Friday, 25 January 2013


Vernon Scannell on BBC Desert Island Discs in 1987

In the warm room, cushioned by comfort,
Idle at fireside, shawled in lamplight,
I know the cold winter night, but only
As a far intimation, like a memory
Of a dead distress whose ghost has grown genial.

The disc, glossy black as a conjuror’s hat,
Revolves. Music is unwound: woodwind,
Strings, a tenor voice singing in a tongue
I do not comprehend or have need to -
‘The instrument of egoism mastered by art’ -

For what I listen to is unequivocal:
A distillation of romantic love,
Passion outsoaring speech. I understand
And, understanding, I rejoice in my condition;
This sweet accident of being here and human.

Later, as I lie in the dark, the echoes
Recede, the blind cat of sleep purrs close
But does not curl. Beyond the window
The hill is hunched under his grey cape
Like a watchman. I cannot hear his breathing.

Silence is a starless sky on the ceiling
Till shock slashes, stillness is gashed
By a dazzle of noise chilling the air
Like lightning. It is an animal screech,
Raucous, clawing; surely the language of terror.

But I misread it, deceived. It is the sound
Of passionate love, a vixen’s mating call.
It lingers hurtful, a stink in the ear,
But soon it begins to fade. I breathe deep,
Feeling the startled fur settle and smoth. Then I sleep.

Vernon Scannell

From the Poetry Anthology Being Human,
third in the poetry series edited by Neil Astley,
as reviewed in The Guardian on May 14th, 2011


Out of us all
That make rhymes, 
Will you choose
Sometimes -
As the winds use 
A crack in a wall
Or a drain,
Their joy or their pain
To whistle through -
Choose me.
You English words?

I know you;
You are light as dreams,
Tough as oak,
Precious as gold,
As poppies and corn,
Or an old cloak;
Sweet as our birds
To the ear;
As the burnet rose
In the heat of Midsummer;
Strange as the races
Of dead and unborn;
Strange and sweet
And familiar,
To the eye,
As the dearest faces
That a man knows,
And as lost homes are;
Than oldest yew, -
As our hills are, old, -
Worn new 
Again and again;
Young as our streams 
After rain;
And as dear
As the earth which you prove
That we love.

Make me content 
With some sweetness
From Wales
Whose nightingales
Have no wings, -
From Wiltshire and Kent,
And Herefordshire, 
And the villages there, -
From the names, and the things
No less.
Let me sometimes dance
With you,
Or climb
Or stand perchance
In ecstasy,
Fixed and free
In a rhyme,
As poets do.

Edward Thomas

Wednesday, 16 January 2013


Juan Ramon Jimenez

I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.

And nothing
happened! Nothing . . . Silence . . . Waves . . .

- Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?

Juan Ramon Jimenez 

Oceans -  translated from the Spanish by Robert Bly
The  Ecco Anthology of International Poetry

Juan Ramón Jiménez Mantecón was a Spanish poet, a prolific writer who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1956. One of Jiménez's most important contributions to modern poetry was his advocacy of the French concept of "pure poetry.”

Saturday, 12 January 2013


Gottfried Benn

Someone hands you an English thriller,
highly recommended.
You don’t read English.

You’ve worked up a thirst
for something you can’t afford.

You have deep insights,
brand new and they sound
like an academic glossing Hoelderlin.

You hear the waves at night
ramping against the shore
and you think: that’s what waves do.

Worse: you’re asked out
when at home you get better coffee,
silence, and you don’t expect to be amused.

Awful: not to die in summer
under a bright sky
when the rich dirt
falls easily from the shovel.

Gottfried Benn
German  expressionist poet, essayist and novelist

“This Is Bad’ translated from the German by Harvey Shapiro

From the ECCO Anthology of International Poetry.