Poems for April

Poems for April.

April may have been overtaken by May and Spring is now sliding into Summer so apologies for being a laggard.  Or maybe I can claim to be presumptious for 2018!   Another small selection for the seasons covering  700 years.

Short extract of beginning of Prologue to Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.   Modern translation by Ecker and Crook  (online & published by Hodge and Braddock 1993)…. I would highly recommend this translation of the complete Tales for those in study now or for nostalgia of days studied and how it should really be translated!!

When April’s gentle rains have pierced the drought

Of March right to the root, and bathed each sprout

Through every vein with liquid of such power

It brings forth the engendering of the flower;

When Zephyrus too with his sweet breath has blown

Through every field and forest, urging on

The tender shoots, and there’s a youthful sun,

His second half course through the Ram now run,

And little birds are making melody

And sleep all night, eyes open as can be

(So Nature pricks them in each little heart),

On pilgrimage then folks desire to start.

The palmers long to travel foreign strands

To distant shrines renowned in sundry lands;

And specially, from every shire’s end

In England, folks to Canterbury wend:

To seek the blissful martyr is their will,

The one who gave such help when they were ill.

 

April Showers                              John Clare

Delightful weather for all sorts of moods

& most for him – grey morn and swarthy eye

Found rambling up the little narrow lane

Where primrose banks amid the hazly woods

Peep most delightfully on passers bye

While Aprils little clouds about the sky

Mottle & freak unto fancy lie

Idling and ending travel for the day

Till darker clouds sail up with cumberous heave

South oer the woods & scares them all away

Then comes the rain pelting with pearly drops

The primrose crowds until they stoop & lie

All fragrance to his mind that musing stops

Beneath the awthorn till the shower is bye

This poem taken from Midsummer Cushion, the manuscript that Clare spent a tremendous amount of time preparing for publication but it  never was in his lifetime.   It took 150 years.   Published by MidNAG &Carcanet in 1978, intro.  by Anne Tibble.    A collection of poems we know selected and ordered by himself makes this a particularly special book.

 

April                                        Jean Whitfield

I saw into the eye of the month with its moist buds

not quite contained on quivering branches

and an embroidered sky beyond white mazes

of yellow-cream green-shining almost-leaves

mere prickings spinning webs with sunlight

and the wild plum tree hazy with dabs of thick leaf.

 

A crazy Crow clowned an April trick

balancing a leg a wing a hooded beak

on one slender single-budded branch

bending low with him and springing up

against the sheer cliff-top blue

as the carrion trampolines and grinned gleaming.

 

Sky is all-at-once a whipped and curling ice-cream sea

with wave-tops flashing peaking into one another

and down here grass reflects its silver in these bending blades

that goldfinches skim on the surface light

and carry its message in their joy lifting and flowing.

 

April’s music laced with wings rejoices in its murmurings

it is all surprises at the heart of it, is a gift for us

an unfolding of the ceaseless year that is happening again.

 

I tasted April sharp and clear

a spring of a day bubbling out of the gill

it wet my lips filled my cold throats and flowed

like light lapping tree-tops fresh through me

and my toes shot sparks in the icy dew:

in the warming sun my skin became April.

 

A poem from ‘Moments’, reprinted by permission of Bakery Press.  Another example of the quality of this poet’s work.

 

 

 

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poems JJS

 Poem 

The grizzled old man looked at me

with the morning sun glistening on bristled chin.

His eyes sunken, not hooded like crows

but sprawled-over by lank eyebrows; and his nose!

Thin commas red-lining the beak and you see

the grey from his nostrils peek.

There’s a finite crease in each lobe of each ear

and the duct in his eye predicted a tear, or sleep.

The fine hair cast thin and lopped to one side

hiding the patch where the thatch had died.

Back to his jaw where the line has sagged

and the lips drawn in.

The rhythm is missing, it’s not me nor him.

Maybe, just maybe, I’m seeing his twin.

 

 

Poem

The hawthorn, once budded and blossom-smothered

So smooth and supple that she waved to and caressed the breeze

Twisting with light to loose her petals and covered

To spell the ground white with flattering ease.

As branches arched, grew wide and reached for sun,

Beneath its shade in dappled light grew nature’s young

To play and grow and shelter as young shoots

In the founding nest among the hawthorn roots.

