27 December 2009

Machines (Michael Donaghy)

Dearest, note how these two are alike:
This harpsichord pavane by Purcell
And the racer's twelve-speed bike.

The machinery of grace is always simple.
This chrome trapezoid, one wheel connected
To another of concentric gears,
Which Ptolemy dreamt of and Schwinn perfected,
Is gone. The cyclist, not the cycle, steers
And in the playing, Purcell's chords are played away.

So this talk, or touch if I were there,
Should work its effortless gadgetry of love,
Like Dante's heaven, and melt into the air.

If it doesn't, of course, I've fallen. So much is chance,
So much agility, desire, and feverish care,
As bicyclists and harpsichordists prove

Who only by moving can balance,
Only by balancing move.

23 December 2009

from Brideshead Revisited, chapter IV (Evelyn Waugh)

'But my dear Sebastian, you can't seriously believe it all.'

'Can't I?'

'I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.'

'Oh yes, I believe that. It's a lovely idea.'

'But you can't believe things because they're a lovely idea.'

'But I do. That's how I believe.'

Lesbia in Orco (David Vessey)

Reading Catullus on the Northern Line
in Fordyce's edition (which omits the obscene),
I wondered if Lesbia would have got out at Hampstead
or come on with me to Golders Green.

Somehow I don't picture her
on the platform at Bank,
jostled in a smoking carriage
by a man who stank

of 'The Daily Telegraph' and Players plain.
Perhaps I am wrong
there may be somewhere a Lesbia
worthy of song

from Gaius Valerius Catullus, who
counts her kisses like stars in the sky:
but for some reason
she escapes my eye

as I read his carmina on the Underground.
She must be as rare
as the nymph who picked up Peleus
near Weston-super-Mare

as he sailed in the Argo on a virgin sea.
(But isn't that Attis in a shiny suit
asking a dame to dance with him
to the sound of dinning cymbal and of shrilling flute?)

Who? Lesbia? I know her: she went to Leicester Square
and hurried through to Soho in the evening rain,
where she helps the sons of Romulus
drink Japanese champagne.

17 December 2009

The Oracles (A.E. Housman)

'Tis mute, the word they went to hear on high Dodona mountain
When winds were in the oakenshaws and all the cauldrons tolled,
And mute's the midland navel-stone beside the singing fountain,
And echoes list to silence now where gods told lies of old.

I took my question to the shrine that has not ceased from speaking,
The heart within, that tells the truth and tells it twice as plain;
And from the cave of oracles I heard the priestess shrieking
That she and I should surely die and never live again.

Oh priestess, what you cry is clear, and sound good sense I think it;
But let the screaming echoes rest, and froth your mouth no more.
'Tis true there's better boose than brine, but he that drowns must drink it;
And oh, my lass, the news is news that men have heard before.

The King with half the East at heel is marched from lands of morning;
Their fighters drink the rivers up, their shafts benight the air,
And he that stands will die for nought, and home there's no returning.

The Spartans on the sea-wet rock sat down and combed their hair.

13 December 2009

O Captain! My Captain! (Walt Whitman)

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up — for you the flag is flung — for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths — for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.