Lorna Goodison: Guinea Woman and Selected Poems

After reading ‘I am Becoming My Mother’, I take a look at Guinea Woman and For My Mother, a collection published in 2000.

Guinea Woman & Selected Poems

Lorna Goodison

paperback       published 2000,    Carcanet

Maybe it is me but there is always a lushness to Lorna Goodison’s poetry.  The feel of her words surrounding you as you read, a sorrow or bittersweet note coloured by the undergrowth of her formative island home.  Even the harshness of some poems are influenced by the colour and warmth of her environment in the Caribbean, others to the more  sombre landscapes of  the North and Europe.  Even here she is able to prick the poems with colour.

Lorna Goodison’s poetry is a distinct counterbalance to the bright-glittering lines of my last read: Smoothie, by Claudine Toutoungi (Carcanet)

Guinea Woman  contains poems from the publications: I Am Becoming My Mother and   Heartease plus a great many as ‘New and Selected’

I mention above ‘lushness’ and depth (undergrowth) and her tone of bittersweet.  I should pick up also on the fact that within these emotions lies a core of flashing steel; or maybe I should refer you to her poem ‘On Becoming a Tiger’ which for me suggests her need to become such, maybe as a self-portrait.  Deeper into this collection and her poems become more extended.  Throughout she frequently places the role of the poet to sit with the people, those torn away and subjugated but still surviving.  Their history, her history, and the catching at truth in the midst of the islands.  Yet despite the hardships of the past or her then present, the enveloping plants and sweet smelling herbs give succour and support.  Her poetry is frequently about the ‘injustice’ (To put it oh-so too mildly!) of people against one another, of the world of transportation and slavery and how that ‘hinge’ has weighed down so many people.  Yet hope, beauty and humanity survive despite the failure of history to truly recompense and the continued need to call for true freedom.

Read.   Elephant.

and:  In city gardens grow no roses as we know them

I have never been to Jamaica but in reading Lorna Goodison I can believe in the heat, the colour, the rhythm of life and language, the humour and both injustice and truth of this sensuous world she shows us.

You can meet her family here and a wealth of people in the pleasure of her verses and the justly acute observations on history and still the present, that sadden and frustrate.  When she is far away from her origins you hear that too.  Her anger and maybe scorn sometimes surprises the reader in poems.

Noting the particular pleasure I had in reading : The Mango of Poetry, I offer this to any poet, would-be or active as a balance to some texts on writing poetry.   I have just see that this poem is is also highlighted on the back cover of her latest full collection since she became Poet Laureate of Jamaica on 17th May 2017 ( until 2020).

All-in-all, this may be a collection published in 2000 but it is a grand set to read and covet.  But then, now a more complete selection is published  perhaps that should become my standard!    Of her work, to quote the last verse of  The Mango of Poetry:   ‘And I say that this too would be/ powerful and overflowing/ and a fitting definition/ of what is poetry.’


I Am Becoming My Mother may be a classic poem, ripe for study, but to gather the fruits of this author you really need to dig only a little deeper and Guinea Woman: New & Selected Poems should satisfy any reader of Poetry whatever their main interest.

I have indicated a few favourites in the text above, others in this memorable collection to recommend are:

To Mr William Wordsworth, distributor of stamps for Westmorland..….( a poem for students of the W.W. too, surely?).

Annie Pengelly,   God a Me,  and  Guinea Woman

I am sorry to have missed her visit to England in July 2017.  Maybe another time.



John Clare: This Happy Spirit, A Graph Review

this happy spiritA Graph Review:              70 to 85 points   It hits all the high notes for quality of production, selection of poems and linocuts

John Clare       This Happy Spirit

Poems of Clare selected and edited by R.K.R. Thornton and Carry Akroyd.

