Three poems (plus one), by James Elroy Flecker

The Welsh Sea.
Far out across Carnarvon bay,
Beneath the evening waves,
The ancient dead begin their day
And stream among the graves.
Listen, for they of ghostly speech,
Who died when Christ was born,
May dance upon the golden beach
That once was golden corn.

And you may learn of Dyfed’s reign,
And dream Nemedian tales
Of Kings who sailed in ships from Spain
And lent their swords to Wales.

Listen, for like a golden snake
The Ocean twists and stirs,
And whispers how the dead men wake
And call across the years.


Oxford Canal.
When you have wearied of the valiant spires of this County Town,
Of its wide white streets and glistening museums, and black monastic walls,
Of its red motors and lumbering trains, and self-sufficient people,
I will take you walking with me to a place you have not seen —
Half town and half country—the land of the Canal.
It is dearer to me than the antique town: I love it more than the rounded hills:
Straightest, sublimest of rivers is the long Canal.
I have observed great storms and trembled: I have wept for fear of the dark.
But nothing makes me so afraid as the clear water of this idle canal on a summer’s noon.
Do you see the great telegraph poles down in the water, how every wire is distinct?
If a body fell into the canal it would rest entangled in those wires for ever, between earth and air.
For the water is as deep as the stars are high.
One day I was thinking how if a man fell from that lofty pole
He would rush through the water toward me till his image was scattered by his splash,
When suddenly a train rushed by: the brazen dome of the engine flashed:
the long white carriages roared;
The sun veiled himself for a moment, and the signals loomed in fog;
A savage woman screamed at me from a barge: little children began to cry;
The untidy landscape rose to life: a sawmill started;
A cart rattled down to the wharf, and workmen clanged over the iron footbridge;
A beautiful old man nodded from the first story window of a square red house,
And a pretty girl came out to hang up clothes in a small delightful garden.
O strange motion in the suburb of a county town: slow regular movement of the dance of death!
Men and not phantoms are these that move in light.
Forgotten they live, and forgotten die.



When the words rustle no more,
And the last work’s done,
When the bolt lies deep in the door,
And Fire, our Sun,
Falls on the dark-laned meadows of the floor;

When from the clock’s last time to the next chime
Silence beats his drum,
And Space with gaunt grey eyes and her brother Time
Wheeling and whispering come,
She with the mould of form and he with the loom of rhyme,

Then twittering out in the night my thought-birds flee,
I am emptied of all my dreams:
I only hear Earth turning, only see
Ether’s long bankless streams,
And only know I should drown if you
Laid not your hand on me.


The Ballad of Camden Town.
I walked with Maisie long years back
The streets of Camden Town,
I splendid in my suit of black,
And she divine in brown.
Hers was a proud and noble face,
A secret heart, and eyes
Like water in a lonely place
Beneath unclouded skies.

A bed, a chest, a faded mat,
And broken chairs a few,
Were all we had to grace our flat
In Hazel Avenue.

But I could walk to Hampstead Heath,
And crown her head with daisies,
And watch the streaming world beneath,
And men with other Maisies.

When I was ill and she was pale
And empty stood our store,
She left the latchkey on its nail,
And saw me nevermore.

Perhaps she cast herself away
Lest both of us should drown:
Perhaps she feared to die, as they
Who die in Camden Town.

What came of her? The bitter nights
Destroy the rose and lily,
And souls are lost among the lights
Of painted Piccadilly.

What came of her? The river flows
So deep and wide and stilly,
And waits to catch the fallen rose
And clasp the broken lily.

I dream she dwells in London still
And breathes the evening air,
And often walk to Primrose Hill,
And hope to meet her there.

Once more together we will live,
For I will find her yet:
I have so little to forgive;
So much, I can’t forget.


Most famous/anthologised poems are: To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence (recommended read); The Golden Journey to Samarkand; Old Ships;

J E F was born 1884, married 1911 and died of TB in Davos, Switzerland January 1915.
Educated at Uppingham school, Caius, Cambridge and Trinity, Oxford (greatly influenced by Aesthetic movement whilst at Oxford).
He frequently wrote in a style influenced by the French ‘Parnassian’ poets.  English poetry mainstream was drifting towards ‘modernism’ and its various departmentalised formats at this time.  Parnassian can be thought of as retracing old ground that had been trodden by many earlier poets when classical studies were the basis of a vast amount of poetry.   Which, it may be reasoned, was because the education and class systems biased massively towards such subjects and the likelihood of getting appreciated within the educated and hierarchical world as well as circulated, let alone printed (published) would have been to cater for that audience.  Of course there are many exceptions to this but they fall into areas of ‘private’ poetry and oral verse.  There are always exceptions, remember.

His poetry has been quoted in print by Agatha Christie, Jorge Luis Borges and Neil Gaiman.  Some lines are inscribed from his poem Hassan…. The Golden Journey to Samarkand at the barracks in Hereford and NZSAS monument at Rennie Lines, also at Papakura Military Camp.  This perhaps illustrates his prominance for the few years he was writing.
However I like the poems above as they are  drifting towards English themes (partly obvious because of the titles!) and less classical words and images for a simpler, cleaner language.  His ‘Classical’ knowledge, poetic style and sheer quality of work brought him early acknowledgment as a poet, though not by the masses of the time.  His early death may have prevented him from moving into a more modern stance.  Who knows.  I also noted three other most recognisable from this collection which are often anthologised.
The poems are more Victorian than Edwardian/Georgian in this selection, maybe, but have strength and are leaning into the modern nonetheless.
The ballad is told in true form and the description is economical, nearly sparse yet the poem is strong in imagery and depth.  (this in truth, is such a relief from having read too many Swinburne ballads).  Maybe he is neglected by the current trends but I hope that somewhere others fit into an anthology or two.


Biblio: Wikipedia,
And Selected Poems by James Elroy Flecker, pub Martin Secker, (1921 reprint, 5th impression) Ed. & intro by J.C.Squire


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