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Song For Gwydion
In a Country Church
Opie and the Apples
Here in Louisiana
Reasons for Attendance
Home is So Sad
On Being Twenty-six
Seven Stanzas at Easter
"A World Without Objects is a Sensible Emptiness"
A Simile for Her Smile
Without Strings Attatched
A. D. Hope:
Advice to Young Ladies
Meditation on a Bone
Möbius Strip-Tease (and its Glossary)
Song For Gwydion
When I was a child and the soft flesh was forming
Quietly as snow on the bare boughs of bone,
My father brought me trout from the green river
From whose chill lips the water song had flown.
Dull grew their eyes, the beautiful, blithe garland
Of stipples faded, as light shocked the brain;
They were the first sweet sacrifice I tasted,
A young god, ignorant of the blood's stain
R S Thomas
In a Country Church
To one kneeling down no word came,
Only the wind's song, saddening the lips
Of the grave saints, rigid in glass;
Or the dry whisper of unseen wings,
Bats not angels, in the high roof.
Was he balked by silence? He kneeled long,
And saw love in a dark crown
Of thorns blazing, and a winter tree
Golden with fruit of a man's body.
R S Thomas
"Stop and lament over the grave of Kroisos, whom furious Aries destroyed
one day as he fought in the front ranks"; inscription on a kouros
figure, circa 520 B.C., in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens
He stands and smiles a smile to stun our sight.
His Attic lips reveal antiquity's disdain
For all the centuries to come, the blight
Of brutish air, a blighted future's trashed terrain.
Could Delphic voices turn and laurel his lips to song,
I'd have them chorus on and on.
But now it is for Kroisos I lament,
Whose smile of certain logic Aries kissed one day,
Though still his supple beauty is unspent
As when his lips were poised in pure tranquility.
Could classic song return and animate his scattered dust,
We'd pray him back from Aries' lust.
Excess has driven its barbaric weight
Through near a million days since Kroisos stepped from stone.
Could gold and Grecian mean now tolerate
the measures of intemperate time, an age of bone?
Could Kroisos stand and rise to song, his lips would
Fixed in perpetual disdain.
Opie and the Apples
When the new kid moved to Mayberry and didn't want to go
fishing with Opie and called him "Dopey" because he said
he'd rather fish than steal apples and Opie asked Andy if
he could fight the new kid because he'd called him names
and Andy said "No" and how that just wouldn't be right neighborly
and how Op 'u'd just have to find something to like about
the new kid and so Opie stole some apples, too, and got
in trouble and it was a terrible mess and Aunt Bea cried
and cried and Barney wanted to take Opie to the woodshed
but Andy had a big pow-wow with ol' Op and Opie just finally
beat the shit out of the new kid who then went fishing with
Opie and decided Aunt Bea, whom he earlier had said looked
like a big-titted wart hog, was real pretty and that her
fried chicken was better than anything he ever ate and that
his snooty mother who never fried chicken was a selfish snob
and his father was just too rich and busy to love a little kid,
whose single but very large tear finally made that father see
he needed to take him fishing with Opie and Andy and made
his mother run to Aunt Bea's kitchen begging for her recipe;
so when all that happened on that typical Mayberry day,
I wondered what Andy did when he got horny and if Barney dreamed
of being locked in a cell with Andy and no one would let them out
and there was a big shower nozzle and Andy took lots of showers
'cause he said a man oughta stay clean and Barney felt happy,
happier even than when he patrolled the streets, and if Floyd
ever raised the price of a haircut or nicked an ear, and if
there were high-school kids in Mayberry, boys who reached
into the sweaters of girls and girls who ran their hands
over the tight zippers of boys, and if apples ever rotted
in Mayberry, and how loud the preachers got when they talked
of apples and Eve and disobedience and if when Opie learned
to masturbate he would think of this day on which he stole apples
and got in trouble and Aunt Bea cried and cried because she knew
he'd be at himself in a few years and that socks and sheets
would show his shame and there would be nothing,
nothing she could say to him and that pimples would rise
on his face and that he would find his hand in sweaters
and his tongue deep into the cleft of the world's imperfections.
And she wept and tore chunks from her hair
and gnawed her knuckles knowing there was not grace enough
even here, even in Mayberry, to seal the thighs of Eve.