Illustrated by Carry Akroyd

this happy spirit graph 70 to 80Published by  John Clare Society.  2013

£9.99.  Paperback     ISBN: 978 095641133 4

I tend to note down the poems I especially like  as I read a collection then re-read and whittle down to the ones that echo longest to suggest them for other readers.   I know I have read many of Clare’s poems and biographies over the last 50 years, admittedly with assorted gaps between then and now and found many I like.   So, as usual I start to note the poems as I like them in this collection:   some new to me, others welcome returns.  Here lies the problem; I could write them all down as potential recommendations…….

The cover blurb states:  ‘this selection, a companion to The Wood is Sweet, presents less familiar poems of John Clare.  It emphasises Clare’s ability to use, in Wordsworth’s words, his ‘deep power of joy’ to ‘see into the life of things’.  This delight and intimacy with essentials is what makes Clare’s poetry alive, and this edition, with Carry Akroyd’s striking evocations of the flora and fauna he knew, will please those who know Clare’s work, and will bring new readers to the pleasures of his poetry.’

I need say no more, a blurb that states truly the quality of the poetry and artwork that matches superbly with those poems.  the book is divided into sections highlighted as:  The Poet in the Fields;  Flowers;  Forests,Woods and Trees;  Birds;    The Seasons; and   Village Life.

Clare had a unique ability to observe the smallest detail of his humble world not purely flora and fauna. This collection focuses on the natural world around him.  His genius was in writing that detail in such a  concise and descriptive way that even now readers can see the images he saw and feel his excitement at the wonder, the variety, of nature in all its flavours and seasons.

The selection keeps away (almost) from extracts of his longer poems though as many of these (longer poems) were written in chunks over periods of time it could have been an option, except that their tones of satire may have unbalanced this collection.

The sheer volume of his output means that there are subjects often repeated though always with a slightly altered perspective.  All aspects of his poetry show his commitment and love of being ‘at one’ with his natural, humble, habitats. Even his satirical long poem The Parish thrusts his written images into the mind of the reader with such immediacy that his passion shines through. Though in the Parish it is his anger that is uppermost in his passion of ‘place’. What is also obvious is his recognition and understanding of his surroundings.

This Happy Spirit  has a brief introduction to Clare’s life and a chronology, also a note on editors/artist and a three page glossary of words needing clarification.

Despite my stated problem of choosing my favourite poems I have noted a few.  Some because the linocuts add to the experience but would also promote all others, every single one:

Rural Scenes…..and full page linocut opposite

The Meadow Hay

The Ragwort


The Beans in Blossom……..with accompanying linocut

The Winter’s Spring………… With a full page linocut opposite

The Woodman Comes Home


May I quote one poem from the book:

Rural Scenes

I never saw a man in all my days –

One whom the calm of quietness pervades –

Who gave not woods and fields his hearty praise,

And felt a happiness in Summer shades.

There I meet common thoughts, that all may read

Who love the common fields: – I note them well,

Because they give me joy as I proceed,

And joy renewed, when I their beauties tell

In simple verse, and unambiguous songs,

That in some mossy cottage haply may

Be read, and win the praise of humble tongues

In the green shadows of some after-day.

For rural fame may likeliest rapture yield

To hearts, whose songs are gathered from the field.


John Clare may have claimed to be a simple poet, a simple peasant, for his publishing and readership but that takes no account that with his knowledge of poetry and poets of his day he seems to have chosen his own path of style and subject rather than imitate.  I suspect that he knew early that his strengths were clarity of eye and understanding of life around him and maybe a sense of genius (difference) despite the huge difficulties of his life.  Perhaps too frequently the poems selected start with ‘I love to’ or at least ‘I love’; which is no reflection on the individual poems but noticeable. Of course with Clare that is exactly what he ‘loved’ so why not say it?  Clare’s rhythm and rhyme-schemes are frequently easy and lilting but like his use of language there is also subtlety and skill in the construction around the world of the labourer he portrays.  The editors’ sympathetic addition of some punctuation adds overall whilst there is still freedom to enjoy the elements where words are allowed to run naturally.

