Wednesday, July 29, 2009

As the Ruin Falls

All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I have never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends merely to serve my turn.

Peace, reassurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch out of my proper skin:
I talk of love- a scholar's parrot may talk Greek-
But, self-imprisoned, merely end where I begin.

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.

-C.S. Lewis-

I Have a Rendezvous with Death

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air-
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath-
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear. . .
But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

-Alan Seeger-

Friday, July 24, 2009

Rectius Vives

Licinius, stray thou not so high
That fear of heaven you forget,
But slip not down where cowards lie,
Not thus low yet;

Do thou the shining middle keep,
Not envying the envied throne,
Thou shalt not as a pauper sleep,
Nor woebegone.

The tallest pine is oft blown down,
The tower from its proud height drops,
And crashing lighting strikes upon
High mountain-tops.

The ready heart prepares for ill,
Braced to receive the evil lot;
But Jove blows back the same snow's chill
His winds have brought.

Though fortune favor thee not now,
Why must the future thee misuse?
Apollo oft unbends his bow
To court the muse.

Take spirit in the narrow strait,
But wisely navigate the gail,
And 'till the blasting wind abate,
Keep short thy sail.

-Translated from the Latin by Thomas Banks-

A Farewell to Arms

His golden locks time hath to silver turn'd;
O time too swift, of swiftness never ceasing!
His youth 'gainst time and age had ever spurn'd,
But spurn'd in vain; youth waineth by increasing:
Beauty, strength, youth, are flowers but fading seen;
Duty, faith, love, are roots, and ever green.

His helmet now shall make a hive for bees,
And lovers' sonnets turned to holy psalms,
A man-at-arms must serve now on his knees,
And feed on prayers, which are Age's alms:
But though from court to cottage he depart,
His saint is sure of his unspotted heart.

And when he saddest sits in homely cell,
He'll teach his swains this carol for a song-
'Blest be the hearts that wish my sovereign well,
Curst be the souls that wish her any wrong.'
Goddess, allow this aged man his right
To be your beadsman now that was your knight.

-George Peel-

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Late Flowering Lust

My head is bald, my breath is bad,
Unshaven is my chin,
I have not now the joys I had
When I was young in sin.

I run my fingers down your dress
With brandy-certain aim,
And you respond to my caress
And maybe feel the same.

But I've a feeling of my own
On this reunion night,
Wherein two skeletons are shown
To hold each other tight.

Dark sockets look on emptiness
That once was loving-eyed,
The mouth that opens for a kiss
Has got no tongue inside.

I cling to you inflamed with fear
As now you cling to me;
I feel how frail you are, my dear,
And wonder what will be.

A week? Or twenty years remain?
And then- what kind of death?
A losing fight with frightful pain
Or a gasping fight for breath?

Too long we let our bodies cling,
We cannot hide disgust
At all the thoughts that in us spring
From this late flowering lust.

-Sir John Betjeman-

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Clock Striking Midnight

Hark to the echo of time's footsteps; gone
These moments are into the unseen grave
Of ages. They have vanished nameless. None,
While they are deep under the eddying wave
Of the chaotic past, shall place a stone
Sacred to these, the nurses of the brave,
The mighty, and the good. Futurity
Broods on the the ocean, hatching 'neath her wing
Invisible to man the century,
That on its hundred feet, a sluggish thing,
Gnawing away the world, shall totter by
And sweep dead mortals with it. As I sing
Time, the colossus of the world, that strides
With each foot plunged in darkness silent glides,

And puffs death's cloud upon us. It is vain
To struggle with the tide. We all must sink,
Still grasping the thin air, with frantic pain
Grappling with fame to buoy us. Can we think
Eternity by whom swift Time is slain,
And dragged along to dark destruction's brink,
Shall be the echo of man's puny words?
Or that our grovelling stars shall e'er be writ
In never fading stars; or like proud birds
Undazzled in their cloud built eyrie sit
Clutching the lightning, or in cloudy herds
Diving amid the sea's vast treasury flit?
Sink, painted clay back to thy parent earth
While the glad spirit seeks a brighter birth.

-T.L. Beddoes-

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Oft have I seen at some cathedral door
A laborer, pausing in the dust and heat,
Lay down his burden, and with reverend feet
Enter, and cross himself, and on the floor
Kneel to repeat his Paternoster o'er;
Far off the noises of the world retreat;
The loud vociferations of the street
Become an indistinguishable roar.
So, as I enter here from day to day,
And leave my burden at this minster gate,
Kneeling in prayer, and not ashamed to pray,
The tumult of the time disconsolate
To inarticulate murmurs dies away,
While the eternal ages watch and wait.