Here in Louisiana
Here in Louisiana it is December now.
The eaves are free and even. The blank sky hangs here
and seems to wait. Late bananas
are beginning to turn, may even be
ready before the frost stops their sweetening.
Still, this weather winters a few leaves brown,
drives some birds still further south,
and forces roaches beneath the loose bark of live oaks
or deep into the fronds of palms, under old planks
or here and there in the warmer dark.
Today I realized I'd not seen one in weeks.
We live with them here, with their presumption
and prowls, casually, as casually
as we live with humidity and small craft warnings,
with our governors and hurricanes.
They don't distress us quite like they
distress others. And our complaints are resigned,
informal, furyless. Such small, quick acts of God
racing out over kitchen counters
are too fast for more concern -- or swatters, usually.
Cracked, they stir more disgust than left alone
to romp over cake crumbs and clean plates:
being big as thumbs,
broken, such things spill their creamy thickness
like salves or clots or rancid lotions.
And unless ground to grease
some brown fragment will twitch for a day or more
till others clean the carapace to pristine silence.
And so we usually leave them alone,
wait on winter to pretty our kitchens,
forget them till Spring, till camelias return
and wisteria twines the fences of South Louisiana,
covers clotheslines, the backs of greenhouses and garages,
drifts over bayous and fields and out toward the Gulf,
the waves and spray, fill on fragrant, rainless evenings
out on walks we hear a stirring, what seems at first a fine,
faint mist striking the scattered leaves.
Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence,
Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new--
Cleaned or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
"Here endeth" much more loudly than I'd meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.
Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate, and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?
Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort or other will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,
A shape less recognisable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,
Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation - marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these - for whom was built
This special shell? For, though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;
A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.
Reasons for Attendance
The trumpet's voice, loud and authoritative,
Draws me a moment to the lighted glass
To watch the dancers all under twenty-five
Shifting intently, face to flushed face,
Solemnly on the beat of happiness.
Or so I fancy, sensing the smoke and sweat,
The wonderful feel of girls. Why be out here?
But then, why be in there? Sex, yes, but what
Is sex? Surely, to think the lion's share
Of happiness is found by couples sheer
Inaccuracy, as far as I'm concerned.
What calls me is that lifted, rough-tongued bell
(Art, if you like) whose individual sound
Insists I too am individual.
It speaks; I hear; others may hear as well,
But not for me, nor I for them; and so
With happiness. Therefore I stay outside,
Believing this; and they maul to and fro,
Believing that; and both are satisfied,
If no one has misjudged himself. Or lied.
Home is So Sad
Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft
And turn again to what it started as,
A joyous shot at how things ought to be,
Long fallen wide. You can see how it was:
Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. That vase.
Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;
And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin adverstisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day;
And the countryside not caring:
The place names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat's restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;
Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word -- the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.
On Being Twenty-six
I feared these present years,
The middle twenties,
When deftness disappears,
And each event is
Freighted with a source-encrusting doubt,
And turned to drought.
I thought: this pristine drive
Is sure to flag
At twenty-four or -five;
And now the slag
Of burnt-out childhood proves that I was right.
What caught alight
Quickly consumed in me,
As I foresaw.
These things withdraw,
And are succeeded by a dingier crop
That come to stop;
Or else, certainly gone,
Perhaps the rest,
Tarnishing, linger on
Fabric of fallen minarets is trash.
And in the ash
Of what has pleased and passed
Is now no more
Than struts of greed, a last
Charred smile, a clawed
Crustacean hatred, blackened pride of such
I once made much.
And so, if I were sure
I have no chance
To catch again that pure
I would calcine the outworn properties,
Live on what is.
But it dies hard, that world;
Or, being dead,
Putrescently is pearled,
For I, misled,
Make on my mind the deepest wound of all:
Think to recall
At any moment, states
Long since dispersed;
That if chance dissipates
The best, the worst
May scatter equally upon a touch.
I kiss, I clutch,
Like a daft mother, putrid
That can and will forbid
All grist to me
Except devaluing dichotomies:
Nothing, and paradise.
The eye can hardly pick them out
From the cold shade they shelter in,
Till wind distresses tail and mane;
Then one crops grass, and moves about
The other seeming to look on
And stands anonymous again.
