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11 






The Perch 

LOUIS MACNEICE 

The appearance of a new volume of poems by 
Lotais MacNeice is always a notable literary 
event; ami this, bis first collection since 
Solstices, is a distinguished addition to the 
impressive body of work which he already 
has to his credit. 



Choice of the Poetry Book Society 



b21 Ul69b 64-01431 

;<lacNeice 

The burning perch 



C21 f.!169b 64-01431 
MacNeice $375 
The burning perch 




THE BURNING PERCH 



by the same author 



poetry 

COLLECTED POEMS 192,548 
SELECTED POEMS 

SOLSTICES 
EIGHTY-FIVE POEMS 

VISITATIONS 

AUTUMN SEQUEL 

TEN BURNT OFFERINGS 

THE EARTH COMPELS 

HOLES IN THE SKY 
PLANT AND PHANTOM: 

SPRINGBOARD 
THE OTHER WING (.Ariel JPoern) 

drama. 

CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS 

OUT OF THE PICTURE 

THE DARK TOWER 

trans la tion 

THE AGAMEMNON OF AESCHYLUS 
GOETHE'S FAUST (Parts I <SL //) 



THE 
BURNING PERCH 



Louis MacNeice 



New York 

OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS 
1963 



Printed in Great ^Britain 



Louis JMacNeice 
1963 



TO MARY 

Forgive what I give you. Though nightmare and cinders, 

The one can be trodden, the other ridden, 

We must use what transport we can. Both crunching 

Path and bucking dream can take me 

Where I shall leave the path and dismount 

From the mad-eyed beast and keep my appointment 

In green improbable fields with you. 



CONTENTS 

SOAP SUDS page n 

DJA Vu 12 

ROUND THE CORNER 13 

THE SUICIDE 14 

PERSPECTIVES 15 

CHATEAU JACKSON 16 

PET SHOP 18 

FLOWER SHOW 19 

IN LIEU 20 

THE TAXIS 21 

THE GREY ONES 22 

AFTER THE CRASH 24 

SPRING CLEANING 25 

ANOTHER COLD MAY 27 

THE PALE PANTHER 28 

RCHAUFF 29 

RAVENNA 30 

CONSTANT 31 

OCTOBER IN BLOOMSBURY 32 

NEW JERUSALEM 33 

CHARON 34 

THE INTRODUCTION 35 

BIRTHRIGHT 36 

CHILDREN'S GAMES 37 

TREE PARTY 38 

SPORTS PAGE 40 

THE HABITS 4 1 
9 



GREYNESS is ALL. page 4^ 

As IN THEIR TIME 43 

THIS is THE LIFE 46 

BUDGIE 47 

MEMORANDA TO HORACE 48 

STAR GAZER 54 

GOODBYE TO LONDON 55 

OFF THE PEO 57 

CODA 58 



SOAP SUDS 

This brand of soap has the same smell as once in the big 
House he visited when he was eight: the walls of the bathroom 

open 
To reveal a lawn where a great yellow ball rolls back through 

a hoop 
To rest at the head of a mallet held in the hands of a child. 

And these were the joys of that house: a tower with a telescope; 
Two great faded globes, one of the earth, one of the stars; 
A stuffed black dog in the hall; a walled garden with bees; 
A rabbit warren; a rockery; a vine under glass; the sea. 

To which he has now returned. The day of course is fine 
And a grown-up voice cries Play! The mallet slowly swings. 
Then crack, a great gong booms from the dog-dark hall and 

the ball 
Skims forward through the hoop and then through the next 

and then 

Through hoops where no hoops were and each dissolves in 

turn 
And the grass has grown head-high and an angry voice cries 

Play! 
But the ball is lost and the mallet slipped long since from the 

hands 
Under the running tap that are not the hands of a child. 



ii 



DfijA VU 

It does not come round in hundreds of thousands of years, 
It comes round in the split of a wink, you will be sitting exactly 
Where you are now and scratching your elbow, the train 
Will be passing exactly as now and saying It does not come 

round, 
It does not come round, It does not come round, and 

compactly 

The wheels will mark time on the rails and the bird in the air 
Sit tight in its box and the same bean of coffee be ground 
That is now in the mill and I know what you're going to say 
For all this has happened before, we both have been through 

the mill, 
Through our Magnus Annus, and now could all but call it a 

day 
Were it not that scratching your elbow you are too lovely by 

half 

So that, whatever the rules we might be supposed to obey, 
Our love must extend beyond time because time is itself in 

arrears 

So this double vision must pass and past and future unite 
And where we were told to kowtow we can snap our fingers 

and laugh 
And now, as you watch, I will take this selfsame pencil and 

write: 
It does not come round in hundreds of thousands of years. 



12 



ROUND THE CORNER 

Round the corner was always the sea. Our childhood 
Tipping the sand from its shoes on return from holiday 
Knew there was more where it came from, as there was more 
Seaweed to pop and horizon to blink at. Later 
Our calf loves yearned for union in solitude somewhere 
Round that corner where Xenophon crusted with parasangs 
Knew he was home, where Columbus feared he was not, 
And the Bible said there would be no more of it. Round 
That corner regardless there will be always a realm 
Undercutting its banks with repeated pittance of spray, 
The only anarchic democracy, where we are all vicarious 
Citizens; which we remember as we remember a person 
Whose wrists are springs to spring a trap or rock 
A cradle; whom we remember when the sand falls out on the 

carpet 

Or the exiled shell complains or a wind from round the corner 
Carries the smell of wrack or the taste of salt, or a wave 
Touched to steel by the moon twists a gimlet in memory. 
Round the corner is sooner or later the sea. 



