape,       pokes it and pushes it,
flicks it and bangs it,       dances around it
demanding attention,       jerks at the canvas,
torturing the walls       in the room of its dreams,
shouts at it, shocks it       and shakes it awake:
and so it sits up       with staring eyes:

Sometimes the walls are hot and bright with sun.
To sit at ease beside a table writing
is tantamount to great and priceless murder
of all the senses stored as valuable
in garbled splendour in the memory.
Through plains of light the brute alarm of silence
rings on and on. In such a squalid heaven,
where ignorance and certain happiness meet,
no question interrupts the state of knowing,
but maddened guides with torches shriek out Danger.
Return my gaze to beauty of the hand,
remember when the landscape lay in winter,
when careful wolf I showed my teeth and grinned,
watching my footmarks through the intricate snow.

Lights popping:       and the merger
of self – and the self! –       grabbed, stored and lit
in the lantern       of word-jargon.
Ideas, bits of flame.       The mind juggles
splinters, arcs       and broken halves.
Now is One.       Lights popping:
the return to self.       Blind eager eyes
glare with effort.       They mock each other.
They see only       the torn shadows
of anxious student       and useless scarecrow.
The head of my eyes       is frozen, on fire:
crammed and stuffed       with a surfeit of essays.
The dead paper burns       in the search for ideas,
but the silver milktops       and chocolate wrappings –
eyes and body       detached from earth –
these are constant,       still creating
a tinsel noise       in the oxygen wind.
Stuck up, stuck up –       go it, good students!
I stood up straight       on a burnt hill
as the two stages       drifted round me,
sun and snow.

Gagged and at gun-point
I put up my hands,       marched out of school,
and entered a hall       where great, wise men
in dressing-gowns       headed ping-pong balls
across a table.       I nodded decisively
but missed each time:       yet I followed the game
as I could, with my eyes,       and soon cross-eyed
changed my tactics,       squinted appreciation,
and then fell backwards       out of the door
as a sledgehammer drive       cracked open my brain –
I was in at Oxford!
I had no mind,
no means of knowing       the absurd structure
of the wider classroom.
I had no strength
to shrug off the robe       of mediaeval holiness,
ethereal garb,       embroidered with
question and answer,       and fastened with
a purse-lipped smile.
And I had no will
to beat off the angels:       never thought once
I could jerk clean away –       hold down in the jungle
a regular job.
And so I agreed

And now the interviewer –
snide show-off in me –       approaches the death
of experience.       In a gleaming cage
of ignorance       he paces about
like a keen aunt-to-be;       and rubbing his hands
like worms crawling,       and dribbling sorriness
like Uriah Heep,       with a sidelong leer
he reaches out       in mean nasal tones
for a titbit of truth.

“And what, would you say –
what was the outcome –       or if I may enquire,
what did you achieve –       or if you’ll forgive
my asking you       a personal question –
what true advantage,       enrichment of being,
did you derive –       give a brief impression –
from your Oxford years?”

I wasted my time,
propped up by the State.
Tense and tired
I thought too much.
Did too little,
nothing at all.
And yet I fashioned
a magic lantern.

In Italy
a roasted fish       was my evening feast
as I hitched to Rome;       and I walked through a city,
would drag myself       into the hills,
take to the grass,       put my rucksack
by my head,       and let the stars
protect my sleep.
Spinning out fragments
of a strange language       the unearthly stars,
tourists of the sky,       wander through time,
cross another country,       pass all the patterns
related to man.
Yet we tread their dance
and travel their way,       the nomadic element
sifting through Nature,       discovering the stars
at one with our freedom,       our distant longings
at home in that hall.
We know a splendour
that pierces midnight;       we see the slow burners
in brilliant gangs:       they shower a dark chasm
with firebrands, with street-cries;       fling over a palace
their precious stones.
And so the blind human
rests glad in darkness.

Out in the open
on a clear night       a silent speech
binds Nature to man.       The sky shouts, it sparkles,
the grass-blades differ,       talking thin air,
there’s nothing between them …       a precocious light wind
desires permission       to interrogate the stars,
and puffed-up with assent       it blows wildly off,
loses its way,       drifts nervously back
inventing excuses,       unexpected delays,
reels off to itself       a flimsy story …
and the human being       on the patch of grass
hears tell of it all,       but as the plot deepens
he loses his way …
In the well of night,
the nothing of nature,       in the pocket of sleep
there is no “I am”;       yet each on earth
inherits a fortune,       fine shelter from
a roof of stars,       as somewhere among them
a jewel of sharp brightness       impinges on
the sleeping mind,       writes the way forward;
as in a dream-cluster       the past day’s events,
perilled in space,       drift towards nowhere,
disappearing at dawn.

