Monday, May 26, 2014

Tuesday Poem - The Old Vicarage, Grantchester by Rupert Brooke

The Old Vicarage, Grantchester
(Cafe des Westens, Berlin, May 1912)

Just now the lilac is in bloom,
All before my little room;
And in my flower-beds, I think,
Smile the carnation and the pink;
And down the borders, well I know,
The poppy and the pansy blow . . .
Oh! there the chestnuts, summer through,
Beside the river make for you
A tunnel of green gloom, and sleep
Deeply above; and green and deep
The stream mysterious glides beneath,
Green as a dream and deep as death.
— Oh, damn! I know it! and I know
How the May fields all golden show,
And when the day is young and sweet,
Gild gloriously the bare feet
That run to bathe . . .
                            'Du lieber Gott!'

Here am I, sweating, sick, and hot,
And there the shadowed waters fresh
Lean up to embrace the naked flesh.
Temperamentvoll German Jews
Drink beer around; — and THERE the dews
Are soft beneath a morn of gold.
Here tulips bloom as they are told;
Unkempt about those hedges blows
An English unofficial rose;
And there the unregulated sun
Slopes down to rest when day is done,
And wakes a vague unpunctual star,
A slippered Hesper; and there are
Meads towards Haslingfield and Coton
Where das Betreten's not verboten.

ειθε γενοιμην . . . would I were
In Grantchester, in Grantchester! —
Some, it may be, can get in touch
With Nature there, or Earth, or such.
And clever modern men have seen
A Faun a-peeping through the green,
And felt the Classics were not dead,
To glimpse a Naiad's reedy head,
Or hear the Goat-foot piping low: . . .
But these are things I do not know.
I only know that you may lie
Day long and watch the Cambridge sky,
And, flower-lulled in sleepy grass,
Hear the cool lapse of hours pass,
Until the centuries blend and blur
In Grantchester, in Grantchester. . . .
Still in the dawnlit waters cool
His ghostly Lordship swims his pool,
And tries the strokes, essays the tricks,
Long learnt on Hellespont, or Styx.
Dan Chaucer hears his river still
Chatter beneath a phantom mill.
Tennyson notes, with studious eye,
How Cambridge waters hurry by . . .
And in that garden, black and white,
Creep whispers through the grass all night;
And spectral dance, before the dawn,
A hundred Vicars down the lawn;
Curates, long dust, will come and go
On lissom, clerical, printless toe;
And oft between the boughs is seen
The sly shade of a Rural Dean . . .
Till, at a shiver in the skies,
Vanishing with Satanic cries,
The prim ecclesiastic rout
Leaves but a startled sleeper-out,
Grey heavens, the first bird's drowsy calls,
The falling house that never falls.

God! I will pack, and take a train,
And get me to England once again!
For England's the one land, I know,
Where men with Splendid Hearts may go;
And Cambridgeshire, of all England,
The shire for Men who Understand;
And of THAT district I prefer
The lovely hamlet Grantchester.
For Cambridge people rarely smile,
Being urban, squat, and packed with guile;
And Royston men in the far South
Are black and fierce and strange of mouth;
At Over they fling oaths at one,
And worse than oaths at Trumpington,
And Ditton girls are mean and dirty,
And there's none in Harston under thirty,
And folks in Shelford and those parts
Have twisted lips and twisted hearts,
And Barton men make Cockney rhymes,
And Coton's full of nameless crimes,
And things are done you'd not believe
At Madingley on Christmas Eve.
Strong men have run for miles and miles,
When one from Cherry Hinton smiles;
Strong men have blanched, and shot their wives,
Rather than send them to St. Ives;
Strong men have cried like babes, bydam,
To hear what happened at Babraham.
But Grantchester! ah, Grantchester!
There's peace and holy quiet there,
Great clouds along pacific skies,
And men and women with straight eyes,
Lithe children lovelier than a dream,
A bosky wood, a slumbrous stream,
And little kindly winds that creep
Round twilight corners, half asleep.
In Grantchester their skins are white;
They bathe by day, they bathe by night;
The women there do all they ought;
The men observe the Rules of Thought.
They love the Good; they worship Truth;
They laugh uproariously in youth;
(And when they get to feeling old,
They up and shoot themselves, I'm told) . . .
Ah God! to see the branches stir
Across the moon at Grantchester!
To smell the thrilling-sweet and rotten
Unforgettable, unforgotten
River-smell, and hear the breeze
Sobbing in the little trees.
Say, do the elm-clumps greatly stand
Still guardians of that holy land?
The chestnuts shade, in reverend dream,
The yet unacademic stream?
Is dawn a secret shy and cold
Anadyomene, silver-gold?
And sunset still a golden sea
From Haslingfield to Madingley?
And after, ere the night is born,
Do hares come out about the corn?
Oh, is the water sweet and cool,
Gentle and brown, above the pool?
And laughs the immortal river still
Under the mill, under the mill?
Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain? . . . oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