Yet fifteen years ago, perhaps
Two dozen distances sufficed
To fable them: faint afternoons
Of Cups and Stakes and Handicaps,
Whereby their names were artificed
To inlay faded, classic Junes
Silks at the start: against the sky
Numbers and parasols: outside,
Squadrons of empty cars, and heat,
And littered grass: then the long cry
Hanging unhushed till it subside
To stop-press columns on the street.
Do memories plague their ears like flies?
They shake their heads. Dusk brims the shadows.
Summer by summer all stole away,
The starting-gates, the crowds and cries
All but the unmolested meadows.
Almanacked, their names live; they
Have slipped their names, and stand at ease,
Or gallop for what must be joy,
And not a fieldglass sees them home,
Or curious stop-watch prophesies:
Only the groom, and the groom's boy,
With bridles in the evening come.
Since we agreed to let the road between us
Fall to disuse,
And bricked our gates up, planted trees to screen us,
And turned all time's eroding agents loose,
Silence, and space, and strangers our neglect
Has not had much effect.
Leaves drift unswept, perhaps; grass creeps unmown;
No other change.
So clear it stands, so little overgrown,
Walking that way tonight would not seem strange,
And still would be allowed. A little longer,
And time will be the stronger,
Drafting a world where no such road will run
From you to me;
To watch that world come up like a cold sun,
Rewarding others, is my liberty.
Not to prevent it is my will's fulfilment.
Willing it, my ailment.
Seven Stanzas at Easter
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that pierced died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
"A World without Objects Is a Sensible Emptiness"
The tall camels of the spirit
Steer for their deserts, passing the last groves loud
With the sawmill shrill of the locust, to the whole honey of the arid
Sun. They are slow, proud,
And move with a stilted stride
To the land of sheer horizon, hunting Traherne's
Sensible emptiness, there where the brain's lantern-slide
Revels in vast returns.
O connoisseurs of thirst,
Beasts of my soul who long to learn to drink
Of pure mirage, those prosperous islands are accurst
That shimmer on the brink
Of absence; auras, lustres,
And all shinings need to be shaped and borne.
Think of those painted saints, capped by the early masters
With bright, jauntily-worn
Aureate plates, or even
Merry-go-round rings. Turn, O turn
From the fine sleights of the sand, from the long empty oven
Where flames in flamings burn
Back to the trees arrayed
In bursts of glare, to the halo-dialing run
Of the country creeks, and the hills' bracken tiaras made
Gold in the sunken sun,
Wisely watch for the sight
Of the supernova burgeoning over the barn,
Lampshine blurred in the steam of beasts, the spirit's right
Oasis, light incarnate.
In a while they rose and went out aimlessly riding.
Leaving their drained cups on the table round.
Merlin, Merlin, their hearts cried, where are you hiding?
In all the world was no unnatural sound.
Mystery watched them riding glade by glade;
They saw it darkle from under leafy brows;
But leaves were all its voice, and squirrels made
An alien fracas in the ancient boughs.
Once by a lake-edge something made them stop.
Yet what they found was the thumping of a frog,
Bugs skating on the shut water-top,
Some hairlike algae bleaching on a log.
Gawen thought for a moment that he heard
A whitehorn beathe "Niniane". That Siren's daughter
Rose in a fort of dreams and spoke the word
"Sleep", her voice like dark diving water;
And Merlin slept, who had imagined her
Of water-sounds and the deep unsoundable swell
A creature to bewitch a sorcerer,
And lay there now within her towering spell.
Slowly the shapes of searching men and horses
Escaped him as he dreamt on that high bed:
History died; he gathered in its forces;
The mists of time condensed in the still head
Until his mind, as clear as mountain water,
Went raveling toward the deep transparent dream
Who bade him sleep. And then the Siren's daughter
Received him as the sea receives a stream.
Fate would be fated; dreams desire to sleep.
This the forsaken will not understand.
Arthur upon the road began to weep
And said to Gawen, "Remember when this hand
Once haled a sword from stone; now no less strong
It cannot dream of such a thing to do."
Their mail grew quainter as they clopped along.
The sky became a still and woven blue.
