If You are a Man

If you are a man, and believe in the destiny of mankind then say to yourself: we will cease to care about property and money and mechanical devices, and open our consciousness to the deep, mysterious life that we are now cut off from. The machine shall be abolished from the earth again; it is a mistake that mankind has made; money shall cease to be, and property shall cease to perplex and we will find the way to immediate contact with life and with one another. To know the moon as we have never known yet she is knowable. To know a man as we have never known a man, as never yet a man was knowable, yet still shall be. DH Lawrence

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12 The Eve of St. Mark

Stroke the small silk with your whispering hands, godmother, nod and nod from the half-gloom; broochlight intermittent between the fronds, the owl immortal in its crystal dome. Along the mantelpiece veined lustres trill, the clock discounts us with a telling chime. Familiar ministrants, clerks-of-appeal, burnish upon the threshold of the dream: churchwardens in wing-collars bearing scrolls of copyhold well-tinctured and well-tied. Your photo-albums loved by the boy-king preserve in sepia waterglass the souls of distant cousins, virgin till they died, and lost the delicate suitors who could sing. Geoffrey Hill

from Mercian Hymns

I King of the perennial holly-groves, the riven sand-stone: overlord of the M%: architect of the historic rampart and ditch, the citadel of Tamworth, the summer hermitage in Holy Cross: guardian of the Welsh Bridge and the Iron Bridge: contractor to the new desirable estates: saltmaster: money-changer: commissioner for oaths: martyrologist: the friend of Charlemagne. ‘I liked that’, said Offa, ‘sing it again’. VI The princes of Mercia were badger and raven. Thrall to their freedom, I dug and hoarded. Orchards fruited above clefts. I drank from honeycombs of chill sandstone. ‘A boy at odds in the house, lonely among brothers.’ But I, who had none, fostered a strangeness; gave myself to unattainable toys. Candles of gnarled resin, apple-branches, the tacky mistletoe. ‘Look’ they said and again ‘look.’ But I ran slowly; the landscape flowed away, back to its source. In the schoolyard, in the cloakrooms, the children boasted their scars of dried snot; wrists and knees garnished with impetigo.

The Language of Birds

The sides of the hill are stubbed with fire-pits. The sky is paraffin blue. A pigeon’s heart swings here on the kissing gate, withered, stuck through with pins, while out on the estuary, beaks of birds needle to the wind’s compass, the sky’s protocol. Swans go singing out to sea, the weather is changing cold. * In the elm above me, a magpie chuckles and turns the magic wand of itself away, towards the light. I climb to the seeing rock high over the pines; a blown squall of rooks rises and settles like ash. I saw the hay marry the fire and the fire walk. The sky went the colour of stone. The cattle sickened: what milk that came came threaded, red as dawn. * Down below, in the grey fall of heather and gorse, a swithering flame. Hooded crows haunt the highway, pulling at roadkill; their heads swivel to watch. I’ve seen them murder their own, the weak or the reare, those with the gift of tongues. I keep an albino one in a box. I can’t leg to of it till it tells me its name. Robin Robertson

From the Domain at Arnheim

From the Domain of Arnheim And so that all these ages, these years we cast behind us, like the smoke-clouds dragged back into vacancy when the rocket springs – The domain of Arnheim was all snow, but we were there. We saw a yellow light thrown on the icefield from the huts by the pines, and laughter came up floating from a white corrie miles away, clearly. We moved on down, arm in arm. I know you would have thought it was a dream but we were there. And those were trumpets – tremendous round the rocks – while they were burning fires and trash and mammoths’ bones. They sang naked, and kissed in the smoke. A child, or one of their animals, was crying. Young men blew ice crystals off their drums. We came down among them, but of course they could see nothing on their time scale. Yet they sensed us, stopped, looked up – even into our eyes. To them we were a displacement of the air, a sudden chill, yet we had no power over their fear. If one of them had been dying he would have died. The crying came from one just born: that was the cause of the song. We saw it now. What had we stopped but joy. I know you felt the same dismay, you gripped my arm, they were waiting for what they knew of us to pass. A sweating trumpeter took a brand from the fire with a shout and threw it where our bodies would have been – we felt nothing but his courage. And so they would deal with every imagined power seen or unseen. There are no gods in the domain of Arnheim. We signalled to the ship; got back our lives and days returned to us, but haunted by deeper souvenirs than any rocks or seeds. From time the souvenirs are deeds. Edwin Morgan

Carrier

She goes through water. She is made of bread, beans, telephone conversations, milk, tea, music and shampoo. Planes are on her decks. Like egrets n a hippopotamus; like idiots, or children. Her flanks? Well surely they are old and quite forgotten thoughts. Her metal is thick. In the middle of each slab it’s as dark as it, one day, will be. The weight would press you as thin as skin, as thin as nothing. The anchor chains are of a monstrous toy. The links hold each other and where they touch is some awful pain. Now look away and listen. I think she is telling you something. To be down here, in the silly, dark waves of the world’s dull stomach; the sticky surface, the clicking foam, the dirty smell of it. Fact: the carrier’s salted sides might be meat, or my unhappiness, or my father, or something that for the moment, slips my mind. They are going down underwater, going up above it. Be sorry for it, please, because its ours. I’m sure it is. Yes, I am quite sure it is! Mark Waldron

The Front

It stood firm for a fortnight, a cloud coast that marked the front. All along the west it towered; a full pan from north to south held it in view. We watched it from the beach each day for signs of movement. It didn’t budge. I thought of a tidal wave, freeze-framed, but didn’t say. Somebody on the third night described it as a parting of the Red Sea and then I couldn’t help but squint for seals or fish caught in its watery updraft, but saw nothing. At certain times of day you would have sworn you looked upon a land mass with terns and gannets nested in its darkness. Once, it grew the grey lip of a carrier deck. Sunsets came a few degrees early and, backlit, it glowed like something molten, the birds heading for home crossing its lid like car adverts with the sound turned down. A two-week high of learning to live with it, of tuning into paperbacks and rock-pools; the way the thrill of snow-capped peaks in summer will slowly thaw, become invisible and be just there: so it was with the front. On the last day we woke to rain as thick as diesel slicking the windows, all the shadows scattered, the light turned low. We were inside it. Paul Farley

The Whale Knot

Sea-beast for sky-worshippers, the whale easily absorbs all others. Colours, languages, creatures, forms. Read the whale in all the ways clouds are read. The clouds out of sight are patterned and inscrutable; chaos from simple constituents, form out of simple chaos. A long-drawn complicity with us all in the sperm-whale’s little eye; among its cells, somewhere, land-knowledge, the diverse, our condition. Decamped into boundless viscosity, our Absolute, the whale seems simpler than it is: as easy water-to-land knot in the museum sperm-whale’s bared head-bone, alive as the megaliths are alive, all the force-lines crossing within their singular undemanding forms. Lifted from the whale-head, a disused quarry swims, borne on the earth; its cliffs a moon-cradle, its waters part of the sky. Roy Fisher