But time, the tides of man, an unknown thing in hawthorn’s course

Seeks recompense for seasons’ gifts

And bends and wreaks with gales that force

The gnarled and ancient roots to lift

And skin the branches clean of bud and leaf

To leave a memory and make a willow weep.

 

Poem….                                                                          28.march17

Recollection slips into gear when sitting in my quiet place

And the setting sun brings into view a distant face

That has never aged with signs of wear.

This time it’s red-eyed Henry who heads the line

With his solemn look.  Always hid behind

BIg-foot McCluskey but now he has the shilling

His penitent father gives for sweets

and he’s always willing

To share his treats with those who fold him in.

So there he is, is Big-foot, as heavy as is tall.

With Shiny-face and cheerful smile for one and all;

Unless you mock his mother, striving hard to keep together

A house of children by working the only way she could.

And then beware, big-foot.

 

I sip my thermos’ tea and hough quietly as childhood ghosts

Drift across the rows of red and white-stringed beans;

Canopies of leaves that point and flutter and boast of ripened seeds

That twist and burst and fall on fallow soil, on forgotten scenes.

Big Mary, Little Jane.  Oddly sisters a year apart

Who always dangled off each other’s arms as if alarmed to part,

Except when chased by Quickey-Tom and then would dash across the lane

To squeal in unison on opposing sides and feign

Surprise or anger amid delight.

And Mickey, Smiff and then there’s Jim.

What became of him, I wonder absently, sipping tea, still steaming

Into rheumy eyes.

He had big plans. Dressed like a mannequin for any occasion.

Always scheming, planning, looking for a reason

Not to be him.

 

Time, they say, is a great healer.

Glasses, they say are always rose-tinted.

Beds, they say, are of your own making.

But I wonder, in my quiet place,

Of the stories they would make of me;

Of my face that never ages,

Of my eyes, one, two, three.

 

for Jean, Poet.                     JJS.    9jan.2017

Spindrift.

A gossamer.

One hundred threads

of finest silken line.

A spiders web of steel

in summer through winter’s grip

and yet a sip of wine

that weds your world to mine.

 

 

Three Poems               J Johnson Smith

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Dandelions Poems by Arthur Berry

Dandelions     Poems

By Arthur Berry

Paperback, self-published

Introduction by Arthur Berry dated as 1993 so  reckon publication same year or one after.

No isbn and I can’t remember what price I paid about four years ago.    I bought it in a small art shop in Longton or Burslem, I believe, one of the ‘Five Towns’ round Stoke on Trent.

Cover probably drawn by the author, an artist, lecturer in painting and also playwright with productions at Victoria Theatre, Stoke on Trent as well as this collection of poetry and two other titles.

87 poems over 131 pages, including frontispiece and index.

I haven’t labelled this as a Graph Review as it is most unlikely copies are available easily.

 

Arthur Berry, born in Smallthorne, North Staffordshire in 1925, son of a Bricklayer and a Publican’s daughter.  The blurb on the back cover offers, plus a brief resume of his working career, as an artist, lecturer in painting.

I include the last paragraph of his own words of introduction: (I was advised by the shop  that I should read, or be read to, in the local accent of North Staffs.  I fear I failed on both counts but nonetheless having visited the towns of his area I have a fair mental picture of the places if not the accent…… and to be honest the need for accent never worried!)

………….

“This then is a rough account of the times I have lived in, and I recognise it as the main theme of my work.  I did not consciously think about it at the time, as I wrote my poems but it must have seeped in – as did various bits of daft, thank goodness.”

Arthur Berry 1993

……..

First observations on reading is the good humour touching much of the verse, though dark.  The humour is filtered within far darker tones such as disillusion, disappointment and even anger at what his surroundings had become.    Observation in spades as to be expected from a painter with a quickness and lightness of touch for words that carry the scene in a bluff and gritty manner.  The poems move around many places and sights though characters are often in the limelight and everywhere is the same gritty, eloquent, matter-of-fact delivery.