In the land of the depths
of the self I went
down the nights, down the days,
looking for freshness.
Museum my head
and virgin body.
I had thought that love
returned, was the sun.

When in a circle of four trees I stood
and looked intently at the magic rain,
a curtain rose somewhere inside my brain,
and I had vision into something good.
For though I nothing certain understood,
I thought the leaves, that on the ground had lain
filthy and far-gone, were alive again.
I reached out carefully and touched the wood.

Nothing could hurt me in my student days.
I stood quite still, outside the strident norm,
and knew I had the strength in word-displays
to be a poet. This idea gained form,
something of the breath of life, its ways –
because I saw a goddess in the storm.

Barefoot on       the Oxford pavement
she would pause       to look at shops
she would follow       the river-bank
to take wood-grasses       and sparse ferns
now I remember       so little of her
shy and sharp       and thin and sweet
a thread of summer       straying away
now it is all       a matter of light
the look of her eyes

On a young day
we chose a path       clover-soft
the world did not find.       Yet all we had
was a loving friendship       pure and simple

Barking mad       a cacophony
of caged voices,       yearning, yammering,
yapping to be fed,       animal words
of need, of possession.       Unready passions.

I shall try       to forget her now

now no more       the entrance of each
by a kissing-gate       into a meadow
of wild promises

I shall try
to forget       the touch of her eyes.

A scholar-child       still inactive
I sped into poems,       reading, writing,
tugging at meaning.       In the college
words were the game.       Words were my game.
But in the playing       I was let into
a goldmine of dreams.
Old languages
spoke to a singer       inside my cage.
In the deep vaults       I hovered and breathed
fulfilment at last.       So I would go
to the Fellows Garden       in a free moment
to find where I was,       to see what it was
I wanted to do.

Upon the lawn there sat in mock debate
harmonious dark blue chairs in shadow of trees.
Unhampered by a scholar-gipsy bee
with fervent, static complaint drilling their warmth,
red tulips sang for alms in pious clumps.
A bird perched on a croquet-hoop: then flung
itself astonishingly through sculpted branches
alive with leaves. In wanton sunlight Oxford
showed proud and stubborn bones of greybeard stone.
A robin briefly dwelt among the pebbles.
I sat and summarised, regaled with flowers:
“Never was garden so gloriously gay – ”
and smudged the morning’s transfer in my mind,
contemplative and ugly with a biro.

Words froze.       An ice-storm beat
the living stem       flat to the ground.
A banshee wind       peopled the hollows
of my skull.       Ghosts, ghosts!
Wisps of ideas       flitted about
a perished landscape.       Stanzas appeared
made of nothing,       perfectly-mannered,
able only       to check each other,
observing the guide-lines.
I have tried too hard
to write.
On the frozen ground
words rose, words died,       collapsed kite-tails,
pitiful stragglers …       still to shuffle
numbly to order,       words no longer,
sounds, grunts even,       breathy shapes
in dogged unmeaning,       endeavouring still
to get off the ground.
I have tried too hard
to write.
Bits of elastic
in the head       fall into shape
in set patterns.
Too hard, too hard.
Behind the glory       of the Fellows Garden
a shadow stumbles       nearer its nemesis,
an isolate brain.
Thoughts swing like ropes
over a precipice.       I grab at ideas,
gossamer threads       that pull out and out
from an unseen spindle.       Particulars
and generals.       The massive error
of a round statement.       The too-much-there
in all but art.       The need to repeat
the name of God       in other names.
The Formless One.       The mind still moving
on the flux.       The whispered truth
behind a poem.       Out far out,
a light mass swinging       on a wavering strand,
not touching base.       Scared to think,
swallowed by the wind,       brain-empty, exhausted,
in tears. I cannot       not-think. I know of
no gleaming web       to which to add
a feeble warp       to a known weft.
No field theory       of tensile strength
that never breaks down.       Rather I see
all blowing apart       about the great stars.
I cannot think       and I cannot stop thinking.
There is no-one to talk to.

