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Title: Collected Poems

Date of first publication: 1954

Author: Frances Cornford (1886-1960)

Date first posted: May 4, 2015

Date last updated: May 4, 2015

Faded Page eBook #20150508

This ebook was produced by: Barbara Watson, Al Haines, Alex White & the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at http://www.pgdpcanada.net













First published in September 1954 by the Cresset Press Ltd

11 Fitzroy Square, London, W1

Second impression, January 1955






Printed in Great Britain by the Shenval Press Ltd

London, Hertford and Harlow







This collection contains all the poems I wish to preserve from my previously published work. It starts with a poem I wrote in 1902 when I was sixteen, and ends with several written during the past twelve months. I have slightly revised some of my earlier work in places where I was originally most dissatisfied with it, and yet found myself, at the time, incapable of emending it. No poems included in the last group have appeared in book form before. My thanks are due to the editors of TIME AND TIDE, THE LISTENER, PUNCH and THE NEW STATESMAN AND NATION for permission to reprint some of these. Messrs Bowes & Bowes Publishers Ltd., The Hogarth Press and the Cambridge University Press have each, in the past, published volumes of my verse, and I am grateful for their kind permission to select from these.

Once more I wish to thank Mr John Hayward for the vigilant care with which he has gone through the whole book, and Mr David Castillejo for his practical aid and for his understanding, without which I should never have succeeded in preparing it for the press. It was to have been dedicated to Sir Edward Marsh who, through all the last years of his life, helped me over every stray poem, with an unflagging friendship and skill. Instead, I must dedicate it to his memory.

November 1953

F. C. C.




Autumn Morning at Cambridge

The Watch

The Certain Knot of Peace



To a Fat Lady seen from the Train

London Streets






A Recollection

A Wasted Day

In Dorset

Night Song [original title: At Night]





Autumn Midnight


The New-born Baby’s Song

The Country Bedroom

A Country Legacy

The Princess and the Gypsies

Susan to Diana

A Lodging for the Night [original title: The Old Nurse]

Contemporaries [original title: No Immortality?]

An Allegory





Lincolnshire Remembered

Words for Music [original title: The Unbeseechable]


The Old Friend [original title: The Dead One]

At Night

At the End


A Glimpse

Féri Bekassy [original title: Féri Dead 1915]

Mediterranean Morning

Words for a Song [original title: The Lovers in the Lane]

She warns Him


A Stranger in Provence [original title: Provence]

The Woman with the Baby to the Philosophers

The Sick Queen





On August the Thirteenth

The Old Servant

A Back View

Ode on the Whole Duty of Parents

After a Latin Epitaph in Madingley Church

Tapestry Song


The Madman and the Child

After the Eumenides

The Past [original title: Near an Old Prison]

Yama and Yami

Night-Nursery Thoughts


The Lake and the Instant

Cambridge Autumn

The Trumpet Shall Sound

The Single Woman

The Revelation [original title: The Conversation]

Fairy-Tale Idyll for Two Voices





Travelling Home

Waking in the Attic Bedroom

The Corner of the Field

The Visit

Early Waking


To a Young Cat in the Orchard

In the Backs

Gone Down

After the Examination

The Grandson Dresses Up

Family Likeness

Bedroom Dawn

The Coast: Norfolk

Bicker’s Cottage

Summer Beach


Lovers in the Mountains

Morning Prayer

Behind the Greek Restaurant


London Spring


The Old Woman in Spring

Parting in Peacetime

Parting in Wartime

From a Letter to America on a Visit to Sussex

Soldiers on the Platform


Autumn Blitz

For M.S. Singing Frühlingsglaube in 1945

The Face in the Opposite Corner

A Friend

The True Evil

For J.R.—On Elisabeth Singing

Northern Return


Summer Rain

Night Storm


Village before Sunset

All Souls’ Night

City Evening

For Carmen at an English Window

Late Home



POEMS 1948-1953


On the Cliff


Figures on the Platform

The Spanish Maids in England

Country Idyll

The Scholar

Inscription for a Wayside Spring

The Night Express

Cornish Waking

The Handkerchief

The Conscript

A Wartime Sketch

Mr Cooper

The Herd

The Old Woman at the Flower Show

The Quarrel

Two Years Old

The Gull

June Indoors

Midsummer Waking


November Landscape

After the Party

For Nijinsky’s Tomb

A Diplomat. Triolet

The Montreux Hotel. Triolet

Words for a Madrigal

Two Epitaphs:

    For Charlotte Brontë

    On a Pet





Lines on Foreign Travel

Rondeau on Wines in Wartime

Journeys End in Lovers’ Meeting:

    At a Dinner Party

    In a Cambridge Garden

Charm for Obtaining Domestic Help

Anagram for Guy Fawkes Night

Epitaph on a Reviewer



Index of First Lines



I ran out in the morning, when the air was clean and new

And all the grass was glittering and grey with autumn dew,

I ran out to an apple-tree and pulled an apple down,

And all the bells were ringing in the old grey town.


Down in the town off the bridges and the grass,

They are sweeping up the leaves to let the people pass,

Sweeping up the old leaves, golden-reds and browns,

Whilst the men go to lecture with the wind in their gowns.


October 1902


I wakened on my hot, hard bed,

Upon the pillow lay my head;

Beneath the pillow I could hear

My little watch was ticking clear.

I thought the throbbing of it went

Like my continual discontent;

I thought it said in every tick:

I am so sick, so sick, so sick;

O Death, come quick, come quick, come quick,

Come quick, come quick, come quick, come quick.


So, my proud soul, so you, whose shining force

  Could gallop with me to eternity,

Stand now, appealing like a tired horse:

           Unharness me.


O passionate world! O faces of my friends!

  O half-grasped meanings, intricate and deep!

Sudden, as with a child, the tumult ends,

           Silenced by sleep.



I laid me down upon the shore

  And dreamed a little space;

I heard the great waves break and roar

  The sun was on my face.


My idle hands and fingers brown

  Played with the pebbles grey;

The waves came up, the waves went down,

  Both thundering and gay.


The pebbles smooth and salt and round

  Were warm upon my hands,

Like little people I had found

  Sitting among the sands.


The grains of sand completely small

  Soft through my fingers ran;

The sun shone down upon us all,

  And so my dream began:


How all of this had been before,

  How ages far away

I lay on some forgotten shore

  As here I lie today.


The waves came shining up the sands,

  As here today they shine;

And in my pre-Pelasgian hands

  The sand was warm and fine.


I have forgotten whence I came

  Or where my home might be,

Or by what strange and savage name

  I called that thundering sea.


I only know the sun shone down

  As still it shines today,

And friendly in my fingers brown

  The little pebbles lay.



A young Apollo, golden-haired,

  Stands dreaming on the verge of strife

Magnificently unprepared

    For the long littleness of life.


O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,

  Missing so much and so much?

O fat white woman whom nobody loves,

Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,

When the grass is soft as the breast of doves

  And shivering-sweet to the touch?

O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,

  Missing so much and so much?


‘The blundering and cruel ways of nature’


O Providence, I will not praise,

Neither for fear nor joy of gain,

Your blundering and cruel ways.


This city where the dun fog stays,

These tired faces in the rain,

O Providence, I will not praise.


Here in the mud and wind that slays

In the cold streets, I scan again

Your blundering and cruel ways.


And all men’s miserable days,

And all their ugliness and pain,

O Providence, I will not praise.


I will not join the hymns men raise

Like slaves who would avert, in vain,

Your blundering and cruel ways.


At least, in this distracted maze,

I love the truth and see it plain;

O Providence, I will not praise

Your blundering and cruel ways.




So begins the day,

Solid, chill, and grey,

But my heart will wake

Happy for your sake;

Singing like a child,

No more tossed and wild,

Quiet as a flower

In this first grey hour.


So my heart will wake

Happy, for your sake.



My father’s friend came once to tea.

He laughed and talked. He spoke to me.

But in another week they said

That friendly pink-faced man was dead.


‘How sad . . .’ they said, ‘the best of men . . .’

So I said too, ‘How sad’; but then

Deep in my heart I thought, with pride,

‘I know a person who has died’.


I spoiled the day;

Hotly, in haste,

All the calm hours

I gashed and defaced.


Let me forget,

Let me embark,

Sleep for my boat,

And sail through the dark.


Till a new day

Heaven shall send

Whole as an apple,

And kind as a friend.


From muddy road to muddy lane

I plodded through the falling rain;

For miles and miles was nothing there

But mist, and mud, and hedges bare.


At length approaching I espied

Two gipsy women side by side;

They turned their faces broad and bold

And brown and freshened by the cold,

And stared at me in gipsy wise

With shrewd, unfriendly, savage eyes.


No word they said, no more dared I,

And so we passed each other by,

The only living things that met

In all those miles of mist and wet.


On moony nights the dogs bark shrill

Down the valley and up the hill.


There’s one is angry to behold

The moon so unafraid and cold,

That makes the earth as bright as day,

But yet unhappy, dead, and grey.