With the good number of 77 poems the additional linocuts are a huge addition to the content-value of this little paperback.  The John Clare Society have produced a rare item of beauty where the quality far outweighs the very reasonable price of £9.99 ( my copy from Heffers in Cambridge) but also available from the John Clare Society and shop at Helpston.


This is a companion to the earlier: The Wood is Sweet also published by the John Clare Society.


‘This Happy Spirit’  is recommended reading for anyone interested in Natural History in all its forms as well as pure poetry of Clare and the beautiful relevance and precision of Carry Akroyd’s work.




Poems of John Clare’s Madness by Geoffrey Grigson

Poems of John Clare’s Madness

Ed: Geoffrey Grigson

published 1949  by Routledge and Keegan Paul
Not so much a review as a few notes for me after reading it:

I have finally managed to read and finish this book.  Read it hot on the heels of  ‘Life of John Clare’ by Frederick Martin (1856), Clare’s first biographer.  This Geoffrey Grigson title, as you can guess, covers Clare’s years in the asylums.  Firstly at High Beech, Epping from where he walked back to his house and family in Northborough and spent five months at home.  During this period he failed to recover then slowly deteriorated, ebbing and flowing in his schizophrenic episodes.  He was certified and taken to the new asylum at Northampton where he spent the rest of his life.  Poetry and prose still flowing for most of that time though after 1842 critics say the quality of his writing lessened but still had many bursts of quality when his faculties allowed.  He was in spasmodic but certain decline.

First four years were in High Beech where his output was thought by some to be his best. This may have been to the fact that he was well cared for, had food and could work in the gardens but also had freedom to wander the grounds and outside into Epping Forest with its woods and glades. Here also, in mall hamlets, local churches, with wildlife of all forms around and with the ability to keep his solitude or company as he wished.  One might almost say his first good luck (!) after years of physical and mental hardship.  The only stipulation that he returned each evening being kept to.  He seemed relatively happy though he railed against’being locked in a prison, that he had no visitors’. Doors were not locked, visitors arrived and received and he was encouraged to write whenever.  He wrote but like the tides, his dementia ebbed and flowed.

And he met with gypsies and perhaps realised he should be free, no doubt like them, and hit upon the plan to walk home.  He walked for the 90 miles, being found by his wife just a few short miles from their ‘new’ home Northborough.  A brief recovery of physical health after the gruelling walk, if not mental followed but then a further slipping away of the mind and his family was recommended he be certified.
He was taken, unwillingly, to the new asylum in Northampton.

He would have been welcomed back to Epping but it seems the Northampton authorities liked the idea of having a ‘celebrated local poet’ in their new establishment.  And so it was.
He was still treated well and had his freedom but his mental condition continued its slow decline.

The first part of this book carries this outline of the man and his writing poetry.  Moving into his being published and then delving deeper into his mental state.  Psychiatric explanation is given but not too heavily, the stability of the man being sensed through his actions and reports of his well-being, or declines, from friends and doctors.  His mental condition worsened dramatically a few years before his death but his physical health remained quite strong until his last few months, likely caused by a stroke. and his death, similarly.

The process and change of his poetry through the last twenty three years of his life can be followed through the next section of the book.  None of his prose is included.

Most, if not all of these ‘asylum years’ poems (176) will have become available in other books since this one was published in 1949. It had many first-time published (100) and others that Grigson had edited (71) from MSS with newer/different understanding of Clare’s style than previous publications.

Grigson uses Kretschner’s case study of Holderlin as close comparison for Clare . This offers insights into his early mental condition and the trail of personality alterations over the years caused by his dementia.  Grigson notes that Clare’s mental history can be followed through his poetry, especially the years at High Beech and more finally in the poems in the last few months of his life (in Northampton asylum).
Don Juan and Child Harold both long poems are here.  Don Juan has a bitter edge to, it’s lines and overall tone shows a change, touches of vitriol.  Releasing anger and regret and language not previously Clare’s.   Some parts remind me of Villon, probably the rush and harshness of the verse.  The ride is bumpy and often veers but carries you along, much more like a more modern collection, like wine mixed with blood, if I may mix a random metaphor.
Poem’s most well known are from this last period, being:   A Vision( 1842),    Song: Love Lies beyond the Tomb,        An  Invite to Eternity,   I Am. The very last poem Clare wrote was Bird’s Nests. (1863).   All these are now widely known and anthologised.