Hold on, hold on.
Are they in touch,       the high-wire experts,
the theatre managers,       the dons, do they know
what it is they are doing?
Hold on, hold on.
I let go once,       felt the reel running
of a cotton thread.       In the hours left
to a working mind       I walked in the city
to see it again       for the last time.
At a crossroads stood       a candled giant
to light the way.       A life was saved
by a horse-chestnut tree.
Hold on, hold on.
In the ghost town       behind the words
is the light heart       of a loving friend
who turned to me once,       a wildflower girl
who touched me with       her eyes.
I met her again.
Still to flounder
through a snow-storm.       Still to approach
an ice-shelf barrier.       Still to make love
in frozen metre.       Still in the prison
of self.

When pictured in the mirror of thy soul
I see my hopes and fears reflected lie,
claiming by site an interest past their whole,
yet suitor to thy wish to pass them by,
thee straight rejecting, and with thee rejoicing
in shared remission of a mutual need,
or else thy deeds and virtue loudly voicing,
thus to retain and magnify their greed –
when these I see all hung upon thy smile,
both prince and page adjacent to thy pleasure,
I see the master-image of my guile
come bravely dancing to a newer measure,
pensive to love thee, sweet with hybrid art:
afraid to move the glass that hides thy heart.

Like the curved handle       of a jug
is man’s mystery.       Opposites range
and come together.       Ice and fire:
a frozen verse       and a response
of forever fury.       What hand can tame
a frantic claw       behind the eyes?
In a dream       a pale blue bird
hops from branches.
A cat crept gingerly
over the dustbins       along the coke shelters
up on the wall       leapt to a window
stayed on the sill.
of like, unlike       invite me on:
a lemon-squeezer,       a roulette-wheel;
a propeller-blade,       a dragon-fly;
flights on an arrow,       a Red Admiral;
leaves on a flower-stalk,       three birds flying;
a moth crawling,       the spine of a book …
an electric saw       and a red tractor;
a frequent knife;       and a raffish tube-train
bright and hot       barging through blackness.
Sex is slightly mad:       the pin on a brooch,
a razor-blade.       Yet in the garden
of our oneness       bees drink from Pink Pearls.
In a common acre       if her heart accorded
madness would rip       less jagged than
a dandelion leaf.

We search for something,
missing what matters.       In the bare space
is nothing we want,       but only a relic
left by us and Time       of a fiery planet
of a profligate people.       A lump of gnawed stone
afloat on the waste.       What is it we want?
To be, to see       a statue carved with light –

Images tumble       in a medley.
A childhood venture       in the barn
at the garden-wood school:       was it maybe three times
I shoved myself up       through a small trapdoor
in the ceiling       to crawl through a space
next to the roof       thick with blind dirt
black black stuffy       bumstuffed with darkness

At the open window       of a dream
birds celebrate       the fantasy of air
dive-bomb through blossom       petals of pear
dancing bits of snow
A frail leaf resting
in the hollow       of the hand of Time,
what freedom is this       fetched from the dark
to enter existence?
My grandmother died
slumped over a sofa.       From her pale face
the bitter light was gone.       In the fireplace
of her memory       the atoms of the air
gather, join battle –       but no-one will honour
one moment of       her horrible anger,
her hurt life.
I used to dream
of an old, old lady.       We met, I was terrified.
I know it sounds mad,       but I think I’ll meet her
some time ago       in this liquid life,
half a dream.

In the last year
of student life       I have come to a stop.
Hitchhiker in Europe       I moved at speed
and everywhere met       my mirrored self.
Striding my own high-wire       round the picturesque corner
of a lake in Italy,       sheer past the surface,
in the shallow sunlight       determinedly keeping balance,
I could not avoid,       everywhere as air,
the sightless depths       in which I was sunk.

In his mind a student       is taking exams.
In nimble solitude       he talks on all levels,
mapping out answers       to chart a dry world.
So the height of his wit       is deep foolishness.

A student’s trick       is to invite the applause
of an unseen audience.       I shall not pin
my person on       a dog-eared degree.
Why should I polish       superior prospects?
Like a pack of cards       flicked through and shuffled
my hopes reveal       and destroy me.

Tipsy with idleness
I spend my grant
on bacon rolls.
I am sick
of being a student.
This is my life –
to fight and write.
A poet’s job
is to make magic.

And his life slews round,       face to face with itself,
by its mental antics       mesmerised.
As I brushed against       the lovely folds
of a circus tent,       they opened caverns.

This is not day       but a headache of days.