Another in his strawy lair

Says: ‘Who’s a-howling over there?

By heavens I will stop him soon

From interfering with the moon.’


So back he barks, with throat upthrown:

‘You leave our moon, our moon alone.’

And other distant dogs respond

Beyond the fields, beyond, beyond.


To Jacques and Gwen Raverat


Why is it grown so suddenly cold at night?

The handles of the chest-of-drawers are bright

And round, and hard, and like a usurer’s eyes—

Perhaps it is the moon’s cold from the skies?

I wish I had not woken thus alone—

I think she pours a coldness of her own

On each loved leaf upon the garden trees,

So that they never can recover. These

And ruined starry daisies all will say:

‘Queen of the garden, now we go away,

Now we have known the cold of the moon that kills

And though tomorrow all the heaven fills

With golden light until the chill sun’s set,

Though for an hour the midges minuet,

Though for an hour we glisten in the sun,

Our day, our day is done.’


I’ll sleep again in this warm cave of bed;

Tomorrow all the flowers will be dead.


             The air is still grey,

               The buds are still cold;

             The sun sets early

               In a pool of dazzly gold.

But my Mamma got up today and fastened on her gown,

And on the sheltered terraces went walking up and down.


             Violets blue, violets white,

               We found one of each;

             She touched with her fingers

               The buds on the peach;

A cold-stalked snow-drop I put into her hand,

And we were both more glad than we could say, or understand.


When I was twenty inches long,

I could not hear the thrushes’ song;

The radiance of morning skies

Was most displeasing to my eyes.


For loving looks, caressing words,

I cared no more than sun or birds;

But I could bite my mother’s breast,

And that made up for all the rest.


My room’s a square and candle-lighted boat,

In the surrounding depths of night afloat;

My windows are the portholes, and the seas

The sound of rain on the dark apple-trees.


Seamonster-like beneath, an old horse blows

A snort of darkness from his sleeping nose,

Below, among drowned daisies. Far off, hark!

Far off one owl amidst the waves of dark.


Gold-headed rose for bees to sup,

And vetch and varnished buttercup,

And hemlock, with its hollow stalk, are up.


Blue speedwell lovely as the dew

And old brown-headed plantains too—

Before I knew myself, these friends I knew.


O child to be, though my life ends

And change or chance your spirit rends,

With the same faces, these will be your friends.


As I looked out one May morning

  I saw the tree-tops green;

I said: ‘My crown I will lay down

  And live no more a queen.’


Then I tripped down my golden steps

  Dressed in my silken gown,

And when I stood in the open wood

  I met some gypsies brown.


‘O gentle, gentle gypsies

  That roam the wide world through,

Because I hate my crown and state,

  O let me come with you!


‘My councillors are old and grey

  And sit in narrow chairs,

But you can hear the birds sing clear

  And your hearts are as light as theirs.’


‘If you would come along with us

  Then you must count the cost,

For though in Spring the sweet birds sing,

  In Winter comes the frost.


‘Your ladies serve you all the day

  With courtesy and care,

Your fine-shod feet they tread so neat

  But a gypsy’s feet go bare.


‘You wash in water running warm

  Through basins all of gold;

The streams where we roam have silvery foam,

  But the streams, the streams are cold.


‘And barley bread is bitter to taste,

  Whilst sugary cakes they please.

Which will you choose, O which will you choose,

  Which will you choose of these?


‘For if you choose the mountain streams

  And barley bread to eat,

Your heart will be free as the birds in the tree

  But the stones will cut your feet.


‘The mud will spoil your silken gown

  And stain your insteps high,

The dogs in the farm will wish you harm

  And bark as you go by.


‘And though your heart grow deep and gay

  Your heart grow wise and rich,

The cold will make your bones to ache

  And you will die in a ditch.’


‘O gentle, gentle gypsies

  That roam the wide world through,

Although I praise your wandering ways

  I dare not come with you.’


I hung about their fingers brown

  My ruby rings and chain,

And with my head as heavy as lead

  I turned me back again.


As I went up the palace steps

  I heard the gypsies laugh;

The birds of spring so sweet did sing,

  It broke my heart in half.


Your youth is like a water-wetted stone,

A pebble by the living sea made rare,

Bright with a beauty that is not its own.


Behold it flushed like flowers newly-blown,

Miraculously fresh beyond compare,

Your youth is like a water-wetted stone.


For when the triumphing tide recedes, alone

The stone will stay, and shine no longer there

Bright with a beauty that is not its own.


But lie and dry as joyless as a bone,

Because the sorceress sea has gone elsewhere.

Your youth is like a water-wetted stone.


Then all your lovers will be children, shown

Their treasure only transitory-fair,

Bright with a beauty that is not its own.


Remember this before your hour is flown;

O you, who are so glorious, beware!

Your youth is like a water-wetted stone,

Bright with a beauty that is not its own.


I am an old woman, comfortable, calm and wise

Often I see the spirits of the dead with my own eyes.

They come into my house. I am no more afraid

Than of the coal-scuttle or my breakfast newly laid.

One night over the fields the wind blew wild,

And I thought I heard in it the ravaging voice of a child.

I thought I heard in it, sweeping the cold lands,

The voice of a child who suddenly misses those only hands

That understood to make him safe, usual, and warm.

It cried unceasingly until I knew it was not the voice of the storm.

I tried to fall asleep; but how could I sleep,

 And hear that creature in despair continually weep?

 Then to the grown spirits imploringly I said:

 ‘Friends, give me here that new spirit who is lately dead,

 Who will not enter your new world of light

 Because he misses the hands of his mother this first night,

 And she, poor soul, lies weeping tear on tear

 And cannot pierce the night with love. But I hear.

 Give me her wandering child!’ Then, as I lay in bed,

 Against my breast I felt a small and blunt-nosed head,

 A cold sob-quivering body growing calm

And toes like round cold buds that warmed inside my palm.

Soon in the hushing night and darkness deep,

That comforted safe spirit sighed and fell asleep,

And I slept too, most satisfied, until

I woke and saw to-morrow’s dawn, everywhere cold and still.

But out of my white bed where morning shone

Out of my arms, away, the new-born spirit was gone.


Can it be possible when we grow old

And Time destroys us, that your image too,

The timeless beauty that your youth bestowed

(As though you’d lain a moment since by the river

Thinking and dreaming under the grey sky

When May was in the hedges) will dissolve?

This unique image now we hold: your smile,

Which kept a secret sweetness like a child’s

Though you might be most sad, your frowning eyes,

Can they be drowned in Time, and nothing left

To the revolving hard, enamelled world,

Full, full forever of fresh fears and births

And busyness, of all you were? Perhaps

A thousand years ago some Greek boy died,

So lovely-bodied, so adored, so young,

Like us, his lovers treasured senseless things,

And laughed with tears remembering his laughter,

And there was friendship in the very sound

Of his forgotten name to them. Of him

Now we know nothing, nothing is altered now

Because of all he was. Most loved, on you

Can such oblivion fall? Then, if it can,

How futile, how absurd the life of man.


April 1915


I dreamt Death called my friend. And I

Went too, for both of us must die.


But neither of us dared alone

To face him sitting on his throne;


And so we called, both I and he,

On our Good Deeds for company.


I took a trumpet and a drum

And proudly summoned mine to come.


I thought they could not hear at first;

I beat my drum until it burst,


I blew my trumpet, till at last

From that walled city of the past.


(Where in the inmost citadel

In luxury I let them dwell)


A little postern was undone

And out they straggled, one by one.


In thin procession on they came

They all seemed weak and mostly lame,


Their faces, smug and strained and small,

They turned to me. I knew them all.


Then spoke my comrade, haltingly:

‘If you exist, O come to me.’


And suddenly, as swift as flame,

A host of dancing children came,


And like the waves, without an end

They danced and leapt about my friend.


He stared. He said: ‘For Heaven’s sake,

Who are you? Here is some mistake.’


But like the sea upon the shores

They thundered: ‘Father, we are yours!’


And even then the trumpet spoke:

‘Come both before your Judge!’

                             —I woke.


To William Rothenstein


Gold as the hair of fairy-story queens,

The ricks stand squarely in the weathered farm.

There the first star on still September eves

Stabs through pure waters of the sky, to shine

On their grave foreheads. Round their bases broad,

Brisk-gallivanting cocks and hens proclaim:

‘Look! Look! Our ricks!’ and of the long-roofed barns

(Darkening, majestical, where wagons sleep

Noble as Agamemnon’s chariot), ‘Look!

Look!’ they say, ‘our barns! What barns! Look! Look!’


And there, across the gate, the old white horse

(Hooved like Leviathan, sea-monster-lipped)

Bestirs himself and answers: ‘Hens know less

Than the blue-bottles on my morning nose.

