Garden delights

What wond’rous life in this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons as I pass,
Ensnar’d with flow’rs, I fall on grass.

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness;
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find,
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.

From The Garden by Andrew Marvell

Garden delights

Easing the spring

I was walking down the garden this evening (clutching a camera – as you do…) when I saw this bee working its way up the pagoda of lupin flowers:


I thought, he’s easing the spring. Does anyone else have phrases, culled form who knows where, that have simply become part of the way you see the world? ‘Easing the Spring’ comes from a poem by Henry Reed called, Naming of Parts. I read it at school back in the sixties, where it was one of the first ‘grown up’ poems that really struck home.  In those days we were only twenty years or so from the end of the Second World War and barely five years since the last draft of National Servicemen had been called up. Army life – boring and absurd –  felt very familiar.

It wasn’t so different, after all, to my boredom – a discontented schoolboy sitting in my new school uniform, unfamiliar shirt and tie chafing and choking me, looking out of the window at sunlit playing fields and dreaming of freedom.

It’s probably not such a surprise that , after reading it, I registered as one of the school’s first a conscientious objectors rather than join the Combined Cadet Force. 

Here’s Naming of Parts now:

Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighbouring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For today we have naming of parts.

Easing the spring

It’s the Dream We Carry

It’s the Dream
Translated from the Norwegian by Robert Bly

Some poems become touchstones, words you carry with you and turn over and over in your mind. This is one of mine from Norwegian poet, Olaf Hauge. He’s worth seeking out.

It’s that dream that we carry with us
that something wonderful will happen,
that it has to happen,
that time will open,
that the heart will open,
that doors will open,
that the mountains will open,
that wells will leap up,
that the dream will open,
that one morning we’ll slip in
to a harbor that we’ve never known.

It’s the Dream We Carry

Ode to Joy

Many years ago my then brother in law made us a mix tape. It was funny, eclectic and filled with surprises.

It introduced me to the Young Marble Giants and I think it was the first place I heard Al Greens wonderful Let’s Stay Together .

It also included poetry – of the wild, beat, ecstatic kind – that he was exploring at the time. Listening to the high incantatory voice of the poet; the golden flow of images and words is a memory of long car journeys into Wales – entranced and dreaming.

The downside is that I never knew who it was or what he was reading.

We lost the tape years ago – and anyway nothing we have would play it now – but I never forgot the poem and today, looking for something else entirely I came across Frank O’Hara’s Ode to Joy and recognised it straight away!

Better yet, here’s a recording of him reading it:

 

and here’s the Ode itself:

We shall have everything we want and there’ll be no more dying
on the pretty plains or in the supper clubs
for our symbol we’ll acknowledge vulgar materialistic laughter
over an insatiable sexual appetite
and the streets will be filled with racing forms
and the photographs of murderers and narcissists and movie stars
will swell from the walls and books alive in steaming rooms
to press against our burning flesh not once but interminably
as water flows down hill into the full-lipped basin
and the adder dives for the ultimate ostrich egg
and the feather cushion preens beneath a reclining monolith
that’s sweating with post-exertion visibility and sweetness
near the grave of love
No more dying

***

We shall see the grave of love as a lovely sight and temporary
near the elm that spells the lovers’ names in roots
and there’ll be no more music but the ears in lips and no more wit
but tongues in ears and no more drums but ears to thighs
as evening signals nudities unknown to ancestors’ imaginations
and the imagination itself will stagger like a tired paramour of ivory
under the sculptural necessities of lust that never falters
like a six-mile runner from Sweden or Liberia covered with gold
as lava flows up and over the far-down somnolent city’s abdication
and the hermit always wanting to be lone is lone at last
and the weight of external heat crushes the heat-hating Puritan
whose self-defeating vice becomes a proper sepulcher at last
that love may live

***

Buildings will go up into the dizzy air as love itself goes in
and up the reeling life that it has chosen for once or all
while in the sky a feeling of intemperate fondness will excite the birds
to swoop and veer like flies crawling across absorbed limbs
that weep a pearly perspiration on the sheets of brief attention
and the hairs dry out that summon anxious declaration of the organs
as they rise like buildings to the needs of temporary neighbors
pouring hunger through the heart to feed desire in intravenous ways
like the ways of gods with humans in the innocent combination of light
and flesh or as the legends ride their heroes through the dark to found
great cities where all life is possible to maintain as long as time
which wants us to remain for cocktails in a bar and after dinner
lets us live with it
No more dying

Ode to Joy

Two poems about Buffaloes

The Flower-Fed Buffaloes

The flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
In the days of long ago,
Ranged where the locomotives sing
And the prairie flowers lie low:—
The tossing, blooming, perfumed grass
Is swept away by the wheat,
Wheels and wheels and wheels spin by
In the spring that still is sweet.
But the flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
Left us, long ago.
They gore no more, they bellow no more,
They trundle around the hills no more:—
With the Blackfeet, lying low,
With the Pawnees, lying low,
Lying low.
And, sadder yet, Carl Sandberg:

Buffalo Dusk

The buffaloes are gone.
And those who saw the buffaloes are gone.
Those who saw the buffaloes by thousands and how they pawed the prairie sod into dust with their hoofs, their great heads down pawing on in a great pageant of dusk,
Those who saw the buffaloes are gone.
And the buffaloes are gone.
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Two poems about Buffaloes

On being laconic

The Spartans of course were masters of the laconic – the area they lived in gave us the word. Wikipedia quotes this example of antique pithiness:

Philip II of Macedon, after invading southern Greece and receiving the submission of other key city-states, sent a message to Sparta:

You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.[3]

The Spartan ephors replied with a single word: ‘If’

Philip didn’t proceed with the invasion.

Haikus are laconic. This one – posted in the Quartz Daily briefing today – describing Trump’s tax plans appealed to me strongly:

Something
For everyone. And a lot
For the very rich.

I thought it could just as easily form the strapline for the Tory party manifesto here in the UK.

On being laconic