Was there a sure step,       via sacra,
a holy pathway,       as I swung out along
an airy road,       over the heads of people,
through the heart of words?
A television vicar
on the late-night screen       grinned coyly and said,
“As a Christian       I am concerned with
the pay-roll tax.”       But how heavenly,
to mete out concern!       As a consumer
I am concerned with       socio-economics.
As a virgin       I am concerned with
national frustration.
In my scorn
I stabbed myself.
For two weeks I tried it:
and at once       inside my chest
the secret broke       of something finer.
For two weeks       I was a Christian.
Then I left it.
I could not say
the others were wrong.
A clear day rising
on a blind mind –
I struck it out.
(But still I savour
the best poem,
the Lord’s Prayer.)

In their last year
a large fleet gathers,       the bottles are smashed –
and away we go!       Deft little yachts
put out to sea,       lion-hearted darlings
hugging the coast –       and sail sedately,
the crew in flannels,       or bristling in sweaters
and allusive shorts.       The land is lovely
until late youth:       but the sea is unsafe.
In a light craft       I negotiate
the wild ocean.
The sun is on
the dirty water.       And at night
on a whim of silence       something is promised
on the voyage,       the moon and fortunes
shuffled in the tide,       the story of the stars
held in the hand,       and the white knuckles
laid against gold.
A speck of futility
singled out,       to drift towards
the rocks and whirlpool.       Still it seems
a fortune waits       in keeping with
the arch of Time.
Back on land
in a snatched glimpse       I re-enter
an early stage       of a journey of light.
A sheep sneezing       on the hillside;
the flap of wings.       Yes, remarkable
to pause silhouette       and be filled by Nature.
These paltry flukes       wafted me wonder,
and I flew in danger –       and hatched out wind-blinded
with a proud strut       and many preenings.
When I was a child       I picked blackberries
all day long.
Euphorious scraps
bounce from the dump       of the disused valley
of childhood.
Look, the moon
on an August evening       above a hill
of quiet bracken.
Listen, a boy
of India next to       quick things breathing
in a Jungle Book poem.
Lift them and sift them,
a red gleam of conkers       spilt from their cases
after a gale.
Where is the clear air?
Where to go?       What to do?
The fog of the future       blankets the present.
An old miasma       lent me its form.
Piercing the tatters       of a torn mist
a trumpet sounds,       loud and uncared-for.
Still it summons me,       a marching-tune
for a song of wrongs.

Nature was near
but had no words.
A choking dust-bowl
hid green patches.
Clambering down
to revisit one,
I suck the honey
from dead nettles.

Late, late, at last
the signal-box       at the side of the track
swings into action.       The long tirade
mumbles to a halt.       The shining rails
have run out of anger.       Hot talk, hot talk:
but the racket dies down,       a chugging cloud
of steam is mere air,       as hate takes its hand
from my heart. Late, late       an engine of destruction
comes to a stop.       At last, at last
a truth is spelt out       under the clatter,
as a manic grumble       draws to a close.

Reason of right       has rankled in me,
that I love my mother       who made me man.

A medley of jobs:       strawberry-picking,
factory-floor,       bakery, bookshop;
and on a hillside       in my old haunts
in Wordsworth land       I broke the earth
and learnt the art       of shifting stones,
closed in the self       yet clear outside,
fuelled by tea       and part of a gang.
Lord, it is good       to lean on your shovel
in a light rain!
Still I dreamed.
Idling through galleries       in Firenze,
I had been cornered       by a perfection,
the exquisite shine       of noble renderings
overtaking       a shadowed mind
and passing on.       I dreamed a journey,
an epic encounter,      and I climbed near heaven
in the Tuscany hills       of imagination
on a blind summons,       seeking a meeting
with the Muse.
Back to earth:
and to where I sit       with disused notes
towards a thesis.       Research is the devil –
to skirt about       a volcano mouth
is not for me.       Involved with literature
one can be too subtle.       But honesty takes
courage, not brilliance.
What did I find
in my studentship years?
I learnt to reason
and trust the truth.
Though I dabbled in lies,
in little pretensions,
I know what is honour,
and I walk innocent.
So I went by word-light
under the stars       to see leaves falling
on Loch Lomond waters.       For a time she was with me,
my wildflower girl,       but the night utters
a prayer at her going,       and the day sings
her sabbath absence.       What small concerns
drove us apart!       Through falling leaves
her eyes touch mine,       I see ahead
another way,       free lovely shades,
in the far future       a second chance.
But can it be?

If we live once, and are content to live
as they have done to whom the world owes store,
finding a certainty in what we give
so that no threats deter us, but a law
of piecemeal honour make our way secure …
if you and I are free, let us forgive
the little scorns that let our hopes collapse.
Let us return, less proud, less sensitive,
to look more foolish – and forget the slaps
of weary malice.
So we may learn, perhaps,
to play the world’s game, turning to redress
each separate loss … and let our blessings go
in movement of continued loveliness …

as long as we can let each other know.


