March 2023

We mark the 160th anniversary of London Underground with a new spring set of Poems on the Underground. Look out for the posters on London Underground and Overground trains throughout March.

This Month we feature our new set of Spring Poems on the Underground with poems by Shakespeare, Chaucer, İlhan Sami Çomak, John Glenday, Diana Anphimiadi and Kayo Chingonyi .

New Spring Poems on the Underground

Londoners will be greeted by a favourite Shakespearean heroine, Perdita, as she welcomes the flowers of spring: from The Winter’s Tale. by William Shakespeare

from The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare 'Perdita: Now, my fairest friend, I would I had some flowers of the spring, that might Become your time of day . . . Daffodils, That come before the swallow dares, and take The winds of March with beauty; violets, dim, But sweeter than the lids of Juno’s eyes; . . . pale primroses, That die unmarried ere they can behold Bright Phoebus in his strength . . . bold oxlips and The crown imperial; lilies of all kinds, The fleur-de-lis being one. O, these I lack To make you garlands of, and my sweet friend, To strew him o’er and o’er! '

Chaucer appears alongside Shakespeare in his ballad Truth – as relevant today as it was in the 14th century.

Truth by Geoffrey Chaucer ' Flee from the press and dwell with truthfulness; Let what you have suffice though it be small. For greed brings hate and climbing trickiness; Fame means envy and wiles blind us all. Enjoy no more than what is right for thee. Rule yourself well if you would others rule, And sure it is that truth shall set you free. Fle fro the prees, & dwelle with sothefastnesse. Suffyce thin owen thing though it be smal. For horde hath hate & clymbyng tykelnesse – Press hath envye & wile blent overal. Savour no more thanne thee bihove schal. Reule wel thyselfe that other folk canst rede, And trouthe shal delyvere it is no drede. British Library MS 10340 by permission of The British Library Board

Four poets new to the tube are also featured, in poems of love, separation and exile

What I know of the sea by İlhan Sami Çomak ,a Kurdish poet writing from a Turkish prison, where he has been held for 29 years. The poems are translated by Caroline Stockford.

What I know of the sea by İlhan Sami Çomak translated by Caroline Stockford ' Rains wander your face, the gentleness of dew is in your voice. Let each and every spring be yours! May all mountains tire and arrive here! Here at the place where stars have spilled you where waters flow; the place where you say Curl up on my lap and let birds take flight In the place where we collected questions such as ‘what was before words?’ What I know of love is so little! Yet I’m constantly thinking of you!' Reprinted by permission of Smokestack Books from Separated from the Sun (2022)

Bond by Diana Anphimiadi, a Georgian poet of Greek ancestry, translated by Natalia Bukia-Peters and Jean Sprackland

Bond by Diana Anphimiadi translated by Natalia Bukia-Peters and Jean Sprackland ' The honey heather has dried up in my voice, the lullaby ivy in my throat. When I leave, your words follow – you are mine! You know I’ll always come back. I watch the migrating birds - their sign in the sky – and think of the old proverb: go, and your homeland goes with you; return, and it’s lost forever. I leave, and the house is empty without you. I switch off the golden fish as I go though I’d rather keep them flickering – on the ceiling, in the deep sea – for your return' Reprinted by permission of Bloodaxe Books from Why I No Longer Write Poems (2022)

For My Wife, Reading in Bed by the Scottish poet John Glenday

For My Wife, Reading in Bed by John Glenday ' I know we’re living through all the dark we can afford. Thank goodness, then, for this moment’s light and you, holding the night at bay—a hint of frown, those focussed hands, that open book. I’ll match your inward quiet, breath for breath. What else do we have but words and their absences to bind and unfasten the knotwork of the heart; to remind us how mutual and alone we are, how tiny and significant? Whatever it is you are reading now my love, read on. Our lives depend on it.' John Glenday Reprinted by permission of Picador from Selected Poems (2020)

 Clearance by the Zambian-born British poet Kayo Chingonyi

Clearance by Kayo Chingonyi ' Your worldly possessions are gathering dust in a storage unit off Goodmayes High Road. No one will take the dressing table. What need have we for these ornaments, old textbooks, the wedding dress you never wore?' Kayo Chingonyi Reprinted by permission of Chatto & Windus from A Blood Condition (2021)

We welcome the start of Spring with a selection of Welsh poems, Irish Poems and Spring Poems on the Underground. 

Welsh Poems on the Underground

From Fern Hill, Dylan Thomas ‘Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,’
Taid's Grave, Gillian Clarke 'Rain on lilac leaves. In the dusk they show me the grave, a casket of stars underfoot, his name there, and his language. Voice of thrushes in rain, My cousin Gwynfor eases me into the green cave, Wet hands of lilac tough my wrist and the secret unfreckled underside of my arm daring fingers to count five warm blue eggs.'
Skirrid Fawr, Owen Sheers ' Just like the farmers who once came to scoop handfuls of soil from her holy scar, so am I still drawn to her back for the answers to every question I have never known.'
The Ancients of the World, R. S. Thomas 'The salmon lying in the depths of Llyn Llifon Secretly as a thought in a dark mind, Is not so old as the owl of Cwm Cowlyd Who tells her sorrow nightly on the wind. The ousel singing in the woods of Cilgwri, Tirelessly as a stream over the mossed stones, Is not so old as the toad of Cors Fochno Who feels the cold skin sagging round his bones. The toad and the ousel and the stag of Rhedynfre, That has cropped each leaf from the tree of life, Are not so old as the owl of Cwm Cowlyd, That the proud eagle would have to wife.'
Mysteries by Dannie Abse, Poems on the Underground 1994 ‘At night, I do not know who I am when I dream, when I am sleeping. Awakened, I hold my breath and listen: a thumbnail scratches the other side of the wall. At midday, I enter a sunlit room to observe the lamplight on for no reason. I should know by now that few octaves can be heard, that a vision dies from being too long stared at; that the whole of recorded history even is but a little gossip in a great silence; that a magnesium flash cannot illumine, for one single moment, the invisible. I do not complain. I start with the visible and am startled by the visible.'’

Irish Poems on the Underground

The Sunburst by Michael Longley (b.1939) ' Her first memory is of light all around her As she sits among pillows on a patchwork quilt Made out of uniforms, coat linings, petticoats, Waistcoats, flannel shirts, ball gowns, by Mother Or Grandmother, twenty stitches to very inch, A flawless version of World without End or Cathedral Window or a diamond pattern That radiates from the smallest grey square Until the sunburst fades into the calico. 'Michal Longley (b.1939) Reprinted by permission of Random House from The Weather in Japan (Cape 2000) Poems on the Underground
The Rescue by Seamus Heaney (b.1939) ' In drifts of sleep I came upon you Buried to your waist in snow. You reached your arms out : I came to Like water in a dream of thaw.'
Memory of my Father, Patrick Kavanagh 'Every old man I see Reminds me of my father When he had fallen in love with death One time when sheaves were gathered.'

Spring Poems on the Underground

From March ’79, Tomas Tranströmer, tr. John F. Deane 'Tired of all who come with words, words but no language I went to the snow-covered island'
N.W.2: Spring by A.C. Jacobs (1927-1994) 'The poets never lied when they praised Spring in England. Even in this neat suburb You can feel there's something to their pastorals. Something gentle, broadly nostalgic, is stirring On the well-aired pavements. Indrawn brick Sighs, and you notice the sudden sharpness Of things growing. The sun lightens The significance of what the houses Are stepped in, brightens out Their winter brooding. Early May Touches also the cold diasporas That England hardly mentions. '
IDYLL by U.A. Fanthorpe (b. 1929) ' Not knowing even that we're on the way, Until suddenly we're there. How shall we know? There will be blackbirds, in a late March evening Blur of woodsmoke, whisky in grand glasses, A poem of yours, waiting to be read; and one of mine; A reflective bitch, a cat materialised On a knee. All fears of present and future Will be over, all guilts forgiven. Maybe, heaven. Or maybe We can get so far in this world. I'll believe we can. '
Cargoes by John Masefield 'Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir, Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine, With a cargo of ivory, And apes and peacocks, Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine. Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus, Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores, With a cargo of diamonds, Emeralds, amethysts, Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores. Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack, Butting through the Channel in the mad March days, With a cargo of Tyne coal, Road-rails, pig-lead, Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.'
Seed by Paula Meehan 'The first warm day of spring and I step out into the garden from the gloom of a house where hope had died to tally the storm damage, to seek what may have survived. And finding some forgotten lupins I’d sown from seed last autumn holding in their fingers a raindrop each like a peace offering, or a promise, I am suddenly grateful and would offer a prayer if I believed in God. But not believing, I bless the power of seed, its casual, useful persistence, and bless the power of sun, its conspiracy with the underground, and thank my stars the winter’s ended.'

Seed read by Paula Meehan

Greenwich Park by Herbert Lomas 'Spring's come, a little late, in the park: a tree-rat smokes flat S's over the lawn. A mallard has somehow forgotten something it can't quite remember. Daffodils yawn, prick their ears, push their muzzles out for a kiss. Pansies spoof pensive Priapus faces: Socrates of Verlaine. A cock-pigeon is sexually harassing a hen: pecking and poking and padding behind her impertinently, bowing and mowing. But when he's suddenly absent-minded- can't keep even sex in his head- she trembles, stops her gadding, doubts and grazes his way. He remembers and pouts.'
A Glass of Water, May Sarton 'Here is a glass of water from my well. It tastes of rock and root and earth and rain; It is the best I have, my only spell, And it is cold, and better than champagne. Perhaps someone will pass this house one day To drink, and be restored, and go his way, Someone in dark confusion as I was When I drank down cold water in a glass, Drank a transparent health to keep me sane, After the bitter mood had gone again.'
Dew, Kwame Dawes ' This morning I took the dew from the broad leaf of the breadfruit tree, and washed the sleep from my eyes.
The Lake Isle of Innisfree by W.B.Yeats 'I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made; Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee, And live alone in the bee-loud glade. And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings; There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow, And evening full of the linnet’s wings. I will arise and go now, for always night and day I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey, I hear it in the deep heart’s core.'
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 weather's cast its cloak of grey by Charles D'Orleans translation Oliver Bernard ' Le temps a laissié son manteau Le temps a laissié son manteau De vent, de froidure et de pluye, Et s’est vêstu de brouderie, De soleil luyant, cler et beau. Il n’y a bêste, ni oyseau Qu’en son jargon ne chante ou crie : Le temps a laissié son manteau. Rivière, fontaine et ruisseau Portent, en livrée jolie, Gouttes d’argent d’orfavrerie, Chascun s’abille de nouveau : Le temps a laissié son manteau. The weather's cast its cloak of grey Woven of wind and cold and rain, And wears embroidered clothes again Of clear sunshine, in fair array. No beast, no bird, but in its way Cries out or sings in wood and plain: The weather's cast its cloak of grey Woven of wind and cold and rain. River and spring and brook this day Wear handsome liveries that feign More silver stars than Charles's Wain, Mingled with drops of golden spray. The weather's cast its cloak of grey.'
The Gateway , A.D. Hope ' Now the heart sings with all its thousand voices To hear this city of cells, my body, sing. The tree through the stiff clay at long last forces Its thin strong roots and taps the secret spring. And the sweet waters without intermission Climb to the tips of its green tenement; The breasts have borne the grace of their possession, The lips have felt the pressure of content. Here I come home: in this expected country They know my name and speak it with delight. I am the dream and you my gates of entry, The means by which I waken into light'

You can see our poems from February 2023 here