December 2021

As we approach the winter solstice, we look back across 1,000 years of Poetry in English, with poems by Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Blake and Yeats, moving on to Stevie Smith and Carol Ann Duffy.  A group of ‘World Poems’ include poets from Canada, the United States, Jamaica and Saint Lucia, with references extending back to the Homeric myths.

We hope you will enjoy a group of ‘Poems on a lighter note,’  followed by six poems by young poets, award winners of the annual Foyle poetry competitions run by the Poetry Society, and specially commissioned for Poems on the Underground.

If you didn’t manage to see our most recent set of Poems on London Underground trains you can find our new poems by Jackie Kay, Linton Kwesi Johnson, John Keats, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Seán Hewitt and Sean Borodale here

1000 Years of Poetry in English

Caedmon's Hymn 7th century AD translated by Paul Muldoon ' Now we must praise to the skies the Keeper of the heavenly kingdom, The might of the Measurer, all he has in mind, The work of the Father of Glory, of all manner of marvel, Our eternal Master, the main mover. It was he who first summoned up, on our behalf, Heaven as a roof, the holy Maker. Then this middle- earth, the Watcher over humankind, Our eternal Master, would later assign The precinct of men, the Lord Almighty. '
Anglo Saxon Riddle translated by Kevin Crossley-Holland 'I'm a strange creature, for I satisfy women, a service to the neighbours! No one suffers at my hands except for my slayer. I grow very tall, erect in a bed, I'm hairy underneath. From time to time a good-looking girl, the doughty daughter of some churl dares to hold me, grips my russet skin, robs me of my head and puts me in the pantry. At once that girl with plaited hair who has confined me remembers our meeting. Her eye moistens. (suggested answer: 'Onion')'
from Beowulf Anon. (10th century or earlier) translated by Seamus Heaney 'Then a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark, nursed a hard grievance. It harrowed him to hear the din of the loud banquet every day in the hall, the harp being struck and the clear song of a skilled poet telling with mastery of man's beginnings, how the Almighty had made the earth a gleaming plain girdled with waters; in His splendour He set the sun and the moon to be earth's lamplight, lanterns for men, and filled the broad lap of the world with branches and leaves; and quickened life in every other thing that moved. '
Opening lines of The Canterbury Tales Geoffrey Chaucer (1340?-1400) 'Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote The droghte of March hath perced to the roote, And bathed every veyne in swich licour Of which vertu engendred is the flour; Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth Inspired hath in every holt and heeth The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne, And smale foweles maken melodye That slepen all the nyght with open ye (So priketh hem nature in hir corages) Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages... '
No Man is an Island, John Donne. 'No Man is an Island, Entire of Itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. '
The Expulsion from Eden Paradise Lost from Book 12 John Milton1608-1674 Poems on the Underground 1998 Poster 'In either hand the hast'ning angel caught Our ling'ring parents, and to th' eastern gate Led them direct, and down the cliff as fast To the subjected plain; then disappeared. They looking back, all th'eastern side beheld Of Paradise, so late their happy seat ,Waved over by that flaming brand, the gate With dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms. Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon; The world was all before them, where to choose Their place of rest, and Providence their guide: They hand in hand with wand'ring steps and slow, Through Eden took their solitary way.'

1,000 Years of Poetry in English: Shakespeare to Stevie Smith

Sonnet 116, William Shakespeare 1998 Poster Poems on the Underground ' Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments; love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove'
Eternity by William Blake 'He who binds to himself a joy Does the winged life destroy He who kisses the joy as it flies Lives in Eternity’s sun rise'
from Tintern Abbey by William Wordsworth ' For I have learned To look on nature, not as in the hour Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes The still, sad music of humanity, Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power To chasten and subdue. And I have felt A presence that disturbs me with the joy Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime Of something far more deeply interfused, Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, And the round ocean and the living air, And the blue sky, and in the mind of man...'
I Would To Heaven That I Were So Much Clay by George Gordon, Lord Byron 'I would to heaven that I were so much clay, As I am blood, bone, marrow, passion, feeling - Because at least the past were passed away - And for the future - (but I write this reeling, Having got drunk exceedingly today, So that I seem to stand upon the ceiling) I say - the future is a serious matter - And so - for God's sake - hock and soda water!'
On First Looking into Chapman's Homer , John Keats 2000 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.''
from Among School Children by W.B. Yeats 'Labour is blossoming or dancing where The body is not bruised to pleasure soul, Nor beauty born out of its own despair, Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil. O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer, Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole? O body swayed to music, O brightening glance, How can we know the dancer from the dance?'
Not Waving but Drowning by Stevie Smith ' Nobody heard him, the dead man, But still he lay moaning: I was much further out than you thought And not waving but drowning. Poor chap, he always loved larking And now he’s dead It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way, They said. Oh, no no no, it was too cold always (Still the dead one lay moaning) I was much too far out all my life And not waving but drowning.'