A worthy scion of several families I,
a miscast Gentile and an alien Jew,
who here present a kind of history,
a quiz with answers, that may test you too.
No matter what the light of day is showing,
with open eyes I tend to wander blind –
since like all moderns, wise in my unknowing,
I look before at what has gone behind.

A picture that is frequently renewed
(taken, perhaps, to tell me I’d begun
the dreary-pompous ways of solitude) –
I cried as I was walking in the sun.
A woman gave me oranges – that is all
the story of my life. Yet I have known,
when once I hunted a lost tennis-ball,
a stranger come and beat the nettles down.

Because my knees were thinner I did not –
you know the rest: a long disordered gap
in which I grew conventionally hot
on being referred to as a little chap.
I think this bred responsibility
or duty towards the self. Now once again,
the childhood cliché and the schoolboy cry:
refrain, refrain, refrain, refrain, refrain.

A blackboard of cleanliving salient facts
(unwanted orphans that the smart adopted)
imposed upon a crowd of warring pacts,
whose members were invidiously co-opted,
whose honour was maintained by show of might –
until they shone with chalkdust everywhere.
And some denied the troublemaker’s right
inherent in their snot and dirty hair.

Some glittered in the leopardskin of sport
and strayed through all the rules and left them reeling,
and some were anxious only to be taught
(in understatement of a greater feeling),
and some – as you have guessed – found no direction
but stayed collecting matchboxes and things,
until the wide world woke to their inspection,
and cynicism stretched inviting wings –


Some days there are to take a gun and pot ’em,
the city pests, the professorial band
who ride the breeze, and squawk at where it got ’em –
this Oxford, Erewhon, Cloudcuckooland!
Who hover on a smattering of knowledge
over the hills and hedges of exams,
and never find the mud and sticks of courage,
and nestle in a pleasantry of shams.

I thought to shelter in the minds of people
and answered all their questions with a smirk –
a gentle smirk, that lurked beneath the steeple
of insolence, as only angels lurk
who scatter benediction with a whisper
at the right hand of God, and sing His song,
and minister to all forms of despair –
and are rejected when they know no wrong.

Twice have I heard the heart cry out and sing
with news of God – but when He topped the bill,
it seemed my life depended on one thing:
perhaps in ignorance to do His will.
The Temple shelters me, whose author loved
only his Master’s love, and breathed His breath,
coughing a night to day. With tears he proved
the faultless synonyms of life and death.

His work is more instructive than it seems,
so sharply etched the meaning. Brittle words
explore the framework of the land of dreams
like a great shock of dark enquiring birds.
Till at the last he knew a quieter stave,
who cherished in the seed of lost regrets
the unexpected beauty of the grave
allegro music of the Four Quartets.

It seems I am concerned with definition:
watching the pairing of antagonists,
and how far they may move from their position
in view of unexpected catalysts.
A pastime not legitimate but rightful,
hoping to fan the fulsome from the true,
empirical, inductive and delightful.
Sometime I hope to be concerned with you.


The fair is clearest on the edge of sleep,
when free play is allowed the mind’s invention
to picture depths and lines. Cheap is not cheap
when things are seen apart from their intention.
Involvement of two colours may be grand,
two shapes mature to splendid harmony.
How can I tell the beauty of a hand?
or of a rocking-horse? or of a penny?

The independent principle of joy
is everywhere at work among all ages
(the prickly laughing-matter of the boy,
the idiot delight at published pages,
the neon-lighted corridor of pride,
the bumbling platitudes of wishing well).
Shriek out against it – Jekyll it and Hyde –
but never doubt it owns you. Nor expel.

Some days there are to beat about the bush
and draw the line at work, and loaf about
enquiring when the milkman got the push –
and wear odd socks and jerseys inside out,
and dance and clap the hands behind the back
when there is nobody to see or hear –
and answer, when the barber got the sack,
and totter bedward reading Edward Lear.

Some days there are when time is out of place,
and labours of thought and talk and clothes and food
reduce the weary muscles of the face
into a hopeless verisimilitude
of the responsiveness of common zest.
Then haul the person through rough words and mild,
harsh words and kind words … till it climb to rest
unhappy, like a frightened tired child.

Some days there are in which the light is warm.
Smile to me, cried the nursemaid of the Spring,
letting her tears prevent the fall of harm
where adult children shout and swear and sing.
Such tears were waters of a plural soul
in which I learnt to bathe one childish heart,
whose song reminds me of a tuneful whole –
and I, and I am blessedly a part.