Grigson points to several occasions in Clare’s life where certain schemes for self-sufficiency or support from local landowners might have given him the peace of mind and freedom from heavy work and near self-starvation that would have staved off his illness.  Or at least have lessened it’s impact to enable him to remain peacefully within his family.  Never as easy or as simple as that, he seemed to have arrived on the poetry scene on the crest of a wave just as it crashed and was unable to cultivate an audience or capture their support. It seems his poetic style fell out of favour and his failure to ‘market’ himself, as his publisher and friend repeatedly advised him.  Just as much as his pride that stopped him accepting ‘charity’, all added to his woes.  The weight of poverty and sense of abandonment after brief success was too heavy.  His physical weakness hastened his inability to support his large family even on the breadline.  And of course, more complex issues threaded through his life and mind.  Despite all his difficulties Clare believed in his poetry and that it would stand the test of time.  Believed that though he may be dead and long forgotten his poetry would remain and be recognised.  His belief, maybe his fixation that his poetry would remain was likely motivation for his carefully maintaining and collating his manuscripts despite the odd collection of scraps, sheets and ledgers they were written in.

So the poet slowly declined in mind but he still had those outbursts of poetry and was creative throughout a long life.  We see from the texts in this book that Clare had fixations, delusions and sometimes rants but the poems are always interesting in themselves . Perhaps as insights to his struggle with himself, his sense of self and determination to retain a core.  Some of his last poems are now considered his best.  Those which show his determination to exist to the last.

This is probably not an easy book to find but fascinating to read.  Having said that, the likelihood of further research, deeper understanding of Clare’s malady and more scouring of his MSS will have produced much more rigorous colour into the reading of his work since writing this title.  Of course this helps lay an early course of understanding of Clare.

Grigson seems little impressed by the quantity or quality of the numerous poems and songs that Clare wrote with Scottish accents. However, in a  recent book by Ronald Blythe. (At Helpston) we are reminded that Clare possessed volumes of Burns poetry and that itinerant Scottish workers would have been regular seasonal workers, especially in the Northamptonshire fields where Clare wandered in his earlire days.  He would have been attracted to their way of life, their songs, music.  Their accents would have been easily carried by Clare’s ear, as it had been for French.  Many years later, in the quietude of the asylum grounds and the magnified recalling of his youth, despite mixing with his mis-firing faculties, he was well able to write lyrically in an accented way.  Odd though it may seem without knowing those little twists of reason in the unreasoned.

Mary, his first (brief) love, his lost and enduring love, features frequently in his confusion as his first wife.  Despite his knowing her for a very short time and being dismissed as a suitor by her father, a farmer.  Another arrow in his mind that pierced deeply, like his poverty, like his brief visits to London as celebrity and then as a friend in need.  And the loss of a public and failures to publish.

Despite all he had always known he had to be a poet.  As a young, intelligent child he was swept away by the countryside around him and the poet’s books he discovered and owned, like Thompson, Bloomfield, Wordsworth, Milton, Byron, Burns and all the local or famous poets he could lay his hands on.  Blessed or burdened, he lived as a poet and died a poet.

A Vision       Written August 2nd 1844

I lost the love of heaven above,
I spurned the lust of earth below,
I felt the sweets of fancied love,
And he’ll itself my only foe.

I lost earth’s joys, but felt the glow
Of Heaven’s flame abound in me,
Till loveliness and I did grow
The bard of immortality.

I loved but woman fell away,
I hid from her faded fame,
I snatch’d the sun’s eternal ray
And wrote till earth was but a name.

