April 2022

Poems on the Underground April 2022

This month we feature poems in contrasting voices welcoming spring and  the wonders of Stars, Moon and Planets, We follow this with  Love poems and  European poems in bilingual texts, reflecting on our troubled times and our common hope for change. We end with  poems of Time and Place.

Spring Poems on the Underground

Seed by Paula Meehan 'The first warm day of spring and I step out into the garden from the gloom of a house where hope had died to tally the storm damage, to seek what may have survived. And finding some forgotten lupins I’d sown from seed last autumn holding in their fingers a raindrop each like a peace offering, or a promise, I am suddenly grateful and would offer a prayer if I believed in God. But not believing, I bless the power of seed, its casual, useful persistence, and bless the power of sun, its conspiracy with the underground, and thank my stars the winter’s ended.'

Seed read by Paula Meehan

Home-Thoughts, from Abroad by Robert Browning 'Oh, to be in England Now that April's there, And whoever wakes in England Sees, some morning, unaware, That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf, While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough In England—now!'
The Argument of His Book by Robert Herrick (1591 - 1674) 'I sing of Brooks, of Blossomes, Birds, and Bowers: Of April, May, of June, and July-Flowers. I sing of May-poles, Hock-carts, Wassails, Wakes, Of Bride-grooms, Brides, and of their Bridall-cakes. I write of Youth, of Love, and have Accesse By these, to sing of cleanly-Wantonnesse. I sing of Dewes, of Raines, and piece by piece Of Balme, of Oyle, of Spice and Amber-Greece. I sing of Times trans-shifting; and I write How Roses first came Red, and Lillies White. I write of Groves, of Twilights, and I sing The Court of Mab, and of the Fairie-King. I write of Hell; I sing (and ever shall) Of Heaven, and hope to have it after all. '
I sing of a Maiden Anon (early 15th century )' I sing of a maiden that is makeless King of all kings to her son she chose he came also still there his mother was as dew in April that falleth on the grass he came also still to his mother's bower as dew in April that falleth on the flower he came also still there his mother lay as dew in April that falleth on the spray mother and maiden was never none but she well may such a lady God's mother be'
25th April 1974, Sophie de Mello Breyner tr.Ruth Fainlight, 'This is the dawn I was waiting for The first day whole and pure When we emerged from night and silence Alive into the substance of time'

Stars Moons and Planets

For the Life of This Planet, Grace Nichols ‘ The way the red sun surrenders its wholeness to curving ocean bit by bit. The way curving ocean gives birth to the birth of stars in the growing darkness, wearing everything in its path to cosmic smoothness’
Star, Adam Zagajewski 'I returned to you years later, gray and lovely city, unchanging city buried in the waters of the past.'
On First Looking into Chapman's Homer , John Keats 1989 Poster Poems on the Underground ' Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold, And many goodly states and kingdoms seen; Round many western islands have I been Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold. Oft of one wide expanse had I been told That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne; Yet did I never breathe its pure serene Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold: Then felt I like some watcher of the skies When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes He star'd at the Pacific - and all his men Look'd at each other with a wild surmise - Silent, upon a peak in Darien.'
The Embankment (The Fantasia of a Fallen Gentleman on a Cold, Bitter Night), T. E. Hulme ' Once, in finesse of fiddles found I ecstasy, In the flash of gold heels on the hard pavement. Now see I That warmth’s the very stuff of poesy. Oh, God, make small The old star-eaten blanket of the sky, That I may fold it round me and in comfort lie.'
Jean Binta Breeze, Moonwise Moonwise (for my children, all) sometimes you know the moon is not a perfect circle and the master Painter makes a passing brush touch with a cloud don't worry we've passed the dark side all you children rest easy now we are born moonwise'

