November 2021

A new set of poems will be circling London Underground trains throughout November.

As the year draws to a close, poems by the Scottish makar Jackie Kay and the distinguished Jamaican poet Linton Kwesi Johnson celebrate the enduring value of our closest human relationships. And well-loved poems by Keats and Hopkins, alongside new poems by Laurel Prizewinners Seán Hewitt and Sean Borodale, remind us of the glory and fragility of the natural world.

This month’s poems also includes a selection of War poems to mark Armistice Day, followed by poems for Peace, ending with the Music of the Natural World.

New poems for November 2021

from Inversnaid by Gerard Manley Hopkins ' What would the world be, once bereft Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left, O let them be left, wildness and wet; Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.'
from To Autumn by John Keats ' Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they? Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,— While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue; Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn Among the river sallows, borne aloft Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies; And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn; Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft; And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.'
from Beacon of Hope (for John La Rose) by Linton Kwesi Johnson ' welcome nocturnal friend I name you beacon of hope tonight fear fades to oblivion as you guide us beyond the stars to a new horizon tomorrow a stranger will enter my hut my cave my cool cavern of gloom I will give him bread he will bring good news from afar I will give him water he will bring a gift of light'
Leaf , Seán Hewitt from Tongues of Fire 'For woods are forms of grief grown from the earth. For they creak with the weight of it. For each tree is an altar to time. For the oak, whose every knot guards a hushed cymbal of water. For how the silver water holds the heavens in its eye. For the axletree of heaven and the sleeping coil of wind and the moon keeping watch. For how each leaf traps light as it falls. For even in the nighttime of life it is worth living, just to hold it.'
Hot Bright Visionary Flies by Sean Borodale 'The hot lozenge lifts. Up-risings; downfalls. A ticking beyond sound. A red square of falling sun. A mass breathing, beating. A sky, studded with stones fraught with cut light. An abolished mechanics at dewdrop scale: onyx, topaz, opal. Each a dull pulsing. One day, it will stop: The air will stop; the light will stop.'
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.'

War Poems on the Underground

Anthem for Doomed Youth, Wilfred Owen 'What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? — Only the monstrous anger of the guns. Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle Can patter out their hasty orisons. No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells; Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,— The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells; And bugles calling for them from sad shires. What candles may be held to speed them all? Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes. The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall; Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds, And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.'
August 1914 , Isaac Rosenberg 'What in our lives is burnt In the fire of this? The heart's dear granary? The much we shall miss? Three lives hath one life— Iron, honey, gold. The gold, the honey gone— Left is the hard and cold. Iron are our lives Molten right through our youth. A burnt space through ripe fields, A fair mouth's broken tooth.'
La Petite Auto/The Little Car by Guillaume Apollinaire, tr. the Editors ' On the 31st of August 1914 I left Deanville shortly before midnight In Rouveyre's little car With his driver there were three of us We said goodbye to a whole epoch Angry giants reared over Europe Eagles left their eyries to wait for the sun Voracious fish rose from the abyss Nations rushed to know one another through and through In their dark dwellings the dead trembled with fear '
In Memoriam (Easter 1915), Edward Thomas ' The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood This Eastertide call into mind the men, Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should Have gathered them and will do never again.'
LETTER TO ANDRÉ BILLY 9 APRIL 1915 , Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) tr. Oliver Bernard 'Gunner /Driver One (front-line) Here I am and send you greetings No no you're not seeing things My Sector's number fifty-nine I hear the whistle of the bird the beautiful bird of prey I see far away the cathedral Premier canonnier conducteur Je suis au front et te salue Non non tu n'as pas la berlue Cinquante-neuf est mon secteur... OH MY DEAR ANDRE BILLY '
Fratelli/Brothers, Giuseppe Ungaretti , tr. Patrick Creagh ' What regiment are you from brothers? Word trembling in the night A leaf just opening In the racked air involuntary revolt of man face to face with his own fragility Brothers Mariano 15 July 2016'
Bach and the Sentry, Ivor Gurney 'Watching the dark my spirit rose in flood On that most dearest Prelude of my delight. The low-lying mist lifted its hood, The October stars showed nobly in clear night. When I return, and to real music-making, And play that Prelude, how will it happen then? Shall I feel as I felt, a sentry hardly waking, With a dull sense of No Man's Land again?'
The General , Siegfried Sassoon ' Good-morning, good-morning!” the General said When we met him last week on our way to the line. Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of 'em dead, And we're cursing his staff for incompetent swine. “He's a cheery old card,” grunted Harry to Jack As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack. But he did for them both by his plan of attack.'
Im Osten / In the East , Georg Trakl, tr. David Constantine 'Like the wild organ music of the winter storm Is the dark rage of the people The crimson wave of battle, Of leafless stars. With broken brows, with silver arms Night beckons to dying soldiers. In the shadow of the autumnal ash The ghosts of the slain are sighing. A thorny wilderness girdles the town. The moon harries the terrified women From bleeding steps. Wild wolves broke through the gate.'
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.'
Armistice Day, Charles Causley 'I stood with three comrades in Parliament Square, November her grey freights of fire unloading, '
The Morning After (August 1945), Tony Harrison ' The fire left to itself might smoulder weeks. Phone cables melt. Paint peels from off back gates. Kitchen windows crack; the whole street reeks of horsehair blazing. Still it celebrates.'
from Requiem, Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966)Translated by Richard McKane 'The hour of remembrance has drawn close again. I see you, hear you, feel you: the one they could hardly get to the window, the one who no longer walks on this earth, the one who shook her beautiful head, and said: 'Coming here is like coming home.' I would like to name them all but they took away the list and there's no way of finding them. For them I have woven a wide shroud from the humble words I heard among them. I remember them always, everywhere, I will never forget them, whatever comes.'
Accordionist, George Szirtes ' The accordionist is a blind intellectual carrying an enormous typewriter whose keys grow wings as the instrument expands into a tall horizontal hat that collapses with a tubercular wheeze. My century is a sad one of collapses. The concertina of the chest; the tubular bells of the high houses; the flattened ellipses of our skulls that open like petals. We are the poppies sprinkled along the field. We are simple crosses dotted with blood. Beware of the sentiments concealed in this short rhyme. Be wise. Be good.'