In every language upon earth,
On every shore, o’er every sea,
I gave my name immortal birth
And kept my spirit with the free.

Almost twenty years later, his final poem:

Bird’s Nests               Written 1863

‘Tis spring, warm glows the south,
Chaffinch carries the moss in his mouth
To filbert hedges all day long,
And charms the poet with his beautiful song;
The wind blows bleak o’er the sedge fen,
But warm the sun shines by the little wood,
Where the old cow at her leisure chews her cud.

Select Bibliography:
The first Biography of Clare by Frederick Martin, 1864
Edmund Blunden helped him reappear in his 1924 publication.

And books on my shelf:
Professor and Anne Tibble’s biography of 1932 and their edited collection of Clare, 1935

John Clare, a biography by Jonathan Bate. Paper ed, Picador 2004

Birds Nest, edited by Anne Tibble. Almost titled as Clare’s last ever poem but Birds Nests not included in book.

The Midsummer Cushion, by John Clare:      published by MidNAG as the book Clare planned but failed to get enough support to publish.

John Clare, The Living Year.        By John Clare. Clare’s writings in date order through the year of 1841 Trent Editions, 1999

John Clare and the Place of Poetry by. Mina Gorji. 2008. Liverpool Uni Press        An interesting study on Clare’s poetry and offering that Clare consciously styled himself as the ‘Peasant Poet’ for his place in literary history.  Well worth reading for  serious students.

at helpston coverAt Helpston, Meetings with John Clare. By Ronald Blythe….Black Dog Books

There are many other works on Clare, especially over the last 15/20 Years.

He has even been praised as a poeticstar as highly as Shakespeare.  A far cry from a man who had so little, except his poetry.

Wordsworth: Three Poems

There are too many known poems and half-recalled lines from Wordworth to surprise anyone easily.   A Sketch  maybe least known though W’s style and sentiment shines through.  Of the two ‘Lines’ poems, the first is no doubt highly regarded and studied; the second also but maybe not to recall.  There are so many more, this is but a taste.

(Wordsworth: 1770-1850)

From: Wordsworth Poems, two vols published 1800


The little hedge-row birds
That peck along the road, regard him not.
He travels on, and in his face, his step,
His gait, is one expression; every limb,
His look and bending figure, all bespeak
A man who does not move with pain, but moves
With thought—He is insensibly subdued
To settled quiet: he is one by whom
All effort seems forgotten, one to whom
Long patience has such mild composure given,
That patience now doth seem a thing, of which
He hath no need. He is by nature led
To peace so perfect, that the young behold
With envy, what the old man hardly feels.
—I asked him whither he was bound, and what
The object of his journey; he replied
That he was going many miles to take
A last leave of his son, a mariner,
Who from a sea-fight had been brought to Falmouth,
And there was lying in an hospital.

LINES                                                 Written in early Spring.
I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.
To her fair works did nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it griev’d my heart to think
What man has made of man.
Through primrose tufts, in that sweet bower,
The periwinkle trail’d its wreathes;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.
The birds around me hopp’d and play’d:
Their thoughts I cannot measure,
But the least motion which they made,
It seem’d a thrill of pleasure.
The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.
If I these thoughts may not prevent,
If such be of my creed the plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?
LINES                             Written near Richmond upon the Thames.
Glide gently, thus for ever glide,
O Thames! that other bards may see,
As lovely visions by thy side
As now, fair river! come to me.
Oh glide, fair stream! for ever so;
Thy quiet soul on all bestowing,
‘Till all our minds for ever flow,
As thy deep waters now are flowing.
Vain thought! yet be as now thou art,
That in thy waters may be seen
The image of a poet’s heart,
How bright, how solemn, how serene!
Such as did once the poet bless,
Who, pouring here a later ditty,
Could find no refuge from distress,
But in the milder grief of pity.
Remembrance! as we float along,
For him suspend the dashing oar,
And pray that never child of Song
May know his freezing sorrows more.
How calm! how still! the only sound,
The dripping of the oar suspended!
—The evening darkness gathers round
By virtue’s holiest powers attended.