Rhythm, rhyme and half-rhyme aplenty though nicely balanced in poems of differing levels of scheme and length.  (Acres of solid rhyme-schemes are not my favourite so Berry suits me well!)  No date-order given to the poems.  The variation in lengths is appealing for  the reader (me).  The shorter poems may be 16 lines and the longest about 90 lines while many sit comfortably on a single page, more or less.   No glossary but most local words are obvious in meaning.

Time, change, levels of sadness, maybe at the losses of lifestyle and a touch of bitterness through the telescope of time where hardship-visible has been turned into hardship almost invisible but certainly more complicated, are all there.  Especially where community/society has been eroded by change industrial change.   Demolition and ruination run from the start of the collection but all are progressed through his verse with the spotlight of a painter.  In his own introduction he points out that he discovered his overall ‘theme’ while reading through the verses some years after they were written.  ‘Change’ weighed heavily, maybe the failure of it to improve more so.

I have been visiting this area some twelve years and the regeneration of the last few years has been enormous.  Arthur Berry must have lived through the years when the pottery kilns stopped smoking until even the great china factories, distribution warehouses and painting shops slowly declined and closed.  Whole areas collapsing into disrepair and streets in neglect.  He wrote particularly of the old and loss of, a community, its housing and livelihood.  Some names, some workshops still exist and the few surviving seem to prosper but his view was different, earlier than mine. He saw the decline happening, I have only seen at its lowest and its recovery.   Many of the old terraces he would have walked around are gone and now replaced with new housing although some streets of terraces are being rescued, refurbished slowly to honour the history of the place.  He saw their terrible decline and demolition, wrote about the losses but within his verse was the parallel of his own losses of youth as well as his memories.  I have to say that very few of his memories seem to be rose-tinted, just remembered for what they were.  What replaced his icons of memory will now have to wait for another time, another writer or painter.

His poems cite street and pubs, it is a very local book but with sentiments that many people will recognise if they lived in a seriously declining neighbourhood.  He is sometimes harsh in his depiction of people, of the labouring, working class and their environs, the drinking and the mess, but times and lives were often hard.  Maybe his eye caught only the jaundiced side of his world.

The very first poem.  In This Place,      Creates a sombre mood yet bodes well for the collection.

Memorable others are:   How to Paint a Picture of Nile Street        and:

Dandelions                       Title poem:  p18

Where the end of the wall

And the waste ground meet

At the back of the canal

And Navigation street

Dandelions bold as brass

Grow among the bitter grass

In this place of empty chapels and aborted kilns

By the still smouldering fires

That burn the mattresses of the recently dead

These sour yellow flowers raise their heads

Damp rags suns that shine

On the sides of a lost loop line,

Among wild lupins and cinders

Fed on the dried excrement of dogs

Among the canals wet clinging fogs

Hard flower suns that gleam

By the edges of the poisoned stream,

Where the hiss and slip

Of a rat, nuzzles against the dead body of a cat

Among the slime and burning lime

And down in the flattened cemetery

Where my drunken uncles lie,

Over the iron gate

Into a bland white sky

Ghosts of these rag suns are blown away

Into the passing traffic of the day.

 

Another, The Procession, page 19, leaks nostalgia

The Hoppo and The Bus Shelter are party to several others that show bleak caricatures of people.  Often, descriptions are highly focused but bleak.   Nature frequently creeps into his poetry but is often succumbed or overridden by the smoke of urban exhausts, hardship and disrepair.  Arthur Berry highlights the last section of his collection saying the moorlands, countryside, outside his towns had some effect in the following poems but even here they tend to suffer an overspill from man, even the countryside itself!….. except for  Wrong Category,  and  The Apple Tree,  which have a gentler touch.

Maybe you might see mostly depression in these poems, in all areas and meanings but there are lighter moments, touches of beauty in the drab; humour in the seemingly continuous difficulty he sees.  Or rather I read memory and nostalgia and humour tucked into some outrageous descriptions.  All images seem ‘true’ as they are drawn by a painter who only describes the backstreets, the ‘kitchen sinks’ or the Dicken’s-like scenes that should have gone years ago but in fact never will.

Cats

If all the kittens

Our cats once had

Grew into cats

By now they would have

Found their way to London

And in the tall white houses

Round the squares

Distinguished men

Passing on the stairs

Would say to each other

With some concern

Where are all these

Damn cats coming from.

