Wednesday, 14 October 2009

poems 2

Sanctuary Wood, Ypres: School Visits

How can they understand a war poem? How can we?
wars were far away and long ago
and nothing seen on television ever really happened.
Now the woods are full of children
running through the muddy trenches
dodging round the water-filled craters gawping at, or completely failing to notice
the occasional unexploded shell
and squeaking when their nice new jeans
(fashionably ragged and torn at the knee)
are stained with filth in the communications tunnel.
Below the woods the fields are grey with mist
shrouding the view to the sinister places
the Menin Road, and up to Passchendaele,
behind us, Messines Ridge and Plugstreet. The children
have been told, but already they've forgotten
and soon they'll be off for hamburger and chips
(They're looking forward to their succulent Belgian chips),
leaving the trenches and the shattered stumps,
the rusty barbed wire and all the iron harvest of war,
and arching over all, the chestnut trees
- none more than seventy years old
but spouting strongly, because well fertilised
by someone who in happier circumstances
might have married my grandmother
or yours

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: look on my works, ye mighty, and despair"
(An answer to the poem by Shelley: to be recited in a silly voice)

Last summer I saw Ozymandias
it was on the left bank of the Nile
across from Luxor. His visage
was even more shattered than when Shelley's friend saw it
but the archaeologists had stuck it back on
his patched-up shoulders.
I didn't see any inscription
but maybe it had been removed to
the Cairo museum.
The bit about there being nothing around but sand
is however completely wrong, since these days
the whole area is thick with hucksters selling
the most appalling junk to the parties of tourists
so when you think of it, the natives really should be grateful to Ozymandias
because if he hadn't taken the trouble to put up the statue
the region would be even poorer than it is
and it set me wondering how Adolf Hitler
might be perceived a few thousand years from now
and all the other tourists seemed to be having
equally solemn thought as they gazed on
what is styled the "colossal wreck"
and I even saw genuine despair in some faces
though maybe they were only wondering how long
they would have to last out
until they found the
next lavatory.


I would like to believe in unicorns
the swift form, silver as the moon,
shyly lurking in deep woodlands, seen by few

The horn like sparkling barley-sugar, the neat cloven hoof
and the dark unplumbable eye, speaking wisdom
from remotest ages.

Saying that romance and adventure live yet
and will return, in an enchanted world
undreamed of by science

Where visions can teach truth, and gods or demons
once more speak to men, and there is wild exaltation
or black terror

And reason will fall from its usurped throne
leaving faith and magic to point the way
incomprehensible and glorious.


Dog: or, Hegel was right, Bentham was wrong

He has nosed around
and now he proposes
to lie in the sun and do nothing
until dinner.

There is a lot to think about.

The puppies have been ignoring his advice.
His career as a watchdog is threatened by new technology, in the form of a birglar alarm.
The spaniel next door has a much better basket than him.
And should he show solidarity with persecuted pit-bull terriers,
threatened with racial discrimination?
Meanwhile in the Far East, it is said, dogs are still being killed and eaten:
surely some action must be taken?

But none ofthese things concern him at all
as he lies in the sun doing nothing
which is why, whereas we are human,
he is only a dog.


Romanticism fails again!

When I was a boy, I found a book in a cave
in complete darkness: by touch alone I found it,
sodden and cold. It dripped as I bore it to the light
- not without trepidation;
since had this been an H. P. Lovecraft story, I would have held
a tractatus of occult knowlege
ancient, arcane, and damned. But it proved to be an electricians' manual
scarcely occult even to the least technically-minded.
How it came to be in the cave, far from any power-scource,
might make a story in itself
if I could be bothered.


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