THE SUICIDE 

And this, ladies and gentlemen, whom I am not in fact 

Conducting, was his office all those minutes ago, 

This man you never heard of. There are the bills 

In the intray, the ash in the ashtray, the grey memoranda 

stacked 

Against him, the serried ranks of the box-files, the packed 
Jury of his unanswered correspondence 
Nodding under the paperweight in the breeze 
From the window by which he left; and here is the cracked 
Receiver that never got mended and here is the jotter 
With his last doodle which might be his own digestive tract 
Ulcer and all or might be the flowery maze 
Through which he had wandered deliciously till he stumbled 
Suddenly finally conscious of all he lacked 
On a manhole under the hollyhocks. The pencil 
Point had obviously broken, yet, when he left this room 
By catdrop sleight-of-foot or simple vanishing act, 
To those who knew him for all that mess in the street 
This man with the shy smile has left behind 
Something that was intact. 



PERSPECTIVES 

The further-off people are the smaller. Grandparents, 

Homeric heroes and suffering Bantu 

Are nothing in size to the tax-collector 

Or the dentist breathing fire on one's uvula* 

So the stunted commissionaire bulks larger 
Than the massive magnate at the turn of the stairs 
While the coffin entering by the west door 
Screens the chancel and dwarfs the altar. 

Yet sometimes for all these rules of perspective 
The weak eye zooms, the distant midget 
Expands to meet it, far up stage 
The kings go towering into the flies; 

And down at the end of a queue some infant 
Of the year Two Thousand straddles the world 
To match the child that was once yourself. 
The further-off people are sometimes the larger. 



CHATEAU JACKSON 

Where is the Jack that built the house 
That housed the folk that tilled the field 
That filled the bags that brimmed the mill 
That ground the flour that browned the bread 
That fed the serfs that scrubbed the floors 
That wore the mats that kissed the feet 
That bore the bums that raised the heads 
That raised the eyes that eyed the glass 
That sold the pass that linked the lands 
That sink the sands that told the time 
That stopped the clock that guards the shelf 
That shrines the frame that lacks the face 
That mocked the man that sired the Jack 
That chanced the arm that bought the farm 
That caught the wind that skinned the flocks 
That raised the rocks that sunk the ship 
That rode the tide that washed the bank 
That grew the flowers that brewed the red 
That stained the page that drowned the loan 
That built the house that Jack built? 

Here, to begin with, is the world 
That breeds the race that claims the right 
That makes the pace that makes the race 
That bursts the tape that rings the bell 
That drees the weird that scoops the news 
That stews the tea that stales the smut 
That gluts the guts that loathe the lights 
That light the path that probes the maze 
That traps the days that dodge the wolf 
That haunts the door that bears the box 
16 



That gulped the bills that swelled the debt 
That bent the back that caused the pain 
That warped the mind that steered the feet 
That took the road that climbed the hill 
That boasts the yew that chills the ground 
That grows the grass that chokes the flowers 
That brewed the red that decked the bank 
That bears the slab that wears the words 
That tell the truth that ends the quest: 
Where is the Jack that built the house? 



PET SHOP 

Cold blood or warm, crawling or fluttering 
Bric-a-brac, all are here to be bought. 
Noisy or silent, python or myna, 
Fish with long silk trains like dowagers, 
Monkeys lost to thought. 

In a small tank tiny enamelled 
Green terrapin jostle, in a cage a crowd 
Of small birds elbow each other and bicker 
While beyond the ferrets, eardrum, eyeball 
Find that macaw too loud. 

Here behind glass lies a miniature desert, 
The sand littered with rumpled gauze 
Discarded by snakes like used bandages; 
In the next door desert fossilized lizards 
Stand in a pose, a pause. 

But most of the customers want something comfy- 
Rabbit, hamster, potto, puss 
Something to hold on the lap and cuddle 
Making believe it will return affection 
Like some neutered succubus. 

Purr then or chirp, you are here for our pleasure, 
Here at the mercy of our whim and purse; 
Once there was the wild, now tanks and cages, 
But we can offer you a home, a haven, 
That might prove even worse. 



18 



FLOWER SHOW 

Marooned by night in a canvas cathedral under bare bulbs 

He plods the endless aisles not daring to close an eye 

To massed brass bands of flowers; these flowers are not to 

pluck 
Which (cream cheese, paper, glass, all manner of textile and 

plastic) 

Having long since forgotten, if they ever knew, the sky 
Are grown, being forced, uprooted. 

Squidlike, phallic or vulvar, hypnotic, idiotic, oleaginous, 
Fanged or whaleboned, wattled or balding, brimstone or cold 
As trout or seaweed, these blooms, ogling or baneful, all 
Keep him in their blind sights; he tries to stare them down 
But they are too many, too unreal, their aims are one, the 

controlled 
Aim of a firing party. 

So bandage his eyes since he paid to come in but somehow 

forgot 

To follow the others out and now there is no way out 
Except that his inturned eyes before he falls may show him 
Some nettled orchard, tousled hedge, some garden even 
Where flowers, whether they boast or insinuate, whisper or 

shout, 
Still speak a living language. 



