February 2021

This month we are marking the bicentenary of London’s much loved poet, John Keats, who died in Rome on 24 Feb 1821, aged 25.

Our first set of poems in 2021 go live on the Tube on Feb 8th featuring two poems by Keats, a stanza from Shelley’s elegy for his fellow-poet, and poems by Jamaican, Polish and English poets related to Keats’s love of art and nature.

This month we also celebrate the poetry and culture of Greece, the land to which Keats loved to travel in his imagination; we have Love poems for Valentines Day; London poems about the city as it was in Keats’s time and our own time; three poems by  contemporary Polish poets and 2 Chinese poems for the start of the Year of the Ox.

New Poems on the Underground

from Endymion, John Keats A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness; but still will keep A bower quiet for us, and a sleep Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing. Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing A flowery band to bind us to the earth, Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth Of noble natures, of the gloomy days, Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all, Some shape of beauty moves away the pall From our dark spirits.

When I have fears that I may cease to be, John Keats When I have fears that I may cease to be Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain, Before high-piled books, in charact’ry, Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain; When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face, Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance, And think that I may never live to trace Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance; And when I feel, fair creature of an hour! That I shall never look upon thee more, Never have relish in the faery power Of unreflecting love!--then on the shore Of the wide world I stand alone, and think Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.
from Adonais, Percy Bysshe Shelley He is made one with Nature: there is heard His voice in all her music, from the moan Of thunder, to the song of night’s sweet bird; He is a presence to be felt and known In darkness and in light, from herb and stone, Spreading itself where’er that Power may move Which has withdrawn his being to its own; Which wields the world with never wearied love, Sustains it from beneath, and kindles it above.
Wish You Were Here, Julia Fiedorczuk , translated by Bill Johnston I open the window to let you in, rain, and your forceful breath startles the curtain, smelling of moss, forming droplets on my lips.
Rising, Jean Binta Breeze having some summers gone dug out that old tree stump that darkened my garden having waited without planting (for it was impossible then to choose the growth) having lost the dream but not the art of healing having released the roots of pain into content I now stir the skies
I go inside the tree, Jo Shapcott Indoors for this ash is through the bark: notice its colour – asphalt or slate in the rain then go inside, tasting weather in the tree rings, scoffing years of drought and storm, moving as fast as a woodworm who finds a kick of speed for burrowing into the core, for mouthing pith and sap, until the o my god at the heart.

Greek Poems on the Underground

On First Looking into Chapman's Homer , John Keats ' 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.'
from Don Juan, Byron 'The isles of Greece, the isles of Greece! Where burning Sappho loved and sung, Where grew the arts of war and peace, Where Delos rose, and Phoebus sprung! Eternal summer gilds them yet, But all, except their sun, is set.'
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.
Ionian song, C.P. Cavafy tr. Rae Dalven ' Though we have broken their statues, though we have driven them out of their temples, the gods did not die because of this. O Ionian land, it is you they still love, it is you their souls still remember.'
from Amorgos, Nikos Gatsos ' How much I have loved you I alone know I who touched you once with the eyes of the Pleiades And embraced you in the wild hair of the moon and we danced in the summer fields On the stubble after harvest, and we ate the cut clover Dark and great sea with so many pebbles round your neck, so many coloured stones in your hair'
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,'

Love Poems on the Underground

Sonnet 116, William Shakespeare ' 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'
When you are Old, W. B. Yeats ' When you are old and grey and full of sleep, And nodding by the fire, take down this book, And slowly read, and dream of the soft look Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;'
Love, Hannah Lowe ‘Mornings, we’d find salmon bagels from Brick Lane, Char siu buns and Soho flower rolls, A box of Motichoor’
Delay, Elizabeth Jennings ‘The radiance of that star that leans on me Was shining years ago. The light that now Glitters up there my eye may never see,’
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.'
Westron wynde when wylt thou blow, Anon 'Westron wynde when wylt thou blow the small rain down can rain Christ that my love were in my arms and I in my bed again'

London Poems on the Underground

Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802 ,William Wordsworth 2009 Poems on the Underground poster 'Earth has not anything to show more fair: Dull would he be of soul who could pass by A sight so touching in its majesty; This City now doth, like a garment, wear The beauty of the morning; silent, bare, Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie Open unto the fields, and to the sky; All bright and glittering in the smokeless air. Never did sun more beautifully steep In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill; Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep! The river glideth at his own sweet will: Dear God! the very houses seem asleep; And all that mighty heart is lying still!'
London Poems on the Underground From Jerusalem, William Blake. The fields from Islington to Marylebone, To Primrose Hill and Saint John's Wood,
London Poems on the Underground  Sweet Thames Flow Softly,   Ewan MacColl. I met my girl at Woolwich Pier, beneath a big crane standing.
Immigrant, Fleur Adcock 'November '63: eight months in London. I pause on the low bridge to watch the pelicans:'
On the Thames, Karen McCarthy Woolf ‘The houseboat tilts into the water at low tide, ducklings slip in mud. Nothing is stable in this limbo summer, where he leaves his shoes in the flat.’
The Conversation of Old Men, Thom Gunn ‘He feels a breeze rise from the Thames, as far off as Rotherhithe, in intimate contact with water, slimy hulls,’

Polish Poems on the Underground

Blacksmith Shop, Czeslaw Milosz ' I liked the bellows operated by rope. A hand or foot pedal- I don't remember which. But that blowing, and the blazing of the fire!'
Nothing Special, Zbigniew Herbert,' nothing special boards paint nails paste paper string mr artist builds a world not from atoms but from remnants'
Star, Adam Zagajewski 'I returned to you years later, gray and lovely city, unchanging city buried in the waters of the past.'

Chinese Poems on the Underground

Listening to a Monk from Shu Playing the Lute, Li Bai 'The monk from Shu with his green lute-case walked Westward down Emei Shan,
Two Poems written at Maple Bridge near Su-Chou, Chang Chi and Gary Snyder 'Moon set, a crow caws, frost fills the sky River, maple, fishing-fires cross my troubled sleep'

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