They are waiting for me somewhere beyond Eden Rock:
My father, twenty-five, in the same suit
Of Genuine Irish Tweed, his terrier Jack
Still two years old and trembling at his feet.
My mother, twenty-three, in a sprigged dress
Drawn at the waist, ribbon in her straw hat,
Has spread the stiff white cloth over the grass.
Her hair, the colour of wheat, takes on the light.
She pours tea from a Thermos, the milk straight
From an old H.P. sauce-bottle, a screw
Of paper for a cork; slowly sets out
The same three plates, the tin cups painted blue.
The sky whitens as if lit by three suns.
My mother shades her eyes and looks my way
Over the drifted stream. My father spins
A stone along the water. Leisurely,
They beckon to me from the other bank.
I hear them call, ‘See where the stream-path is!
Crossing is not as hard as you might think.’
I had not thought that it would be like this.
The last poem in Charles Causley’s ‘Collected Poems’: a beautiful acceptance of ending in which an ancient symbolism is underpinned by homely detail: the stream may have flowed out of ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ but that sauce-bottle is Causley’s own.
Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout
Down valley a smoke haze
Three days heat, after five days rain
Pitch glows on the fir-cones
Across rocks and meadows
Swarms of new flies.
I cannot remember things I once read
A few friends, but they are in cities.
Drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup
Looking down for miles
Through high still air.
The American poet Gary Snyder is a student of Zen; I’m not sure myself that Zen meditation is any more than just another name for the kind of transcendent awareness that has always been the aim and mark of the poet, but if it helps him to poems like this serene vision, good luck to it.
I am living, quite unplanned, by apple country.
Worcesters come the earliest: sea green
with darkest red, even the flesh, veined pink.
They have a bloom no hand can brush away
sweet breath made visible. But do not think
to have them through the dark days: they’ll not keep,
for that choose Coxes flecked with gold
which wrinkle into kindness, winter’s fires.
Where I was born they let no flowering trees
in the bare fields, which grow my dreams, which hold
only the lasting crops: potato, wheat.
How low the houses crouch upon their soil
with fruitless hedges; at the barn’s end, cars:
none yours. I have no art for probing back
to such dark roots. yet if you pass this place
though skies shine lean with frost, no softness dapples
white wall to cave of leaf, yet stranger, knock.
For I will give you apples.
A poem no doubt laden with symbolism, apples being potent in myth from Avalon to the Hesperides, but these are real apples too and real country, lovingly rendered, and in the end no myth is better than the fact.
I’d often seen before
That sheaf of corn hung from the bough –
Strange in a wood a sheaf of corn
Though by the winds half torn
And thrashed by rain to empty straw.
And then to-day I saw
A small pink twitching snout
And eyes like black beads sewn in fur
Peep from a hole in doubt,
And heard on dry leaves go tat-tat
The stiff tail of the other rat.
And now as the short day grows dim
And here and there farms in the dark
Turn to a spark,
I on my stumbling way think how
With indistinguishable limb
And tight tail round each other’s head
They’ll make tonight one ball in bed,
Those long-tailed lovers who have come
To share the pheasants’ harvest-home.
Many of Andrew Young’s best poems work, as here, by a sudden shift of perception, an epiphany of the commonplace that goes beyond mere trickery to achieve a kind of grace in all senses of the word. Despite certain personal reservations about rats, I have to love the tenderness of the last two lines!
The glamour of the end attic, the smell
Of old leather trunks – Perdita, where have you been
Hiding all these years? Somewhere or other a green
Flag is waving under an iron vault
And a brass bell is the herald of green country
And the wind is in the wires and the broom is gold.
Perdita, what became of all the things
We said that we should do? The cobwebs cover
The labels of Tyrol. The time is over-
Due and in some metropolitan station
Among the clank of cans and the roistering files
Of steam the caterpillars wait for wings.
For me, MacNeice in many ways wears the best of the thirties poets, being closest to the common human experience. If a primary purpose of poetry is to answer the question ‘What was it like to be alive?’ his long poem ‘Autumn Journal’ does a good job for those times. But he was also, as shown here, a master of the idiosyncratic shorter lyric.