February 2022

This February we celebrate the Chinese New Year with poems featuring original calligraphy by the renowned artist Qu Lei Lei and translations by contemporary poets.

Our February Poems also feature Love poems for Valentine’s Day and poems inviting Social and Political Change.

A new set of poems on love, music, and the coming of spring will be on London Underground trains from February 14th.

We hope tube travellers will enjoy poems by Sasha Dugdale, Derek Walcott, Grace Nichols, Martin Bell and Raymond Antrobus

We are also marking the bicentenary of the death of the Romantic poet P B Shelley with the last stanza of his Ode to the West Wind, with famous lines which speak to all of us: ‘O Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?’

The poems will be circulating on Underground and Overground trains through February and March.

New Poems on the Underground

Private Ownership by Sasha Dugdale ' I belong to you And, I am not afraid to say it, You belong to me. I am a private owner, it could be said. I will not share you with the nation – Nor collectivise you. We will indulge in dangerous dissolution And luxury and harmful intelligence And sleep in our own skins And go scented and unrepentant To the airport at the end. ' Reprinted by permission of Carcanet from Notebook (2003)
Love after Love by Derek Walcott ' The time will come when, with elation, you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror, and each will smile at the other's welcome, and say, sit here. Eat. You will love again the stranger who was your self. Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life, whom you ignored for another, who knows you by heart. Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, the photographs, the desperate notes, peel your own image from the mirror. Sit. Feast on your life.' Reprinted by permission of Faber from Collected Poems (1986)
Praise Song for My Mother by Grace Nichols 'You were water to me deep and bold and fathoming You were moon’s eye to me pull and grained and mantling You were sunrise to me rise and warm and streaming You were the fishes red gill to me the flame tree’s spread to me the crab’s leg/the fried plantain smell replenishing replenishing Go to your wide futures, you said' Reprinted by permission of Curtis Brown from I Have Crossed an Ocean: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe 2010)
The Songs by Martin Bell ' Continuous, a medley of old pop numbers – Our lives are like this. Three whistled bars Are all it takes to catch us, defenceless On a District Line platform, sullen to our jobs, And the thing stays with us all day, still dapper, still Astaire, Still fancy-free. We’re dreaming while we work. Be careful, keep afloat, the past is lapping your chin. South of the Border is sad boys in khaki In 1939. And J’attendrai a transit camp, Tents in the dirty sand. Don’t go back to Sorrento. Be brisk and face the day and set your feet On the sunny side always, the sunny side of the street ' Reprinted by permission of Bloodaxe Books from Complete Poems (1988)
Upwards (for Ty Chijioke) after Christopher Gilbert by Raymond Antrobus ' The last place the sun reaches in my garden is the back wall where the ivy grows above the stinging nettles. What are they singing to us? Is it painless to listen? Will music soothe our anxious house? Speech falls on things like rain sun shades all the feelings of having a heart. Here, take my pulse, take my breath, take my arms as I drift off ' Reprinted by permission of Picador from All the Names Given (2021)
from Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley 'Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is: What if my leaves are falling like its own! The tumult of thy mighty harmonies Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone, Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce, My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one! Drive my dead thoughts over the universe Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth! And, by the incantation of this verse, Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind! Be through my lips to unawakened Earth The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?'
February-not everywhere by Norman MacCaig (1910-96) ' Such days, when trees run downwind, their arms stretched before them. Such days, when the sun's in a drawer and the drawer locked. When the meadow is dead, is a carpet, thin and shabby, with no pattern and at bus stops people retract into collars their faces like fists. -And when, in a firelit room, a mother looks at her four seasons, at her little boy, in the centre of everything, with still pools of shadows and a fire throwing flowers. '

Chinese Poems on the Underground

Winter Travels, Bei Dao ' who's typing on the void too many stories they're twelve stones hitting the clockface twelve swans flying out of winter tongues in the night describe gleams of light blind bells cry out for someone absent entering the room you see that jester's entered winter leaving behind flame'
Vase, Yang Lian 'a word eradicates the world a feather drifts down and yet, a bird's nest in each of its fragments preserves the whole'
New Year 1933 by Lu Xun (1881 - 1936) Translated by W.J.F. Jenner, Calligraphy by Qu Lei Lei 'The general sits safe on his cloud - wrapped peak While thunderbolts slaughter the humble in their hovels. Far better to live in the International Settlement ,Where the clacking of mahjong heralds the spring .' 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,