A Simile for Her Smile
Your smiling, or the hope, the thought of it,
Makes in my mind such pause and abrupt ease
As when the highway bridgegates fall,
Balking the hasty traffic, which must sit
On each side massed and staring, while
Deliberately the drawbridge starts to rise:
The horns are hushed, the oilsmoke rarefies,
Above the idling motors one can tell
The packet's smooth approach, the slip,
Slip of the silken river past the sides,
The ringing of clear bells, the dip
And slow cascading of the paddle wheel.
With No Strings Attached
I remember my dogs who have died,
their hairy shapes lumbering
into the fragility of death,
their wagging dumbness turned eloquent,
saying, "Think how we tutored you
in tenderness for its own sake,
no reward for kindness promised,
not even by Francis, who
bid birds praise God without saying why."
Advice to Young Ladies
A. U. C. 334: about this date,
For a sexual misdemeanor which she denied,
The vestal virgin Postumia was tried;
Livy records it among the affairs of state.
They let her off: it seems she was perfectly pure;
The charge arose because some thought her talk
Too witty for a young girl, her eyes, her walk
Too lively, her clothes too smart to be demure.
The Pontifex Maximus, summing up the case,
Warned her in future to abstain from jokes,
To wear less modish and more pious frocks.
She left the court reprieved, but in disgrace.
What then? With her the annalist is less
Concerned than what the men achieved that year:
Plots, quarrels, crimes, with oratory to spare --
I see Postumia with her dowdy dress,
Stiff mouth and listless step; I see her strive
To give dull answers. She had to knuckle down.
A vestal virgin who scandalized the town
Had fair trial, then they buried her alive;
Alive, bricked up in suffocating dark;
A ration of bread, a pitcher if she was dry,
Preserved the body they did not wish to die
Until her mind was quenched to the last spark.
How many the black maw has swallowed in its time!
Spirited girls who would not know their place,
Talented girls who found that the disgrace
Of being a woman made genius a crime.
How many others, who would not kiss the rod,
Domestic bullying broke or public shame?
Pagan or Christian, it was much the same:
Husbands, St. Paul declared, rank next to God.
Livy and Paul, it may be, never knew
That Rome was doomed; each spoke of her with pride.
Tacitus, writing after both had died,
Showed that whole fabric rotten, through and through.
Historians spend their lives and lavish ink
Explaining how great commonwealths collapse
From great defects in policy perhaps
The cause is sometimes simpler than they think.
It may not seem so grave an act to break
Postumia's spirit as Galileo's, to gag
Hypatia as crush Socrates, or drag
Joan as Giordano Bruno to the stake.
Can we be sure? Have more states perished, then,
For having shackled the enquiring mind,
Than those who, in their folly not less blind,
Trusted the servile womb to breed free men?
A D Hope
Meditation on a Bone
A piece of bone, found at Trondhjem in 1901, with the following runic
inscription (about AD 1050) cut on it: "I loved her as a maiden; I will
not trouble Erlend's detestable wife; better she should be a widow."
Words scored upon a bone,
Scratched in despair or rage --
Nine hundred years have gone;
Now, in another age,
They burn with passion on
A scholar's tranquil page.
The scholar takes his pen
And turns the bone about,
And writes those words again.
Once more they seethe and shout,
And through a human brain
Undying hate rings out.
I loved her as a maid;
I loathe and love the wife
That warms another's bed:
Let him beware his life!
The scholar's hand is stayed;
His pen becomes a knife
To grave in living bone
The fierce archaic cry.
He sits and reads his own
Dull sum of misery.
A thousand years have flown
Before that ink is dry.
And, in a foreign tongue,
A man, who is not he,
Reads and his heart is wrung
This ancient grief to see,
And thinks: When I am dung,
What bone shall speak for me?
A D Hope
An erudite demon, a fiend in topology,
Shaped much like a grin on a sphere of a trivet,
To add to the carnal advancement of knowledge he
Invented a woman. Now, would you believe it?
A woman so modeled no man could resist her,
So luscious her curves, so alluring her smile,
Yet no daughter of Eve's could claim her for sister,
Though equally formed to seduce and beguile.
For her surface a pure aphrodisiac plastic
No mathematician could ever equate
By any contortion or motion elastic
To those we caress in man's fallen estate.
O she was a heartache! O she was a honey!
The fiend asked his friends gathered round in a ring:
"A degenerate set! Would you bet even money,
Though she looks like a succubus fit for a King?"
