Wilfred Owen: Futility

Move him in the sun –
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds, –
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,
Full-nerved – still warm – too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
– O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?

from The Faber Book of Modern Verse (4th Edition, 1982) (p. 191)



Ian Hamilton: Critique

In Cornwall, from the shelter of your bungalow
You found the sea ‘compassionate’
And then ‘monotonous’,
Though never, in all fairness,
‘Inconnue’. There was no hiding it.
Your poems wouldn’t do.

We sat on for another hour or two,
Old literary pals,
You chewing on your J&B
And me with your dud manuscripts
Faced downward on my knee.

‘It’s been a long time,’ you said,
‘I’ll race you to the sea.’

from Ian Hamilton: Collected Poems (2012) (Kindle Edition)

R. S. Thomas: Death of a Poet

Laid down on his smooth bed
For the last time, watching dully
Through heavy eyelids the day’s colour
Widow the sky, what can he say
Worthy of record, the books all open,
Pens ready, the faces, sad,
Waiting gravely for the tired lips
To move once—what can he say?

His tongue wrestles to force one word
Past the thick phlegm; no speech, no phrases
For the day’s news, just the one word ‘sorry’;
Sorry for the lies, for the long failure
In the poet’s war; that he preferred
The easier rhythms of the heart
To the mind’s scansion; that now he dies
Intestate, having nothing to leave
But a few songs, cold as stones
In the thin hands that asked for bread.

from R. S. Thomas: Collected Poems 1945-1990 (1993) (p. 84)

Richard Wilbur: All These Birds

                Agreed that all these birds,
Hawk or heavenly lark or heard-of nightingale,
        Perform upon the kitestrings of our sight
        In a false distance, that the day and night
        Are full of wingèd words
                                                   gone rather stale,
                That nothing is so worn
                As Philomel’s bosom-thorn,

                That it is, in fact, the male
Nightingale which sings, and that all these creatures wear
        Invisible armour such as Hébert beheld
        His water-ousel through, as, wrapped or shelled
        In a clear bellying veil
                                                 or bubble of air,
                It bucked the flood to feed
                At the stream bottom. Agreed

                That the sky is a vast claire
In which the gull, despite appearances, is not
        Less claustral than the oyster in its beak
        And dives like nothing human; that we seek
        Vainly to know the heron
                                                     (but can plot
                What angle of the light
                Provokes its northern flight.)

                Let them be polyglot
And wordless then, these boughs that spoke with Solomon
        In Hebrew canticles, and made him wise;
        And let a clear and bitter wind arise
        To storm into the hotbeds
                                                     of the sun,
                And there, beyond a doubt,
                Batter the Phoenix out.

                Let us, with glass or gun,
Watch (from our clever blinds) the monsters of the sky
        Dwindle to habit, habitat, and song,
        And tell the imagination it is wrong
        Till, lest it be undone,
                                                 it spin a lie
                So fresh, so pure, so rare
                As to possess the air.

                Why should it be more shy
Than chimney-nesting storks, or sparrows on a wall?
        Oh, let it climb wherever it can cling
        Like some great trumpet-vine, a natural thing
        To which all birds that fly
                                                     come natural.
                Come, stranger, sister, dove:
                Put on the reins of love.

from Richard Wilbur: Collected Poems 1943-2004 (2005) (p. 366-7)


Anthony Hecht: Tarantula, or, The Dance of Death

During the plague I came into my own.
It was a time of smoke-pots in the house
Against infection. The blind Head of bone
                                      Grinned its abuse

Like a good democrat at everyone.
Runes were recited daily, charms were applied.
That was the time I came into my own.
                                      Half Europe died.

The symptoms are a fever and dark spots
First on the hands, then on the face and neck,
But even before the body, the mind rots.
                                      You can be sick

Only a day with it before you’re dead.
But the most curious part of it is the dance.
The victim goes, in short, out of his head.
                                      A sort of trance

Glazes the eyes, and then the muscles take
His will away from him, the legs begin
Their funeral jig, the arms and belly shake
                                      Like souls in sin.

Some, caught in these convulsions, have been known
To fall from windows, fracturing the spine.
Others have drowned in streams. The smooth head-stone,
                                      The box of pine,

Are not for the likes of these. Moreover, flame
Is powerless against contagion.
That was the black winter when I came
                                      Into my own.

from Anthony Hecht: Selected Poems (2011) (p. 26)