December Poems on the Underground

As this strange year approaches its end, we’ve been cast back to our beginnings and to the poets featured in the first years of our programme.  Mourning the death of friends and fellow writers, we are reprinting poems by poets strongly attached to our programme, whose poems we continue to treasure.  We open our December display with a moving poem by Gavin Ewart, a dear friend who sent us a poem each day in February 1986, when our programme first appeared on London tube trains.

Poems in memoriam

Gavin Ewart (1916-1995)

Gavin Ewart , A 14 year old Convalescent Cat in the Winter ' I want him to have another living summer, to lie in the sun and enjoy the douceur de vivre- because the sun, like golden rum in a rummer, is what makes an idle cat un tout petit peu ivre-'

Charles Causley (1917-2003)

Charles Causley, I am the Song ' I am the song that sings the bird. I am the leaf that grows the land. I am the tide that moves the moon. I am the stream that halts the sand.'
Armistice Day, Charles Causley 'I stood with three comrades in Parliament Square, November her grey freights of fire unloading, '

James Berry (1924-2017)

Benediction, James Berry 'Thanks to the ear that someone may hear Thanks to seeing that someone may see'
A dream of leavin, James Berry ' Man, so used to notn, this is a dream I couldn't dream of dreamin so - I scare I might wake up. One day I would be Englan bound! A travel would have me on sea not chained down below, every tick of clock, but free, man! Free like tourist! Never see me coulda touch world of Englan - when from all accounts I hear that is where all we prosperity end up. I was always in a dream of leavin. My half-finished house was on land where work-laden ancestors' bones lay. The old plantation land still stretch-out down to the sea, giving grazing to cattle.'

Iain Crichton Smith (1928-1998)

Iain Crichton Smith, The Exiles ' The many ships that left our country with white wings for Canada. They are like handkerchiefs in our memories and the brine like tears'

Milton Kessler (1930-2000)

Milton Kessler, Thanks Forever ' Look at those empty ships floating north between south-running ice like big tulips in the Narrows under the Verrazano toward the city harbour.'

Adrian Mitchell (1932-2008)

Celia Celia and Goodbye, Adrian Mitchell ' When I am sad and weary, When I think all hope has gone, When I walk along High Holborn I think of you with nothing on'
Song in Space, Adrian Mitchell ' When man first flew beyond the sky He looked back into the world's blue eye. Man said: What makes your eye so blue? Earth said: The tears in the oceans do'

Anne Stevenson (1933-2020)

Ragwort, Anne Stevenson 'They won't let railways alone, those yellow flowers. They're that remorseless joy of dereliction
Love Poems on the Underground  Lesson.   Anne Stevenson. The girls and boys in winter know That love is like the drifting snow;

Ken Smith (1938-2003)

Encounter at St. Martin's, Ken Smith 'I tell a wanderer's tale, the same I began long ago, a boy in a barn, I am always lost in it. The place is always strange to me. In my pocket the wrong money or none, the wrong paper maps of another town, the phrase book for yesterday's language, just a ticket to the next station, and my instructions. In the lobby of the Banco Bilbao a dark woman will slip me a key, a package, the name of a hotel, a numbered account, the first letters of an unknown alphabet.'
Ken Smith, The bee dance ' Let the grey dust thicken on the landings, let the spiders tick in the wall, let the locks rust and the keys be lost. This is the yellow hive of my skull where the bees dance on the honeycomb their tales of direction and distance.'

Carole Satyamurti (1939-2019)

Day Trip, Carole Satymurti ' Two women, seventies, hold hands on the edge of Essex, hair in strong nets, shrieked laughter echoing gulls as shingle sucks from under feet easing in brine.'
Carole Satyamurti , Ourstory ' Let us now praise women with feet glass slippers wouldn't fit; not the patient, nor even the embittered ones who kept their place'

Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)

The Railway Children, Seamus Heaney ' When we climbed the slopes of the cutting We were eye-level with the white cups Of the telegraph poles and the sizzling wires.' '
Colmcille the Scribe from the Irish, c.11th century, Seamus Heaney ‘My hand is cramped from penwork. My quill has a tapered point. Its bird-mouth issues a blue-dark Beetle-sparkle of ink.’

Eavan Boland (1944-2020)

Eavan Boland, The Emigrant Irish ' Like oil lamps we put them out the back, of our houses, of our minds. We had lights better than, newer than and then a time came, this time and now we need them. Their dread, makeshift example.'

As the dark closes in, some light-hearted poems for your enjoyment

The Loch Ness Monster's Song, Edwin Morgan 'Sssnnnwhuffffll? Hnwhuffl hhnnwfl hnflhfl? Gdroblboblhobngbl gbl gl g g g g glbgl'
Alas, Alack! Walter de la Mare ' Ann, Ann! Come! quick as you can! There's a fish that talks In the frying-pan.'
There was an Old Man of Blackheath by Edward Lear ‘There was an Old Man of Blackheath Whose head was adorned with a Wreath, Of lobsters and spice, Pickled onions and mice, That uncommon Old Man of Blackheath.’
Lady 'Rogue' Singleton, Stevie Smith 'Come, wed me, Lady Singleton, And we will have a baby soon And we will live in Edmonton Where all the friendly people run.'
Spike Milligan, Teeth 'English Teeth, English Teeth! Shining in the sun a part of British heritage aye, each and every one.'
X J Kennedy, To Someone Who Insisted I Look Up Someone I rang them up while touring Timbuctoo, Those bosom chums to whom you're known as 'Who?'

Poems of love and lust

I have a gentil cock (anon), 'I have a gentil cock croweth me day he doth me risen early my matins for to say I have a gentil cock comen he is of great his comb is of red coral his tail is of jet'
So We'll Go No More A-Roving, Lord Byron 'So we'll go no more a-roving So late into the night, Thought the heart be still as loving, And the moon be still as bright.'
Apology, Mimi Khalvati 'Humming your Nocturne on the Circle Line, unlike the piano, running out of breath I've been writing you out of my life my loves( one out, one in).'
Love Poems on the Underground As a gale on the mountainside Sappho, tr. Cicely Herbert; This Place is Aphrodite’s Anyte of Tegea, tr. Peter Constantine.
Theo Dorgan, Bread Dipped in Olive Oil and Salt 'Bread dipped in olive oil and salt, a glass of rough dry white. A table beside the evening sea where you sit shelling pistachios,'
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.'

Poems displayed in November can be found on our ‘November Poems’ page