For all the world, the farm, the dung, the grass,

The fields of bean and corn, the far-off church,

The reeds, the dykes, the ever-breaking sea,

The thistly dunes, and I myself, belong

To the sky only: because only sky

Covers us all for ever, as the ground

Covers the dead.’ He moves as though before

Man sliced the vast of time in fretful hours;

And the wide sky on the old farm looks down.


Mellow, grey-red, those bricks the pear-tree holds

With strong round stem. His topmost leaves are friends

With the paint-faded window-sill; they see

All happenings of the hidden shadowed room;

They know at midnight how the cold moon throws

Slabs of eternity across the quilt,

The jug, and breathing mounds that will be men

When unborn morrow breaks. They peep and know

How of its baptism, still the white quilt keeps

A frugal faint remembrance through the day.


Mellow, grey-red, the tiles of the old roof.

They have drunk in all the September suns,

All the grey-growing eves when lovers strayed

And browsing sheep cared not that they had kissed,

Or, raising heads, indifferently knew

That this was wise and usual, like the birds

Finding invisible pathways through the air,

Or as the sea that sounds for ever there.


So, as it darkens, leave the farm to rest,

My lingering thoughts, in quiet on the plain.

There autumn winds grow cold, and by the gate

A scythe hangs waiting in a sycamore tree.

But not a man who heaves along the road

In corduroys, cares what the shadows hide.

For country people know, though they have not read,

And need no emblem of mortality.

The lichen on the grave-stones and the roofs,

November sleet, the smell of the church aisle

Speak without words, and in their hearts they hear:

Sceptre and crown must tumble down, these say,

And come at last in the cold, earthen clay

To equal the poor crooked scythe and spade.


Nor, if they have finished work, are they afraid.


‘Time stands still

  With gazing on her face,’

Sang Dowland to his lute,

  Full of courtly grace.


Now that his musician’s face

  And her face are dust,

Still I cry, Stand still;

  Still cry I must.


Stand still, Time;

  Hold, hold your pace;

Stiller stand than the smile

  On Pharaoh’s face.


Stiller than December’s frost

  That takes the heart with wonder,

Or the pause that comes between

  Lightning and thunder.


Time, stand still;

  Hush now your tread,

Stand, stiller than a room

  Where lie the sheeted dead.


Where, in the busy noon,

  None comes and goes;

Where the tree of endless peace

  To the ceiling grows.


O Time, Time,

  Stark and full of pain,

Why drag me into space,

  A dog upon a chain?


I who would float with you,

  A ship sailing white,

Who cannot tell which power is hers,

  Or which the wind’s delight.


So my refreshèd soul

  Time would adore,

If for one moment’s space

  Time were no more.


Now with Dowland’s broken lute

  And his forgotten rhyme,

Still I cry, Stand still,

  Stand still, Time.


Now the forgiving sun, with beams aslope,

Who, in pure sky where not a chimney smokes,

Rose over green, umbrageous, rooted oaks,

Enters the city room, that has no pride,

Goldenly, with fresh morning airs allied,

And to the blistered washing-stand says: Hope.


The wrong you did is gentle, like the trust

  You put in us, and like your voice and air,

The wrong you have done is very quiet, just

        Not being there.


This is your nursing mother, this is sleep,

And milk of darkness. Dedicated lie

With graspless hands. Or is this the bottom of the sea?


Now let my fancy wander a little while.

I am a rock a thousand fathoms sunk,

Dark and for ever immobile. My thoughts

Like droves of silvery, soundless fish appear

And visit me, and pass, who wave-lapped lie.


When I was a child, I used to think the elves

So curled round safely in the centre of flowers.

White, perfect-petalled roses lapped them round

Through all night’s darkness; with the light they woke

And shook the pollen from their heads, and danced

On tippety toes.

               Or, next, I am that Princess

I dreamed in youth, with eyes like hazel pools

And gold-encircled head. She has left the lawns

Where peacocks with their furled embroidered tails

Sleep on the balustrades; left far behind

Lit galleries and gallants, lutanists,

And long-curled princes with their captured eyes.

She has laid aside her green embroideries,

With slender fingers lifted off her crown

And won this wealth of solitude. Yet she,

So lovely, lying in her silken sheets,

Is no more safe than I am.

                             I am safe

As all wild creatures. In their burrows deep,

Rooty and dark, the furred rabbits lie

Safe till to-morrow’s dewy nibbling dawn,

And somewhere, unimaginably far,

Striped tigers with their sleep-enchanted paws

In eastern caverns.

               Why, I am so safe

That if an ichthyosaurus came outside

In the bright moon, and with soft primitive paws

Snuffed at the window-pane, I should not stir!

I should not stir though all the garden filled

With monsters humping to the star-strewn sky;

I am too remotely safe in this dark bed.


I think my bed is a fortress on a rock.

Now faintly, as I lie unreachable,

I hear the wash and roar of the waves of care,

I hear the retreating shingle of desire

Pour away, far off. O this falling night,

Coming to me, the haggard, as to a child,

A child with sealed eyes, innocent as a flower,

Hearing with tender ears what soundless truth?

Absorbing wisdom, what strange wisdom is it?


Sleep, both are yours and my entire need,

My sustenance and peace. In the chaos of day

On far tomorrow’s shore I shall come in vain,

Rootless and starved, unless I taste them now;

Now as my phantasies foldward drift like sheep

Receive another child, my mother Sleep.


The day my great-aunt Sarah died, how I remember well,

She lay alone with daffodils and never rang her bell.

She lay as quiet as her chair and books upon her shelf.

She gave no trouble to her nurse, no trouble to herself.

She was more quiet than the bare, ploughed fields that lay outside.

The knowledge in her listening face as certain was, and wide.


The stacks, like blunt impassive temples, rise

Across flat fields against the autumnal skies.

The hairy-footed horses plough the land,

Or as in prayer and meditation stand

Upholding square, primeval, dung-stained carts,

With an unending patience in their hearts.


Nothing is changed. The farmer’s gig goes by

Against the horizon. Surely, the same sky,

So vast and yet familiar, grey and mild,

And streaked with light like music, I, a child,

Lifted my face from leaf-edged lanes to see,

Late-coming home, to bread-and-butter tea.


O grasses wet with dew, yellow fallen leaves,

Smooth-shadowed waters Milton loved, green banks,

Arched bridges, rooks, and rain-leaved willow-trees,

Stone, serious familiar colleges,

Cambridge, my home:

The figure of a scholar carrying back

Books to the library, absorbed, content,

Seeming as everlasting as the elms

Bark-wrinkled, puddled round their roots, the bells,

And the far shouting in the football fields.


The same since I was born, the same to be

When all my children’s children grow old men.


We, who must grow old and staid,

Full of wisdom, much afraid,

In our hearts like flowers keep

Love for you until we sleep.


You the brave, and you the young

You of a thousand songs unsung,

Burning brain, and ardent word,

You the lovely and absurd.


Say, on that Galician plain

Are you arguing again?

Does a trench or ruined tree

Hear your—‘O, I don’t agree!’


We, who must grow staid and old,

Full of caution, worn and cold,

In our hearts, like flowers keep

Your image, till we also sleep.



Fèrencz Bekassy (1891-1915) Hungarian poet, scholar of Kings College, Cambridge, killed in action on the Eastern Front, 1915.


Brekekoax the night-frogs said, while I

Slept in my southern room. But now I lie

And through the pale green-slitted shutters see

Another day, fine unbelievably

(So a child looks, to know its mother’s mind

Not clouded, but miraculously kind.)


How virgin and majestic stands the hill,

How warm the sun upon the window-sill,

How clear the summit’s rocky shadow shows,

Blue and at peace, yet promising what, who knows?

(Something the heart expects in youth and will

At sight of mountains till its beat be still.)


Life’s every noise is happy in the sun,

Bells, bees, wheels, voices, all with day begun.

And now the sun splashes its largesse through

The cool, soft-dusted plane-tree avenue,

And shows how white the children’s frocks and shoes,

How like a lilac flower the washerwoman’s blouse.


‘Through all these days and all these weeks,

So often you have kissed my cheeks,

I sometimes think they must have grown

To silver, gold, and precious stone.’


‘O, cheeks of silver and of gold,

My dearest, would be hard and cold,

I would not kiss them, even so,

To say Good-night, before I go.’


I am a lamp, a lamp that is out;

  I am shallow stream;

In it are neither pearls or trout,

  Nor one of the things that you dream.


Why do you smile and deny, my lover?

  I will not be denied.

I am book, a book with a cover,

  And nothing at all inside.


Here is the truth, and you must grapple,

  Grapple with what I have said.

I am a dumpling without any apple,

  I am a star that is dead.


I have forgotten the country in the North, where my people lived before me.

The stone walls curving over green hills; the air as pure as spirits could breathe in heaven, but much more cold.

The cry of the curlews, like a voice given to the sky; the dark bogs and the stones.

The brown streams, always talking to the lonely sheep.

My people before me had brown eyes like the streams, and bodies built to endure the battering wind like walls. And their forgotten faces, I think, were shy, resolved, and fresh.