Love Poems on the Underground

Misty by Ruth Padel ' How I love The darkwave music Of a sun's eclipse You can't see for cloud The saxophonist playing 'Misty' In the High Street outside Barclays Accompanied by mating-calls Sparked off In a Jaguar alarm The way you're always there Where I'm thinking Or several beats ahead.'
The Present, Michael Donaghy ' For the present there is just one moon, though every level pond gives back another .But the bright disc shining in the black lagoon, perceived by astrophysicist and lover ,is milliseconds old. And even that light's seven minutes older than its source. And the stars we think we see on moonless nights are long extinguished. And, of course, this very moment, as you read this line, is literally gone before you know it. Forget the here-and-now. We have no time but this device of wantonness and wit. Make me this present then: your hand in mine, and we'll live out our lives in it.'
Full Moon & Little Frieda by Ted Hughes 'A cool small evening shrunk to a dog bark and the clank of a bucket - And you listening. A spider's web, tense for the dew's touch. A pail lifted, still and brimming - mirror To tempt a first star to a tremor. Cows are going home in the lane there, looping the hedges with their warm wreaths of breath - A dark river of blood, many boulders, Balancing unspilled milk. 'Moon!' you cry suddenly, 'Moon! Moon!' The moon has stepped back like an artist gazing amazed at a work That points at him amazed.'
Child by Sylvia Plath 'Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing. I want to fill it with colour and ducks, The zoo of the new Whose names you meditate — April snowdrop, Indian pipe, Little Stalk without wrinkle, Pool in which images Should be grand and classical Not this troublous Wringing of hands, this dark Ceiling without a star.'
Song from The Princess by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809 - 92) ' Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white; Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk; Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font: The fire-fly wakens: waken thou with me. Now droops the milkwhite peacock like a ghost, And like a ghost she glimmers on to me. Now lies the Earth all Danae to the stars, And all they heart lies open unto me. Now slides the silent meteor on, and leaves A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me. Now folds the lily all her sweetness up, And slips into the bosom of the lake: So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip Into my bosom and be lost in me.'
Sonnet 29, William Shakespeare 'When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state, And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries, And look upon myself and curse my fate, Wishing me like to one more rich in hope, Featured like him, like him with friends possessed, Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope, With what I most enjoy contented least; Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising, Haply I think on thee, and then my state, (Like to the lark at break of day arising From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate; For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings, That then I scorn to change my state with kings.'

European poems on the Underground

Qu'une place soit faite... Let a Place be Made by Yves Bonnefoy (b.1923) Translated by Anthony Rudolf 'Let a place be made for the one who draws near, The one who is cold, deprived of any home, Tempted by the sound of a lamp, by the lit Threshold of a solitary house. And if he is still exhausted, full of anguish, Say again for him those words that heal. What does this heart which once was silence need If not those words which are both sign and prayer, Like a fire caught sight of in the sudden night, Like the table glimpsed in a poor house?'
Hope by Edith Södergran (1892 - 1923) translated by Herbert Lomas' I want to let go - so I don't give a damn about fine writing, I'm rolling my sleeves up. The dough's rising ... Oh what a shame I can't bake cathedrals ... that sublimity of style I've always yearned for ... Child of our time - haven't you found the right shell for your soul? Before I die I shall bake a cathedral.'
Bonnard by Elizabeth Jennings ' Colour of rooms. Pastel shades. Crowds. Torsos at ease in brilliant baths. And always, everywhere the light. This is a way of creating the world again, of seeing differences, of piling shadow on shadow, of showing up distances, of bringing close, bringing close. A way of furnishing too, of making yourself feel at home - and others. Pink, flame, coral, yellow, magenta - extreme colours for ordinary situations. This is a way to make a new world. Then watch it. Let the colours dry, let the carpets collect a little dust. Let the walls peel gently, and people come, innocent, nude, eager for bed or bath. They look newmade too, these bodies, newborn and innocent. Their flesh-tints fit the bright walls and floors and they take a bath as if entering the first stream, the first fountain.'
Merlin by Geoffrey Hill (b.1932) ' I will consider the outnumbering dead: For they are the husks of what was rich seed. Now, should they come together to be fed, They would outstrip the locusts' covering tide. Arthur, Elaine, Mordred; they are all gone Among the raftered galleries of bone. By the long barrows of Logres they are made one, And over their city stands the pinnacled corn.'
Everything Changes, after Brecht Alles wandelt sich ,Cicely Herbert ‘ Alles wandelt sich. Neu beginnen Kannst du mit dem letzten Atemzug. Aber was geschehen, ist geschehen. Und das Wasser Das du in den Wein gossest, kannst du Nicht mehr herausschütten. Was geschehen, ist geschehen. Das Wasser Das du in den Wein gossest, kannst du Nicht mehr herausschütten, aber Alles wandelt sich. Neu beginnen Kannst du mit dem letzten Atemzug. Everything changes. We plant trees for those born later but what’s happened has happened, and poisons poured into the seas cannot be drained out again. What’s happened has happened. Poisons poured into the seas cannot be drained out again’, but everything changes. We plant trees for those born later.'
a capitalist society by Vagn Steen (b.1928) Translation by Vagn Steen' a capitalist society calculates everything in money and capitalizes all services everything is monetarily expressed and counted precisely everything has a monetary aspect everything has a monetary smile everything'
Miracle by Yannis Ritsos Translated by Rae Dalven 'A man, before going to bed, put his watch under his pillow. Then he went to sleep. Outside the wind was blowing. You who know the miraculous continuity of little motions, understand. A man, his watch, the wind. Nothing else.'

