May 2021

As April showers yield to May, poets remind us that even as the seasons change, human suffering and social inequality persist over time. 

Our May poems celebrate traditional festivals,  the renewal of nature and the rebirth of love, and also the age-old questions that challenge basic assumptions about social life. 

Poets include Michelangelo and Milton, Emily Dickinson and the 18th century feminist Laetitia Pilkington as well as contemporary poets  as yet unknown to a wider public.

Poems for May Day

Cuts, Sam Riviere ' I can see that things have gotten pretty bad our way of life threatened by financiers assortments of phoneys and opportunists and very soon the things we cherish most will likely be taken from us the wine from our cellars our silk gowns and opium but tell me what do you expect Chung Ling Soo much ridiculed conjurer of the court and last of the dynasty of brooms to do about it?'
A Song Laetitia Pilkington 'Lying is an occupation, Used by all who mean to rise; Politicians owe their station, But to well concerted lies. These to lovers give assistance, To ensnare the fair-one's heart; And the virgin's best resistance Yields to this commanding art. Study this superior science, Would you rise in Church or State; Bid to Truth a bold defiance, 'Tis the practice of the great.'
Free, Merle Collins 'Born free to be caught and fashioned and shaped and freed to wander within a caged dream of tears'
Much Madness is Divinest Sense, Emily Dickinson, Much Madness is divinest Sense- To a discerning Eye- Much Sense- the starkest Madness- 'Tis the Majority In this, as All, Prevail- Assent- and you are sane- Demur- you're straightway dangerous- And handled with a Chain-''
Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers, Adrienne Rich ' Aunt Jennifer's tigers prance across a screen, Bright topaz denizens of a world of green. They do not fear the men beneath the tree; They pace in sleek chivalric certainty. Aunt Jennifer's finger fluttering through her wool Find even the ivory needle hard to pull. The massive weight of Uncle's wedding band Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer's hand. When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by. The tigers in the panel that she made Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.'
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

Poems On May Morning

Song: On May Morning, John Milton Now the bright morning star, day's harbinger, Comes dancing from the east, and leads with her The flowery May, who from her green lap throws The yellow cowslip, and the pale primrose. Hail bounteous May that dost inspire Mirth and youth and warm desire! Woods and groves are of thy dressing, Hill and dale doth boast thy blessing. Thus we salute thee with our early song, And welcome thee, and wish thee long.'
Sumer is icumen in, Anon 'Sumer is icumen in, Loud sing cuckoo! Groweth seed and bloweth mead And springeth the wood now. Sing cuckoo! Ewe bleateth after lamb, Cow loweth after calf, Bullock starteth, buck soundeth, Merry sing cuckoo! Cuckoo, cuckoo, well singest thou cuckoo, Nor cease thou never now! Sing cuckoo now, sing cuckoo! Sing cuckoo, sing cuckoo now! '
La forza d'un bel viso a che mi sprona?, Michelangelo, ' Beauty is impelled to find a face To dwell in: there, delight is such that I Seek nothing more; I would scour the sky To share with the elect this living grace. The works of their Creator bear his sign, So if my soul burns fiercely with love Of all fair shapes, then judgement from above Must hold me guiltless: beauty is divine. '
Silver, Walter de la Mare ' Slowly, silently, now the moon Walks the night in her silver shoon; This way, and that, she peers, and sees Silver fruit upon silver trees; One by one the casements catch Her beams beneath the silvery thatch; Couched in his kennel, like a log, With paws of silver sleeps the dog; From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep; A harvest mouse goes scampering by, With silver claws, and a silver eye; And moveless fish in the water gleam, By silver reeds in a silver stream.'
Happiness, Stephen Dunn ' A state you must dare not enter with hopes of staying, quicksand in the marshes, and all the roads leading to a castle that doesn't exist. But there it is, as promised, with its perfect bridge above the crocodiles, and its doors forever open.'
Cuckoo, Fujiwara no Toshinari ‘Has it flown away, The cuckoo that called Waking me at midnight?’
Small Brown Job, Gwyneth Lewis ‘May you be led on all your walks By an unidentified bird Flitting ahead, at least one branch, The tease, between you And it. Is that an eyeStripe? Epaulette? Your desire For a name grows stronger.’
Swallows, Owen Sheers 'The Swallows are italic again, cutting their sky-jive between the telephone wires, flying in crossed lines.'

Poems of Time and Memory

My Father, Yehuda Amichai 'The memory of my father is wrapped up in white paper, like sandwiches taken for a day at work. Just as a magician takes towers and rabbits out of his hat, he drew love from his small body, and the rivers of his hands overflowed with good deeds.'
Diary by Katrina Naomi 'Her diary the way the words hurry intoeachother and then apart- as the days and her body lost out I took the diary from her bedside did nothing else no sorting of clothes touched nothing of hers save the diary, reading how she wrote across days and off the edge of the page'
Spring and Fall, G. M. Hopkins 'Margaret, are you grieving Over Goldengrove unleaving? Leaves, like the things of man, you With your fresh thoughts care for , can you?'
To- P.B. Shelley 'Music, when soft voices die, Vibrates in the memory – Odours, when sweet violets sicken, Live within the sense they quicken. Rose leaves, when the rose is dead, Are heaped for the beloved’s bed; And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone, Love itself shall slumber on.'
I shall say what inordinate love is, Anon. (15th Century) ' I shall say what inordinate love is: The furiosity and wodness of mind, An instinguible burning, faulting bliss, A great hunger, insatiate to find, A dulcet ill, an evil sweetness blind, A right wonderful sugared sweet error, Without labout rest, contrary to kind, Or without quiet, to have huge labour. '
Our Meetings, Andrew Waterman ‘As in the Underground there’s no mistaking the train’s approach, it pushes air ahead, whirls paper, the line sings, a sort-of dread suffusing longing and my platform shaking – so it is before our every meeting, till you arrive. Hear how my heart is beating! ‘
From Labour Ward, Anna T. Szabo 'Oh child, you dead weight, you hot iron, you stone, come forth now, I beg you, creep out on your own. You stretch me apart, I am stretching you too. Slither out now, my faceless one, you!'
Modern Secrets, Shirley Lim 'Last night I dreamt in Chinese. Eating Yankee shredded wheat I said it in English To a friend who answered In monosyllables: All of which I understood. The dream shrank to its fiction. I had understood its end Many years ago. The sallow child Ate rice from its ricebowl And hides still in the cupboard With the china and tea-leaves.'

London Poems on the Underground

The London Eye, Patience Agbabi 'Through my gold-tinted Gucci sunglasses, the sightseers. Big Ben's quarter chime strikes the convoy of number 12 buses that bleeds into the city's monochrome. Through somebody's zoom lens, me shouting to you, "Hello...on...bridge...'minster!' The aerial view postcard, the man writing squat words like black cabs in rush hour. The South Bank buzzes with a rising treble. You kiss my cheek, formal as a blind date. We enter Cupid's Capsule, a thought bubble where I think, 'Space age!', you think 'She was late.' Big Ben strikes six, my SKIN. Beat blinks, replies 18.02. We're moving anti-clockwise.'
City, John Betjeman ‘When the great bell BOOMS over the Portland stone urn, and From the carved cedar wood Rises the odour of incense,’
The Cries of London 'here's fine rosemary, sage and thyme. Come buy my ground ivy. here's fetherfew, gilliflowers and rue.'
London Bells. Anon ' Two Sticks & an Apple, Ring ye Bells at Whitechapple Old Father Bald Pate, Ring ye Bells Aldgate, Maids in white Aprons, Ring ye Bells a St. Cathrines, Oranges and Lemmons, Ring ye Bells at St. Clemens, When will you pay me, Ring ye Bells at ye Old Bailey, When I am Rich, Ring ye Bells at Fleetditch, When will that be, Ring ye Bells at Stepney, When I am Old, Ring ye great Bell at Pauls.'
London Fields, Michael Rosen ‘Evening falls between the trees The drumming for Ghana fills the leaves’

Poems displayed in April 2021 can be found on our April Poems page