Poems for Peace

Isaiah 2.4 'And they shall beate their swords into plow-shares, and their speares into pruning hookes; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learne warre any more'
In Time of ‘The Breaking of Nations’ , Thomas Hardy ' Only a man harrowing clods In a slow silent walk With an old horse that stumbles and nods Half asleep as they stalk. Only thin smoke without flame From the heaps of couch-grass; Yet this will go onward the same Though Dynasties pass. Yonder a maid and her wight Come whispering by: War’s annals will cloud into night Ere their story die.'

Optimistic Little Poem Hans Magnus Enzensberger tr. David Constantine ' Now and then it happens that somebody shouts for help and somebody else jumps in at once and absolutely gratis. Here in the thick of the grossest capitalism round the corner comes the shining fire brigade and extinguishes, or suddenly there's silver in the beggar's hat. Mornings the streets are full of people hurrying here and there without daggers in their hands, quite equably after milk or radishes. As though in a time of deepest peace. A splendid sight.'
World Poems on the Underground Carving , Imtiaz Dharkar. Others can carve out their space in tombs and pyramids
Everything Changes after Brecht, 'Alles wandelt sich' Cicely Herbert 'Everything changes. We plant trees for those born later but what's happened has happened, and poisons poured into the seas cannot be drained out again. What's happened has happened. Poisons poured into the seas cannot be drained out again, But everything changes. We plant trees for those born later.'

Waiting for Rain in Devon, Peter Porter (b.1929) ) ' Rain here on a tableau of cows might seem a return to everyday - why, you can almost poach the trout with your hands, their element has so thickened! Something has emerged from dreams to show us where we are going, a journey to a desolate star. Come back, perennial rain, stand your soft sculptures in our gardens for the barefoot frogs to leap.'

Music of the Natural World

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.'
Thread suns, Paul Celan (1920 - 70) translated by Michael Hamburger 'Thread suns above the grey-black wilderness. A tree - high thought tunes in to light's pitch: there are still songs to be sung on the other side of mankind.'
from Dover Beach, Matthew Arnold 'The sea is calm tonight. The tide is full, the moon lies fair Upon the straits - on the French coast the light Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand, Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay. Come to the window, sweet is the night air! Only, from the long line of spray Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land, Listen! you hear the grating roar Of pebbles which the waves drew back, and fling, At their return, up the high strand, Begin, and cease, and then again begin, With tremulous cadence slow, and bring The eternal note of sadness in.'
The Aegean, Maria Luisa Spaziani tr. Beverly Allen ' This music has lasted since the world began. A rock was born among the waters while tiny waves chatted in a soft universal tongue'

You can find our Poems from October 2021 here