This section features a few poems, some which have been published recently, and poems that mean something to me…
The chipped Welsh Love
Then your soft return
9 May 2020
Diana & Actaeon (After Titian)
What lady of sorrows
And sighs –
At the quivering stag!
A midnight path
Your bow-bent back
In the moon –
Three glancing arrows –
A keen eye.
After Anna Akhmatova
“Strange – I outlived it” (Willow, 1940)
You came back, all seemed
re-arranged. Familiar cherries
no longer standing. The reddish
glossy bark – a brief synaptic-
flash. Where you moved –
the mirror was heavy, but not the light.
The North Sea is not the Atlantic.
Still, a child now is dreaming | through
the face you held at five.
The saplings we planted
in late-adolescence – the birch
and mountain ash – are thick-
set now, less easily swayed. Though
the Atlantic is not the Pacific:
the mirror is heavy | not the light.
This poem was written for my sister on her birthday. I reflect on poems about trees, here: https://benedictgilbert.com/2020/08/23/like-a-root-in-arid-ground-poems-about-trees/
The Bergermeister’s Daughter (Young Rembrandt’s Love Song)
My steps ringing the flagged square at Leiden.
A hurried sky of quickening cloud – you know
How we Dutch adore the fleeting light.
A touch of brushwork. My long apprenticeship
Of wooden, ungilt frames: these heavy fumes,
My sweet alchemic paints. Out of this
Coarse, oak-green world and harvest fields,
I’ll ring the dark gold light: guilders
For the Burgermeister’s daughter. I’ll tease and pry
His fingers from my Saskia’s shoulders.
That sable, fur-lined cloak. I’ll shape his likeness,
Claim his loss, when – please God – her fingers
Will soften, with the work of man and woman.
And gently stroke her rounding smock. I
Remember, then, my Oma – a baker’s wife.
Still girlish. Her downy cheek abrush with dust and light.
This poem was written for my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding in October 2019 (titled Het liefdeslied van Rembrandt van Rijn).
in lamplight, or half-
torn, ragged moon.
This coaxing fox –
so lean and young:
starveling of kerb
stone, and frost
as black as flint
– the savannah and
this Georgian street.
Hungering, we leaned
like wheat to appease
the hoarded grain.
Then wake to find
the savage gone:
our tongues as thick
with other names
Home Movie (1980)
In Uncle Paul’s old cine super-eight,
The Norfolk summer light an endless loop
Of clucking farmyard, jumping silent frames.
Zanna new-born, Mischa on the gate.
I’m wild with the chickens and the goats –
To star in Paul’s new cine super-eight!
Great-aunt Sylvie smoking night and day,
Grandma laughing at forgotten jokes –
In the farmyard’s clicking silent frames.
Then cut to Buba (touching ninety-eight),
All her daughters’ close-up secret hopes –
In Uncle Paul’s old cine super-eight.
In the Shtetl, snow and silence framed
The dream of Eastern-European Jews:
To reach old age in peace and health. And make
A shawl of more than simple woven prayer.
The year before he died – his tread moves
Sturdy through the farmyard’s silent frames –
Uncle Paul behind his super-eight.
I reflect on this poem in a post here: https://benedictgilbert.com/2020/08/01/home-movie-1980/ “Traditional form and family memory” (1 August 2020)
Songs of Expectation (for Louis)
“Love, love, I have hung our cave with roses, with soft rugs…”Sylvia Plath, Nick & the Candlestick
I. Swingy Lane
You pace the track’s dark limit.
Telegraph poles take up their slack
Long silent weight
Venus is out!
Skype-close voices break in the firmament,
A small pine wood grows oak-black.
How long puddles shield silvery light –
A sky unquenched
Since Wordsworth’s time:
Only life grows strange.
At home he turns in light –
Close as this moon
In her final quarter
Promise of high
voices. Loose rushes
bed the floor.
The village holds
close – hushed faces
cross the threshold.
In time, reap
in the field
Hurricane Season, After Derek Walcott
“The classics can console. But not enough.”
In time, our eyes come around
To this canvas –
A young novice,
Turned old master.
Giving his utmost –
Pushing out into sea-green light.
A dark hemisphere clings
At the ribs of the boat,
Holds the season’s turning.
When the hurricanes come
You just have to wait –
What is ours lashed to these islands
Of all people,
We are not above such things.
The poem first appeared in The New European, #189. Thursday 2 April 2020. I’m grateful to the poetry editor for publication.
Website here: https://www.theneweuropean.co.uk/home
I reflect on writing this poem in the POSTS section of the blog, “Reflections on the Poetry of Derek Walcott” (23 April 2020). The quotation is from ‘Sea Grapes’ (1976), Selected Poems.
“You are the baby in the barn.”Sylvia Plath, Nick & the Candlestick
Between lip and cup,
The sweetwaters – your voice,
Woke me to a painful thirst.
Winched up, from well and rope.
In casks of dreams,
Your name distilled slow.
The sun-warmed blood,
Your balled fists clutch the long sleep
Of the floating world:
A name to tar over cracks
In the heart’s broken pail,
To balm this small bulging world.
The clean dawn, bridging the Hudson.
The sky stretched tight as a hospital sheet.
At Fifty-Third, urgent cars halt
For the ancient birth.
The sweetwaters – her
Gulps and cries – woke you
To a burning thirst.
This poem was written after my niece was born in a Manhattan taxi cab. An earlier version was first published in Oremus, Westminster Cathedral Magazine, #217, September 2016.
The 15:52 to Cambridge
Neither conservative. And not nostalgia.
Simply a turning away, screening eyes
From what is heart-sick, somehow.
And tongue quite still. (Is this how
Wordsworth turned from the town’s
Blind hoist at furnace mouth –
Toward plain speech? Slaking clean
From the well within). Yet, something still unloving,
Tilting – an ache and lurch –
Winter light blazing haystacks.
Goose-black throat, and down. Its south-
West path, cool tilt
Of solar panels dusking still as water. Flaring –
A wild malaise in the culture. Light smelting:
Back to the train’s westward curve.
An earlier version of this poem appeared in The New European, #165, Thursday 17 October 2019.
Then light –
As your fingers return.
A memory, hinging
On you, alone.
In sunlight –
This woodlouse, exposed
Like Achilles: stumbling
In his father’s armour.
17 May 2020
Blog content: © Benedict Gilbert 2020