They lived in stone houses, under the black-shadowing sycamores.

They knew the rent sky sweeping over the moors on stormy days, like passion in unspeaking hearts.

And I, in this protected house, breathing the hot air, I have forgotten that my people came from the North.


The olive boughs are black, like blinding hair

Of tree-nymphs who at noon, when no one’s there

A sleeping shepherd in cool arms uphold.

The olive-leaves are silver and so old,

A thousand years the sun has visited these;

They are like immortal spirits of other trees.


A hundred, hundred years ancestral hands

Have built the terraced hills of southern lands,

A thousand aeons, where their summits rise,

The idle sun-enchanted butterflies

Have shown the stone and lavender their wings,

Receiving light with all created things.


O, as the basking lizards quick to flee

And earth-brown goats, and the far perfect sea

And terraced nearer hills accept the light,

Receive, my heart; receive, as here at night

The wide-mouthed glass receives the country wine;

And make this ancient bounty also mine.


The polished crimson cherries on the bough

Accept their rounded bright fulfilment now,

The square-slabbed water-tanks receive the sky

To plunge in their cold bosoms. Tell me why

Receive the fountains and the figs’ green leaves,

And all Provence, except my heart, receives?


How can I dread you, O portentous wise,

When I consider you were once this size?

How cringe before the sage who understands,

Who once had foolish, perfect, waving hands,

As small as these are? How bow down in dread,

When I conceive your warm, domed, downy head

Smelling of soap? O you—from North to South

Renowned—who put your toes inside your mouth.


I hear my children come. They trample with their feet,

Fetched from their play to kiss my thin-boned hands lying on the sheet,

Fresh as young colts with every field before them,

With gazing apple-faces. Can it be this body bore them?

This poor body like an outworn glove,

That yet subdues a spirit which no more knows that it can love.

All day is theirs. I belong to night,

The brown surrounding caverns made of dream. The long failing fight,

On and on with pain. Theirs is sweet sleep

And morning breakfast with bright yellow butter. They can laugh and weep

Over a tiny thing, a toy, a crumb, a letter.

Tomorrow they will come again and say: ‘Now are you better?’

‘Better, my lords, today’, the Chamberlain replies;

And I shall be too tired and too afraid to cry out that he lies.


For Francis Cornford

(At The Mount, Marsden, Bucks)

Out of this seemliness, this solid order,

At half-past four to-day,

When down below

Geraniums were bright

In the contented glow,

Whilst Williams planted seedlings all about,

Supremely geometrically right

In your herbaceous border,

You had to go

Who always liked to stay.

Before Louisa sliced the currant roll,

And re-arranged the zinnias in the bowl,

All in a rhythm reachless by modernity,

Correct and slow,

And brought the tea and tray,

At half-past four on Friday you went out:

To the unseemly, seemly,

Dateless, whole

Light of Eternity

You went away.


I cannot but believe, though you were dead,

Lying stone-still, and I came in and said

Having been out perhaps in mud and rain:

‘O dear, O look, I have torn my skirt again,’

That you would rise with the old simple ease,

And say, ‘Yes, child’, and come to me. And there

In your white crackling apron, on your knees

With your quick hands, rough with the washing-up

Of every silver spoon and cherished cup,

And bending head, coiled with the happy hair

Your own child should have pulled for you (but no,

Your child who might have been, you did not bear,

Because the endless riches of your care

Were all for us) you would mend and heal my tear—

Mend, touch and heal; and stitching all the while,

Your cottons on the floor, look up and show

The sudden light perpetual of your smile—

Then, with your darning finished, being dead

Go back and lie, like stone, upon your bed.


Now when his hour shall strike

For this old man,

And he arrives in Heaven late

He can

To Peter and the Angel Gabriel,

Having completely known,

Completely tell

What it was like

To lean upon a gate;

And knowing one thing well

He need not fear his fate.


The spirits of children are remote and wise,

They must go free

Like fishes in the sea

Or starlings in the skies,

Whilst you remain

The shore where casually they come again.

But when there falls the stalking shade of fear,

You must be suddenly near,

You, the unstable, must become a tree

In whose unending heights of flowering green

Hangs every fruit that grows, with silver bells;

Where heart-distracting magic birds are seen

And all the things a fairy-story tells;

Though still you should possess

Roots that go deep in ordinary earth,

And strong consoling bark

To love and to caress.


Last, when at dark

Safe on the pillow lies an up-gazing head

And drinking holy eyes

Are fixed on you,

When, from behind them, questions come to birth


On all the things that you have ever said

Of suns and snakes and parallelograms and flies,

And whether these are true,

Then for a while you’ll need to be no more

That sheltering shore

Or legendary tree in safety spread,

No, then you must put on

The robes of Solomon,

Or simply be

Sir Isaac Newton sitting on the bed.

[The monument bears no name or date]

Bring roses, singing girls, soft pansies strew

To decorate these little ashes new;

Nor with one cry or longing tears invade

The sleeping stillness of an infant maid,

Who in one showery day was here and gone,

To God’s invariable peace passed on.

He whispered to her soul; without a stain,

She, to his goodness, gave it back again.


O here is Paradise for me

  With white does bounding,

And here the fair immortal Tree

  With various fruits abounding.


Hesperidean apples gold,

  And apples red as wine,

And gourds that show like moons below,

  And silver pears that shine.


O sweeter, sweeter, every one

  Than mead the gods have drunk,

And all are for the Shepherd’s Son

  Who leans against the trunk.


And there he’ll stay, the timeless day,

  Where no harsh wind can find him,

His crook among the strawberry leaves,

  And woven woods behind him.


There roam the strange and savage beasts;

  No peace their fear will grant them

Until he play his roundelay

  And music shall enchant them.


Now, in the dark arcaded wood

Every creature still is stood;

Each one pricks a happy ear,

Tirlee, Tirlow, his song to hear.


Out of the branching wood come they

All for his silver roundelay,

Out of the wood on dancing feet

So to obey his music sweet.


Here the gentled Tiger goes

By the delicate, dancing Does;

Here the Stag with golden horns

And the prancing Unicorns.


Conies gambol out of the rocks,

Leveret with tawny Fox;

Leaping Lambs desert their folds,

Frogs dance out of the marigolds.


Here appear in lumbering bounds

Great King Theseus’ dew-lapped Hounds;

Here his white, unharnessed Steed

Comes curvetting over the mead.


Here with jewelled tails aglow

Peacocks gloriously go;

Here the swinging Monkey gets

Purple grapes for castanets.


Caterpillars striped and green

Measuring up the twigs are seen;

Asp with spotted Adder weaves,

Harmless, in and out the leaves.


Dove and Hawk with folded wing

On the fruited branches swing;

Hovering, dipping, dancing rise

Honey-bees and Butterflies.


All Creation, safe and free,

Sings around the Happy Tree.

Tirlee, Tirlow, and Ut Hoy,

Play for ever, Shepherd Boy.


Old Mrs Thompson down the road is dead.

The maids knew first from what the milkman said,

He heard on Sunday she was very bad,

And as they dust, they are sorry, stirred, and glad.


One day soon I shall die,

As still as Mrs Thompson I shall lie;

And in her house that April day

The maids of the new family will say

That Mrs Jones, who was me, has passed away.

They will know first, because the fish-boy heard;

And as they dust, be sorry, glad, and stirred.


‘Where have you been? You look queer,

You look black.’ ‘O my dear,

All alone to Hell and back,

By my known, my desert track;

Though once I might, like you, have gone

By candlelight to Babylon.’


‘What have you seen?’ ‘No flame or fires,

But such a stream of terrors and desires.

O my child, nothing’s there

Like your fingers, like your hair,

Nor this table, nor this chair;

Nothing certain but despair.’


Long ago, in stony Greece,

The human heart knew no peace.

In its darkness it was torn,

And cursed, as now, the fate of being born;

And hoped to heal its agony with song.


  O Lord, how long?


When we would reach the anguish of the dead,

Whose bones alone, irrelevant, are dust,

Out of ourselves we know we must, we must

To some obscure but ever-bleeding thing

Unreconciled, a needed solace bring,

Like a resolving chord, like daylight shed.

Or do we through thick time reach back in vain

To inaccessible pain?

[From the Veda]

The first created pair possessed a world

  Where darkness was unknown;

Till Yama died, and left in endless light

  Yami, his twin, alone.


The high Gods tried to comfort her distress,

  But all in vain they tried.

She would not listen to their wisest words;

  She said: ‘Today he died.’


Then were the Gods confounded, for her grief

  Troubled their equal sight;

They said: ‘In this way she will not forget.

  We must create the Night.’


So they created Night. And after Night

  Came into being Morrow;

And she forgot him. Thus it is they say:

  ‘The days and nights make men forget their sorrow.’


O sometimes when I wake at night

I think the moon so round and bright

That it must fall for very light.


That lovely, lovely liquid fall

Would make the stars cry out and call,

But would not burn my hands at all.