Some days there are when people freeze like trees.
Their bumpy timeless trunks compel the notion
humanity is rooted in disease.
But death is handicapped by constant motion –
which I must presuppose: for when I talk
nobody moves a head to show I’m there
unless I say they do; and when I walk
a coloured ghost disturbs the empty air.

I thought to trick myself with words of glass,
and hoarded up distorted images
that spread into a gate where I might pass –
but I am stranded, and there are no bridges
to lead me from one island to the next.
For words do not reflect but only cut
and bleed a writer’s heart into his text
where every avenue is surely shut.

I used to think these things were very neat:
the Hamlet resignation everywhere;
the agony of falling on one’s feet;
the grave and lucid musings of despair.
It seemed at least these people knew their goal,
and found their place in it. Let me confess –
in gaunt negation of an ordered whole –
the angular display of loneliness.

This is the darkness in which I cannot speak.
Misery pours its course from limb to limb.
Here are the frozen antics of the freak.
The glass is filled with blindness to the brim.
Shift of the breath has said that I am new.
There are no bells within these castle walls.
Storm of the night has crazed me through and through.
There are no mermaids in these waterfalls.

Who only hear the muscles’ symphony,
or spell the lukewarm alphabet of the blood,
state an awareness that is certainty
such as we know, who know ourselves or God.
The wealth of poverty that fills the air
defrauds the chill of fright self-knowledge blows
into the bonehouse – ! Proud but curious heir,
the man displays the sovereign that he owes.

I thought to travel in a foreign country
and learn the names of flowers and of bees –
but in a dream I missed the gate of entry,
because my sight was centred overseas
upon a lonely caravan in the desert
where men played cards by starlight, and each hand
was bid without expression and at hazard.
I am afraid to leave my native land.


I thought to know the appetite of woman
and heard one say that she would be my bride,
and suddenly became completely human
when both our wills had merged on the outside.
What can I do now she has blinded me,
and left me surfaceless and undefined,
and her consent my only memory?
Push on to the backward regions of the mind?

Inch by inch we crossed the undergrowth,
Looking for danger. Was it then we knew
Only the lovely lose the fight with sloth?
Victory angels whispered “I love you.”
Edging towards a comfortable fence
You missed the way. I could not disappear
Or leave you there, but called into the dense
Unbroken line of thorns. You did not hear.

I think the pageant failed in its disguise.
Love was a fight – a fetish – a façade
Of charming reptiles with redundant eyes,
Virtuous in a hooded disregard.
Each of us foundered in a dream’s opaqueness;
Yet since the actors left I think that I
Often have felt the warm air of awakeness
Under a soft remembered rainbow sky.

If we gave looks for words and words for looks,
Lisping a technique of security,
Ours was the blessing of a thousand books
Vigorous in the praise of purity.
Eyeing the other’s eye we heard a voice
Yodel acceptance to the orchestra
Of swearwords and yells. And so we made the choice
Under the lurid star of teenager.

It is no use revising every bargain
(Loss of our senses was our senses’ gain).
Only believe the painted barrel-organ
Vending its still-born music to the rain.
Eager to sing we sang of early birth –
Never was infant more prepared to die.
Oh love me and leave me on this sorry earth,
Turning the handle of my memory.

I thought to scald her trustfulness with danger,
and sharpen up the edges of her lust
with reference to some sweet unknown stranger.
But all I got was black looks and disgust.
(And so it always is with honesty,
you lose it when you picture it in art;
you see it in its state unerringly,
and when you handle it it falls apart.)


It is the choice you make in search of Hell:
to calculate the prizes you have missed,
or watch the neighbours failing to do well.
Vote modern and salute the pessimist!
His dreams are spent freewheeling up a slope …
his nightmare in backpedalling to repair
the beautiful catastrophe of hope,
and fallen recognition of despair.

Fear and disorder, accident and crime,
the ad-world mantras, the consumer fix,
the loss in art, the lowering of the time,
the cheapjack element in politics …
Sir, these misfortunes are no enemy
if once you recognise, past doubt or strain,
the individual grand autonomy
humming and talking in the sun and rain.