Charlotte Mew: The Rambling Sailor, a Graph Review

The Rambling Sailor                                                A Graph Review 45 highpoints of 55
by  Charlotte Mew

Published 1929, by ‘The Poetry Bookshop’

Price 3/6 d (probably not generally available!)

Spring, trees, especially sycamore; love, loss, death and religion appear to be the mainstay of Charlotte Mew’s (1870-1929) poetry. This review is on ‘The Rambling Sailor’ her second collection, published posthumously in 1929. The first was ‘The Farmers Bride’. The frontispiece photograph shows Charlotte Mew dressed in suit and tie, somewhat dandyish, sincere and maybe a little apprehensive.

gibberd avenue pic

in Gibberd’s garden. photo by Lin Smith

‘The Rambling Sailor’ was published by ‘The Poetry Bookshop’ based at 38 Great Russell Street, owned, run and financially supported by Harold Monro, himself a poet but ever-inclined to promote and support other poets, to the detriment of his own poetic prominence.

The Introductory Note gives a brief life  of Charlotte Mew with her hardships, financial and family, given mention in the style of the day (ie they existed but not explained ), briefly that her architect father died and left the family short of money.  The introductory note is signed A.K. and is most likely Alida Klemantaski, using her unmarried name here.  She had met Harold Monro in 1913 and they married in 1920 and was fully involved with his love of poetry, in his writing, publishing and the bookshop.

Charlotte had three siblings who died in early childhood, two others who suffered mental illness and were institutionalised and a sister, Anne.  Their father died when she was 28 and she lived with sister Anne and their mother from then onwards, always in poor circumstances.  Born in Bloomsbury, the centre of London, she lived there almost continuously for the rest of her life.  Great Russell Street is the nearby address of her publisher so she would have known it well.

I have to admit that on beginning to read this book, the first time I have read her in collection rather than an individual poems, I was distracted by the frequent religious elements throughout and somewhat overbearing tones of morbidity.  However, the poetry does offer more on re-reading than the last sentence states.  The depth of thought individually and across the collection becomes much more interesting.                             Unlike Alice Meynell, Charlotte Mew seems to have a more prosaic view of her religion, almost challenging.  Love, religion and nature are endlessly appearing in guises that the poet may lead you to choose between.  Her god is always there but the lie of each poem may seem to veer away.  Likely she took solace in and sought all three, in her poetry. Maybe looking forward to the end of her difficult life and hardships in simple union with them.

Charlotte was not prolific in her writing but her free-style poetry was robust and moulded into the new ‘modernism’.  She was part of Bloomsbury and the literary period but not the ‘Bloomsbury Set’.  Her themes may have been somewhat Victorian but she gained an audience and readership including many writers who were themselves pushing into ‘modernism’ before the Great War and after.  Her writing was appreciated by many writers such as Hilda Doolittle (HD), Virginia Woolf and especially Thomas Hardy.  I particularly like ‘Fin De Fete’, (a copy, cut from a journal was found in Hardy’s papers).    Bloomsbury would have been at its height as creative centre of the day when she was writing and performing her poetry.  She may not have been part of the inner circles but they would certainly have been part of her audience .

I have included a small selection below, but would also recommend reading her poems: The Farmers Bride, On the Road to the Sea, The Peddler, May 1915, and  June 1915.
See, her poems are creeping up on me, hope they are not too maudlin’ for you!   My favourites of the moment: Afternoon Tea and Fin De Fete.
I have not mentioned the title poem yet, ‘The Rambling Sailor’.   The poem is following the similar subjects of love and death but at quite a ‘lilt’.  Death always following but for once we do catch a glimpse that though forever circling, Death is not always winning.   Inevitably, yes, but there are degrees of hope and conviction, especially in this poem, that you should take love when you find it because love softens the finality.  She has switched tones and voices for this poem which comes as quite a surprise, though not unique.  The poem offers thought that had she managed to escape her personal ‘tram-lines’ she could have widened her range and appeal (but this can apply to all of us!).  Sadly her life and responsibilities held too tight a grip.  ‘At one with nature’ was Charlottes main theme in her poetry; with death came unity with earth and her loved ones.  Release, perhaps, from a difficult life and memories.  Finally she could be herself and at rest.