Now even raindrops off the tip

Of leaves and twigs, soft, softly drip;

But if the moon should suddenly slip,


You would not hear the softest sup

And nobody could scrape it up;

It could not stay in any cup.


The moon would fall without a sound

Without a stain upon the ground,

And in the morning not be found.


Beside the road to Coursegoules

  Are shepherdess and sheep.

The sun is hot. The shade is cool

Beside the road to Coursegoules,

And every man’s a fool, a fool

  Who does not fall asleep

Beside the road to Coursegoules

  And shepherdess and sheep.


Have you not seen

The dove-grey waters’ undulating sheen

Whereon a bird can rest

Its rounded, slowly, slowly heaving breast,

Whilst all the blue-aired delicate mountains round

Attend, without a sound?

So, freed from fear, man’s first primeval crime,

A heart might rest upon the lap of time.


For long, so long, this timeless afternoon

My body has lain in sun-receiving fields

On the wood’s border, by the bounteous elms,

An unbeliever in approaching night

And the cold, winter-prophesying dew,

Heedless of all, forgetting all but now.


So when the creaking of a country cart

Reaches my wind-hushed heart, my thought divines

Its red and faded wheels, its Saxon self,

But gropingly, I have forgotten carts.

The seated driver towering on its side,

Who jolts at leisure down the long, low road

Towards the dun-thatched village, fares too far

For my lulled sense to follow. Even the old

Labourer sunning in a Windsor chair

With pink and purple asters at his door,

Who, as I passed this morning, stirred awake

My fathers’ fathers’ long-acquainted loves,

Even his image is too hard to hold

Lapped as I lie in this Lethean gold.


This hushing wind on every side, as though

The world’s invisible sails swelled softly out

And bore me to Eternity, laid low,

Like the dead knights and nobles of the north,

When their last battle had gone well with them,

Among Northumbrian boulders quite at rest;

Or as they lie, pure-effigied in sleep

And stone in shadowed aisles. Yet nowhere pours

This consecrating warmth but out of doors.


Now lift your lids and turn from dreams away,

And watch, more perfectly, as here you may,

The dear progression of a country day,

That friendliness which never had a name,

Serene, eventful. Look, two pheasants came!

Among the faded thistles bleached and brown,

They foot it featly picking silver down;

They sun their long soft tails, they disappear

Behind the elm-boles. Hips and haws are here

Contented (it would seem they had almost said)

To know another day of turning red.


Sudden, an echoing bang, a farmer’s gun.

The settled rooks rise circling, one by one

From the tall elm. The undistracted skies

Fill with an old cacophony of cries:

  I spy, I can,

  A dog. A man.

  What? Where? Which one?

  A man. A gun.

  He’s here. He’s where?

  He’s gone. Beware.

  Cry out. Cry on.

  He’s gone.

Then, suavely slow and gradually dumb,

Back in a circling saraband they come

Each to his elm-bough, neither fast nor soon,

Black judges of the golden afternoon.


The new-born calf lies down to sleep again

In the long, growing shadows of the plain;

His swing-tail mother feeds, and now and then

To guard his safety in a world of men

Turns a slow gazing head; whilst gazing I

At peace upon this rounded planet lie.

This planet soon from the benignant sun

And so sure-seeming amplitude of light

To turn away, and like a great horse plunge

Deep in submerging lapping seas of cold

And ever-darkening space.

                  I saw last night

A streak of sunset over mounded stacks

Bleak as the eyes of ghosts; and mist comes soon.

Even this last largesse, these blackberries

Warm on the hedge, are purple-dark as storms,

Storms that will wake the safely-sleeping child

In midnight terror, sway the blackened elms

In gulfs of night, and the clear stars devour.

And these rich fields will darken in an hour.


O I must go and find my morning way,

The farm, the gate, and the old labourer

Whose image by the cottage door returns,

Though earlier drowned in dreams. His waiting hands

Like tree-roots, resting, and that lifted head,

So soon to know the dark of death, no more

Like this unconquered planet to emerge

On April days renewed with daffodils.


His unexperienced spring will be elsewhere—

Only the dead can tell how strange, how fair,

How certain, like the look their faces bear

After the storm and ravage. Now it seems

Though all creation shares the departing light—

The roads, the shafted waggons put to rest,

The cropping beasts, the rooks in evening flight,

The barns, the stubble golden from the west,

The heavy elms—yet most of all to those

Old patient eyes no temporal spring will bless,

This vast, warm earthly autumn tenderness

Is come to say Amen, before they close.

(MESSIAH 1742)

We who are met to celebrate

Grandly today our God and King and State

  ‘We shall be changed’—but shall not change too far:

Twice as superb will be, and twice as big

  Each fair, abounding, and immortal wig;

  And every button on our coats, a star.


Where Lords and Commons ever equal are

Each regal coach will grow a wingèd car,

Whose laurelled lackeys in triumphant light

Sing their symmetrical delight;

And link-boys with the flaming cherubim

Dance in their buckled shoes and shout the morning hymn;

Where coachmen crowned with asphodel and moly

Echo the cries of Holy, Holy, Holy;

And disembodied horses fly

With golden trumpeters about the sky.


O we shall change, but with no pangs of birth,

To glorious heaven from this glorious earth.


Now quenched each midnight window is. Now unimpeded

  Darkness descends on roof and tree and slope;

And in my heart the houses that you have not needed

  Put out their lights of comfort and of hope.


In my dark mind you kicked a stone away.

There in the light, a full-grown Purpose lay;

And half in terror, half in glad surprise

I saw his unknown coils and sleeping eyes.


O sing or tell a story. What shall I tell?

There was a Princess woke at early dawn,

A Princess in a castle, in the north,

And saw the forests rising tree on tree

Out of her little window, and ran forth

To look for berries in the autumn woods.

O sing of what she found in the woods as well.


She must slip away before the kitchen stirs,

With hooded golden hair, down garden walks,

Past home-faced apples, over the open ground

Where feed her father’s herd of cream-white cows,

With swinging tails and delicate, peaceful feet

Among the mountain crocuses, with bells

Like hope and dew, and come to the edge of the woods.

Brave she must be, for in the woods are bears;

The noise of waters fills them like a breath

And footsteps make no sound. At home they tell

The king of the bears is an enchanted Prince

Who waits release. But who shall break the spell?


The forests rise around her tree on tree,

To cloud-high crags; they rise round secret lawns

Where red ash-berries for no human hand

Drop. And she listens. If she listens long

She hears clear voices, voices of surprise,

Wonder and argument and prophecies,

Hid in the streams. For whom to understand?

She only feels a spirit, that is hers,

Tells her to climb, to climb and fear no ills,

To fear no presence in the unpeopled woods,

Or hidden in the caverns of the hills.

She can but tell how swiftly she must start

Up, up the paths where only hunters go,

Running with silver shoes that make no mark,

Quick with a purpose that she cannot know

And singing unawares.


Wet bilberries and scarlet cranberries

Four-leaved Herb Paris with his sorcerer’s heart,

Whose home is in the stillness under trees,

And black strange cherries, strange with double stones—

O all of these,

Tell how she plucked them with her weaving hands

To make a wreath of berries bright and dark,

And some that shone like blood in the early sun,

To make a wreath, a wreath for whom begun?

To make a garland for the king of the bears.

And then, O tell

How all at once her singing voice was dumb

And her heart fell.


Fierce-eyed and hairy round a jutting rock

Dark, dark and softly-footing he was there,

The king of the woods, the black enchanted bear,

Unpassably, unconquerably come.

But quickly, now tell this:

How she was brave, how she was not afraid,

She flung the wreath of berries round his neck,

The ripple of her amber-yellow hair

Sweeping his claws and pouring from her hood,

Her young thin arms, her oval cheek in fur,

And made him captive, captive with a kiss.


And suddenly, suddenly, there

Slant-eyed and smiling in the leaf-strewn light,

Silent as moss, and all the streams his speech,

A Prince was standing in the bilberry wood,

Proud and delivered in the world of men.

Right through the trees the sun ascending burned

In wealth of swaying gold his glorious way,

And wrapped in light and shadow each to each

No spoken word need say,

For in the arisen morning there he stands,

Free from his cavern’s airless echoing space,

Safe from the dark compulsion of his form.


Sing how he looked at her with eyes returned

From exile to the harbour of her face,

To certainty from storm;

And touched her shoulders with his stranger’s hands,

With hands grown more familiar in an hour

Than all her home and years of yesterday,

The unilluminated years before.

O sing and tell of this, and tell no more,

But how, as on the first created day

All things were new,

And through the tall-stemmed forest, far below,

Before they turned in harmony to go,

The clustered berries round their shoulders wound.

Before they reached the fruitful open ground

They heard the bells of feeding flocks, the sound

Like hope and dew.


To Ada Sharpley

who made so much of the poetry

in my childhood


The train. A hot July. On either hand

Our sober, fruitful, unemphatic land,

This Cambridge country plain beneath the sky

Where I was born, and grew, and hope to die.


