Waterloo Field

Deep, deep the sleep of heroes laid to rest
In hollows watered by their youthful blood.

Deep, deep the silence on the smoking plain
Where horse and rider will not rise again.

Deep, deep the ploughshare’s furrow like a wound
Across their common grave in fallow ground.

Deep, deep the yellow of the ripened corn
Which falls before the reaper’s scythe at dawn.

Deep, deep the snow whose icy funeral pall
Bedecks the dead and slowly covers all.

1987-1988

To Samuel Palmer

Now breaks the snowy may upon the hedge
And Spring the orchard fills with waves of white.
High sails the full-frown moon across the skies
And floods the dreaming sheepfolds with its light.
The early shepherd plays upon his pipe
And calls the distant dawn across the night.

In Shoreham’s fields the mystic grain still grows,
The wheatsheaves ripen in the August sun,
The spirit whispers in the sacred groves
Of lives well ordered and of work well done.
In valleys thick with corn dead Virgil lives
And through your visions speaks to everyone.

October 1980

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

Titicaca, between Peru and Bolivia

In the lake of floating islands,
Beyond the haze of disbelief,
Lie the Island of the Sun
And the Island of the Moon.

The Sun God rocked our reed boat
On the breast of the sacred lake.
In the great stillness,
Between sky and water,
We closed our eyes and journey inwards.
Here, truly, was Arcadia

1999

Jerseys

At the end of their long chains
The cows lie chewing.
Surrounded by pale circles
Of closely cropped grass,
They slowly regurgitate
The morning’s grazing.
Soft eyelids blink drowsily
Over wet round eyes,
Gazing into grassy voids
Or calling up warm
Visions of stone milking sheds
Bedded with clean straw.

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

 

 

Mediterranean

Come with me to the brow of the hill,
The wind in the pines is singing still
And the sun is high in the sky.
From the top we’ll get a glimpse of the sea,
Of the misty islands of Arcady
And the distant mountains high.

There lies the ocean the Argonauts crossed,
Where Ulysses and his ship were tossed
For ten full winters long,
Turned into swine by the witch Circe,
Lulled by the fruit of the lotus tree
And the winged sirens’ song.

Over the sea on the Southern side
Are the lands of Africa, dark and wide,
And the fountains of the Nile.
There on its shores in the burning sun,
To the myriad insects metallic hum,
Basks the watchful crocodile.

Away to the West, beyond the trees,
Stand the mighty Pillars of Hercules
Where the wild Atlantic flows.
And on this side, from their Carthage home
Came Hannibal’s elephants bound for Rome
Through the shining Alpine snows.

So come with me to the brow of the hill,
The wind in the pines is singing still
And the sun is high in the sky.
From the top we’ll get a glimpse of the sea,
Of the misty islands of Arcady
And the distant mountains high.

(Camping in Frejus 1980)