My tendency is to look for the ‘nature poems’ to include as favourites.  I suppose I should call them ‘Romantic’ but for me that still conjures limiting images of Wordsworth et al and too-cosy styles even if the pictures they give are bleak at times.

I include a few poems from the book to air her work and suggest she should be read more widely, in conjuction with notes on her life.  Usually I read the collection first then life-notes (researched, not just from the book) and re-read the collection as necessary to give myself an idea of what I like and why.

I have tried to place lines as they are in the book but some may be due to laying the page rather than author’s intention.  They give no composition dates.



Sometimes I know the way
You walk, up over the bay;
It is a wind from that far sea
That blows the fragrance of your hair to me.

Or in this garden when the breeze
Touches my trees
To stir their dreaming shadows on the grass
I see you pass.

In sheltered beds, the heart of every rose
Serenely sleeps to-night. As shut as those
Your guarded heart; as safe as they from the beat, beat
Of hooves that tread dropped roses in the street.

Turn never again
On these eyes blind with a wild rain
Your eyes; they were stars to me —
There are things stars may not see.

But call, call, and though Christ stands
Still with scarred hands
Over my mouth, I must answer. So,
I will come–He shall let me go!
Fin De Fete

Sweetheart, for such a day
One mustn’t grudge the score;
Here, then, it’s all to pay,
It’s Good-night at the door.

Good-night and good dreams to you,—
Do you remember the picture-book thieves
Who left two children sleeping in a wood the long night through,
And how the birds came down and covered them with leaves?

So you and I should have slept,—But now,
Oh, what a lonely head!
With just the shadow of a waving bough
In the moonlight over your bed.
From a Window

Up here, with June, the sycamore throws
Across the window a whispering screen;
I shall miss the sycamore more, I suppose,
Than anything else on this earth that is out in green.
But I mean to go through the door without fear,
Not caring much what happens here
When I’m away: —
How green the screen is across the panes
Or who goes laughing along the lanes
With my old lover all the summer day.


The Forest Road

The forest road,
The infinite straight road stretching away
World without end: the breathless road between the walls
Of the black listening trees: the hushed, grey road
Beyond the window that you shut to-night
Crying that you would look at it by day –
There is a shadow there that sings and calls
But not for you. Oh! hidden eyes that plead in sleep
Against the lonely dark, if I could touch the fear
And leave it kissed away on quiet lids –
If I could hush these hands that are half-awake,
Groping for me in sleep I could go free.
I wish that God would take them out of mine
And fold them like the wings of frightened birds
Shot cruelly down, but fluttering into quietness so soon.
Broken, forgotten things? there is no grief for them in the green Spring
When the new birds fly back to the old trees.
But it shall not be so with you. I will look back. I wish I knew that God would stand
Smiling and looking down on you when morning comes,
To hold you, when you wake, closer than I,
So gently though: and not with famished lips or hungry arms:
He does not hurt the frailest, dearest things
As we do in the dark. See, dear, your hair –
I must unloose this hair that sleeps and dreams
About my face, and clings like the brown weed
To drowned, delivered things, tossed by the tired sea
Back to the beaches. Oh! your hair! If you had lain
A long time dead on the rough, glistening ledge
Of some black cliff, forgotten by the tide,
The raving winds would tear, the dripping brine would rust away
Fold after fold of all the loveliness
That wraps you round, and makes you, lying here,
The passionate fragrance that the roses are.
But death would spare the glory of your head
In the long sweetness of the hair that does not die:
The spray would leap to it in every storm,
The scent of the unsilenced sea would linger on
In these dark waves, and round the silence that was you –
Only the nesting gulls would hear – but there would still be whispers in your hair;
Keep them for me; keep them for me. What is this singing on the road
That makes all other music like the music in a dream –
Dumb to the dancing and the marching feet; you know, in dreams, you see
Old pipers playing that you cannot hear,
And ghostly drums that only seem to beat. This seems to climb:
Is it the music of a larger place? It makes our room too small: it is like a stair,
A calling stair that climbs up to a smile you scarcely see,
Dim, but so waited for; and you know what a smile is, how it calls,
How if I smiled you always ran to me.
Now you must sleep forgetfully, as children do.
There is a Spirit sits by us in sleep
Nearer than those who walk with us in the bright day.
I think he has a tranquil, saving face: I think he came
Straight from the hills: he may have suffered there in time gone by,
And once, from those forsaken heights, looked down,
Lonely himself, on all the lonely sorrows of the earth.
It is his kingdom – Sleep. If I could leave you there –
If, without waking you, I could get up and reach the door -!
We used to go together. – Shut, scared eyes,
Poor, desolate, desperate hands, it is not I
Who thrust you off. No, take your hands away –
I cannot strike your lonely hands. Yes, I have struck your heart,
It did not come so near. Then lie you there
Dear and wild heart behind this quivering snow
With two red stains on it: and I will strike and tear
Mine out, and scatter it to yours. Oh! throbbing dust,
You that were life, our little wind-blown hearts!

