Poems & Verse

Poems & Verse

With an uncle like mine, Robert Graves, justly famous for his poetry, I have rarely considered trying to get any poems or verses published. Of course I wrote a few that appeared in school magazines, I once won a £100 prize for a poem contributed to the late Auberon Waugh's magazine The Literary Review which subsequently appeared in an anthology, and Ground Zero was published in the weekend edition of the Bristol Evening Post.

In any case, here is a selection. Please let me know if you like them.

Not by these

24 June 1968

Not by these seeking to entrap you,
Dear Paula, Philippa, Jocelyn,
Only to show your souls' beginning:
Calm, storm and sweet witch;
Whom I have severally encountered -
(Ball-gown sinking into the pavement,
(Suddenly feeling evil round you,
(Wandering over empty moorland) -
Dear Paula, Philippa, Joceleyn
(Whom I must always love or hate)
Cling to each separate fate.


August 1968

Looking into your eyes, my dear, I see there
Caught in a storm, a ship decked out in gold -
Waves are battering, wind and rain are tearing,
Sails are a patchwork, timbers worn and holed - -
I thought it a ship of death, but see, quite firmly
Lashed to the mast, a man who is weak and blind,
Who sails over a sea of desolation
Seeking the tidless harbours of the mind.


2 November 1969

O drunken poet of slow-burning fire
If you forget that goddesses inspire
And change the proper weapon of your mind
From love, the golden shaft of all true times
To mockery of verses barbed with rhymes
The punishment is fixed - never to find
And finally to forget your heart's desire.

Warning to Myself

24 June 1968

Not by these seeking to entrap you,
Dear Paula, Philippa, Jocelyn,
Only to show your souls' beginning:
Calm, storm and sweet witch;
Whom I have severally encountered -
(Ball-gown sinking into the pavement,
(Suddenly feeling evil round you,
(Wandering over empty moorland) -
Dear Paula, Philippa, Joceleyn
(Whom I must always love or hate)
Cling to each separate fate.

Accessory After the Fact

11/12 August 1974

His staff wept; Nixon gamely smiled and went
But even after his lies and his double-dealing
Soldiers presented arms to their President.
This curious contrast robbed me of the feeling
Justice was done; power is more than just,
Writes its own future and decides the rules.
Nixon thought: 'Rather than betray the trust
'America placed in me, because fools
'Betrayed my trust in them at Watergate,
'I will protect them, and protect my name;
'The President is power; I'll write in scenes
'To prove the end can justify the means.'
So, what destroyed him? It was no blind fate:
Capricious power to the people came;
They changed the rules and Nixon lost the game.

The Good Man


When doomed to heaven, the good man churlishly
Replies he wants no part of it: when pressed,
He tells St. Peter of his low regard
For endless singing; while a crystal sea
Frankly appals him, who spent half his life
Watching the waves rage on a shingle shore.
St. Peter whispers quietly in his ear:
"Go down below - God moved there long ago.
"Above? No, not the Devil, but St. Paul:
"It was a myth that the scales fell from his eyes."

St. Valentine's Eve

13 February 1987

Full moon tonight:
Before the next full moon
Blots out the stars
With self-important glare -
By starlight,
Come into my arms by starlight
And find love waiting there.


26 June 1990

Having recently won freedom,
And then longed for you to be near,
First comes attraction, then fear:
There was a kiss that seemed to taste of love -
Sweetheart, have I found you too dear?
Having recently rediscovered hope,
Climbing from dreary shadow-lands of night,
To bring new colour singing into sight,
You seemed my friend upon this great endeavour,
How to distinguish what is false, what real.
Now doubts begin, grave doubts: you came, you said
To help me forward into greater light:
You came to help; but will you stay to steal?
I am indeed your friend; have faith, and trust
That kiss did taste of love and not of lust;
And yet my love is unconditional:
Go freely in the world, do what you must,
Knowing this much at least is true and real:
I came to help, to stay, but not to steal.


July 1990

Fortunate to be walking
Over this timeless land,
We wander onward talking
Apart or hand-in-hand
Trying to understand -
Searching out rhyme and reason
For whom we have become,
Through season after season
Of foxglove, briar and plum,
Careless if paths seem endless,
Careless when days seem long:
Knowing that, never friendless
We'll find where we belong
And end our search in song.