World Poetry in English

Elizabeth Bishop Song 'Summer is over upon the sea. The pleasure yacht, the social being, that danced on the endless polished floor, stepped and side-stepped like Fred Astaire, is gone, is gone, docked somewhere ashore. The friends have left, the sea is bare that was strewn with floating, fresh green weeds. Only the rusty-sided freighters go past the moon's marketless craters and the stars are the only ships of pleasure.'
Return to Cornwall by Charles Causley ' I think no longer of the antique city Of Pompey and the red-haired Alexander. The brilliant harbour, the wrecked light at Pharos, Are buried deep with Mediterranean plunder. Here, by the Inney, nature has her city: (O the cypress trees of Mahomed Ali Square!) The children build their harbour in the meadow And the crystal lark floats on the Cornish air.'
Map of the New World: Archipelagoes , Derek Walcott ' At the end of this sentence, rain will begin. At the rain's edge, a sail. Slowly the sail will lose sight of islands; into a mist will go the belief in harbours of an entire race. The ten-years war is finished. Helen's hair, a grey cloud. Troy, a white ashpit by the drizzling sea. The drizzle tightens like the strings of a harp. A man with clouded eyes picks up the rain and plucks the first line of the Odyssey.'
True Stories (1) by Margaret Atwood 'Don't ask for the true story; why do you need it? It's not what I set out with or what I carry. What I'm sailing with, a knife, blue fire, luck, a few good words that still work, and the tide. '
Guinep, Olive Senior 'Our mothers have a thing about guinep: Mind you don't eat guinep in your good clothes. It will stain them.'
Prayer, Carol Ann Duffy 1999 poster, Poems on the Underground 1,000 Years of Poetry in English 'Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer utters itself. So, a woman will lift her head from the sieve of her hands and stare at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift. Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth enters our hearts, that small familiar pain; then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth in the distant Latin chanting of a train. ​Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales console the lodger looking out across a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls a child's name as though they named their loss. Darkness outside. Inside, the radio's prayer - Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.' ​
Quark by Jo Shapcott ‘Transcendental,’ said the technician, ‘to stumble on a quark that talks back. I will become a mystagogue, initiate punters into the wonders of it for cash.’ ‘Bollocks’, said the quark, from its aluminium nacelle. ‘I don’t need no dodgy crypto-human strategising my future. Gonna down-size under the cocoplum or champak, drink blue marimbas into the sunset, and play with speaking quarklike while I beflower the passing gravitons.’

