Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Thomas Good: a selection of poems

(For a profile of Thomas Good, his life and work, go here.)

The fourteen poems that follow are very much my personal choice. They appear, to the best of my knowledge, in chronological order, and I’ve noted their appearances in print as far as they’re known to me; I have not had access to a copy of Good’s first collection Overture (1946), nor to the full contents of his intended last collection, “The Diamond Path.”

Apart from a few clear typo’s in “War Fantasia” and “The American War Cemetery,” which are noted, I‘ve made no corrections, beyond bringing one or two moot points of punctuation in poems from The Mirror and the Echo into line with those of their Italian translations in the same collection.

All the poems are reproduced here with the kind permission of the Michael Hamburger Trust.

Be advised that the first piece, “Chronometer,” is by far the longest here, with two dozen stanzas. If it’s too much to take at first, move on and come back to it!

 

Chronometer

I have an inkling that the taste of forgotten lemons
Skins unsalvaged, returning near the ebb of summer-time
Now the dioxide fastens my sorrow, conjures a city, shapes a song
From a crucified chaos opens a circle, deflects the borrowed wheel
Of futility, which even the partially blessed are said to feel.

My blessings are lemon days in the accentuated zone
Where rows of plane-trees interleave themselves and meadows sink
Or down by the laughing bases of the Mount Saint Victoire blink
Transfigured now to crosses, trees
Whose unfamiliar bleeding cries the survival of the most unfit.

I was of another clay, born in the dank and the flat
Stumbled on lilies of the valley and the stickleback;
To find a word’s a world, a thought a shape;
Pranced like the rest on bicycles, made my good communions, honey
Strangled the juicy seed, and made myself go phony.

I say the solution’s in the heart; it is a riddle of the soul
Unsolved by Jew or seer, the unweaned quacks
Of sacristies or settlements;
Give me the mid-ocean of a dream
I’ll settle with Apollo
Till the flood of fear, the false equation seem
Vanished in a mirror sandwiched in the dunes.

We have left you, earth to groan, cancelled your riper song
With the tinkling of bones, the inverted stones
Of impalpable wishes, shapeless shells
Of stubborn homes, fleeced fields, phallos of the petrol-pump
To be mined, and divined, and defaced like a skull in a mask.

O heavenly ghost, that you’re not living now
O holy sin, that I have ever blamed this sun
Earth have you asked no more than seed and plant?
If death is death at all, if hope is hope, then grant
A day, a charm to shape your garden, earth.

But the cool instance of a forgotten glove
Moaned in the crazy oven of my hell
No one could lift her through the mustard-clouds
Across the foreshore of the insulated infinite
Or leave her nailed where the god impaled
Ripens the greengage hours.

Fancy painted a thrifty courtship, post-card praise
Love’s barter in the oast, her laughing premium paid
With never a yes or no to say, buds and berries of positive days
An almanac happiness, in violent sepulchral ease
The book tossed away for a boy, in a cesspool of sense, on a dungheap of joy.

Better beget in the peak of the hour, near the weeds grow the flowers
Than in a chapel of fools slouch away from the too fertile worm
And to live on a spring, for a whim, not to stink with a too moist outhouse happiness
Ignoring the breeze of a birth and the bellowing breasts.

For the roof of the mouth grows too furred with truth and the eye too dry with fame
And the merest bark of a dog, or the gleam of a shark’s teeth
Out to shame the sapling seekers after light, and the men
Who polish politics with a varnish of gaiety
Like a Christmas game in war, or the funeral reception.

She was my bird of hospitality in whitest winter
She was my goose of spring, pools in  her green eyes,
Won me and warned me, gave me the faithful itch, and the smart
You get at the swing-boat climax of sense when love curdles
A happy singing in my ears, seepage of oblivion in the soothing street.

O Pyrenees my anodyne, your shadows were more lovely
A delirious procession of ecstasy, disentangling the valleys
Love incipient in a virgin’s silk-stockings awry
Resurgent, dissolving and winter doom of dry bed.

The suppliant messages on the unflushed faces of girls
In shop-entrances (O carry me hard to the cemetery-gate)
And I limp in eunuch stealth, through unpredictable afternoons
Frostbitten among buttercups, wearing hope as a coat without sleeves
And let my orphaned music die away in a stellar silence.