Look! where the willows hide a rushy pool,

And the old horse goes squelching down to cool,

One angler’s rod against their silvery green,

Still seen today as once by Bewick seen.


A cottage there, thatched sadly, like its earth,

Where crimson ramblers make a shortlived mirth;

Here, only flies the flick-tail cows disturb

Among the shaven meads and willow-herb.


There, rounded hay-ricks solemn in the yard,

Barns gravely, puritanically tarred,

Next heavy elms that guard the ripening grain

And fields, and elms, and corn, and fields again.


Over the soft savannahs of the corn,

Like ships the hot white butterflies are borne,

While clouds pass slowly on the flower-blue dome

Like spirits in a vast and peaceful home.


Over the Dyke I watch their shadows flow

As the Icenian watched them long ago;

So let me in this Cambridge calm July

Fruitfully live and undistinguished die.


More innocently born and calmer seems

In its soft summer haze

This Sunday morning than all other days.

No early footsteps walk into my dreams,

A peace is everywhere

As if the whole created world believed in prayer,

Over the solitary fields of wheat,

And down the village street,

And on my folded clothes across the chair.


Here the young lover, on his elbow raised,

Looked at his happy girl with grass surrounded,

And flicked the spotted beetle from her wrist:

She, with her head thrown back, at heaven gazed,

At Suffolk clouds, serene and slow and mounded;

Then calmly smiled at him before they kissed.


There is a bed-time sadness in this place

That seemed ahead so promising and sweet,

Almost like music calling us from home;


But now the staircase does not need our feet,

The drawer is ignorant of my brush and comb,

The mirror quite indifferent to your face.


‘Does a bird rejoice like me

In this earth-fresh dawn?’


‘Dearest, on a silvery tree

He achieves an ecstasy,

You, in bed, a yawn.’


I used to think that grown-up people chose

To have stiff backs and wrinkles round their nose,

And veins like small fat snakes on either hand,

On purpose to be grand.

Till through the bannisters I watched one day

My great-aunt Etty’s friend who was going away,

And how her onyx beads had come unstrung.

I saw her grope to find them as they rolled;

And then I knew that she was helplessly old,

As I was helplessly young.


Elegant creature with black shoulders bent,

Stalking the bird in song,

To what intent?

Tell what a wild source brims those empty eyes,

What well of shameless light,

Beyond the bounds of Hell or Paradise

Or wrong

Or right.


Too many of the dead, some I knew well,

Have smelt this unforgotten river smell,

Liquid and old and dank;

And on the tree-dark, lacquered, slowly passing stream

Have seen the boats come softly as in dream

Past the green bank.

So Camus, reverend sire, came footing slow

Three hundred years ago,

And Milton paced the avenue of trees

In miracle of sun and shade as now,

The fresh-attempted glorious cadences

Behind his youthful brow.


Milton and Chaucer, Herbert, Herrick, Gray,

Rupert, and you forgotten others, say—

Are there slow rivers and bridges where you have gone away?

What has your spirit found?

What wider lot?

Some days in spring do you come back at will,

And tread with weightless feet the ancient ground?

O say, if not,

Why is this air so sacred and so still?


No longer will his name be found

Beside the College stair;

White-lettered on the old black ground

Another name is there.

In the calm court new footsteps sound,

In courts too calm to care.


When someone’s happy in a house there shows

A chink of honey-coloured light beneath the bedroom door,

Where once a thunder-purple gloom oozed out across the floor;

And even the stairs smell like an early rose.


James painted black moustaches round his nose,

And in the glass a sneering Satan smiled.

I thought once more how harrowingly glows

Beneath the cork the innocence of a child.


That eager, honouring look

Through microscope or at a picture-book,

That quick, responsive, curious delight—

For half a century I have seen it now

Under the shaggy or the baby brow,

And always blessed the sight.


Is this obscurity not quite unbroken,

As though the heart of night had bled away,

This quietness before a bird has spoken

Really the day?


And is this depth of darkness redefined,

The safe diurnal washing-stand and soap,

This first small stir of the awakened mind,

Possibly hope?


As on the highway’s quiet edge

He mows the grass beside the hedge,

The old man has for company

The distant, grey, salt-smelling sea,

A poppied field, a cow and calf,

The finches on the telegraph.


Across his faded back a hone,

He slowly, slowly scythes alone

In silence of the wind-soft air,

With ladies’ bedstraw everywhere,

With whitened corn, and tarry poles,

And far-off gulls like risen souls.


Companionable ticking of the clock;

Collapsing of the coal;

The chair-legs warm;

Tobacco in a bowl;

The door sealed up;

The sooted kettle’s hiss;

The firelit loaf; the cocoa-tin; the cup;

Outside, the unplumbed night and pattering storm.

At such an hour as this

A ghost might knock,

Lacking unearthly comfort in its soul.


For how long known this boundless wash of light,

  This smell of purity, this gleaming waste,

This wind? This brown, strewn wrack how old a sight,

  These pebbles round to touch and salt to taste.


See, the slow marbled heave, the liquid arch,

  Before the waves’ procession to the land

Flowers in foam; the ripples’ onward march,

  Their last caresses on the pure hard sand.


For how long known these bleaching corks, new-made

  Smooth and enchanted from the lapping sea?

Since first I laboured with a wooden spade

  Against this background of Eternity.


The liquid unhorizoned sea

Heaves tranquilly,

As though

Inshore below,

How few feet deep,

A lazy mermaid turned herself in sleep.

That boy, entranced, who quite forgets his spade

To stand and stare,

Might almost wade

And peering find his ankles in her seaweed hair.

But he would rather watch his cork afloat,

Lulled on the lucent, calm expanse above,

Or see the far-off chuffing motor-boat

As white as Noah’s dove.


Fresh as the foam of torrents from the snow,

Dark, soft as footsteps in the woods below,

Complete as sunlight falling from above,

New as young vine-leaves, is our virgin love.


My hands, O Lord, receive the crystal day,

Let me preserve it whole for evermore,

And grey-broomed evening find to sweep away

No fragments on the floor.


The Cypriot woman, as she closed her dress,

Smiled at the baby on her broad-lapped knee,

Beautiful in a calm voluptuousness

Like a slow sea.


Because no notice-board was nailed

With clear directing words

That none might stray,

Only my heart could find me out the way

As surely as the migratory birds.

But my heart failed.


The rounded buses loom through softest blue,

The pavement smells of dust but of narcissus too,

The awnings stretch like petals in the sun,

And even the oldest taxis glitter as they run.


Over the sooted secret garden walls

As in another Eden cherry-blossom falls,

Lithe under shadowing lilacs steal the cats,

And even the oldest ladies tilt their summery hats.


Still the medieval hunger to atone

Troubles the secret heart of men today,

And still they know no penitence prolonged,

No costly, ornate edifice of stone

Can ever wash the finished past away,

Nor thank the dead they intimately wronged.


I envy your contorted bole,

You ancient tree. By every soul

Your youthfulness of heart is seen,

Because you fountain into green.


Unaltered as in winter now

My twisted hands and wrinkled brow;

Yet my heart, too, though none believes,

Is happy with a thousand leaves.


When we had reached the gate I raised my eyes

And, kissing you good night, I laughed and said

I feared the stars might strike you from the skies,

Like crystal stones on your too happy head.


How long ago Hector took off his plume,

Not wanting that his little son should cry,

Then kissed his sad Andromache goodbye—

And now we three in Euston waiting-room.


How simply violent things

Happen, is strange.

How strange it was to see

In the soft Cambridge sky our Squadron’s wings,

And hear the huge hum in the familiar grey.

And it was odd today

On Ashdown Forest that will never change,

To find a gunner in the gorse, flung down,

Well-camouflaged, and bored and lion-brown.

A little further by those twisted trees

(As if it rose on humped preposterous seas

Out of a Book of Hours) up a bank

Like a large dragon, purposeful though drunk,

Heavily lolloped, swayed and sunk,

A tank.

All this because manoeuvres had begun.

But now, but soon,

At home on any usual afternoon,

High overhead

May come the Erinyes winging.

Or here the boy may lie beside his gun,

His mud-brown tunic gently staining red,

While larks get on with their old job of singing.


Look how these young, bare, bullock faces know,

With a simplicity like drawing breath,

That out of happiness we fall on woe

And in the midst of life we are in death.


See how in staring sameness each one stands,

His laden shoulders, and his scoured hands;

But each behind his wall of flesh and bone

Thinks with this secret he is armed alone.


This once protected flesh the War-god uses

Like any gadget of a great machine;

This flesh once pitied where a gnat had been,

And kissed with passion on invisible bruises.


Unshaken world! Another day of light

After the human chaos of the night;

Although a heart in mendless horror grieves,

What calmly yellow, gently falling leaves!

Nun muss sich alles, alles wenden

Here are the Schubert Lieder. Now begin.


