January 2022

On a cold January morning in 1986, Poems on the Underground went live on 4,000 London Underground cars.  As we celebrate 35 years of tube poems, we welcome the New Year with some favourite poems from past and recent displays. 

We mark Burns night with  poems by Burns and three  contemporary Scottish poets. We follow this with poems on winter themes, all in their original poster designs, with poets ranging from John Gay on ‘The Great Frost’ of 1709 to Gavin Ewart on the last winter of his 14-year-old cat.

We end this month’s selection with poems by Young Poets, our best hope for the future.


Poems for the New Year

Promise by Jackie Kay: Remember, the time of year when the future appears like a blank sheet of paper a clean calendar, a new chance. On thick white snow you vow fresh footprints then watch them go with the wind’s hearty gust. Fill your glass. Here’s tae us. Promises made to be broken, made to last.'
Time to be slow, John O’Donohue ‘This is the time to be slow, Lie low to the wall Until the bitter weather passes’
Note,  Leanne O’Sullivan If we become separated from each other this evening try to remember the last time you saw me and go back and wait for me there.

I Sing of Change Niyi Osundare I sing of the beauty of Athens without its slaves Of a world free of kings and queens and other remnants of an arbitrary past
Benediction, James Berry 'Thanks to the ear that someone may hear Thanks to seeing that someone may see Thanks to feeling that someone may feel Thanks to touch that one may be touched Thanks to flowering of white moon and spreading shawl of black night holding villages and cities together'
Lines from Endymion, John Keats 1987 Poems on the Underground poster '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.'
Western Wind, Anon, before 1500 ' Western wind when wilt thou blow the small rain down can rain Christ If my love were in my arms and I in my bed again'

Poems Celebrating Burns Night

Up in the Morning Early ,Robert Burns 'Cauld blaws the wind frae east to west, The drift is driving sairly; Sae loud and shrill's I hear the blast, I'm sure it's winter fairly.'

A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns Poems on the Underground 1992 poster 'O my Luve's like a red, red rose, That’s newly sprung in June; O my Luve's like the melodie That’s sweetly play'd in tune. As fair art thou, my bonnie lass, So deep in luve am I; And I will love thee still, my Dear, Till a’ the seas gang dry. Till a’ the seas gang dry, my Dear, And the rocks melt wi’ the sun: O I will love thee still, my Dear, While the sands o’ life shall run. And fare thee weel, my only Luve! And fare thee weel, a while! And I will come again, my Luve, Tho' it were ten thousand mile!'
Auld Lang Syne by Robert Burns 'Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to min'? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And days o' auld lang syne? We twa hae run about the braes, And pu'd the gowans fine; But we've wander'd mony a weary foot Sin' auld lang syne. We twa hae paidl't i' the burn, From mornin sun till dine; But seas between us braid hae roar'd Sin' auld lang syne. Chorus: For auld lang syne, my dear, For auld lang syne, We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet For auld lang syne.'
Web by Don Paterson 'The deftest leave no trace: type, send, delete, clear history. The world will never know. Though a man might wonder, as he crossed the street what it was that broke across his brow or vanished on his tongue and left it sweet.'
The Creel by Kathleen Jamie 'The world began with a woman, shawl-happed, stooped under a creel, whose slow step you recognize from troubled dreams. You feel obliged to help bear her burden from hill or kelp-strewn shore, but she passes by unseeing thirled to her private chore. It's not sea birds or peat she's carrying, not fleece, nor the herring bright but her fear that if ever she put it down the world would go out like a light.'
Content by Kate Clanchy 'Like walking in fog, in fog and mud, do you remember, love? We kept ,for once, to the tourist path, boxed in mist, conscious of just our feet and breath, and at the peak, sat hand in hand, and let the cliffs we'd climbed and cliffs to come reveal themselves and be veiled again quietly, with the prevailing wind.'
The Twa Corbies , Anon 'As I was walking all alane, I heard twa corbies making a mane; The tane unto the tither say, ‘Whar sall we gang and dine the day?’ ‘In behint yon auld fail dyke, I wot there lies a new-slain knight; And naebody kens that he lies there, But his hawk, his hound, and his lady fair. ‘His hound is to the hunting gane, His hawk, to fetch the wild-fowl hame, His lady’s ta’en another mate, So we may mak our dinner sweet. ‘Ye’ll sit on his white hause-bane, And I’ll pike out his bonny blue een: Wi’ ae lock o’ his gowden hair We’ll theek our nest when it grows bare. ‘Mony a one for him maks mane, But nane sall ken whar he is gane; O’er his white banes, when they are bare, The wind sall blaw for evermair.’