And still the hills, now rose-leafed sunset bends to fold them
Exclaim: A thousand million vandal footmarks never can obtain our soil
For ever. Let the almonds and the vines of Prussia bend and bleed
In reparation. Where the beast has trodden, awake those sleeping tongues
Of subterranean fire, whose twinkle warms your fountains, Aix.

Here I found my city, my unburied treasure
Distance warming distance in a glare of toasted light
Streets to strew my parcels of thoughts, hang my string.
Beyond the shape and sound is still the thing
It dances in the fountain’s base where the dusky bats gyrate
It is articulate in drone and tambourin
It stirs in seed, it walks in mill and rune
Or in some old forgotten Provençal tune.

They say it is the taste of beauty, but it must be pursued and wooed
Like a fugitive girl in a new town; give again muse of the South
Me your arrows of silver breath and sheerest song
Of troubadours; hang lavishly your stippled blossom on my tongue
In the untwilit night of a country in pawn.

Or is it one thing only, how many know to count?
(Like canting clerks.) Not a mandarin can say
Which day France is only France again, or repay
The traitor in his own coin, the dowagers of infamy.
Only that the gnarled grip of a super-god
Cannot possess you, earth, ever.

No, it is a world beyond eyelids, no Chiltern mood can bring
In syncope of exile, it is the spring your index finger fractured in the dark
The thought you threw up in the night, shelling your dwarf fear
Not to be nothing, like the enviable worm
Sliced in half resolving your self-absorption.

Is this my country of olive and cactus
This bed-ridden hostage, this slave put to fright?
From Manosque to Martigues the valley must change its mode
Truth is my pigeon of aerial delight.

I say it is nowhere garnered in the embrasures of thought and talk
Hurried in bars, this lovely miracle, this untranslatable anatomy of joy;
It is the world’s heart ready resilient in the cicadas’ chant.
Hopes ride on horses here, and from hills I have looked over
The farandole disjoints the oppressor’s summer pleasure.

But what of this deformity of nerve and skill, this arrogant pain,
Which is the poet’s noose, the man’s deficit?
And he passes, the undistinguished traveller in the underground train
His wound a turgid jewel in the brain, which the unflexed surgery
Of the heavenly prig going home has no scalpel to heal.

Birth fixed me again in this weather
Stood me a kip between myself and death
(See God your tadpole repatriated)
Trapped by the cistern voices, my breath
Alarmed utters no pastoral, alone with the self-tutored vision
Lisping among the historical wags of war.

Blood for roses, roses for blood (this is earth’s law)
I have measured time with the rod of pain
Yielded a sixth of my sense before the circular catastrophe
Blubbed in the bib of denial and shame
Because of the frieze your more glorious mountain
Has raised and abrased in the womb of an hour.

Take the leisurely crumbs of my song then, my tit-bit of leafage
I am delivered of shape and sound, strip the bone from the shadow,
And the tortuous tree will bear fruit in its season,
Its nutmeg of treachery, its astringent lemons, of trembling in shade
Till the sleight of a wind, an army surprises the unloved marauder
And on your shores, O France, O England
In the mirth of geranium evenings
The tranquil art of happiness is learned again.

Poetry London X 1944, Overture 1946, Selected Poems 1973

[In the last but one stanza, “abrased” (properly, “abraded”) is a coining from “abrasion”.]


The Trappist

In a lean country suckled by forgiveness
Nailed to bleak courage and the percussive breeze
Bends the hooded man, scarecrow of tailors,
Humming death’s harlotry and the private grave.

Who loving farther mountains tracked the bloody avenue
Coddled atonement and the sword insulted,
Brief’d by no reason on earth insured the triple girdle
Sprinkled wishes like ashes on the changeless floor.

See in the bloomless valley life’s tall cemetery
Aflame with absence, soothed by the familiar dove,
Whose croaking brood immured in splendid idolatry
Unharness care’s donkey and decamp to love.