IN LIEU 

Roses with the scent bred out, .j 

In lieu of which is a long name on a label. 

Dragonflies reverting to grubs. 

Tundra and desert overcrowded, 

And in lieu of a high altar 

Wafers and wine procured by a coin in a slot. 

On the podium in lieu of a man 

With fallible hands is ensconced 

A metal lobster with built-in tempi; 

The deep sea fishermen in lieu of 

Battling with tunny and cod 

Are signing their contracts for processing plankton. 

On roof after roof the prongs 

Are baited with faces, in saltpan and brainpan 

The savour is lost, in deep 

Freeze after freeze in lieu of a joint 

Are piled the shrunken heads of the past 

And the offals of unborn children. 

In lieu therefore of choice 

Thy Will be undone just as flowers 

Fugues, vows and hopes are undone 

While the weather is packaged and the spacemen 

In endless orbit and in lieu of a flag 

The orator hangs himself from the flagpost. 



THE TAXIS 

In the first taxi he was alone tra-la, 

No extras on the clock. He tipped ninepence 

But the cabby, while he thanked him, looked askance 

As though to suggest someone had bummed a ride. 

In the second taxi he was alone tra-la 
But the clock showed sixpence extra; he tipped according 
And the cabby from out of his muffler said: 'Make sure 
You have left nothing behind tra-la between you*. 

In the third taxi he was alone tra-la 

But the tip-up seats were down and there was an extra 

Charge of one-and-sixpence and an odd 

Scent that reminded him of a trip to Cannes. 

As for the fourth taxi, he was alone 
Tra-la when he hailed it but the cabby looked 
Through him and said: C I can't tra-la well take 
So many people, not to speak of the dog/ 



21 



THE GREY ONES 

Crouched beneath a snowbound sky 
Three grey sisters share an eye; 
Before they lose it and forget 
Ask the way to Never Yet, 

Which might be Once Upon a Time, 
Golden Age or Perfect Crime, 
Kingdom Come or Free for All, 
No past, no future and no fall. 

Bandied round from face to face 
One lonely eye in frozen space 
Skewers the perspectives of the mind 
Till what you wished you fear to find, 

Which might be what your childhood swore 
Lay shrined beyond the haunted door 
Or might be where your mentor seems 
To misdirect you to in dreams. 

Every such what and where betwixt 
Your fact and fancy stays transfixed 
By that one unremitting stare 
Which cancels what you never were, 

Who might have been a prince of Troy, 
A lord of song, a roaring boy, 
Or might have been an idiot mild 
Who meets his match in every child, 
22 



For all which persons lacking proof 
The three grey sisters wait aloof; 
They chew the cud, they pass the eye 
And check the client next to die. 

Who might be in some mountain cup 
Where climbers meet it struggling up 
Or might be in some Eastern town 
Where most men take it lying down 

Sprawled against the Gates of Doom 
Whence all kebabs and cockstands come, 
On which stands guard for ever more 
A beggar with a flaming sore. 



AFTER THE CRASH 

When he came to he knew 
Time must have passed because 
The asphalt was high with hemlock 
Through which he crawled to his crash 
Helmet and found it no more 
Than his wrinkled hand what it was. 

Yet life seemed still going on: 
He could hear the signals bounce 
Back from the moon and the hens 
Fire themselves black in the batteries 
And the silence of small blind cats 
Debating whether to pounce. 

Then he looked up and marked 
The gigantic scales in the sky, 
The pan on the left dead empty 
And the pan on the right dead empty, 
And knew in the dead, dead calm 
It was too late to die. 



24 



SPRING CLEANING 

The cripple aches in his lost limb, 
The old man cries for a dropped dummy, 
Dawn comes up with muted strings, 
Spring rides high in a bailiff's van. 

Blain and dazzle together, together 
Magnolia in bloom and holly in berry. 
In die writing desk where nothing is written 
Lurk latchkeys, counterfoils and lockets. 

The stopnetting sags, the molehills rise, 
Typewriters ring, opinions wilt, 
Towers of pennies for spastic children 
Wobble and crash while the tills ring 

The Rites of Spring. Over the sticks 
High horses crash, under the water 
Black fingers pick at the ocean bed, 
The whole flat smells of hot cross buns. 

Peace and rumours of peace. Mechanical 
Brains compute the chances. Jets 
Trace on the skies their ads and prayers: 
Let someone soon make all things new. 

In spruce new wards new mothers shriek, 
New vacuum cleaners run amuck, 
New deaf incapsulated souls 
Gaze out at noisy birds of dawn; 
25 



While on a pillar in the sands 
A gaunt man scours his plinth and hauls 
His empty basket up and cries: 
Repent! It is time to round things off. 



26 



ANOTHER COLD MAY 

With heads like chessmen, bishop or queen, 

The tulips tug at their roots and mourn 

In inaudible frequencies, the move 

Is the wind's, not theirs; fender to fender 

The cars will never emerge, not even 

Should their owners emerge to claim them, the move 

Is time's, not theirs; elbow to elbow 

Inside the roadhouse drinks are raised 

And downed, and downed, the pawns and drains 

Are blocked, are choked, the move is nil, 

The lounge is, like the carpark, full, 

The tulips also feel the chill 

And tilting leeward do no more 

Than mimic a bishop's move, the square 

Ahead remains ahead, their petals 

Will merely fall and choke the drains 

Which will be all; this month remains 

False animation of failed levitation, 

The move is time's, the loss is ours. 