Something Went Wrong

14 August 1990

Something went wrong last time -
What was it?
Something to do with the nature of our work?
So much to resolve, so much intense pain
Beat down like giant bells from the remembered past,
Crying out danger! Danger!
Until bells became skulls, heaped up by every bedside:
Then came the shadow of death; in creaking metal
Warning of some disaster.
'Courage!' I cried; 'Nowhere now but forward!'
Bravely you responded; but then came death itself,
Tearing a huge rent in time, like a black hole
Pulling you fiercely towards extinction.
Suddenly the scene changed
To a sandy beach,
Gulls crying, the sea lapping gently along the shore,
Palm trees, and a familiar voice in your ears.
That was another illusion:
Not far behind loomed those dreary realms
From which you emerged only lately:
So where is hope?
It is here, in friendship.
Let us begin again:
Exploring and understanding the past together,
Finding, in time, new independence, new purpose,
Healing old wounds with a new creation.

Gone Far Away

14 November 1990

Dear lover, now gone far away
Into a realm I cannot own
Sitting on your familiar throne
Leaving me here bereft, alone:
I thank you for the hours we spent<
I do not ask you to relent.
Your anger comes because you feel
That what I felt for you was real.
Pretend to feel indifference?
It is no more than a pretence.
Yet we may work together still,
Though neither bent to either's will;
And may I hope in friendship find
Some consolation in that blind
And unpremeditated trust
Which lasts much longer than mere lust.

Fragment on a Broken Clay Tablet


Euphrates, Lord, beneath this orange sky
Ruled by the Sun-god, willing us to die
(His messengers the carrion birds of prey
(That swoop from heaven on an evil day)
Deliver us from drought, for ever flow
That we may irrigate our lands and go
With hopeful hands to plant our store of seed
Knowing you will provide the crops we need.
Our children prosper and our cities stand
Monuments to your grace throughout the land,
Cities to last a thousand years, built well
And through their streets fine vehicles roll by,
Some with wild asses pawing to be free,
Others with oxen...

Some lines for the lovely Sara to accompany a bunch of flowers

22 December 1997

Having (however briefly) introduced
A serpent into Paradise, traduced
[A vile rhyme, I know, but let it pass
Mere symptom of a mind put out to grass]
Of hospitality the very name
Of liberality the wholesome frame
Of kindly company designed to please -
Your foolish host is quaking at the knees
And begs forgiveness with these flowers - please
Accept them and forgive, life being too brief
To spend in sorrow for an hour of grief;
Accept them and forget - let ninety-seven
Fade into darkness like the winter heaven.

Mourning at Aberystwyth

13 February 1998

He watched the waves
Abandoning their claim on a long promontory of rock
The pier left stranded high and dry...

Foolish Romantic

9-19 February 1998

1) His dream
My dearest, passionate and wise
With gentle hands and tender eyes
Loving companion on a voyage
Unplanned but suddenly begun...
No charts or compasses, but look how the sun
Catches the billowing sails - I could agree
My dear, my love, to take things as they come
Protect your independence, sound no drum
Or trumpet as we both set out to sea.
She looks at him doubtfully, yet he continues
Yes, I'll agree; yet leave a little space
For unexpected joy, for heaven's grace:
Yes, I agree; though neither of us knows
On what wild shores our craft may one day beach,
Whether our barques decked out with golden hope
Will be by adverse currents driven apart
Or whether we may both together reach
Some rich and rare Byzantium of the heart.
2) Their Reality
They had hardly left harbour when one of them came to grief:
The wind took him sailing on; but she struck a reef.

Too Many Goodbyes

5 April 1998

The first 'Goodbye!' was tender,
The second still a treat;
The third was rather jokey,
The fourth one much less sweet.
The fifth, I scowled a little,
The sixth I felt in pain...
The seventh broke our friendship -
Don't mention her again!

You Took My Hand

16 April 1998

'Driving over the bridge, we entered
A world full of myth and magic,
Of tales full of joy or tragic
So I trust we are thoroughly centred
On - on ...'
But my outer voice falters
For sometimes everything alters,
Sometimes love comes like a flail
Sometimes even words can fail.
As the sun fled out of sight
And the world turned utterly white
Then I found in you the keeper
Of reality much deeper
(As we linked our arms in the snow)
Than the one we normally know;
So when, later, you took my hand
In a movement quite unplanned
So innocent, without art,
You also took my heart.