Ask if faith’s larvae here be fledged in flight
When a brave Easter threatens memory’s rood;
And the heavenly tapestry reward with sudden action
Unscaled eyes which scorn the uncoloured mood.

In a dear country unshelled of his vision
Pinned to an arid sleep by dreams’ omnipotence
Shies now the hooded man at one blue motion
Tracks a new passage ankle-deep in sense.

One window opening in the village of remembrance
Where the smooth lady guilelessly inclines,
Unmanacled of vows the tonsured dandy starts
Electrified as by the sudden glass of Chartres.

O senseless sense. O far too clear division
Of sense and spirit (if these unhallowed deeps be true).
O riper worm, shocked into penance and the holy wax,
Adjourn, the eminent pillar of St. Simon cracks.

Where windows argue, flower and rust,
Swiftly select the initial dream,
Nailed to bleak courage and the percussive breeze,
In a dear country suckled by forgiveness.

New Road 1945

 

Meditation in Provence

Here by the grace of seasons and the railway,
The throb of violence in the uncurbed wind
Is a sigh, or disposes with masked deliberation
Too many deviations of the mind.

Others debating in this series devised a city,
Plato’s boundary measured in words,
All pavements absolved of blood, and the poet
Poised like an ass between eagle and owl.

More vigilant earth’s womb ripens to passion,
Laying shadow on shadow to scale,
Only the dancer is strained to denial
By the footlights of terror.

Always beyond the world of faces, remember
The heart’s frail latitude, sinecure of a smile,
The soul present in splendour to assist in creation,
A short extravasation of the blood and bile.

Poetry Quarterly Summer 1947

 

This Surrey Village

This Surrey village like a joint in the landscape
Once on a Sunday hid the truant lovers,
As in a vice held what God had joined together
Hurrying from bells which in the valley summon
Summer’s haul of pilgrims to consider heaven.

Etched in excess of beauty and unresolved
Like hurricane words of travellers between trains,
So distant in our zones we confined the present,
Discerning the actual only in the sensual,
Through eyeholes of bracken saw only a green world turning,
When like a doll among the meadowsweet you lay.

This New Year’s Day over a strange land fading,
Faced with the world again,
The great family of stars,
England revisits among the broken images,
Gives back the green again
At this uncertain hour, where love
Like a wreathed statue repeats
The inevitable fictions of the heart,
The nerve exposed, the stern toll of the blood,
The victory which once seemed treason;
No nearer the ultimate meeting,
My love lies where my body lies tonight.

Out of Circumstance 1954, Selected Poems 1973

 

Prelude to the Pyrenees

I

Between the peripheral and the equivocal
reason is justified of her children.

Between the dictator and the equator
Freedom of hands improves the twilight.

A wicked park shows its teeth to the foreigner
Harrowed by hornbeams in an acre of evening.

Sorrow becomes a chain dissolving in her hair
Trapped by the mid-day sun in alleys.

Or indoors disarrayed by moods and messages
Exotic post-marks and the rival’s stare.

Harmony abbreviates the sodden roads of Ascain
The last lap of France in the benighted season.

Ferns through the skylight intrude to reprove
A woman’s ancient caution and the graver price of love.

Yaffle and curlew transcribe the languid arc
Beyond the eloquence of villages, resonance of the heart.

II

Here the months hang heavy, here consumed
Like lips too old; in wreaths of hope
Envy the listless smoke or between the hours
Persecute patience where passion inclement
Among the thoroughfares survives the showers.

Love betrayed now to fever
Every warm tree derides
The inarticulate desire;
I will make of the muttering wind a wife
And a child of this errant fire.

Blue clouds in relays bridge the skies of Cambo
Until an exotic sun bestows the rainbow.

Our Lady at Lourdes confounds the impersonal
Grants a holiday to sinners in the happy confessional.

Earth punished by autumn your dark territory
Appeals with the ladybird, the arbutus
Auguring violence in the violet dusk
The solitary defeats defeat on the foreshore of pride.

III

Between the imperative and the derivative
The heart’s short history invents an alternative.

Between the moonless snow the Pyrenean torrent pours
Analogies of winter, effect involving cause.

So brave in failure observe at her elbow
The flesh’s flight in passion’s afterglow.