THE PALE PANTHER 

The sun made a late and lamented 

Spring. Yellow teeth tore 

The ribs of my roo The giraffe 

Necks of blind lamp posts bent 

To lick up turds and print. 

Beyond the electric fence 

One tiny tractor stalled. 

Milkman, milkman, your empties 

Are all to collect; do not wait 

Till they jive on the steps, you surely 

Know about bugs in the sun. 

Runways in rut, control 

Towers out of touch, and burns 

Whose gift is not to cure. 

As for you, airman, your empties 
Are broken test tubes or shards 
Of caddis, it is too soon 
To order replacements according 
To the state of play since the green 
Lies in shadow now and the tractor 
Stalled when the sun stopped play. 



2,8 



RfiCHAUFFfi 

The food on the walls of the dark tombs 

Awaits the dragoman whose torch 

Will warm it when the deep freeze bums 

In the highpitched dried-date voice. By turns 

These live men filing past inspect 

These dead that serve by turns the painted 

Food on the walls of the dark. 

The hands on the ends of the sun's rays 
Are like small paddles or bats to pat 
Piedog and priest on the head and give 
Pharaoh and land the chance to live. 
Yet even the most sun-worshipping king. 
Praise though he will, must also dread 
The hands on the ends of the sun. 

The dams on the breast of the mad Nile 

Secure both budget and mind: what once 

Could either prove too scarce or full 

Stands docile now like a ringed bull 

And yet who knows what sudden thrust 

In the guts, what gripe in the mind, might burst 

The dams on the breast of the mad? 



29 



RAVENNA 

What do I remember of my visit to Ravenna? Firstly, 

That I had come from Venice where I had come from Greece 

So that my eyes seemed dim and the world flat. Secondly, 

That after Tintoretto's illusory depth and light 

The mosaics knocked me flat. There they stood. The geese 

Had hissed as they pecked the corn from Theodora's groin, 

Yet here she stands on the wall of San Vitale, as bright 

As life and a long shot taller, self-made empress, 

Who patronised the monophysites and the Greens 

And could have people impaled. There was also and thirdly 

the long 

Lost naval port of Caesar, surviving now in the name 
In Classe: the sea today is behind the scenes 
Like his Liburnian galleys. What went wrong 
With Byzantium as with Rome went slowly, their fame 
Sunk in malarial marsh. The flat lands now 
Are ruled by a sugar refinery and a church, 
Sant' Apollinare in Classe. What do I remember of Ravenna? 
A bad smell mixed with glory, and the cold 
Eyes that belie the tessellated gold. 



30 



CONSTANT 

Too many curds on the meat, too many dark cloth caps 

On the conveyor belt that twice a day 

Spans the Golden Horn, too much history 

Tilting, canting, crawling, rotting away, 

Subsiding strata where ghosts like faults, like mites, 

Reminders of stagnation or collapse, 

Emerge into the mist. After Athens 

This place seems of the North, a halfway house 

To Tomi or Kiev; the visitors' eyes 

Play spillikins with minarets, a louse 

Lurks in a banned fez, the bubbles rise 

From someone drowned in a sack an age ago, 

The Fourth Crusade dissolves in loot and rape, 

Theologians, eunuchs, tipsters, goldsmiths, grow 

Like fungi out of the walls, this game is high, 

Caught between Roman and Turk a dream takes shape 

And becomes Constant, known to sailor and exile 

For its red lamps and raki, while the sky 

Red with repeated fires, accidental or designed, 

Sags like a tent over riot and ruin and one 

Who calmly,, having other things in mind, 

Bears on his palm the Church of the Holy Wisdom. 



OCTOBER IN BLOOMSBURY 

Edwardian pillar boxes wait for Edwardian letters; the Museum 

Spreads its dead hands wide, a pigeon scores an outer 

On a scholarly collar, the menu in the pub says Butter Beans 

Greens, Peas, 
Black men and schoolchildren rummage for culture, the 

tutelary spirits are hard to please. 
Those epicureans who haunt the lawns, whose amputated 

delicate fingers tingle, 
Whose delicate eyelids are dropped for ever not to be pained 

by the great new institutes, 
Who sometimes even when out of mind become what we miss 

most, 
In the callbox for instance lifting a receiver warm from the ear 

of a ghost. 

Now the parking meters picket and pick the Georgian locks 

and invisible 

Meters tall as the yellowing trees docket and dock our history, 
Though Charles James Fox unconcerned in a bath towel sits 

on his arse in Bloomsbury Square 
While plane tree leaves flop gently down and lodge in his 

sculptured hair. 



32 



NEW JERUSALEM 

Bulldoze all memories and sanctuaries: our birthright 
Means a new city, vertical, impersonal, 
Whose horoscope claimed a straight resurrection 
Should Stimulant stand in conjunction with Sleeping Pill. 

As for the citizens, what with their cabinets 
Of faces and voices, their bags of music, 
Their walls of thin ice dividing greynesses, 
With numbers and mirrors they defy mortality. 

So come up Lazarus: just a spot of make-up 

Is all you need and a^steel corset 

And two glass eyes, we will teach you to touch-type 

And give you a police dog to navigate the rush hour* 

With all this rebuilding we have found an antidote 
To quiet and self-communing: from now on nobody 
Strolling the streets need lapse into timelessness 
Or ponder the simple unanswerable questions. 