Winter Poems 1

Now winter nights enlarge by Thomas Campion 'Now winter nights enlarge The number of their hours, And clouds their storms discharge Upon the airy towers. Let now the chimneys blaze And cups o’erflow with wine: Let well-tun'd words amaze With harmony divine. Now yellow waxen lights Shall wait on honey Love, While youthful Revels, Masks, and Courtly sights, Sleep’s leaden spells remove. This time doth well dispense With lovers’ long discourse; Much speech hath some defence, Though beauty no remorse. All do not all things well; Some measures comely tread; Some knotted Riddles tell; Some Poems smoothly read. The summer hath his joys, And Winter his delights; Though love and all his pleasures are but toys, They shorten tedious nights.'
Gavin Ewart , A 14 year old Convalescent Cat in the Winter Poems on the Underground 1995 ' 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- I want him to lie stretched out, contented, revelling in the heat, his fur all dry and warm, an Old Age Pensioner, retired, resented by no one, and happinesses in a beelike swarm to settle on him – postponed for another season that last fated hateful journey to the vet from which there is no return (and age the reason), which must come soon – as I cannot forget''
John Clare (1793-1864), Emmonsails Heath in Winter 'I love to see the old heath's withered brake Mingle its crimpled leaves with furze and ling While the old heron from the lonely lake Starts slow and flaps his melancholly wing, And oddling crow in idle motion swing On the half-rotten ash tree's topmost twig, Beside whose trunk the gipsy makes his bed . Up flies the bouncing woodcock from the brig Where a black quagmire quakes beneath the tread, The fieldfare chatter in the whistling thorn And for the haw round fields and closen rove, And coy bumbarrels twenty in a drove Flit down the hedge rows in the frozen plain And hang on little twigs and start again.'
Fenland Station in Winter by Katherine Pierpoint 'The railway station in winter lies wide open on three sides; A waiting mousetrap. No creatures out in the hard fields, The desert of blue-lipped ice. The tracks tweeze the last thin train away, Wipe it on the rim, and lose it. The sky is bent so low now, the wind is horizontal. It whittles the sky's undersurface to the pith, Paring away a grey unwinding peel of snow. A mean, needling flake rides the flat wind, Picking the empty teeth of the trees, Then falling, frantic, to gnaw at the setting earth, Clinging there like a starving mouse's claws in velvet.'
Piano , D.H. Lawrence 1989 poster 'Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me; Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings. In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide. So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.'
Prelude 1, T.S. Eliot Poems on the Underground 1992 'The winter evening settles down With smell of steaks in passageways. Six o’clock. The burnt-out ends of smoky days. And now a gusty shower wraps The grimy scraps Of withered leaves about your feet And newspapers from vacant lots; The showers beat On broken blinds and chimney-pots, And at the corner of the street A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps. And then the lighting of the lamps.'
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.'

Winter Poems 2

The Great Frost by John Gay 'O Roving Muse, recall that wondrous year, When winter reigned in bleak Britannia's air; When hoary Thames, with frosted osiers crowned, Was three long moons in icy fetters bound. The waterman, forlorn along the shore, Pensive reclines upon his useless oar, Sees harnessed steeds desert the stony town, And wander roads unstable, not their own; Wheels o'er the hardened waters smoothly glide, And rase with whitened tracks the slippery tide. Here the fat cook piles high the blazing fire, And scarce the spit can turn the steer entire. Booths sudden hide the Thames, long streets appear, And numerous games proclaim the crowded fair.'
From Frost at Midnight by Samuel Taylor Coleridge 'The Frost performs its secret ministry, Unhelped by any wind. The owlet`s cry Came loud - and hark, again! loud as before. The inmates of my cottage, all at rest, Have left me to that solitude, which suits Abtruser musings: save that at my side My cradled infant slumbers peacefully. `Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs And vexes meditation with its strange And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood, This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood, With all the numberless goings-on of life, Inaudible as dreams.'
Snow by Louis MacNeice 'The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was Spawning snow and pink roses against it Soundlessly collateral and incompatible: World is suddener than we fancy it. World is crazier and more of it than we think, Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion A tangerine and spit the pips and feel The drunkenness of things being various. And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes - On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one's hands -There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.'
Snow, Edward Thomas ' In the gloom of whiteness, In the great silence of snow, A child was sighing and bitterly saying: Oh, They have killed a white bird up there on her nest,'
Season Song, Anon tr. Flann O Brien ' Here's a song- stags give tongue winter snows summer goes. High cold blow sun is low brief his day seas give spray.'
from The Borough, George Crabbe ‘High o’er the restless Deep, above the reach Of Gunner’s hope, vast flights of Wild-ducks stretch;’

Young poets on the Underground

The flags Matthew Paskins Award Winner - Simon Elvin Young Poets of the Year, Young Poets on the Underground ' Ships reflected on the waves are flags of countries yet unknown whose borders are identified by sunlight on the pavingstone. Unfurl the flag. Go on. Unfurl the bridge bands on the river-skin the battle-ships and towers in the melted pearl maybe a story, as well that skims the water's upper-edge, the walk beside the silver-dance when the light is on the Thames.'
Pigeon Patterns by L.E. Harris ' On the steps they are building a life out of crumbs, Little piles of our discarded food turned to monuments. Around the Starbucks morning stall, with its electric hums, They gather us up, to herd us in some absurd grey waltz. They seem so trite, so decadent, Clutched like aristocrats with one good, faded coat Scrounging beneath banks and out-door restaurants. We raise a shoe to feather the air. Dust particles, like dollars float. When you think about it, maybe we would do better To make a ceremony out of ordinary acts, to tap everyday trails. Catching the trains would be much more exciting if we all spread Our smiles as pigeons wave their ice-cream wafer tails. Those pointless bills.'
Rhapsody by Ben Ziman-Bright ' Sat in the cheap seats Of Symphony Hall, squinting As the instruments tuned up I could pick out only you: Fourth row back and clutching Your viola, bright hair spilt Across the strings. You were Deep in a flurry of pages With bitten lip, too Intent on forcing that Melody right to the cheap seats To notice me up there, ears straining To block out any sound but yours.'

You can find all our Poems from 2021 here