Loving You

1 May 1998

Though you never asked
And I never answered
I love you more than the world can say
More than enough for tomorrow
Tremendously for today
And I'm sad to be going away;
'Cause I love you completely and wholly
In an unregenerate way
It's kind of body and soul-ly
And my eyes are out on a stalk
For I love the way that you kiss me
And I love the way that you talk
I love the way that you bliss me
And I love the way that you walk
I love the way that you listen
And I love the way that you speak
I love the way your eyes glisten
With hazel, witch-hazel I think
'Cause although I'm away for a week
I am under your spell my darling
In my dreams we are cheek to cheek
On a dance-floor somewhere in heaven
And although this seems Over-The-Top
You absolutely attract
I love the way you are stacked
You are tender and clever and true
Just stick to me like glue
'Cause I want it never to stop.

Poem Written By Someone Else

S.Else 1 May 1998

On waking he abandoned
His rational pretensions
Sensibly realizing
He was in love.
Thereafter he devoted
Whatever was left to him
Of life and health
To a beautiful romance
The echoes of which
Though quite unplanned
Full of joy and tears
Have already spanned
A thousand years.


1 May 1998

..... had she wanted a hard-bitten writer
Wondering how to indict her
On some charge or other? [How could
Such a fellow do what he should?
Hard-bitten pride would have wrecked
Any remnant of being direct
And he would have left her and failed her,
Never loved her, never mailed her.]
But (Thank God) someone else came along
Not quite what she had expected
Not quite what her friends had directed
But gradually she was beguiled
He knew what was right, what was wrong
He spoke as a man, not a child
He had love in his heart and a song
And the song that he sang was so clear
She was named 'My true love' and 'My dear'
She was told that he wanted her near.....

Re: The Brothers Powys

24 August 1998

Though almost never quoted,
Outranked, outclassed, outvoted
By academic men,
They come and shyly tell me,
They sidle up and tell me
They use me - now and then.
I therefore thank them clearly:
I warm to them most dearly
And, not being avaricious,
I think it most propitious
With feelings of propriety
To give to the Society<
(That others new to Powys
Should come to know what woe is)
The copyright to use
Exactly as you choose.
I rest secure - their sister,
Their lovely youngest sister
Asked how I knew these men?
She said: "Within your pages
"My brothers live again."

For Greta at Hawthornden

9 March 1999

Towards the moment of parting
The truth attempts to take over -
Although to be true or accurate or new
Might demand a degree of humanity and risk
Some distance beyond my current capacity.
So I might meander on in my usual way
With something like: 'Greta, Gretl; Greta, Gretl';
Or is it possible that, just for once,
Betraying fifty years of romantic dreams
I have a true estimate of how things are,
Giving hope of something less nonsensical?
Friendship, perhaps, and a pledge of honesty?
Nothing is ever exactly what it seems.

Some old-fashioned lines for a new-fashioned friend

3-4 January 1999

You came here falling like a star to earth
Bringing your plenty to a land of dearth
Blazing with bravery and light and lust
For living
- in a county turned to dust
And ashes by abominable sloth
In word and thought, illimitable growth
(Which is our heritage) ruled out entire
By syndicated thought and wholly dire
Dependence on the second-hand and grim
Falsification of the truth -
each limb
Most beautiful proclaims you to have come
From some far land of which the guardians, dumb
In your respect (Or we'd have heard a swell
Of rumour and invention sweet to tell)
Thought best we should not know: dark history,
Some dangerous and important mystery
Wrapped up in you?
Of that I cannot guess.
But this I know: I would not have you less
Than very dearest friend. For I can sense
Behind each dear and beautiful defence
A true nobility: a loyal heart;
Human, like all of us; and yet apart
For having some while wrestled at each breath
With subtly smiling but most ravenous death.
Stay here awhile: let many a ripening moon
Winter and Summer, January and June,
Revisit you and bathe you in her light -
Whom to completely lose were endless night.

A Difficult House-Party

4 March 1999 [last line courtesy A.MacLean]

We met for coffee nightly
We scintillated brightly
But nothing did or said.
Instead of screaming loudly
We kept our tempers proudly:
We said 'Good-night!' politely
And then we went to bed
Wishing that we were dead.


31 March 1999

Great heart,
To hear your voice
Made me rejoice.
Dear stalwart friend
Whom I shall love
Until the end.
Great heart,
How can I start?
If you could know
Each debt I owe
Each love dismissed
Each false love kissed...
And yet and yet -
Why talk of debt
When you are kind
And love is blind?
Great heart,
Such solace proves
That where the queen of heaven moves
She watches keenly over all
Those lovers whom she has in thrall
Determined to illuminate
The good, the passable, the great
With notions of a richer fate
Pre-eminent, predestinate
Than they could hope to know alone.
So, sitting on a silver throne
And smiling sideways to the sea
Sometimes, dear heart, remember me.