Poems of Time and Place

Mysteries by Dannie Abse, Poems on the Underground 1994 ‘At night, I do not know who I am when I dream, when I am sleeping. Awakened, I hold my breath and listen: a thumbnail scratches the other side of the wall. At midday, I enter a sunlit room to observe the lamplight on for no reason. I should know by now that few octaves can be heard, that a vision dies from being too long stared at; that the whole of recorded history even is but a little gossip in a great silence; that a magnesium flash cannot illumine, for one single moment, the invisible. I do not complain. I start with the visible and am startled by the visible.'’
from A Shropshire Lad by A.E. Housman 'Into my heart an air that kills From yon far country blows: What are those blue remembered hills, What spires, what farms are those? That is the land of lost content, I see it shining plain, The happy highways where I went And cannot come again.'
Skirrid Fawr, Owen Sheers ' Just like the farmers who once came to scoop handfuls of soil from her holy scar, so am I still drawn to her back for the answers to every question I have never known.'
Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, trans. Paul Muldoon The Language Issue 'Ceist na Teangan Cuirim mo dhóchas ar snámh i mbáidín teangan faoi mar a leagfá naíonán i gcliabhán a bheadh fite fuaite de dhuilleoga feileastraim is bitiúmin agus pic bheith cuimilte lena thóin ansan é a leagadh síos i measc na ngiolcach is coigeal na mban sí le taobh na habhann, féachaint n’fheadaraís cá dtabharfaidh an sruth é, féachaint, dála Mhaoise, an bhfóirfidh iníon Fharoinn? The Language Issue I place my hope on the water in this little boat of the language, the way a body might put an infant in a basket of intertwined iris leaves, its underside proofed with bitumen and pitch, then set the whole thing down amidst the sedge and bulrushes by the edge of a river only to have it borne hither and thither, not knowing where it might end up; in the lap, perhaps, of some Pharaoh’s daughter. '
The Meaning of Existence, Les Murray ' Everything except language knows the meaning of existence. Trees, planets, rivers, time know nothing else.'
from The Mind Is An Ancient and Famous Capital by Delmore Schwartz 'The mind is a city like London, Smoky and populous: it is a capital Like Rome, ruined and eternal, Marked by the monuments which no one Now remembers. For the mind, like Rome, contains Catacombs, aqueducts, amphitheatres, palaces, Churches and equestrian statues, fallen, broken, or soiled. The mind possesses and is possessed by all the ruins Of every haunted, hunted generation’s celebration.'

You can see our poems from March 2022 here