I came upon this poem in a book I found in a dusty box of books in the sunroom
in my grandmother's house when I was about 14. Maybe I was a tad younger. Or
older. Anyway, I knew his poem – 'If I should die, think only this of me;' etc – and
also – 'the rough male kiss of blankets' – but I had not come upon this one before.
And it really really got to me. Went straight in and stayed there. That's the way of
it, when you're young and falling in love with poetry. Even now I sometimes chuckle
and mutter to myself - 'Where das Betreten's not verboten.' (Where the grass is
not forbidden.) As I didn't know any German I wonder how I twigged what that
meant. Maybe the book was annotated.
Well – this poem surfaced again the other day because I was watching the BBC
production of 'Testament Of Youth' (saddest book ever written!) by Vera Brittain.
So of course, Rupert Brooke came to mind. Odd, how this poem has stuck to me.
Because, to be frank, it is not out of the top drawer. It's not his best poem, and
rarely if ever heard of these days. Not that Rupert is heard of much these days.

Bit of background about Rupert Brooke.

Stuff about Grantchester. Fascinating to find out who lives in Orchard House now.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Tuesday Poem - Respect by Ron Pretty


And then there's Steve, black sheep of the everyday,
who would not change his life for any other.
He loves his room at the Albert Clarke Hostel,
would not swap for any poncey house or bungalow
in which some wanker family lives.

He had that once, and kids now scattered who
never visit. That's fine by him. His profile's
not on Facebook, only on police files state to state
for nothing much, he says, just a bit of dealing pot,
a fight or two, or telling the fuzz to get fucked
whenever they try to take him down.

Stopped for drunken driving in an unregistered car
and ordered out, he smiles, 'Say please!' 'Get out
the car,' the cop repeats. He refuses, repeats
his own demand, and finds himself in cuffs
and bruised in the back of a van. All he wants
from life, he says, is stitched in scars on face
and body – from cops or mates whose women
he steals, the freaks he sells his deals to or the pricks
who threw him off the train for being off his face.

But for all his stays in Long Bay gaol, those
psychotic episodes on pot or ice or horse,
he loves his mum as only a prodigal can,
and she loves him for his tinder arms and frail legs,
the wheezing breath in his pigeon chest.
She just wishes he'd remain a slurred voice
on the other end of the phone. She loves
his loyalty, his feverish affection, but is always
terrified he'll visit – with his beard reaching to his chest,
the tats on arms and scars on face and body,
whenever he arrives, he cuts a fearsome figure
in the quiet country town she lives in.

For forty years the cops have beaten him
to pulp for one crime or another;
but now they seldom raid the hostel
where he holds court, perhaps expecting
- hoping – someday soon will be his last.

But Steven skin-and-bones has no regrets
and fewer wants: he has some pot to deal
and every now and then a woman to take to bed
by his blazing drug-fueled eyes. The others in the hostel
tread warily around him for a fuse so short,
a carelessness of consequence that none there now
would care to cross him. At last he has the only thing
he's ever craved or fought for in this life.

I heard Ron Pretty read from his new book 'what the afternoon knows'
(Pitt Street Poetry) at Passionate Tongues recently here in Melbourne -
plus some rip snorter new work for the next book (go Ron!). But he
didn't read this poem. I very much like the way you have to return to
the title to understand what the hero of the poem craves. And, of course,
I live near Frankston, so I see these guys around all the time. You can see
the lost boys, and the angry young men, inhabiting the gaunt, ill-groomed,
crazy-eyed, oath-spluttering, end-of-the-line losers. I give them all a wide
berth and don't make eye contact. They are still angry, after all these years.
There is a world of stories in their anger.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Tuesday Poem - Two Poems by Anne Elvey


A bird

drops to a branch,

the slow water. He’s

to a shape the eye

to match a name.

A shared path at the edge of Chelsea

Three cyclists pass. A grey heron
feeds. The stilts’ legs are drawn by a child.

I reach the pony club. One paddock
is a wetland. I have no tears. My pulse

is a function of my pace. Slowly the sun
warms the ground. I do not see it dry.

I had the great pleasure to be at Collected Works last week for the
launch of Anne Elvey's book Kin (Five Islands Press). I chose these
lovely fragments to share with you because Anne lives more or less
just around the corner from me and I know the places she is writing
about. And that is the cherry on top of the chopped nuts and cream
on top of the banana split!