Poems of Social and Political Change

from Sonnet on Chillon , Lord Byron ' Eternal Spirit of the chainless Mind! Brightest in dungeons, Liberty! thou art, For there thy habitation is the heart– The heart which love of thee alone can bind; And when thy sons to fetters are consign'd- To fetters, and the damp vault’s dayless gloom, Their country conquers with their martyrdom, And Freedom’s fame finds wings on every wind....'
Wind by James Fenton (b. 1949) 'This is the wind, the wind in a field of corn. Great crowds are fleeing from a major disaster Down the long valleys, the green swaying wadis, Down through the beautiful catastrophe of wind. Families, tribes, nation and their livestock Have heard something, seen something. An expectation Or a gigantic misunderstanding has swept over the hilltop Bending the ear of the hedgerow with stories of fire and sword. I saw a thousand years pass in two seconds. Land was lost, languages rose and divided. This lord went east and found safety. His brother sought Africa and a dish of aloes. Centuries, minutes later, one might ask How the hilt of a sword wandered so far from the smithy. And somewhere they will sing: 'Like chaff we were borne In the wind'. This is the wind in a field of corn.' By permission of Peters Fraser & Dunlop from The Memory of War and Children in Exile (Penguin)
From King Lear, William Shakespeare ' Poor naked wretches, wheresoe'er you are, That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm, How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides, Your loop'd and window'd raggedness, defend you From seasons such as these?'
A Dead Statesman, Rudyard Kipling 'I could not dig: I dared not rob: Therefore I lied to please the mob. Now all my lies are proved untrue And I must face the men I slew. What tale shall serve me here among Mine angry and defrauded young?'
On a General Election by Hilaire Belloc 'The accursed power which stands on Privilege (And goes with Women, and Champagne and Bridge) Broke — and Democracy resumed her reign: (Which goes with Bridge, and Women and Champagne).'
Anti-Slavery Movements. Benjamin Zephaniah 'Some people say Animal liberators are not Working in the interest of animals. But I've never seen liberated animals Protest by going back to their place Of captivity. But then again I've never heard of any liberated slaves Begging for more humiliation Or voting for slavery. Animals vote with their feet Or their wings Or their fins.

Love Poems on the Underground

Two Fragments, Sappho (7th Century B.C.) translated by Cicely Herbert Poems on the Underground 1992 ' As a gale on the mountainside bends the oak tree I am rocked by my love. Love holds me captive again and I tremble with bittersweet longing.''
David's lament for Jonathan, II Samuel 1:25-27 King James Bible, 1611 ' How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! O Jonathan, thou wast slain in thine high places. I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women. How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!'
What He Said 'Cempulappeyanirar' translated by A.K. Ramanujan ' What could my mother be to yours? What kin is my father to yours anyway? And how did you and I meet ever? But in love Our hearts have mingled like red earth and pouring rain.'
My Lefe ys Faren in a Lond, Anon. (about 1500) 'My love is faren in a land; Alas why is she so? And I am so sore bound I may not come her to. She hath my heart in hold Wherever she ride or go , With true love a thousandfold.'
The Maydens Came Anon 16th Century ' When I was in my mother's bower I had all that I would The bailey beareth the bell away The lily, the rose, the rose I lay The silver is white, red is the gold The robes they lay in fold The bailey beareth the bell away The lily, the rose, the rose I lay. And through the glass window shines the sun How should I love, and I so young? The bailey beareth the bell away The lily, the rose, the rose I lay The bailey beareth the bell away'
Fine knacks for ladies, Anon (c1600), John Dowland , the second Booke of Songs or Ayres 1600 'Fine knacks for ladies, cheap choice, brave and new, Good pennyworths but money cannot move; I keep a fair but for the fair to view, A beggar may be liberal of love, Though all my wares be trash, the heart is true. Great gifts are guiles and look for gifts again, My trifles come as treasures from my mind, It is a precious jewel to be plain, Sometimes in shell the Orient'st pearls we find, Of others take a sheaf, of me a grain. Within this pack pins, points, laces and gloves, And divers toys fitting a country fair; But in my heart where duty serves and loves, Turtles and twins, Court's brood, a heavenly pair. Happy the heart that thinks of no removes!'
African Poems on the Underground Et nous baignerons mon amie Léopold Sédar Senghor, tr. Gerard Benson we shall be bathed, my love in the presence of Africa
Let My Shadow Disappear Into Yours by Par Lagerkvist ,1891 - 1974 tr. W. H. Auden & Leif Sjöberg 'Let my shadow disappear into yours. Let me lose myself under the tall trees, that themselves lose their crowns in the twilight, surrendering themselves to the sky and the night.'
Love, Hannah Lowe ‘Mornings, we’d find salmon bagels from Brick Lane, Char siu buns and Soho flower rolls, A box of Motichoor’

You can find our poems from January 2022 here

You can find all our Poems from 2021 here