Breathe gently, O stranger, attemper the iron
Better the head of a mouse than the tail of the lion.*

* Basque proverb [Good’s note]

Out of Circumstance 1954

 

War Fantasia

The trees have forgotten silence
Here drenched by the city’s soot
The water mirrors no souvenir;
All the still places are everywhere gone
Oil and steel have decided
Truth walks alone.

Give peace in our time.

Salute the ambassador, enlist the crusader,
None meeker … Blessed be … but there is
No grin for the conscript, no gin for the widow;
Truth is this bomb, and the baby
Cradled to death where the flag in fragments
Curtains the shattered window.

From Mayfair to Mitcham the Christ roams angry
Among the insects of battle and the dry bones,
The dry harvest, enough to endure
For the whore in the alley and the orator.

All the quiet places are everywhere gone
I Michael Maloney born near the Blarney Stone,
I am no liar, I rehearse the Passion
Here at love’s cenotaph, after my fashion.

Where is His armoury, beloved of the Prodigal,
No cinema gangster,
But the amiable sinner in galoshes
The tall churchwarden with the portable typewriter?

Michael Maloney the peripatetic
Superannuated and diabetic
Binds memory with a proprietary span
An old symbolic bearded man.

Across the river Lambeth bells
Dispense forgiveness, call eternity
To remonstrate and resound to hush
Profound cacophony of shells.

Blessed be He that cometh

Blessed be
The spinning-jenny and the flea
The cassowary and the chimpanzee
The antimacassar and the Hispano Suiza
The galvanometer and the Tower of Pisa
The limousine and the crinoline
The ilex and the cherry-tree.

Truth disarmed even the trivial
In the blazing city where a million flats
Listen to blast bible bulletin.

Stand for a moment where they fell
The truant angel marks the door
Enacts a Second Passover
And Lambeth tolls the passing bell.

A girl lies without flesh
Sunflower flayed in the sun
Dawn shining on rivers of glass
Bury the sweet thorn by the idle river.

When mourners stoop to admire the corpse
In the cool chapel of repose
Their tears are emerald and their grief is dread,
The thorns are sovereign to the rose.

Summon the bride of Christ
Pregnant in faith to own
Her heavenly acre in the unclaimed zone,
Pontiff, penitent, proselyte and nun.

Michael Maloney in Leicester Square
Raises his voice in swift derision
The earth shall never be a heaven
The former glory shall not return again.

But we shall change and shall be changed
By transformation of the will,
The willow weep by Vauxhall Bridge
The ilex bloom on Notting Hill.

Out of Circumstance 1954

[The printed text has “goloshes” in stanza 5 and “Hispana Suisa” in stanza 8.]

 

The American War Cemetery at Luynes

Out of it all the desolation sobs
Windwards among the tilted rocks
No brief notation, outdistancing the raven
And this crisp light, which carries the plumed hills
Too beautiful to repeat, and penitential all the same.

Revisited in a lake of winter
The notorious landscape on a saffron afternoon
Alone, as grey gulls fasten on white crosses,
The numbered named on corridors of shame
Who wished no doubt to end the mischief
Here in a sense survive;
For the absent and the loving
A monument of comfort
To decipher in reflection
But dispute the justice still.

Eternity knocks at the heart at evening
The Great Not-I winks in-between the clouds
To where the placid sky invisibly lengthens
Too swift for famished egos to contain
Which only watch to pierce the ornamental
And the glory of it all.

My friends who’ve looked into the eyes of death
So elegant and coifed but her hands how cold they are,
Give us a pennyworth of fear for tomorrow
Give us the rind if not the brisket,
Give us the tin, if not the biscuit,
For charm against this cold, belief perhaps,
Or mortgage us against this pregnant stone.

Out of Circumstance 1954

[The printed text has “penetential” in stanza 1 and “To swift” in stanza 3.]

 

Seascape

Inaugural shape that rips the earth,
As chilly well bewitched by clouds,
The spume entices from the inland air
All humankind and summer slaves;
Among the guests admitting
Ageless divinities.

