19th July 2020
1907 – 1973
Are you there ?
Each lover has some theory of his own
About the difference between the ache
Of being with his love, and being alone:
Why what, when dreaming, is dear flesh and bone
That really stirs the senses, when awake,
Appears a simulacrum of his own.
Narcissus disbelieves in the unknown;
He cannot join his image in the lake
So long as he assumes he is alone.
The child, the waterfall, the fire, the stone,
Are always up to mischief, though, and take
The universe for granted as their own.
The elderly, like Proust, are always prone
To think of love as a subjective fake;
The more they love, the more they feel alone.
Whatever view we hold, it must be shown
Why every lover has a wish to make
Some kind of otherness his own:
Perhaps, in fact, we never are alone.
1906 – 1984
This poem is about a small industrial town, outside of London. The poet criticises the place for its lack of culture and atmosphere, and the people for being mediocre. The place is pronounced ‘sl – owl’ to rhyme with ‘cow’ and ‘now’.
Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn’t fit for humans now,
There isn’t grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!
Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
Those air -conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,
Tinned minds, tinned breath.
Mess up the mess they call a town-
A house for ninety-seven down
And once a week a half a crown
For twenty years.
And get that man with double chin
Who’ll always cheat and always win,
Who washes his repulsive skin
In women’s tears:
And smash his desk of polished oak
And smash his hands so used to stroke
And stop his boring dirty joke
And make him yell.
But spare the bald young clerks who add
The profits of the stinking cad;
It’s not their fault that they are mad,
They’ve tasted Hell.
It’s not their fault they do not know
The birdsong from the radio,
It’s not their fault they often go
And talk of sport and makes of cars
In various bogus-Tudor bars
And daren’t look up and see the stars
But belch instead.
In labour-saving homes, with care
Their wives frizz out peroxide hair
And dry it in synthetic air
And paint their nails.
Come, friendly bombs and fall on Slough
To get it ready for the plough.
The cabbages are coming now;
The earth exhales.
1922 – 1985
Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?
Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork
And drive the brute off ?
Six days of the week it soils
With its sickening poison –
Just for paying a few bills!
That’s out of proportion.
Lots of folk live on their wits:
Losels, loblolly-men, louts-
They don’t end as paupers;
Lots of folk live up lanes
With fires in a bucket,
Eat windfalls and tinned sardines-
they seem to like it.
Their nippers have got bare feet,
Their unspeakable wives
Are skinny as whippets – and yet
No one actually starves.
Ah, were I courageous enough
To shout Stuff your pension!
But I know, all too well, that’s the stuff
That dreams are made on:
For something sufficiently toad-like
Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
And cold as snow,
And will never allow me to blarney
My way of getting
The fame and the girl and the money
All at one sitting.
I don’t say, one bodies the other
One’s spiritual truth;
But I do say it’s hard to lose either,
When you have both.
1564 – 1616
Hamlet, Act II, Scene II
Ham. I will tell you why; so shall my anticipation prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the king and queen moult no feather. I have of late,—but wherefore I know not,—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form, in moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not me; no, nor woman neither, though, by your smiling, you seem to say so.
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