Girton

So old and winter-worn
The apple trees of Girton,
Each ivied trunk inhabited
By female spirits, resting
After battles but not sleeping.
Soft dews of summer days,
Anoint their tired limbs,
Refresh and re-invest
Heroic minds.
The struggle is not won
And from the aged wood
New flowers must spring.

Cambridge
28 July 1989

Tiananmen Square

The Student’s Poem

Last night as I slept in Tiananmen Square
I dreamt a new age had begun.
White peonies bloomed in forests of jade
And a bridge joined the earth and sun.
Our bicycles flew on butterfly wings
And they carried us far and high,
On currents of hope we floated along
Like kites through a cloudless sky.

But daylight breaks early in Tiananmen Square
And our time for such dreaming is done.
The tanks start to roll with the first morning light
To the crack of truncheon and gun.
A blind man cries out: “I can hear rifle shots
And I smell the smoke on the air.
Oh, tell me, please tell me, what do you see
In the vastness of Tiananmen Square?”

How blessed the sightless! “The smoke pall hangs thick
On the bodies of wounded and slain.
The petals are bruised and the peony heads
Are bowed down to earth by the rain.
The butterfly wings are crushed in the mud
And our blood flows away to the sea.”
Oh, the tears are flooding his sightless eyes
And my own bitter tears blind me.

Deng’s Poem

When I was their age
I was crossing mountain passes
Deep in snow,
My feet wrapped in straw,
Doubled up at night
With cold and hunger,
Soaking
my swollen chilblains in urine
To relieve the pain.
When the thaw began,
We were all captured
And the Nationalists
Clubbed us black and blue.

Now from where I sit
On my lacquered chair
Upholstered in saffron silk,
I hear the gunfire
In Tiananmen Square.
In fact, you should know
My hesitation
Was short-lived,
For the choice between
Men and orthodoxy
Is not difficult to make.
We, too, paid a price
For all we conquered.
We turned the country
Upside down but now,
At my age, I don’t
Really want to live
Such turmoil again.

In the dark, still pool
Below my window,
A giant carp swims
In constant circles.
He was there before
We began our march,
He will still be swimming
When I am gone.
Give me your arm
And walk me to the pool,
And bring some pieces
Of rice bread with you.

The Mother’s Poem

I begged him not to go
But how could I
Expect him to obey
When all around
The youthful current flowed
So swift and strong.
Last night on my old sheets
He wrote in black
His hopeful testament
And by sunrise
This morning, he was gone.

This is his only
Picture I possess,
Taken by the Gate
Of Heavenly Peace
In last winter’s
Early snowfall,
Not far from where
He fell and died today.
They cradled his head,
Red as a poppy,
Then bore him away
On a builder’s cart.

He was my only child
Which pleased the Party.
Now they have taken
My one child away.
Alone, I hear
His footfall at the door
But it is only
The night wind
Trying to enter.

Reciting the poem in Tiananmen Square in 2005. Celia Cummins, Judy Smith and Victoria Smith

Reciting the poem in Tiananmen Square in 2005. Celia Cummins, Judy Smith and Victoria Smith

 

 

We fallen angels

Sul’s yellow waters
were stirred by wind and time
As we lingered there.

Up Jacob’s Ladder
Isolated angels climb.
We fallen angels
Look up with sadness, minds and
Feet earthbound, yet holding hands.

In Bath, a long time ago!

Rome Revisited

I travelled light this time
And came to Rome without
Religious certainty
To pin my conscience down,
Free now to excavate,
From strata of belief
And primitive taboos,
Some vestiges of truth.
Now, gods and ages merge.
Inscriptions, sculpted all
By one perennial hand,
In unison proclaim
The noble promises
And hollow alibis
Of each successive age.
St. Peter’s colonnades
And fallen architraves
Of Augustan temples
Possess this in common:
All are, terminally,
Fatalistically,
In varying stages
Of decomposition.
No crying of the geese,
High on the Capitol,
Can protect the City
Against time and reason.

13th November 1990

Tired railway sleepers

Tired railway sleepers
From long disappeared lines,
Shoring up the earth in
My vertical garden.
In the frozen small hours,
Do your fibres vibrate
In time to the rhythm
Of the five o’clock train
Heading South to Nivelles
Or distant Charleroi?
Tired railway sleepers
From up lines and down lines,
From shunting yards and sheds
In the back of beyond,
From bridges and cuttings,
Tunnels and viaducts,
Do you still groan under
The weight of ghost wagons
with frail human cargoes,
Transported to God knows
What final solution?

February 1995

Psalm 122

Image

Psalm 122

Pictures from Holland

One ragged scarecrow alone in a field
Waves to the train which is gathering speed.

Two long-billed storks perched on a rooftop
Stand on one leg and bask in the sun.

Three whitewashed windmills turn in the wind,
Pumping the water or grinding the corn.

Four painted barges in nose-to-tail line
Follow their leader along the canal.

Five white ponies in a buttercup field
Scamper away at the sight of the train.

Six mottled cows at the red stable door
Wait to be milked at the end of the day.

Seven bells chiming high in the steeple,
Telling the time to the people below.

Eight wooden clogs on eight pretty feet
Dance on the cobbles beside the canal.

Nine fishing boats tied up at the quay
And fishermen drying their nets in the sun.

Ten children of Holland cycling to school
Wait by the bridge for the train to go by.