Poems on a lighter note

Don’t Call Alligator Long-Mouth till You Cross River by John Agard ' Call alligator long-mouth call alligator saw-mouth call alligator pushy-mouth call alligator scissors-mouth call alligator raggedy-mouth call alligator bumpy-bum call alligator all dem rude word but better wait till you cross river.'
Sergeant Brown’s Parrot, Kit Wright 'Many policemen wear upon their shoulders Cunning little radios. To pass away the time They talk about the traffic to them, listen to the news, And it helps them to Keep Down Crime. But Sergeant Brown, he wears upon his shoulder A tall green parrot as he's walking up and down And all the parrot says is "Who's-a-pretty-boy-then?" "I am," says Sergeant Brown.'
The Lobster Quadrille, Lewis Carroll ' 'Will you walk a little faster?' said a whiting to a snail, 'There's a porpoise close behind us, And he's treading on my tail. See how eagerly the lobsters and the turtles all advance! They are waiting on the shingle - will you come and join the dance? Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, will you join the dance? Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, won't you join the dance? 'You can really have notion how delightful it will be When they take us up and throw us, with the lobsters, out to sea!' But the snail replied, 'Too far, too far!' and gave a look askance- Said he thanked the whiting kindly, but he would not join the dance. Would not, could not, would not, could not, would not join the dance. Would not, could not, would not, could not, could not join the dance. 'What matters it how far we go?' his scaly friend replied. 'There is another shore, you know, upon the other side. The further off from England the nearer is to France - Then turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the dance. Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, will you join the dance? Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, won't you join the dance?'
Look at all those monkeys, Spike Milligan 'Look at all those monkeys Jumping in their cage Why don't they all go out to work And earn a decent wage? How can you say such silly things, And you a son of mine? Imagine monkeys travelling on The Morden-Edgware Line! But what about the Pekinese! They have an allocation. 'Don't travel during Peke hour', It says on every station. My gosh, you're right, my clever boy, I never thought of that! And so they left the monkey house, While an elephant raised his hat.'
Sun a-shine, rain a-fall, Valerie Bloom 'Sun a-shine, rain a-fall, The Devil an' him wife cyan 'gree at all, The two o'them want one fish-head, The Devil call him wife bonehead, She hiss her teeth, call him cock-eye, Greedy, worthless an 'workshy, While them busy callin' name, The puss walk in, sey is a shame To see a nice fish go to was'e, Lef' with a big grin pon him face.'

Young Poets on the Underground

I think my brain is coming out of my ears, Luke Yates ' I think my brain is coming out of my ears Found a pink wet thing like a prawn on my pillow this morning felt it, smelt it, looked at it under the microscope and I could see memories, rumours and dreams scrawled in my handwriting over the surface. I keep my bit of brain in a jar, feed it marmalade, call it Fred. Frightening to think what might be missing - unexplained chunks of life. (I can't find the remote). Tonight I sleep, orifices stuffed and my ears glued to the sides of my head.'
Night Caller by Lucy Pogson Award Winner-Simon Elvin Young Poets of the Year , Young poets on the Underground ' Rain rains at half one in the morning and the take-away stays open. My window is puddles on pavements shimmering in street-lamp light. In my hand the phone talks on; rain taps glass, and running water runs to the ground. Someone skids and screams their brakes a block away. A silent film plays in the take-away across the street. The traffic sounds like wind moving round houses, and distant club-beats mud the air and heave the city high. The phone still speaks, the windy traffic blows, The window runs. He talks like rain rains. I listen like the take-away stays open.'
Under the Stairs by Caitlin McLeod Young Poets on the Underground ' She has a small shop under the stairs where I buy black beads and velvet cloth and the little pleasures of a shiny green apple sticker. But I am older now and I act as if I don't remember what it was like to pretend because she is my sister and I am alone. The blue airplane has no wheels. The bucket filled with yellow stars has no handle. The pinwheel does not turn. I like those best because they are like me.'
Dockside by Anna Ahmed, Young Poets on the Underground ' Sat by the water for hours. Watched nothing but water, how it was spelt out by light; its mass like silk blown in slow-moving wind, or the glitter of fisted diamonds that flickered and kicked as the waves caught the light from the bounce of the sun and I squinted my eyes and saw everyone of those diamonds that tickled and swam, or how the light lay like a curve in a ripple of time, on that wet pool and I thought of a painter jig-sawing brushstrokes of yellow over the salty-sea blue. '
The End of Every Field by Qian Xi Teng , Young Poets on the Underground 'She calls me a wild horse. Either that or I'm a kite breaking from its string. This is when she is angry and sees me Galloping to the end of Every field before levitating into The sky and herself With a stunned empty Rope in her hand Like the one they scissored When my breakable child bones Came pushing from her years ago.'
Stitching the Bayeux Tapestry Rebecca Hawkes , Young Poets on the Underground 'First of all I learn to sheathe my mind in a needle, a shining domestic wand with a steely eye and a sharp bite. Hovering over the battlefield like a hand-held bird of prey, it darts and dips its nimble beak into the freshly spilled colour, dining off a raw pink and grey palate of corpses and savouring the acrid metal stench of victory. I sew the winner's story, embroidering detail and carefully twisting fact. Beneath my guilty fingertips the tapestry seems to bulge and tighten, throttling the truth with its linen coils.'

You can find our Poems from November 2021 here