The road! the road!

There is a shadow there: I see my soul,
I hear my soul, singing among the trees!


Domus Caedet Arborem

Ever since the great planes were murdered at the end of the gardens
The city, to me, at night has the look of a Spirit brooding crime;
As if the dark houses watching the trees from dark windows
Were simply biding their time.
The Trees are Down
-and he cried with a loud voice: Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees – Revelation

They are cutting down the great plane-trees at the end of the gardens.
For days there has been the grate of the saw, the swish of the branches as they fall,
The crash of the trunks, the rustle of trodden leaves,
With the ‘Whoops’ and the ‘Whoa’, the loud common talk, the loud common laughs of the men, above it all.

I remember one evening of a long past Spring
Turning in at a gate, getting out of a cart, and finding a large dead rat in the mud of the drive.
I remember thinking: alive or dead, a rat was a god-forsaken thing,
But at least, in May, that even a rat should be alive.

The week’s work here is as good as done. There is just one bough
On the roped bole, in the fine grey rain,
Green and high
And lonely against the sky.
(Down now! -)
And but for that,
If an old dead rat
Did once, for a moment, unmake the Spring, I might never have thought of him again.

It is not for a moment the Spring is unmade to-day;
These were great trees, it was in them from root to stem:
When the men with the ‘Whoops’ and the ‘Whoas’ have carted the whole of the whispering loveliness away Half the Spring, for me, will have gone with them.

It is going now, and my heart has been struck with the hearts of the planes;
Half my life it has beat with these, in the sun, in the rains, In the March wind, the May breeze,
In the great gales that came over to them across the roofs from the great seas.
There was only a quiet rain when they were dying;
They must have heard the sparrows flying,
And the small creeping creatures in the earth where they were lying –
But I, all day, I heard an angel crying:
‘Hurt not the trees.’


…………………………………………………from Early Poems section
Afternoon Tea

Please you, excuse me, good five-o’clock people,
I’ve lost my hatful of words,
And my heart’s in the wood up above the church steeple,
I’d rather have tea with the birds.

Gay Kate’s stolen kisses, poor Barnaby’s scars,
John’s losses and Mary’s gains,
Oh! What do they matter, my dears, to the stars
Or the glow-worms in the lanes!

I’d rather lie under the tall elm-trees,
With old rooks talking loud overhead,
To watch a red squirrel run over my knees,
Very still on my bracken bed.

And wonder what feathers the wrens will be taking
For lining their nests next Spring;
Or why the tossed shadow of boughs in a great wind shaking
Is such a lovely thing.