Monday, July 13, 2009

False Though She Be

False though she be to me and love,
I'll ne'er pursue revenge;
For still the charmer I approve,
Though I deplore her change.

In hours of bliss we oft have met:
They could not always last;
And though the present I regret,
I'm grateful for the past.

-William Congreve-

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Carmen Saeculare

Enter A Statesman, preparing his memoirs.

To me, their spite was worth more than their praise;
The moan and murmur of the stiff-necked host
When budding bureaucrat for its love plays,
Teaches of Demos' whims and ways the most.

The public votes for beer to fill its stock,
(For native rights, mind you, not surpluses)
And acquiescing tribunes split the rock
Out of which flow both bread and circuses.

The man's love for his child knows no loss,
The kings of labor bless the poor with alms,
But the same mob nails the preacher to the cross
Five days from feting him with prayers and palms.

To anarchy and insurrectionist
They turned the all forgiving eye that grieves,
And instantly they rounded out death's list
And hung some holy fool between two thieves.

They work their work, I mine- till God prefers
By death or ballot us to separate-
War's rumors, cries for peace, a world of stirs-
These will suffice to summarize The State.

-Thomas Banks-

The Truly Great

I think continually on those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul's history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the spirit clothed from head to foot with song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.

What is precious is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from the ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog the flowering of the spirit.

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields
See how their names are feted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life
And wore at their hearts the fire's center.
Born of the sun they traveled a short while toward the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honor.

-Stephen Spender-

Monday, July 6, 2009


I would not have her other than she is;
No curtsying change, no bowing alteration
Would I ask for my worship; None of this.
Her radiance is my remuneration.

-Thomas Banks, 2005-

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Leveller

The glories of our blood and state
Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armour against Fate,
Death lays his icy hand on kings:
Sceptre and crown
Must tumble down,
And in the dust be equal made
With the poor crooked scythe and spade.

Some men with swords may reap the field,
And plant fresh laurels where they kill:
But their strong nerves at last must yield,
They tame but one another still:
Early or late
They stoop to fate,
And must give up their murmuring breath
When they, pale captives, come to death.

The garlands wither on your brow,
Then boast no more your mighty deeds!
Upon death's purple altar now,
See where the victor-victim bleeds.
Your heads must come
To the cold tomb:
Only the actions of the just smell sweet,
And blossom in the dust.

-James Shirley-

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Light Woman

So far as our story approaches its end,
Which do you pity the most of us three?
My friend, or the mistress of my friend
With her wanton eyes, or me?

My friend was already too good to lose,
And seemed in the way of improvement yet,
When she crossed his path with her hunting-noose
And over him drew her net.

When I saw him tangled in her toils,
A shame, said I, if she adds just him
To her nine-and-ninety other spoils,
The hundredth for a whim!

And before my friend be wholly hers,
How easy to prove to him, I said,
An eagle's the game that her pride prefers,
Though she snaps at a wren instead!

So, I gave her my own eyes to take,
My hand sought hers as in earnest need,
And round she turned for my noble sake,
And gave me herself indeed.

The eagle am I, with my fame in the world,
The wren he is, with his maiden face.
You look away and your lip is curled?
Patience, a moment's space!

For see, my friend goes shaling and white;
He eyes me as the basilisk:
I have turned, it appears, his day to night,
Eclipsing his sun's disk.

And I did it, he thinks, as a very thief;
"Though I love her-" that he comprehends-
"One should master one's passions, (love in chief)
And be loyal to one's friends!"

And she, she lies in my hand as tame
As a pear late basking over a wall;
Just a touch to try and off it came;
'Tis mine; can I let it fall?

With no mind to eat it, that's the worst!
Were it thrown in the road, would the case assist?
'Twas quenching a dozen blue-flies' thirst
When I gave its stalk a twist.

And I- what I seem to my friend, you see-
What I soon shall seem to his love, you guess:
What I seem to myself, do you ask of me?
No hero, I confess.

'Tis an awkward thing to play with souls,
And matter enough to save one's own:
Yet think of my friend, and the burning coals
He played with for bits of stone!

One likes to show the truth for the truth;
That the woman was light, is very true:
But suppose she says- "Never mind that youth!
What wrong have I done to you?"

Well, anyhow, here the story stays,
So far at least as I understand;
And, Robert Browning, you writer of plays,
Here's a subject made to your hand!

-Robert Browning-