Yes I have seen them, softer than snow and whiter,
reaching for morsels with unconscious peck,
dipping their beaks dark-lovely in the water
and curling into sleep with backward neck.
I am hurt, I am hurt in beauty: how can I ever
slip from the bank and drift blindfold and free?
A leaf is turning slowly in the river.
The lightest wind of all is tipping me …


such water sadness
                             delicate as willow pattern

Day, help me
let the meaningless jumble of things before dawn
not trouble me
let the fine structure that comes to light
not crumble not cave in
let love-loss not return to hurt me
let loneliness escape me

let these fragments of death
not hinder me

Day, help me
let the birdsong that slips and slides
in early hours still enter

Day, help me
let the bird in its quiet place
alive at the same time as me
not be stoned or shot at
the calm of the pigeon in the home-bearing tree
not be shaken

Day, help me
in hour after hour speak an unhurried word
teach me to see the light of day more calmly
and let me be


Last night I dreamt two butterflies dancing
twirling, chasing each other’s drift, swift-swirling
inimitable patterns

From a superabundance of clouds I saw a place
as smooth as water on a field
always ahead

the bright trappings of day

the good looks of the night

a city before me all in salient sunstone
and people there out of the past and future
a quicksilver of handiwork I saw
stone beads or buttons
marvellous balls of wool

but here a mass of black specks
is all that lives in a small room
next to the roof, in the grime of a Glasgow tenement
crawling ants in a heap of sheets of paper

Is it work enough, can the quick self be salvaged
in a colony of words?


In the dead months old summer
lays its hands on the new
still, still I gaze at the dark blue theory of night

my mind hunched in a corner, peering along
a clothes-rack hung with rinsed and wrung-out poems
or lolling back, idling at its old diet

suggestive biscuits and lewd cheese


Before the day comes a nonsensical motion
takes place within, churning to a crescendo
as a sonnet is disgorged, hung out to dry

night upon night reviewed, re-worked, re-spun
dots, a phrase, a sentence, tiny islands

the land I cling to

all I can do is work upon the random
a surface disappears and when it returns
a knot of black ink in the head has turned to crystals
on the page


The wind is careless with the human atom.
I watched the world until it was a film.
Heavy with nowhere work, I know
the first long anguish of the heart is over.
Now I am to cross star-billioned time.
Forget fond hopes, future imaginings,
forget strange dreams, the liquid uncertainty of eyes.
A dark impetus skims by. It has blitzed my chances.
The hurt of change is on me. In the fiasco
a wayward atom finds its own engagement,
the sliding elements, and the fixed bones.
Now I shall go and solve the world’s problems
in steam. Submit to the primordial bath. To reach for the
soap dammit under my back where are you?


I took to the road, hitched south
muscle-bound under a tight budget

nowhere in dark places
red lights of disappearing cars

to London in summer
where a man in dark glasses played the bass clarinet
all down Piccadilly
and the high vaudeville of the Circus neon
gathered and let float down the street
a soft and open wailing


Still confused, through families and towns
and different kinds of work clawing dirt-driven
in pitch-black shouting for light. Still solving dreams,
sleep-restless, hauled through endless loops. Blind
mind-heaving. Pilgrim. Scraper. Work, solve,
dig out the silence! Sifting, dark-shifting there,
a mole of energy under a mountain of care.


What is it wild
that bursts the branches
shakes the shadows

quick darkness shall I flinch or hover

a girl here, a girl there
a toss of dark hair

sunflower sunflower sunflower when I first saw you
you moved to the wind, and raised your arms to the light
the light in you broke open my delight
and my light was before you

a boy’s beauty glimmering through smoke

gold ring gold ring
that lends me warmth to sing
ring shining on her hand
sing me a song that I will understand

she dances in a woodsmoke happiness


Learn me by heart I said,
and solve my problems in your arms


Now cold and mad in threadbare loneliness.


I left, fuming at the world’s insult
took the drunkards’ night ferry from Liverpool
to enter the talkative air of a green island

and strode the road to Connemara’s shore
where a yellow-ugly tree in sunlight on a hill
fattish, stocky, the bark sticky with light
spoke a word “Remember”
and I will

up, up the slope to where the bay comes in,
till at the top to view the living entrance
of an old player. Everything is awake.
I look down over up at the bare grass
not a soul is here and I am not alone


Back to the den, London, the bursting millions

a weak hell of loneliness

on the king bridge of the city I let the dawn in

proud buildings, ordered ways, a kind of strength

a street set with eyestones

the days passed
scarred in the rust

there was a madman on the bus
who took off his hat to swipe at a bee

is it I? is it I? is it I?