First the accompaniment,

Heart-known and heaven-sent

And so divinely right

The inmost spirit laughs with sure delight.


And now the fountain of the melody.


To your forgiven fields I am entered in,

Spring of my adolescence, Spring of the world,

Where every secret lime-leaf is unfurled,

Where all’s made well again, yet more’s to be—


Then why this misery?


Because, O enemy alien heart, we fear

That you are lost on your demoniac shore,

And we deny that in your music—here

Is your unchanged, unchanging innocent core.


—Why frown? Why stare?

—My heart’s a cell, rock-walled,

Defaced and scrawled,

And there

The secret blood runs down.

That’s why I frown.


On days when you have been

Unhappy, lonely, ill,

Your spirit I have seen

Receiving, listening still.


On mornings when my kind

Seem all a conquered race,

Then I recall to mind

I have seen your risen face.


When he was questioned at the time of the trial—

This is a truth I once refused to know—

Peter outside in the yard denied his Master,

And heard, immediately, the cock crow.


But now I have known a more complete disaster,

An empty horror Peter never knew,

When I was questioned, after my denial

No cock crew.


You who, frustrated, died so long ago

In night and pain, but left a child to grow;

Passionate spirit, in the shades rejoice;

All that you suffered and knew is in her voice.


Again the cry of black-faced lambs across the brackened hills;

Clouds flowering like dreams on barren crests;

A heart that hears the secret sound of amber-running rills

And in this scent of silence humbly rests.


Though iron-strong and grey,

The moorland wall gives way,

More grey, more strong on high

The weathering sky.


What sound more pleasant to the ear from birth

Than evening showers on the orchard leaves?

For then the child in every heart believes

That every thing is solaced on the earth.

Horror, dismay—all evils that men do,

Despair and rage, were never, never true.


How good the dripping of the ivied boughs,

The bolt upon the square Victorian pane,

The unimpassioned running tears of rain,

The dark receiving safety round the house.

Despair and rage and horror and dismay

Were never real, and now are washed away.


Around the eaves a soul unchristened,

A perished child, complains—

The Gabble-ratchet, said my mother,

(Her Yorkshire people told each other)

Lost in the weeping rains.


Like me they must have lain and listened

Since there were window-panes.


See where the stones are worn beside the street

By leisured, prosperous, long-departed feet,

And swept again, already smooth and neat,

As swaying shadows of the lilac fall

Over the crumbled, secret garden wall.

Behind that knocker and that kind, green door

Aunt Sarah lived in eighteen-thirty-four.

By then, her father, Robert Pearce, was dead:

‘He loved the very stones of Lyne,’ she said,

And now each ledge and cornice seem to rise,

Washed by the love of long-acquainted eyes.


Where the church towers to the equal sky,

By the paved path, look where the Pearces lie

Beneath their dignity of tabled stone,

Still by the passers-by revered and known,

And grass grows greenly, as it surely must

From sober, righteous and godly dust.

Friend, like an Orpheus of our latter days,

On this dear seemliness you dare not gaze

Too long or longingly. I warn you, no!

Now take the mass-made motor-bus and go.


There is a moment country children know

When half across the field the shadows go

And even the birds sing leisurely and slow.


There’s timelessness in every passing tread;

Even the far-off train as it puffs ahead,

Even the voices calling them to bed.


My love came back to me

Under the November tree

Shelterless and dim.

He put his hand upon my shoulder,

He did not think me strange or older,

Nor I, him.


This is the hour when night says to the streets

‘I am coming’; and the light is so strange

The heart expects adventure in everything it meets;

Even the past to change.


What’s early spring in Spain?

As here, in lightless light, no tender rain

Falls on your terrace in Madrid, I know;

Sun strikes and east wind sears,

And there, like joy through hard and crystal tears

The almond-trees are blossoming in snow.


The winds are out in the abysm of night;

The blown trees stoop.

But man invented fire and candle-light,

And man invented soup.



O sky, grass, earth!

How calm it is to lie

Stretched here, unloved, unhated,

By your complete indifference reproved.


But earth, grass, sky,

Were we not once by birth

Closely related?


Unquiet creature, No!

Cousins perhaps, yet very long ago

And many, many, many times removed.


I heard an ancient sound: a cock that crew

  In graying light as I lay warm in bed.

A long metallic cry of dung and dew

  And the unearthly dead.


Travelling at night no man has any home

Beyond the station’s melancholy dome.

The giant tired engine starts again

For homeless fields anonymous in rain,

Now it has gone. But that was not our train.

Even the kit-bag and the trundled can

Are cared-for and considered more than man

Who has been travelling since his life began.


His soul, uncomforted by cups of tea,

Envies the soul of the baby on his knee,

Escaped in peace from its small house of sense.

Even his grin for the barmaid was pretence;

And soon his cup will lose its tiny heat

Abandoned on the desert of a seat;

Even the bottom sip was hardly sweet

And held no hope; it tasted sad, of spoon.


O, if our journey’s end were coming soon,

But will it ever come in a thousand hours?

We are the prey of adamantine powers,

Remote, uncaring, cold, yet easily crossed;

They may not punish us for being lost

If we remain their puppets, twitched and tossed,

They may not quite malevolently mind

Our presence here, if hopelessly resigned.


‘All the windows in the house are open’


Ascención called up to Salomé.

Leaning from her attic that fine day,

Sun-warmed sills are made to lean upon,

Down smiled Salomé at Ascención.

Ascención in indolence below,

Too content to wish to come or go,

Clasped her washing in a calm surprise,

Sun-bright dazzle pleasant in her eyes.


All the windows in the house were open.


Summer sauntered through the kitchen door,

Feet like blossom on the faded floor;

Heat and stillness harmonized the day,

Ascención smiled up at Salomé.


Neither needed any word of comment,

Gladly in their veins, for one long moment,

Each forgetting severance and pain,

Strong as music flowed the sap of Spain.


All the windows in the house were open.


  Deep in the stable tied with rope,

The cow has neither dignity nor hope.


  With ugly, puzzled, hot despair

  She needs the calf that is not there,

And mourns and mourns him to unheeding air.


  But if the sleeping farmer hears,

He pulls the blanket higher round his ears.


You often went to breathe a timeless air

And walk with those you loved, perhaps the most.

You spoke to Plato. You were native there.

Like one who made blind Homer sing to him,

You visited the caves where sirens swim

Their deep-indented coast.

                   With us you seemed

A quiet happy sailor come of late

From those strange seas you best could navigate,

Knowing a world that others only dreamed.

Almost we looked for spray upon your hair,

Who met you, silent-footed on the stair,

Like an Elysian ghost.

                    So on that day

You left us on a deep withdrawing tide,

We dared not beg you, with one sigh, to stay

Or turn from your discoveries aside.









          EACH ONE



         LOST SON








  Who heard a whistle in the night, so far,

  Who heard the whistle of the train pass?

—I heard,

  Said a hedge-safe bird,

—And I, said the bleached grass.

—I heard, said the sinking star,

—And I, said the apple, nested on the ground,

—And I, the mooned church-tower said,

—And I, the graves around.

—And you, said the roof of the farm overhead

  To the child in bed,

  You heard the sound.

—I, said the child, asleep almost,

  I heard it plain,

  I heard the whistle, the whistle of the train,

  Like a friend, like a ghost.


A sea-bird’s shadow went across the wall;

  My bedroom faced the sea,

A wordless thought I never shall recall

  Escaped scot-free.


When captains are preoccupied

  With tackle and supplies,

Unnoticed on the cold quayside

  His Sophy’s signal flies.


In summer months when he was four

  And used a wooden spade,

Bill Turner floated from this shore

  The boats his father made.


Now he, a soldier, sails from home

  On wild December ways,

Remembering the gentle foam

  And those protected days.


Drink the unflowing waters with green hair

You Cambridge willows, calm and unaware;

Soon he will vanish like a summer’s midge,

That calm-struck soldier leaning on the bridge,

And things be always as they always were.


For many years he bent above his ground

To dig and drill and dutifully tend,

(While the observant robin hopped around),

Then earth drew down his body out of sight

To lie in equal patience day and night.

And now perhaps his patient soul has found

A heaven, half-familiar, like a friend,

Like Histon Chapel in astounding light.


How calmly cows move to the milking sheds,

How slowly, hieratically along,

How humbly with their moon-surmounted heads,

Though fly-pursued and stained, they pass me by

As gravely as the clouds across the sky,

They being, like the stars ‘preserved from wrong’.


Come inside the swinging gate

And pay your pennies for the Fête,

Where once I strolled with all the rest

In my sash and Sunday best.


Dust and ash the eyes I sought,

Where I strolled and strayed and sat,

And the rose my mother bought

To stick inside my shady hat,

His blue eyes and my bright sash,

          Dust and ash.


How simple is my burden every day

  Now you have died, till I am also dead,

The words ‘Forgive me’, that I could not say,

  The words ‘I am sorry’, that you might have said.