 

After finishing this collection, the above poem and between its lines, says a lot about the man I imagine him to be.  Perhaps his brush is aimed elsewhere!     Thank you, Arthur Berry, for poems with many layers like a painting, much to see and more to explore.

 

 

 

 

Copyright remains with copyright holders of Arthur Berry.

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Too Afraid to Cry, A Graph Review

Too Afraid to Cry;     A memoir in prose and verse    

by     Ali Cobby Eckermann

Published by Ilura Press.

978 192132524 3         Paperback

Recently announced as one of the two  winners of the Australian 2017 Windham Campbell Prize for poetry.

Each year two prize winners in each category of poetry, drama, fiction and non-fiction;  in its fifth year each winner receives US$165,000.

Link:   www.windhamcampbell.org.

A Graph Review:     average of 70 all through with touches of more for emotional connections!

A memoir but listed as poetry.

She has five other collections of poetry in print.

The book is series of prose sketches from the early childhood of Ali Cobby Eckermann interspersed with almost haunted verse and through teenage to adulthood and closing with a celebration of family.  As an aboriginal baby, born in 1963, she was among the many ( approx. 33%) forcibly taken from the mothers soon after birth as part of  the Australian social policy of the time.  She was adopted into a German Lutheran farming family already with children, where she was loved, as was another adopted child.

However  with growing awareness of being different in a family of differing skin tones, and being subjected to various levels of abuses outside the family situation she developed assorted emotional problems and addictions as she grew to adulthood.   Her writing is beautifully simple, descriptive and at times lyrical yet often fearsomely matter-of-fact.  By jumping from scene to scene we watch the events through her eyes and begin to be informed of the abuses she suffers and the complications they set in train.  Time and tensions move on.  Throughout she does maintain some friendships and family albeit tenuously at times.

The poem ‘Black‘  offers a step-change affirming her ‘Self’.   Returning to the brief ‘chapters’  of prose, where life goes on and bullying is amplified: she finds a form of relief in friendships with other adopted and non-adopted indigenous people and families but with an evermore self-destructive life style.  Her writing style throughout continues as simple and matter-of-fact in telling her tale.

Maybe at her lowest point in the story, halfway-ish through the book, there is a subtle change in outlook.  She reports, still concisely, of feeling connections with ‘the earth’, elements of scenery around her and of a bigger emotion as the landscape expands into the wilderness she travels through.  Perhaps a degree of comfort from the expanse and open-space lifestyle.  Reading this section, of her growing awareness, created a surprising feeling of empathy on that connection.  From here the style of blunt and non-critical writing continues while her life improves and collapses episodically.

The writer begins to describe scenery as it infiltrates into her.  She is, almost unknowingly, absorbing her heritage of ageless culture and wisdom.   A smooth and subtle change while her language is still beautifully simple.  (I say simple.  I suppose I really mean excised of all unnecessary words.  If only I could write like that!!)

Blame is never considered by Ali but the reader surely can.  The story may read as a philosophy of:  ‘life happens’  but the reasons why need to be addressed, especially the ‘happenings’ of now.  That particular may have been but Social Engineering for good or ill does have serious consequences in countless forms, mostly, it seems against women and children.   There, I’ve gone off-track and have only the direct result of reading this book to thank.   Yes, it is of a specific person but many aspects of her story are not only of the indigenous Australian but should resonate around the world in support of all who are nudged or beaten to the peripheries of society.

Ultimately this is a personal story of a baby, a child growing into adulthood and surviving a system of abuse and almost self-destruction to discover herself, her blood family, heritage and her own landscape.  A woman who has finally become whole.     Ali Cobby Eckermann’s book deserves international recognition.

This is one to recommend to all your friends and everyone else.

 

This item slightly edited from being recently published on ‘wordparc’

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The Arrival of Brighteye and other Poems, A Graph Review

A Graph Review,   50s with high points of 60s

Published by     Bloodaxe Books    2000.         paperback £7.95

978 185224538 2                                  A collection of 31 poems

 

I found catching the native Caribbean accent from this collection daunting at the start but with concentration and the numerous smooth transitions to standard English as separate and within poems, the unfamiliar soon became much easier and that voice inside my head settled into an agreeable attempt at the diferent words and patterns.  However it still remained a challenging but interesting read into, for me, a different world.