Wheels upon wheels never moving, Ezekiel 
Finds himself in a canyon of concrete; 
Cage upon cage, Daniel goes feeling 
From one to the next in search of a carnivore. 

But, that Babel may rise, they must first work downward 
To subliminate previous and premature foundations. 
Bulldozer, dinosaur, pinheaded diplodocus, 
Champ up forgotten and long-dry water-pipes. 



33 



CHARON 

The conductor's hands were black with money: 

Hold on to your ticket, he said, the inspector's 

Mind is black with suspicion, and hold on to 

That dissolving map. We moved through London, 

We could see the pigeons through the glass but failed 

To hear their rumours of wars, we could see 

The lost dog barking but never knew 

That his bark was as shrill as a cock crowing, 

We just jogged on, at each request 

Stop there was a crowd of aggressively vacant 

Faces, we just jogged on, eternity 

Gave itself airs in revolving lights 

And then we came to the Thames and all 

The bridges were down, the further shore 

Was lost in fog, so we asked the conductor 

What we should do. He said: Take the ferry 

Faute de rnieux. We flicked the flashlight 

And there was the ferryman just as Virgil 

And Dante had seen him. He looked at us coldly 

And his eyes were dead and his hands on the oar 

Were black with obols and varicose veins 

Marbled his calves and he said to us coldly: 

If you want to die you will have to pay for it 



34 



THE INTRODUCTION 

They were introduced in a grave glade 

And she frightened him because she was young 

And thus too late. Crawly crawly 

Went the twigs above their heads and beneath 

The grass beneath their feet the larvae 

Split themselves laughing. Crawly crawly 

Went the cloud above the treetops reaching 

For a sun that lacked the nerve to set 

And he frightened her because he was old 

And thus too early. Crawly crawly 

Went the string quartet that was tuning up 

In the back of the mind. You two should have met 

Long since, he said, or else not now. 

The string quartet in the back of the mind 

Was all tuned up with nowhere to go. 

They were introduced in a green grave. 



35 



BIRTHRIGHT 

When I was born the row began, 

I had never asked to be a man; 

They never asked if I could ride 

But shouted at me 'Come outside!*. 

Then hauled the rearing beast along 

And said: 'Your charger, right or wrong/ 

His ears went back and so did I, 

I said "To mount him means to die', 

They said 'Of course'; the nightmare neighed 

And I felt foolish and afraid. 

The sun came up, my feet stuck fast, 

The minutes, hours, and years went past, 

More chances missed than I could count, 

The stable boys cried: 'Time to mount!' 

My jaw dropped and I gaped from drouth; 

My gift horse looked me in the mouth. 



CHILDREN'S GAMES 

Touch me not forget me not, touch me forget me. 
Throw salt over your shoulder when you walk under a ladder^ 
Fly away, Peter, they are waiting in the Vatican, 
Come back, Paul, to your Macedonian runaround. 

Hop scotch and somersault ring a ring of raspberries. 

Who shall we send to fetch her away? Touch wood and turn 

again. 

I'm the king of the barbican, come down you dirty charlatan. 
When you see a magpie put salt upon her tail. 

He knows I know you know catchum 
Nigger by his whatnot round and round the launching site. 
Boar's tusks and phonies say the bells of Saint Adonis, 
Up Guards and Jenkins and all fall down. 

The grand old Duke of York is just about to turn about, 
Keep your fingers crossed when Tom Tiddler's ground is over 

you, 

I'll beat you in a canter say the bells of Atalanta; 
Touch me not forget me, touch me forget me not. 



37 



TREE PARTY 

Your health, Master Willow. Contrive me a bat 

To strike a red ball; apart from that 

In the last resort I must hang my harp on you. 

Your health. Master Oak. You emblem of strength. 
Why must your doings be done at such length? 
Beware lest the ironclad ages catch up with you. 

Your health, Master Blackthorn. Be live and be quick, 

Provide the black priest with a big black stick 

That his ignorant flock may go straight for the fear of you. 

Your health, Master Palm. If you brew us some toddy 

To deliver us out of by means of the body, 

We will burn all our bridges and rickshaws in praise of you. 

Your health, Master Pine. Though sailing be past 
Let you fly your own colours upon your own mast 
And rig us a crow's nest to keep a look out from you. 

Your health, Master Elm. Of giants arboreal 
Poets have found you the most immemorial 
And yet the big winds may discover the fault in you. 

Your health, Master Hazel. On Halloween 
Your nuts are to gather but not to be seen 
Are the twittering ghosts that perforce are alive in you. 

Your health, Master Holly. Of all the trees 

That decorate parlour walls you please 

Yet who would have thought you had so much blood in you? 

38 



Your health. Master Apple. Your topmost bough 

Entices us to come climbing now 

For all that old rumour there might be a snake in you. 

Your health. Master Redwood* The record is yours 

For the girth that astounds, the sap that endures, 

But where are the creatures that once came to nest in you? 

Your health. Master Banyan, but do not get drunk 

Or you may not distinguish your limbs from your trunk 

And the sense of Above and Below will be lost on you. 

Your health, Master Bo-Tree. If Buddha should come 

Yet again, yet again make your branches keep mum 

That his words yet again may drop honey by leave of you. 

Your health, Master Yew. My bones are few 

And I fully admit my rent is due, 

But do not be vexed, I will postdate a cheque for you. 



39 



SPORTS PAGE 

Nostalgia, incantation, escape, 
Courts and fields of the Ever Young: 
On your Marks! En Garde! Scrum Down! Over! 
On the ropes, on the ice, breasting the tape, 
Our Doppelganger is bounced and flung 
While the ball squats in the air like a spider 
Threading the horizon round the goalposts 
And we, though never there, give tongue. 

Yet our Doppelganger rides once more 
Over the five-barred gates and flames 
In metaphors filched from magic and music 
With a new witch broom and a rattling score 
And the names we read seem more than names, 
Potions or amulets, till we remember 
The lines of print are always sidelines 
And all our games funeral games. 



40 



THE HABITS 

When they put him In rompers the habits 
Fanned out to close in, they were dressed 
In primary colours and each of them 
Carried a rattle and a hypodermic; 
His parents said it was all for the best. 

Next, the barracks of boys: the habits 
Slapped him on the back, they were dressed 
In pinstripe trousers and carried 
A cheque book, a passport, and a sjambok; 
The master said it was all for the best. 

And then came the women: the habits 
Pretended to leave, they were dressed 
In bittersweet undertones and carried 
A Parthian shaft and an affidavit; 
The adgirl said it was all for the best. 

Age became middle: the habits 
Made themselves at home, they were dressed 
In quilted dressing-gowns and carried 
A decanter, a siphon, and a tranquilliser; 
The computer said it was all for the best. 

Then age became real: the habits 

Outstayed their welcome, they were dressed 

In nothing and carried nothing. 

He said: If you won't go, I go. 

The Lord God said it was all for the best. 



GREYNESS IS ALL 

If black were truly black not grey 
It might provide some depth to pray 
Against and we could hope that white 
Would reach a corresponding height. 

But, as it is, we melt and droop 
Within the confines of our coop; 
The mind stays grey, obtuse, inert. 
And grey the feathers in the dirt. 

If only some black demon would 
Infuse our small grey souls we could 
At least attempt to break the wire 
That bounds the Gadarene hens 5 desire. 

But, as it is, we needs must wait 
Not for some demon but some fate 
Contrived by men and never known 
Until the final switch is thrown 

To black out all the worlds of men 
And demons too but even then 
Whether that black will not prove grey 
No one may wait around to say. 



42 



AS IN THEIR TIME 

(i) 

They were so mean they could not between them 
Leave one tip behind them; the others 
Tipped so wildly it made no sense, 
When the cold computer gathered the leavings 
It broke about even, made no sense. 

oo 

Polyglot, albeit illiterate, 

He stood on a crumbling tower of Babel 

Cured of heredity, and though 

His idol had a brain of clay 

He could not read the cuneiform. 



She believed in love, but was it 
Her self or her role believed? 
And was it believed and not 
Professed or envied? Lastly, 
Was it love she believed in? 

(iv) 

He was the man you thought 
And I thought too was me 
That never was on land 
Or sea but in fact was at home 
On both and never was. 

43 



(v) 

Year by year these old ladies had saved 

For the sake of their nieces and decade by decade 

For their great-nieces and greater-nephews 

Till the inflation left them nothing 

To leave to the heirs that "were dead before them. 



(vi) 

He had clowned it through* Being born 
For either the heights or the depths 
He had bowled his hoop on the level 
Arena; the hoop was a wheel 
Of fire but he clowned it through* 



(vii) 

She had her mind on the main 

Drain. When it all was over 

She could maintain that the point 

Was the main but the point was the drain 

Was no more on the main than herself. 



(viii) 

For what it was worth he had to 
Make a recurring protest: 
Which was at least a gesture 
Which was a vindication 
Or excuse for what it was worth. 



44 



(ix) 

He was to be found in directories. 
Admiring asides and footnotes, 
Flowers by request. When he entered 
A room it at once was a morgue 
To tip people off he had entered. 



oo 

Citizen of an ever-expanding 
Universe, burning smokeless fuel, 
He had lived among plastic gear so long 
When they decided to fingerprint him 
He left no fingerprints at all. 



(ad) 

She was a bundle of statistics, her skin 
Creamy with skinfood, and she knew the lingo, 
So that when she entered the bush she was entirely 
Camera-conscious. For all that the cannibals 
Ate her one day they had nothing else to do. 



(xii) 

As a child showed promise. No need to push him, 
Everyone said. Then came the drought 
And after that, on his twenty-first birthday, 
A cloud no bigger than a god's hand 
And after that there was no need to push him. 



45 



THIS IS THE LIFE 

Down the rock chute into the tombs of the kings they grope 

these battling sandalled 
Elderly ladies in slacks and a hurry, their red nails clutching 

at hieroglyphics, 
Down to the deep peace of the shelter, everything found, 

cuisine and service, 
All the small ochred menials and livestock discreetly in profile, 

every convenience 
Laid on free so that they may survive in the manner to which 

they are accustomed, 
Gracious in granite this is the life with their minds made up 

for ever and the black 
Sarcophagus made up ready for the night, they can hide their 

heads under the graveclothes 
And every day in the dark below the desert will be one of both 

independence and thanksgiving 
So they never need worry again as to what may fall out of the 

sky 
But whenever they want can have a Pharaoh's portion of 

turkey and pumpkin pie. 