A child that prospers, carries everywhere

A little dome of pleasant secret air,

We, who receive his unconcerned embrace

  Perceive it, sacred, round the soft-nosed face.


In ritual circles, resolute and high,

  He smoothly, purely passed. I almost heard

The music which that sun-perfected bird

    Left in the soundless sky.


The moths of night in vain,

  White thoughts of dark,

Fluster the outward pane

  But leave no mark.

Must houses always be

Closed tight on mystery?


The midnight wind pours darkness through the trees,

  How huge their mounded presences appear.

The door-knob turns. Whose visiting hands are these?

  What are these footsteps that I do not hear?


Our orchard with her wealth of blossoms spent,

  Her grass shorn close, her clamour of singing dumb,

Is like a woman, jewelless, content,

  Whose time is almost come.


The lawns, the light, the shrouded trees are grey,

The lake in trance repeats the moveless day;

Yet, like a royal ghostly barge, moves on

In proud insulted thought, a single swan.


Banish the scent of sherry and cigars,

  Throw back the shutters, quench the cultured light,

Let in the air. O fresher than the stars

  The rank, primeval innocent smell of night!


Nijinsky’s ashes here in peace repose

No more the Faun, the Harlequin, the Rose.


  We saw him framed in light before the crowds,

  Hushed like a tree that waits the touch of dawn,

  A panther ready, or an arrow drawn.

  Then music came, the sure, awakening bars,

  He leapt beyond the bounds of joy and grief;

  His heart conferred in those transfigured hours,

  Strength like the sun, precision like the stars;

  The sea was his; the buoyancy of clouds,

  The sap that flows in every fluted leaf.

  The blossoming, in light, of fields of flowers.

  Yet later, smiling in applauded grace,

  The Faun, the Rose was never wholly ours,

  We saw remoteness in the tilted face,

  He heard alone, beyond our human ears,

  Beyond applause, the Music of the Spheres.


Nijinsky’s ashes here in peace are laid

Their perfect tribute to Perfection paid.


Into the innocence of out-of-doors

  From faithless man I fly.

I fly from polished lies on polished floors

Into the innocence of out-of-doors.

How candid every stone upon the moors,

  How like a flute the sky.

Into the innocence of out-of-doors

  From faithless man, I fly.


The waiter brought a vision by mistake,

  I only ordered coffee and a roll.

Breakfast is all you hope for when you wake;

The waiter brought a vision by mistake,

For there, through slatted shutters, was a lake,

  O pure, O placid, like a seraph’s soul.

The waiter brought a vision by mistake,

  I only ordered coffee and a roll.


Bow down you trees your rich-embroidered boughs,

Bow low,

And softly fold the sleeping shepherd round.

You squirrels in the grove who swing at ease,

And hide your secret nuts where no one sees,

Where none may know,

You doves among the branches make no sound,

The sleeping, sleeping shepherd never rouse,

The happy shepherd sleeping on the ground.

Bow low you trees your rich-embroidered boughs,

Bow down, you trees.



The children of my fiery heart and brain

Endure, created, like the wind and rain

            Imperishably wild.

But near this stone, and in this iron air,

I died, because my body could not bear

            A mortal child.


Florence has lost her joy, her marmoset.

No more those bright world-penetrating eyes

Peer from the sacred cavern of her muff,

Two jewels closely set.

Un-nibbled now the sugared cherry lies,

November sleet whips through the northern skies,

The tiny tropic heart has throbbed enough.



If any future, Love, were sure

Be ours to hear with rapture pure

  Like ‘Open Sesame’ resounding:

Messieurs les voyageurs en voiture.


And, Ah, those sacred wheels that say

Their Non sporgersi all the way,

In stern beloved trilingual measure

Nicht hinauslehnen night or day.


What shall we find with dawn begun

And Europe’s black effacement done?

  Beyond Vallorbe the Alps arising?

The bridge at Avignon in the sun?




There is no cider at the Traveller’s Rest;

But where’s your Graves? Your Beaune? Your Beaujolais?

The Nuits you prayed for? Veuve Cliquot? Vin d’ Ay?

And vain as well the simpler suit I pressed:


‘Grant me the vin-du-pays of the west,

The amber largesse of a labourer’s day!’

There is no cider at the Traveller’s Rest

(But where’s your Graves? Your Beaune? Your Beaujolais?)


Your every plea seemed sweet as love confessed:

Pommery, Saint Emilion, Montrachet!

Lachryma Christi, Clos Vougeot, Vouvray!

Yet Mars denied each connoisseur request.

Nor has my humble homely prayer been blessed.

There is no cider at the Traveller’s Rest.



—Jean, let me introduce Sir Robert Frazer,

  But once in Wiltshire years ago you met,

  Don’t I remember?

                  —Yes, I can’t forget. . .

  Our Hostess acts the imbecile, it pays her.

—You always were so horrid about people.

—And you were always bringing out their best.

—Bob, do behave like any other guest . . .

  Do you remember Wagdon Prior steeple

  And how it rises out of Salisbury plain?

—I dislike steeples seen at any angle,

—How strange that we should only meet to wrangle.

—Frankly, I hope we never shall again.

—But do say something in this awful lull,

  You always had the gift of being dull.


—Bill, take a cushion on the ground, that’s better!

  Just how you used to lie ten years ago.

—Tell me one thing I have a right to know,

  Why did you never answer my last letter?

—I used to wish when I was seventeen

  (You can’t chew grass and make a noble face)

  That I could find that fairy-story place

Where there is everything that might have been.

That treasured kitten grown Eternal Cat,

The plays we meant to act in, you and I,

Even the tears there was never time to cry,

Do you think Heaven was really always that,

Not harps and halos?

                —Clare, I know it well

And go there often, but its name is Hell.



    By these hidden Names I speak

    Come and help us through the week!

    ABLATHANABLA hear my spell,

    Come on Saturdays as well!

    By the hidden Names of power,

    Come for half-a-crown an hour!



G ive me crowding children. A front lawn damp

U nder an angular bejewelled Great Bear:

Y oung hot brothers held to peer through window-bars


F idgeting in vain for rockets due to flare:

A fter altercations round the oily cycle-lamp

W onderful and sudden showers in blackest air,

K ingly gold eclipsing the ineffectual stars.

E very bang expended. One smouldering spark.

S ilence. Smell of sulphur. Re-instated dark.


Whoso maintains that I am humbled now

  (Who wait the Awful Day) is still a liar;

I hope to meet my Maker brow to brow

  And find my own the higher.


A child that prospers, carries everywhere

A sea bird’s shadow went across the wall

A young Apollo, golden-haired

Again the cry of black-faced lambs across the brackened hills

All men from all lands

All the windows in the house are open

Around the eaves a soul unchristened

As I looked out one May morning

As on the highway’s quiet edge



Banish the scent of sherry and cigars

Because no notice-board was nailed

Beside the road to Coursegoules

Bill, take a cushion on the ground, that’s better!

Bow down you trees your rich-embroidered boughs

Brekekoax the night-frogs said, while I

Bring roses, singing girls, soft pansies strew



Can it be possible when we grow old

Come inside the swinging gate

Companionable ticking of the clock



Deep in the stable tied with rope

Does a bird rejoice like me

Drink the unflowing waters with green hair



Elegant creature with black shoulders bent



Florence has lost her joy, her marmoset

For how long known this boundless wash of light

For long, so long, this timeless afternoon

For many years he bent above the ground

Fresh as the foam of torrents from the snow

From muddy road to muddy lane



Give me crowding children. A front lawn damp

Gold as the hair of fairy-story queens

Gold-headed rose for bees to sup



Have you not seen

Here are the Schubert Lieder. Now begin

Here the young lover, on his elbow raised

How calmly cows move to the milking sheds

How can I dread you, O portentous wise

How long ago Hector took off his plume

How simple is my burden every day

How simply violent things



I am a lamp, a lamp that is out

I am an old woman, comfortable, calm and wise

I cannot but believe, though you were dead

I dreamt Death called my friend. And I

I envy your contorted bole

I have forgotten the country in the North, where my people lived before me

I heard an ancient sound: a cock that crew

I hear my children come. They trample with their feet

I laid me down upon the shore

I ran out in the morning, when the air was clean and new

I spoiled the day

I used to think that grown-up people chose

I wakened on my hot, hard bed

If any future, Love, were sure

In my dark mind you kicked a stone away

In ritual circles, resolute and high

In summer months when he was four

Into the innocence of out-of-doors

Is this obscurity not quite unbroken



James painted black moustaches round his nose

Jean, let me introduce Sir Robert Frazer



Long ago, in stony Greece

Look how these young, bare, bullock faces know



More innocently born and calmer seems

My father’s friend came once to tea

My hands, O Lord, receive the crystal day

My love came back to me

My room’s a square and candle-lighted boat



Nijinsky’s ashes here in peace repose

No longer will his name be found

Now quenched each midnight window is. