This Month’s Poems

New Poems on the Underground Summer 2021

As we mark 35 years of Poems on the Underground, we are delighted to offer tube travellers a summer set of poems by an international range of poets.

These poems can be found on London Underground cars throughout July.  

Remembering Summer by the American poet W.S. Merwin, from Garden Time (Bloodaxe Books 2016)

Her Glasses by Pascale Petit, who is of French/Welsh/Indian heritage. Reprinted by permission of Bloodaxe Books from Tiger Girl (2020)

In the Bright Sleeve of the Sky from Deaf Republic (Faber 2019) by Ilya Kaminsky, who lost his hearing at the age of four – born in the Ukraine, emigrated with his family to America.

Consider the Grass Growing by the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh. Reprinted from Collected Poems edited by Antoinette Quinn (Allen Lane, 2004) by kind permission of the Trustees of the Estate of the late Katherine B. Kavanagh, through the Jonathan Williams Literary Agency.

An epigram from the Greek Anthology by Anyte of Tegea, translated by David Constantine (‘Midsummer in the leaves there’s a murmuring breath of air’)

Black Ink by the Iraqui poet Fawzi Karim, from Incomprehensible Lesson (Carcanet 2019)

Remembering Summer, W.S. Merwin ‘Being too warm the old lady said to me is better than being too cold I think now in between is the best because you never give it a thought but it goes by too fast I remember the winter how cold it got I could never get warm wherever I was but I don’t remember the summer heat like that only the long days the breathing of the trees the evenings with the hens still talking in the lane and the light getting longer in the valley the sound of a bell from down there somewhere I can sit here now still listening to it’
Her Glasses, Pascale Petit ‘My grandmother’s glasses are a greenhouse behind which luxurious flowers grow, species I will never name, or find again. Her last glance back at her childhood jungle trembles there, watered by monsoons but I have never seen her cry. She closed the glass doors as I said goodbye. She waved at me as the taxi drove me away – her blinds came down against my fierce rays.’
In the Bright Sleeve of the Sky, Ilya Kaminsky ‘Is that you, little soul? Sometimes at night I light a lamp so as not to see. I tiptoe, Anushka drowsing in my palms: on my balding head, her bonnet.’
Consider the Grass Growing , Patrick Kavanagh ‘Consider the grass growing As it grew last year and the year before, Cool about the ankles like summer rivers, When we walked on a May evening through the meadows To watch the mare that was going to foal.’
from The Greek Anthology, Anyte of Tegea trans. David Constantine ‘Midsummer in the leaves there’s a murmuring breath of air. Among the roots a cold spring bubbles through. Wayfarer, weary to death, here is kindness to spare. Earthly, heavenly, as the tree lives, so may you.’
Black Ink, Fawzi Karim, in a version by Anthony Howell ‘The darkness of this night is greater Than the power of a sultan. Ink from my books, shelf upon shelf of them, Pours down the curtains. Every book is an overturned inkwell. Patience, I say. Day will dawn, And the colours will spill everywhere. Snatching up the brush, I try to paint the walls green, The curtains rosy pink, But now the waves come washing in: Blue – with light’s sporadic wink.’

Celebrating 35 Years of Poems on the Underground

ROUNDEL from THE PARLIAMENT OF FOWLS Geoffrey Chaucer (1340?-1400) Manuscript reproduced by permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library 'Now welcome Summer with thy sunne soft, That hast these winter's weathers overshake And driven away the longe nightes black. Saint Valentine, that art full high aloft, Thus singen smalle fowles for thy sake, Now welcome Summer with thy sunne soft, That hast these winter's weathers overshake. Well have they cause for to gladden oft, Since each of them recovered hath his make; Full blissful may they singe when they wake, Now welcome Summer with thy sunne soft, That hast these winter's weathers overshake And driven away the longe nightes black. '

We continue our celebration with Poems from our first three years 1986-1988

1986 Poster designs provided courtesy of Faber & Faber Publishers

Her Anxiety , W.B. Yeats 'Earth in beauty dressed Awaits returning spring. All true love must die, Alter at the best Into some lesser thing. Prove that I lie. Such body lovers have, Such exacting breath, That they touch or sigh. Every touch they give, Love is nearer death. Prove that I lie.'
The Trees , Philip Larkin 'The trees are coming into leaf Like something almost being said; The recent buds relax and spread, Their greenness is a kind of grief. Is it that they are born again And we grow old? No, they die too. Their yearly trick of looking new Is written down in rings of grain. Yet still the unresting castles thresh In fullgrown thickness every May. Last year is dead, they seem to say, Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.'
Rainforest, Judith Wright 'The forest drips and glows with green. The tree-frog croaks his far off song. His voice is stillness, moss and rain drunk from the forest ages long.'
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'
Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802 ,William Wordsworth 1986 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!'
Everyone Sang, Siegfried Sassoon 'Everyone suddenly burst out singing; And I was filled with such delight As prisoned birds must find in freedom, Winging wildly across the white Orchards and dark-green fields; on - on - and out of sight. Everyone's voice was suddenly lifted; And beauty came like the setting sun: My heart was shaken with tears; and horror Drifted away ... O, but Everyone Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.'