"Come off it," they answered, "her shape is a woman's,
So she can't be a true topological freak,
Though a singleton, maybe, to ordinary humans
Who think any girl they adore is unique."
"In our rubber sheet world," said the fiend with a chortle
Converting himself to a three-masted barque,
"Equivalent shapes may delude a poor mortal,
But you should know Woman's distinguishing mark."
"A woman's a man-trap," they answered in chorus,
"A trochus with trunnions, a tunnel to Hell;
Reduced to essentials she's simply a torus
And this must apply to your temptress as well."
"Alas, my poor friends you are sadly mistaken:
This exquisite creature is built to deceive;
For the Devil's own cunning will not save his bacon
When caught in the nets that topologists weave.
"This marvellous manifold's not like a doughnut,
Quoit or cat's-cradle or twists of red tape,
And though very tortive, she screws like no known nut;
So I'd better explain her remarkable shape.
"Like a Boy Surface girl, my delightful invention
In Euclidean space is too awkward to plot,
But in Hell, with the help of an extra dimension
And a regressive cut, she's a true-lovers'-knot,
"Though she looks like a woman from thrutch-piece to throttle,
If you follow my clew of a Mobius strip-tease,
She is really a camouflaged double Klein bottle
With only one surface unlike other shes.
"Four Mobius strips brought my plan to fruition,
Ingeniously joined by original sin;
If you rise to the urgings of male intuition,
You'll find yourself out every time you go in.
"She cannot be mated or orientated,
Nor is homeomorphic to any known male;
And though in her arms you may feel quite elated,
All further advances are destined to fail.
"And before we proceed to our first Demon-stration,
May I venture to say, with excusable pride,
That this elegant essay in total frustration
Justifies mathematics, both pure and applied.
"Furthermore, as a torment for sinful seducers,
I think I may claim for the very first time,
To have added to Hell's repertoire something new, sirs:
A case where the punishment won't fit the crime."
A D Hope
Glossary for Non-Mathematical Demons:
TOPOLOGY: A field of Botany invaded by certain mathematicians with a
sense of humour; devoted to studying the shapes of things.
MOBIUS, KLEIN, & BOY: Topologists of great eminence and a profound
ELASTIC MOTION: The imaginary shift of spatial points required to change
one spatial shape to a mathematically equivalent shape. Also something
girls do without any mathematical knowledge at all.
DEGENERATE SET: A course logical term for a class of things containing
only one member; a member of the class of classes of unique individuals;
a mathematical term of abuse.
SUCCUBUS: A theological entity, rather than a mathematical one; if you
don't know what it is, you'd better not worry your pretty little head
SINGLETON: see "degenerate set": nothing to do with bridge.
RUBBER-SHEET WORLD: Topology (for topologists), otherwise something
of Grimm to help Frog Princes to bed.
TROCHUS: Anything in the shape of a wheel; in topology it might be a lot
of other things as well.
TRUNNIONS: Arms (or legs) of a cannon barrel.
TORUS: A refined (or mathematical) word for anything shaped like a
MANIFOLD: A connected surface such that if you caress it, it will
respond by being thigmotactic to you hand -- such as a girl or a
TORTIVE: Twisty or twistable, according to your intentions.
BOY SURFACE: A very sophisticated three-dimensional figure with only
surface. Invented by Mr. Boy (see Mobius, Klein, etc.).
REGRESSIVE CUT: A mathematical way of getting your own back and making
some surprising discoveries on the way.
THRUTCH-PIECE: Consult a very big dictionary; it probably won't help
you, but your imagination may.
MOBIUS STRIP: What happens when you twist your belt putting it on. It
has only one side and one edge and numerous even more remarkable
KLEIN BOTTLE: An attempt to make two Mobius strips copulate without
benefit of more than three dimensions; A hell of a topological joke.
ORIGINAL SIN: Not a mathematical operation as far as can be proved --
but you never know.
MALE INTUITION: Not a mathematical idea either, but it has associations
with binary arithmetic.
ORIENTATED: You wouldn't understand this anyway -- a topological
HOMEOMORPHIC: Topologically equivalent in shape.
DEMON-STRATION: Just an ordinary demo, but conducted in another place
THE CRIME: See "Original Sin"