Falling in Love

20/21 November 1999

Darling, whom in some despair
Bridges burned
Kisses barely returned
I send home to home
Not knowing whether -
Or do I? -
It's difficult all the same
It's a complex game
Because, Darling, being yourself -
With your laugh and your bee-stung lips
And your curves and your elegant hips
And your mind which I find
Like the light of a day unforeseen
Like your eyes with a faint tinge of green
And your heart which makes mine miss a beat
When you start to caress me with truth
With your figure of desperate grace
When I look at your porcelain face
I feel - what do I feel?
That my senses reel
That when you walk in
With a glorious unmistakeable scent of sin
Damn correctness, damn duty:
You are sheer undeniable beauty
You are life on the wing,
And you make my heart sing.

An Unsuccessful Speech

3 April 1999

'Dear heart and darling friend
'Across the table-top
'My love to you I send -
'Your dinner-party quite
'Reminds me, dear, how right
'It is to be at ease
'With those whom we can please:
'Good fellowship, a dish
'Of most delicious fish
'Good wine both white and red
'But above all', he said -
Striking a noble pose
Though swaying on his toes,
[We did not like to think
(Though wishing he would stop)
He was the worse for drink]
'But above all what ought
'To please - a glass of port -
'A glass or two at least -
'Completes the perfect feast;
'And then perhaps a kiss
'To consummate my bliss?'
His swaying grew pronounced -
Our hostess looked askance
On seeing him advance
And finally announced
"Brother, your only chance
"Is being kicked, not kissed -
"You're absolutely pissed!"
We thought he took it well;
He must have felt like hell.
He swayed a little more,
And, smiling all the while
A beatific smile
Slid gently to the floor
Where he began to snore.

Ground Zero

September 2001

That we, who lost the moon, the sun
The fleeting hour that was our own,
May sleep more quietly, recall
Not only when each tower fell,
The flame and ruin; but at length
Draw from our sacrifice some strength:
Courage to openly resist
Each sad, sick-hearted terrorist
Who seeks by violence to impose
Cowardly compliance on his foes;
Courage to live life unafraid
Undaunted by the bomb or blade;
Courage to say with every breath
‘The price of Freedom may be Death!’
Our Grave – yet not so grave a Fall,
That Truth for our Memorial.

Weird Rhymes (1): 'To a Lost Tyre'

2-4 February 2002

O Tyre, be much accursed
For suffering that burst:
You left me in the lurch
When I was bravely dressed
In all my Sunday Best
And on my way to Church.

My bride-to-be has fled
My hopes of love are dead
And all because you failed
To remain round and sound -
O Tyre, who did your worst,
Though you are much dispersed
I'll try to have you found
And then I'll have you jailed!

For my Peers at Thanet House

27 June 1998

Instead of slipping back, and back, and back
Into that dismal place in which we lack
All spontaneity, all truth, all hope
Of what it is which truly gives us scope,
Thinking it highly preferable to live
In those routines of ours which seem to give
Security, stability and light,
But which in fact perpetuate the night -
Instead of slipping back, this little band
Whose grouping seemed so curiously unplanned
Who in September nervously began
To learn to live by quite a different plan
Have found a new awareness, a new scope
Can face the future with a deal of hope
No longer lonely contemplating flight
But walking hand-in-hand towards the light.

Reply to Rupert Brooke's 'The Funeral of Youth: Threnody'

2 August 2006

'All except only Love', the poet wrote
'Love had died long ago'.
Love dead? Not so -
After too many tears
Love may have slept awhile,
Her fitful sleep
Midwife to many fears -
But finally she woke:
Great-heartedly she spoke -
A new dawn broke.

From Catullus

June 2002

Mourn, Gods and Goddesses of Love:
Mourn, men who strive to emulate
Their nobler feelings about fate
Mourn, those below and those above:
A sparrow's dead -
but her delight
That sparrow, dear to my dear girl,
Loved by her more than her own sight.

For it was honey to her soul
The daughter of her sweet control
Who never left her mother's zone
Who as it hopped now here now there
Chirrupped to her and her alone -
Who now the shadowy journey learns
Into that place without a sky
From where philosophers deny
That any living thing returns...

My curse upon you, shadows of the dark,
Underworld demons preying on the light
Devouring all that's beautiful and bright.
You've stolen something that had beauty's spark:
That poor bird's life: a very evil act!
And from that evil follows this sad fact:
Because you have her sparrow in your keeping,
My darling's swollen eyes are red with weeping.