Poems of  Caribbean scenes: Childhood, school, surroundings, emigration, life transplanted and death.  Not forgetting the likes of housework and love; the latter cropping up in its many guises. ‘The Arrival of Brighteye’ is the keynote poem as well as the cover title.  It is a story-poem, part prose, that offers hope and excitement of a new world and family reunion but ends on a sad line of familial  love.

Poems that seemed extravagant as I read turned into colourful pictures of places and people. The writing is spirited throughout,  affirming sisterhood no matter what.

The first, Bush Babies,  sets the scene and the poems move along picking out moments like apples from a tree.  Understanding and sexuality flit through many, especially early poems.  More use of Caribbean accent is in the second half of the collection, allowing readers to tune in to the language.  I have not seen her perform her work but expect Jean Breeze to be as colourful and exuberant as these poems

I always have to pick out some I like, so:

The garden path,     Sky love,        The arrival of bright eyes,   leading on to   playing the messiah and the last poem in the collection…Duppy Dance

Shame I can’t include ‘Ole Warrior’ or ‘on cricket, sex and housework’, or several others too…….. Yes, I would recommend all of them!  A thoroughly good read!

Short extract from Upstream (for Stevie):

“If you could hear the drumbeats on my mind

Give me one more flight of time

One more chime of music

One more glimpse of dawn

One more walk

through open spaces”

 

 

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Three Poems by Henry lawson

Well,  just trundled my way through his collected works.  There must be over 500 assorted poems in total by this earl Australian poet, writer and journalist.   Most of them fairly long to put in this post of brief reminders of style.  I complained in the last post that his repetitive rhyming and rhythms were not entirely for me.  My slight reassessment  is that at least you know what you are getting every time and that his consistency is remarkable whilst carrying a wide range of stories, or rather sketches and scenes.     Not for too much re-reading unless I need a snatch of early Australian ‘scenery’, which is effective

Three poems:

Hawkers

Dust, dust, dust, and a dog –

Oh, the shepherd-dog won’t be the last,

Where the long, long shadow of the old bay horse

With the shadow of his mate is cast.

A brick-brown woman, with their brick-brown kids,

And a man with his head half-mast,

The feed-bags hung, and the bedding slung,

And the blackened bucket made fast

Where the tailboard clings to the tucker and things –

So the hawker’s van goes past.

 

On the night train

 

Have you seen the Bush by moonlight, from the train, go running by,

Here a patch of glassy water, there a glimpse of mystic sky?

Have you heard the still small voice calling, yet so warm, and yet so cold:

“I’m the Mother Bush that bore you! Come to me when you are old?”

 

Did you see the Bush below you sweeping darkly to the range,

All unchanged and all unchanging, yet so very old and strange!

Did you hear the Bush a’calling, when your heart was young and bold:

“I’m the Mother Bush that nursed you!  Come to me when you are old?”

 

Through the long, vociferous cutting as the night train swiftly sped,

Did you hear the grey Bush calling from the pine-ridge overhead:

“You have seen the seas and cities; all seems done, and all seems told;

I’m the Mother Bush that loves you! Come to me now you are old?”

Borderland

I am back from up the country — very sorry that I went —
Seeking for the Southern poets’ land whereon to pitch my tent;
I have lost a lot of idols, which were broken on the track —
Burnt a lot of fancy verses, and I’m glad that I am back.
Further out may be the pleasant scenes of which our poets boast,
But I think the country’s rather more inviting round the coast —
Anyway, I’ll stay at present at a boarding-house in town
Drinking beer and lemon-squashes, taking baths and cooling down.

Sunny plains! Great Scot! — those burning wastes of barren soil and sand
With their everlasting fences stretching out across the land!
Desolation where the crow is! Desert! where the eagle flies,
Paddocks where the luny bullock starts and stares with reddened eyes;
Where, in clouds of dust enveloped, roasted bullock-drivers creep
Slowly past the sun-dried shepherd dragged behind his crawling sheep.
Stunted “peak” of granite gleaming, glaring! like a molten mass
Turned, from some infernal furnace, on a plain devoid of grass.