I am the madman in a world of safety.
There is a live fish swimming in my head.
The bouncing darkness tore me like a boulder.
I put my head under the mountain of Time.
In the crazed dream of a middle-aged urchin
a deep red goldfish underneath the duckweed
swam on and on. Upon the marble terrace
a paunched romantic wrote a silver novel.
And then there were the tigers in the garden
and in among the ostriches were lions.
Is there a way from here to the outside?
I amuse myself, waste time, fall into debt.
I read the papers, listen to the news,
and hoist myself from a dank bed of dreams.


These words are like the grimy sediment
of used bath-water.


Of a sudden clean, clean, a living creature

bonjour blindness

blindness bonjour, the act of world-distinction
not by bluff and guesswork, but by the health
of unextinguished senses

blindness bonjour, the art of setting a tray
to cheer, not only to feed

bonjour blindness bonjour, sum before its parts,
creation before analysis

senses instinctive, that in the dark
co-operate to living light, blindness bonjour

spinning, spinning in twentieth century blindness


it must be there
                            it must be there

a vein of salt water
                                 sparkling the air


crept, crept back to the gentle hyperbole
of Magdalen Tower, and let the old ways take me
up to the Gates


At first it is virginia creeper or ivy
on Christ Church walls
chequers the falling light – then small birds’ voices
as morning falls
hurtle and cry a little – and then I tread
familiar shadows,
and step in where my guardians the trees
open the Meadows.

Down an old avenue of neighboursome elms,
haunted by Schools,
I stayed to watch the river, where shadows cast
implacable pools,
where students swaggered past, too loud,
and dons as thick as thieves …
and as it blew I listened to
the dry rain in the leaves.

In an old loneliness I stand again.
The long path trails
a morning from the past. Two squirrels turn
almost too quickly for their tails.
I could walk for ever down this light brown road.
Let the wind blow,
love blast and blind me with its crescendo rain
that turns to snow.

On the water I saw them, laser delight
of jewels colliding,
mirrored intellects of the sun, too bright
either to look at or to stay in hiding,
bathed in their own light, ethereal children …
and I among them floated drab as a leaf,
caught in the streaming of Schools – and now that it’s over
suddenly shrouded in grief.


By the imperturbable river a spendthrift wandered.
His gait was curious,
something between a stride and a slouch.
He thought of all the friendship he had squandered …


Dream-sozzled, walk in midnight through the day,
polish your love on sixpence idleness –
and in a blind daze drift out on a way
where Nature has a leaf for loneliness.

Walk out along the towpath in the dawn,
to let an image swoop down and drift free,
a river’s child, a snow-wing, there and gone …
tall, like a swan, and graceful in company


I shall emerge at last from a miasma.
There is in everything a sound of weeping.
A boy threw shining coins into the water.
O learn to cull the music from these stones.
Go on, go on in mute subordination.
Chink chink, the train moves on, the money falls.
Is there a way out from a choice of dreams?
Who is the arbiter of vision? What sign?
Two burnt, crossed sticks, bedded in ashes.
And in an open free realm what is home?
An empty well-made palace beneath the sky.
And could a queen once turn towards the kingdom?
What flowers have I to give my love?
A posy of dandruff and athlete’s-foot.


what is it wandering

through lost and desert places of the air

What pandemonium of the gods has been

hammer stars and dazzle iron

the mind, at odds with its creator

the internal crass debate

the rant at meetings, gale-force bluster

pit-pattering syllables of a milksop analysis

downtown my speeches rode away with me

yet all I knew was this:
every rich man
kicks the heart
of the poor dying

now in my Glasgow tenement room I feel
a cold draught round the loins –

but a flame, a spectrum-splintering flame
is near. Smatterings lift me

red orange yellow green blue indigo violet

I tumble out into the chaos of light

a splurge of flowers


No more the claptrap of applause. I can
disdain the neatness of a bow-tie equation …
and after an age, a humdrum man at work,
at last acquire a reasonable strength.
At the top of the stairs, from nowhere, I could feel
a child against my chest and shoulder. Soon
my lady, witty and wise, will share a table –
and if not, not. I looked at my right hand
and knew a touch to find its way among
the pillars and arches of the alphabet,
and down a breathing colonnade of the word,
to make my day a song. No more
the half-use of the world. I can take on
for no time – any time – a peril of space –


I met the world in wartime. Now
in the clear sight that time allows
I shall recall my birthright. Let me fight
dud justice. Let me write
of the iliad of men and women
to broker peace. To start at nothing –

barnacled onto the crust of the earth, I can see

the light the sea-of-light air and the air’s angels

in a brilliant flash of fear

God, God, move now

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