46 



BUDGIE 
(Jbr Robert MacBryde) 

The budgerigar is baby blue, 

Its mirror is rimmed with baby pink, 

Its cage is a stage, its perks are props, 

Its eyes black pins in a cushionette ? 

Its tail a needle on a missing disc, 

Its voice a small I Am. Beyond 

These wires there might be something different 

Galaxy on galaxy, star on star, 

Planet on planet, asteroid on asteroid, 

Or even those four far walls of the sitting room 

But for all this small blue bundle could bother 

Its beak, there is only itself and the universe, 

The small blue universe, so Let me attitudinise^ 

Let me attitudinise^ let me attitudinise^ 

For all the world is a stage is a cage 

A hermitage a fashion show a creche an auditorium 

Or possibly a space ship. Earth*, can you hear me? 

Blue for Budgie calling Me for Mirror: 

Budgie^ can you hear me? The long tail oscillates, 

The mirror jerks in the weightless cage: 

Budgie^ can you see me? The radio telescope 

Picks up a quite different signal, the human 

Race recedes and dwindles, the giant 

Reptiles cackle in their graves, the mountain 

Gorillas exchange their final messages, 

But the budgerigar was not born for nothing, 

He stands at his post on the burning perch 

I twitter Am and peeps like a television 

Actor admiring himself in the monitor. 



47 



MEMORANDA TO HORACE 

CO 

Aere perennius? Dissolving dialects. 
Flaccus, why trouble now to be lapidary. 
Knowing posterity, let alone unable 
To scan or follow you, neither will be able, 
Let alone yours, to cope with language, 
Being confined to the usual and frozen 
Channels, communicants in frozen sperm, 
Caught between cosmic and comic radiation, 
Against which world we have raised a monument 
Weaker and less of note than a mayfly 
Or a quick blurb for yesterday's detergent? 

Yet (another paragraph) I should correct myself 
Though not for myself or my time but for the record: 
Fame you no longer presumed on than pontifex 
And silent Vestal should continue daily 
Climbing the Capitol. Whether that proviso 
Has been properly kept seems open to question 
Even though a coiffed and silent figure 
Has been seen by some on Michelangelo's piazza 
With eyes turned down on the past. Yet your image 
'More lasting than bronze* will do: for neither 
Sulphuric nor other acid can damage, 
Let alone destroy, your Aeolian measures 
Transmuted to Latin aere perennius. 



Returned from my far-near country, my erstwhile, 
I wonder how much we are defined by negatives, 

48 



Who have no more seen the Banduslan 
Spring than have you the unreadable Atlantic, 

You to whom seraph and gargoyle were meaningless 
And I to whom Roman roads are a tedium 

Preferring the boreens of a country 
Rome never bothered her ponderous head about. 

So what have we, Flaccus, in common? If I never 
Boasted a Maecenas, you never summarised 

Life from Rockefeller Centre 
And if you never moved in a Christian framework 

I never moved in a pagan; for that matter 
I no more found Tir na n&g than you 

The Hesperides, yet vice versa 
If you never found Tir na nOg, then I never 

Found the Hesperides. It looks as if both of us 
Met in the uniqueness of history a premise 

That keeps us apart yet parallel. 
The gap reducible only by language. 

It is noisy today as it was when Brutus 

Fell on his sword, yet through wars and rumours 

Of wars I would pitch on the offchance 
My voice to reach you. Yours had already 

Crossed the same gap to the north and future. 
Offering no consolation, simply 

Telling me how you had gathered 
Your day, a choice it is mine to emulate. 

D 49 



(Ill) 

'Or with the tangles* as one of our own said 

And another called it 'intense' but admiringly levity*. 

This in the Nineteen-Thirties 
Had you, Flaccus, been alive and improbably 

Tempted by the Party would as usual 
Have served as a second string. 

Yes, Augustus had to arrive in a sealed train 

And you had to praise him and even think you meant it 

The way you meant it for Regulus; 
Yet we can guess between politics and personal 

Ties what making your expected 
Bow you really preferred, 

Slipping away to Lalage. There in the shade 
Of an ilex you could forget the triumphal arches 

And the rigged votes; the repetitive 
Cicadas endorsed your sleep after lovemaking 

From which deliriously laughing 
She woke and gave you a phrase. 

Which you dressed out in nonsense, that old yarn 
Of the routed wolf, and yet today in London 

When all the loudspeakers bellow 
* Wolf repeat Wolf! 3 I can find asylum, 

As you did, either in language 
Or laughter or with the tangles. 



(IV) 

Though elderly poets profess to be inveterate 
Dionysians, despising Apollonians, 

50 



I find it, Flaccus, more modest 

To attempt, like you, an appetitive decorum. 

Contraptions in ear or mouth or vagina, 
To you known neither as aid nor indignity, 

Assist yet degrade a generation 
For whom quality has long been in pawn to security. 

Which you, though they called you a time-serving parasite. 
Must understand, though even your period 

Never foresaw such appalling 
Stress upon mere irredeemable quantity. 

So now, when faced by a too well evacuated 
Sanatorium or mildewed junkshop, 
The point is never to recognize 
Any preconception: let commonplace be novelty. 

Which you, had they called you a legacy hunter, 
Would yet have agreed, no matter how the market 

Jittered: the point was to recognize 
The unborn face and the nigger in the woodpile. 