Invasion of unknown faces,
Profiles against the rock,
Nymphs born of Venus,
None look aloft
But spread among the furry sand
Shifting from lover to lover,
Who never knew
The perspiration of the dawn,
Save in review.

Seen through enveloping mist
A gauze of blue
Belies the depths
The children looked into,
Hoarding the offal of the past,
Mother of monsters and the slime
That manufactures us.

 The Mirror and the Echo 1968

 

Poesia Segreta

(To the beautiful girl called “La Gattina”)

There is none like thee among the dancers
EZRA POUND

10 April, 1963

Listen, darling; in the dense aroma of delight
The hills of memory recede alarmed
Before the dancers on an unlit floor,
As fragments of a disunited heart
Dissuade the passionate part.

Remember this day. I want it
Isolated from the flux,
This troubled element always to conserve,
I who have competed among the dancers,
Moved with your subtle blue.

So, not in single petrifaction
To remain, nor studied wastage,
If the secure thought, the here and now,
The poem, which is eternity,
Should wriggle through
The labyrinth of age and sleep,
I shall awake to you.

The Mirror and the Echo 1968, Selected Poems 1973

 

Cataclysm

All is in turmoil.

The moon has changed her mood.
Fruits fall in the ocean,
Angels give birth,
Stones fly,
Rats sing a lullaby.

To purchase the present
A blue wind is needed
A mountain in the cupboard
A corpse on the dining-table
A lens for the wolf
A heart for the oven.

The jewelled past
Is sold to the enemy.

The Mirror and the Echo 1968, Selected Poems 1973

 

The Seven Veils of Silence

The bridge goes on from self to self
Covering the stream of kindness.

The portrait stares to convince the quick
Your dead are not for sale.

Smiles impose smart half-truths
Out of tune with the words.

Every farewell is an absolute
Abridging the present.

A kiss is a two-edged blade,
Swift, angelic or venomous.

The moon lays novel eggs
That mother of nightmares.

The darkness that separates light
Has the stink of nausea and the cheek of death.

The Mirror and the Echo 1968

 

The Two Visitors

Sometimes she comes, the white angel, resplendent and unannounced. She, because not all angels were masculine before the fourteenth century. She comes, and speaks only of peace of mind, women’s breasts and sweets, and lilies of the valley.

The black angel elects ambush when I languish for the other. She haunts me in the empty places and the darker days. She overtakes me in the reaches of the night. Her talk is of computers, drugs and hell-fire. I wonder who can have given her my address.

“The Diamond Path” 1966-9, in Selected Poems 1973

 

Mutations of the Dance

‘L’âme jouit de sa lumière sans objets.’ Joë Bousquet.

The dancer sighs in troubled wings
Invited to the chasm,
The last scenario before the electronic shock
With audience of geckos, mosquitoes
And a limping cat.

I am a pillar defying space
And duress of time; a naked Harlequin
Lifted to heights no mind achieves
Nor foes esteem, slung to the depths
Where mobile anguish grimes the ditch.

I am a wheel of fire
My passion burns away
The eyesores of the common day,
Colour and distance shrink until
The nightingale is real again
In music, all the bric-a-brac of chance
Dissolves within the blinding trance.

I am a magpie in a nest of nightmares,
Mesmerised in spittle the peregrine in chase,
The shot-gun gawking in the hedgerow,

I am the thunder on a northern bluff
I am a streak of lightning in a palace hall,
I am an adjective enthroned
Throughout the disunited nations,
Vocabularies of grammar books
Rehearsed in greetings by the millions.

Still you adhere, the body of the dance,
The backcloth, roof and floor
Of this distended universe.

“The Diamond Path” 1966-9, in Selected Poems 1973

 

The Undying Fire

Not always in the ancient wisdom trading
That were to trust too long to leading strings,
To mummify our breath before the ending
And to ourselves perhaps be lying.

Birds sometimes have nerve to change their courses
And predatory dreams, occasionally illicit,
Curve mercilessly within the symmetry of mind,
Unhanding us from habit,
So abjectly confined.

On the venerable hearthstone
The fire burns as of old,
But the flames, unique as babies’ faces,
Portend new messengers to swell the store.

“The Diamond Path” 1966-9, in Selected Poems 1973

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