1987 Poster designs provided courtesy of Faber & Faber Publishers

Holy Sonnet, John Donne 'Death be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow Die not, poor death, nor canst thou kill me'
Alas, Alack! Walter de la Mare ' Ann, Ann! Come! quick as you can! There's a fish that talks In the frying-pan.'
I am Becoming My Mother, Lorna Goodison Poems on the Underground Poster 1987 'I Am Becoming My Mother Yellow/brown woman fingers smelling always of onions My mother raises rare blooms and waters them with tea her birth waters sang like rivers my mother is now me My mother had a linen dress the colour of the sky and stored lace and damask tablecloths to pull shame out of her eye. I am becoming my mother brown/yellow woman fingers smelling always of onions.'

January 1988 Posters designed by the London College of Printing

Ariel's Song (from The Tempest), William Shakespeare Poems on the Underground Poster 1988 'Full fathom five thy father lies, Of his bones are coral made: Those are pearls that were his eyes, Nothing of him that doth fade, But doth suffer a sea-change Into something rich, and strange: Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell- Hark! now I hear them, Ding-dong, bell.'
Meeting at Night, Robert Browning Poems on the Underground 1988 Poster 'The grey sea and the long black land; And the yellow half-moon large and low; And the startled little waves that leap In fiery ringlets from their sleep, As I gain the cove with pushing prow, And quench its speed i' the slushy sand. Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach; Three fields to cross till a farm appears; A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch And blue spurt of a lighted match, And a voice less loud, thro' its joys and fears, Than the two hearts beating each to each!'
Prelude 1, T.S. Eliot '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.'
London Airport, Christopher Logue 'Last night in London Airport I saw a wooden bin labelled UNWANTED LITERATURE IS TO BE PLACED HEREIN. So I wrote a poem and popped it in.'
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.'

July 1988 Posters designed by the London College of Printing

Oscar Wilde, Symphony in Yellow An omnibus across the bridge Crawls like a yellow butterfly, And, here and there, a passer-by Shows like a little restless midge. Big barges full of yellow hay Are moored against the shadowy wharf, And, like a yellow silken scarf, The thick fog hangs along the quay. The yellow leaves begin to fade And flutter from the Temple elms, And at my feet the pale green Thames Lies like a rod of rippled jade.'
W.H. Auden, Song ' Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone, Silence the pianos and with muffled drum Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead, Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves, Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves. He was my North, my South, my East and West, My working week and my Sunday rest, My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song; I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong. The stars are not wanted now: put out every one; Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun; Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood; For nothing now can ever come to any good.'
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.'
Day Trip, Carole Satymurti ' Two women, seventies, hold hands on the edge of Essex, hair in strong nets, shrieked laughter echoing gulls as shingle sucks from under feet easing in brine.'

Celebrating 35 Years of Poems on the Underground

A selection of our Poems 1991- 1996 Posters designed by Tom Davidson, who has been our designer for 30 years.

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.'
X J Kennedy, To Someone Who Insisted I Look Up Someone I rang them up while touring Timbuctoo, Those bosom chums to whom you're known as 'Who?'
Milton Kessler, Thanks Forever ' Look at those empty ships floating north between south-running ice like big tulips in the Narrows under the Verrazano toward the city harbour.'
A True and Faithful Inventory of the Goods Belonging to Dr Swift, Thomas Sheridan 'An Oaken, broken, Elbow-chair; A Cawdle-cup, without an Ear; A batter'd, shatter'd Ash Bedstead; A Box of Deal, without a Lid; A Pair of Tongs, but out of Joint; A Back-sword Poker, without Point; A Pot that's crack'd across, around, With an old knotted Garter bound; An Iron Lock, without a Key; A Wig, with hanging, quite grown grey; A Curtain worn to Half a Stripe; A Pair of Bellows, without Pipe; A Dish, which might good Meat afford once; An Ovid, and an old Concordance; A Bottle Bottom, Wooden Platter, One is for Meal, and one for Water: There likewise is a Copper Skillet, Which runs as fast out as you fill it; A Candlestick, Snuff dish, and Save-all, And thus his Household Goods you have all...'
Gavin Ewart , A 14 year old Convalescent Cat in the Winter ' 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-'
Connie Bensley, Shopper I am spending my way out of a recession. The road chokes on delivery vans. I used to be Just Looking Round, I used to be How Much, and Have You Got It In Beige. Now I devour whole stores— high speed spin; giant size; chunky gold; de luxe springing. Things. I drag them around me into a stockade. It is dark inside; but my credit cards are incandescent.'

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can find all of the poems displayed on our website in 2020 here