Both of which gifts, whether non-recognition 
Or pre-recognition, can serve us two thousand 

Years after yours as an antidote 
To the poison of time and manoeuvre a compromise 

With horrible old fellows, glazed and jowly, 
Who were the ones we always avoided 

Yet soon to be resembled albeit 
Our juniors resemble ourselves in avoidance. 



(v) 

Flaccus, there are creatures for you over-Gothic 
Met only by twilight, who daylong dozing 
By night are too wary: to these I am grateful, 
To Cocksnook, Lilith and Harum Scarum. 

With whom to hobnob is a mortification 
Of self-respect, one's precious identity 
Filtered away through what one had fancied 
Till now were one's fingers, shadows to shadows. 

Which yet means relief from the false identity 
Assumed in the day and the city, the pompous 
Cold stereotype that you in your period 
Tried to escape in your Sabine farmhouse. 

Which even for you was somewhat to archaize 
Much more then for us for whom Lares, Penates, 
And all their kind are nothing but rhetoric, 
Funerary urns from the supermarket. 

But how strange to think that degenerate goblin 
And fetch have outlasted your classics; at twilight 
I go to my tryst, the sky was dirty 
All day, there is snow to come, there are monsters 

To come and corrupt me, it is almost cosy, 
The sly paw gripping the lapel, the hurried 
Old lag's tip in the lobby: Tlead guilty 
Before they acquit and adopt you'. Lusts ti 



Satis remember? Likewise but otherwise 
To opt out now seems better than capitulate 
To the too well-lighted and over-advertised 
Idols of the age. Sooner these crepuscular 

Blasphemous and bawdy exchanges; and even 
A second childhood remembering only 
Childhood seems better than a blank posterity. 
One's life restricted to standing room only. 



STAR-GAZER 

Forty-two years ago (to me If to no one else 
The number is of some interest) it was a brilliant starry night 
And the westward train was empty and had no corridors 
So darting from side to side I could catch the unwonted sight 
Of those almost intolerably bright 

Holes, punched in the sky, which excited me partly because 
Of their Latin names and partly because I had read in the text 
books 

How very far off they were, it seemed their light 
Had left them (some at least) long years before I was. 

And this remembering now I mark that what 

Light was leaving some of them at least then, 

Forty-two years ago, will never arrive 

In time for me to catch it, which light when 

It does get here may find that there is not 

Anyone left alive 

To run from side to side in a late night train 

Admiring it and adding noughts in vain. 



54 



GOODBYE TO LONDON 

Having left the great mean city, I make 
Shift to pretend I am finally quit of her 
Though that cannot be so long as I work. 
Nevertheless let the petals fall 
Fast from the flower of cities all 



When I first met her to my child's ear 
She was an ocean of drums and tumbrils 
And in my nostrils horsepiss and petrol. 
Nevertheless let the petals fall 
Fast from the flower of cities all 

Next to my peering teens she was foreign 
Names over winking doors, a kaleidoscope 
Of wine and ice, of eyes and emeralds. 
Nevertheless let the petals fall 
Fast from the flower of cities all. 

Later as a place to live in and love in 
I jockeyed her fogs and quoted Johnson: 
To be tired of this is to tire of life. 
Nevertheless let the petals fall 
Fast from the flower of cities all 

Then came the headshrinking war, the city 
Closed in too, the people were fewer 
But closer too, we were back in the womb. 
Nevertheless let the petals fall 
Fast from the flower of cities all. 
55 



From which reborn into anticlimax 

"We endured much litter and apathy hoping 

The phoenix would rise, for so they had promised* 

Nevertheless let the petals fall 

Fast from the flower of cities all. 

And nobody rose, only some meaningless 
Buildings and the people once more were strangers 
At home with no one, sibling or friend. 

Which is why now the petals fall 

Fast from the flower of cities all. 



OFF THE PEG 

The same tunes hang on pegs in the cloakrooms of the mind 

That fitted us ten or twenty or thirty years ago 

On occasions of love or grief; tin pan alley or folk 

Or Lieder or nursery rhyme, when we open the door we find 

The same tunes hanging in wait as when the weather broke 

In our veins or the golden bowl in our hands; they show 

Frayed edges here and there or loss of nap but like 

Chameleons can adapt to whatever sunlight leaks 

Or thunderstorms impend or ghosts of long love strike. 

Hence when the coffinlike cradle pitched on the breaking bough 

Reveals once more some fiend or avatar, we reach 

For one of those wellworn tunes; be it purgatory or hell 

Or paradise even, circumstances allow 

This chain of simple notes the power of speech. 

Each tune, each cloak, if matched to weather and mood, wears 

well 
And off the peg means made to measure now. 



57 



CODA 

Maybe we knew each other better 

When the night was young and unrepeated 

And the moon stood still over Jericho. 

So much for the past; in the present 

There are moments caught between heart-beats 

When maybe we know each other better. 

But what is that clinking in the darkness? 
Maybe we shall know each other better 
When the tunnels meet beneath the mountain. 






H 

' ; CES 

Yiii : AXIOMS 



< ' ;iw SKY, 

!TBN EURKT^oiFi'E&iNa 

' ' ' '' ''AUTUMN SEQUEL ' 

COLLECTED POEMS 



EIGHTY-FIVE FOEMS 
SELECTED rOEMS 
THE OTHER WIKG 

OUT OF THE F1CTIIEE 
A Tlajr in Two Acts 

CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS 
A 



THE 

OF AESCHYLUS 
(translated fy) 




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110684