Miles and miles of thirsty gutters — strings of muddy waterholes
In the place of “shining rivers” (walled by cliffs and forest boles).
“Range!” of ridgs, gullies, ridges, barren! where the madden’d flies —
Fiercer than the plagues of Egypt — swarm about your blighted eyes!
Bush! where there is no horizon! where the buried bushman sees
Nothing. Nothing! but the maddening sameness of the stunted trees!
Lonely hut where drought’s eternal — suffocating atmosphere —
Where the God forgottcn hatter dreams of city-life and beer.

Treacherous tracks that trap the stranger, endless roads that gleam and glare,
Dark and evil-looking gullies — hiding secrets here and there!
Dull, dumb flats and stony “rises,” where the bullocks sweat and bake,
And the sinister “gohanna,” and the lizard, and the snake.
Land of day and night — no morning freshness, and no afternoon,
For the great, white sun in rising brings with him the heat of noon.
Dismal country for the exile, when the shades begin to fall
From the sad, heart-breaking sunset, to the new-chum, worst of all.

Dreary land in rainy weather, with the endless clouds that drift
O’er the bushman like a blanket that the Lord will never lift —
Dismal land when it is raining — growl of floods and oh! the “woosh”
Of the rain and wind together on the dark bed of the bush —
Ghastly fires in lonely humpies where the granite rocks are pil’d
On the rain-swept wildernesses that are wildest of the wild.

Land where gaunt and haggard women live alone and work like men,
Till their husbands, gone a-droving, will return to them again —
Homes of men! if homes had ever such a God-forgotten place,
Where the wild selector’s children fly before a stranger’s face.
Home of tragedy applauded by the dingoes’ dismal yell,
Heaven of the shanty-keeper — fitting fiend for such a hell —
And the wallaroos and wombats, and, of course, the “curlew’s call” —
And the lone sundowner tramping ever onward thro’ it all!

I am back from up the country — up the country where I went
Seeking for the Southern poets’ land whereon to pitch my tent;
I have left a lot of broken idols out along the track,
Burnt a lot of fancy verses — and I’m glad that I am back —
I believe the Southern poet’s dream will not be realised
Till the plains are irrigated and the land is humanised.
I intend to stay at present — as I said before — in town
Drinking beer and lemon-squashes — taking baths and cooling down.

 

 

I might have included others, such as:          A Bush Girl.    To my cultured critics,     Second class wait here.      Pigeon toes….       But didn’t!

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Poetical Works of Henry Lawson

1867-1922

Born in a tent on Grenfell goldfields.  Father a Norse sailor turned goldfield digger and a Kentish mother of gypsy blood and tradition. He seems to have led a mostly nomadic life, crossing oceans as well as  working on farms and stations. Always writing. Short stories, masses of poetry and working as a jouranalist in Sydney until succumbing finally to alcaholism and almost destitution except for the support of  a boarding house keeper who was also a poet and had great admiration for Henry’s work.

 

A very brief outline of a man whose work I am reading now, having found  a re-issue of his 1933 edition by Angus & Robertson.

Briefly, his metre and rhyme seems punctilious, his subjects quite varied but mostly of the land- workers: Shearer, swagman, the woman who watched and waited for them and the political and class struggles of the day. Throughout  is the space in time as well as distance of the landscape whether on a farmstead or travelling through a township.  The characters are all real, unglossed and often lost.

The intro. mentions him coming out of the realms of  Wordsworth and Byron. To me Kipling and Tennyson are sometimes in step with his metre and style but the tru-ism of the introduction is that he is an Australian poet.

a sample:  not the best but one of the shorter poems.  Longer ones continue in similar strong patterns but a multitude of subjects  decide on feelings, of sadness, harshness of reality and hope.  :

Rain in the Mountains

The valley’s full of misty clouds,

Its tinted beauty drowning,

Tree-tops are veiled in fleecy shrouds,

And mountain fronts are frowning.

 

The mist is hanging like a pall

Above the granite ledges,

And many a silvery waterfall

Leaps o’er the valley edges.

 

The sky is of a leaden grey,

Save where the north looks surly,

The driven daylight speeds away,

And night comes o’er early.

 

Dear Love, the rain will pass full soon,

Far sooner than my sorrow,

But in a golden afternoon

The sun may set tomorrow.

 

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