On Portland stone or on paper, in poetry or prose, letters and words can signify many things: solemnity, simplicity, subtlety, story-telling. As a child I heard poetry, listened to poetry, recited poetry, and occasionally wrote poetry, at school and at home. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, The Walrus and the Carpenter, and How they Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix, were memorable (in two meanings of the word) favourites. My grandfather read aloud to me Horatius on his knee.
I have come to widen my reading of verse, and to understand it better, and even compose some over the past few years, helped, in particular by Stephen Fry's The Ode Less Travelled, and Clive James's torrent of poetry, often accompanied by critical essays, terminating with The Fire of Joy. My father loved comic verse, particularly limericks. I prefer clerihews, a poetic form defined as 'civilised and dotty'. Robin and Marion seem to have acquired or inherited a fondness for poetry, and you can read some of what we have all written in Woven Words. You can also read more below, mostly written travelling or on holiday.
Walking through the museum halls
Of ancient Rome, against the walls
Stand emperor’s heads. Beside them stones
That once lay over buried bones
Record in hand-hewn cuts the dates
They lived and died, their wives and fates,
How cruel they held base Gauls in thrall,
Fought wars and won and lost their thrones.
Proud empires rise, decline and fall
Two poems written in Oxford 2018
The No 2 Bus
In the gunmetal light of early eve
I’m waiting for the Banbury bus to leave.
On slippery pavements restless crowds
Impatient, hopeful, clutching bags
Of food and drink, crisps and mags,
Jostle in queues beneath the clouds
That threaten rain. Darkness falling,
Sofa, home and fireside calling,
Chirping like hens packed into a pen,
Eager, ready for the moment when
Twixt bikes and cars comes into view
The oblong edifice of the Number 2;
Push, lurch, crunch, rush and crush ensue.
Poems from the Breakfast Table
I’m really quite a fan of jam
I like it on my toast,
Damson, cherry, plum, straw-berry
Cranberry conserve on a roast.
But the one I really like the most
Is redcurrant jelly on lamb.
I have an inordinate fondness for butter
I can’t bear flora or marg or spread,
It’s not that I’m a prig or a fusspot,
But without butter I’d rather be dead.
On croissant, on toast, on a crumpet or bread
I insist. This is the last word I utter
On this subject. But wait before you stop reading –
There’s marmalade, honey, chutney and curd,
Made of oranges, nectar, onions and lemons
Fruit of all sorts, even rhubarb I’ve heard,
And mango for curry, if lime’s not preferred:
The contented feeling of condiment feeding.
Scrambled eggs at breakfast time
On buttered toast is just the thing,
Add smok-ed salmon, it’s quite sublime,
A dish to set before a king.
With a cappuccino too, then its divine
Like manna, to the gods you’d bring.
God made the tomato for soup,
But it also has other good uses -
For sandwiches, salads and sauces,
For purees, pastas and juices,
At a push for yoghurt or mousses.
A vegetable, fruit? – trés beaucoup.
On Seeing the Parthenon
If you like to travel and see classical sites
With columns and capitols of spectacular heights
Then Greece is the place – an absolute must,
A cure for your restless wanderlust.
If you’ve been to Rome, seen Pantheon and tombs
Of St Peter, Pope Pius, Caesar and Trajan,
Toured Nero’s Palace and the Villa of Hadrian,
Touched bones of dead Christians in dark catacombs.
Behold: shattered torsos of dead mortals and gods,
Of emperors with names, and nameless stone bods,
Funereal urns and fragments of pottery,
Surviving exhibits of history’s cruel lottery.
But nothing can prepare you for Athens’ Acropolis,
The crowning glory of this ancient metropolis.
But bear in mind….
If you choose to conquer a foreign land
And build a monument on shifting sand
Whether pyramid, temple or necro-pavilion
For Goth or Gaul or invading Assyrian
Beware the same fate as Osymand-
yas, whose terse epitaph ‘King of Kings’
In letters of stone, now hollowly rings.
Remember well these several things -
For life’s to be lived, and death is oblivion.
If I had an excuse
To be in Syracuse
It would be more than a ruse
To escape the long queues,
Or avoid blowing a fuse;
But to seek as my muse
The magnificent views
Of the watery Mediterranean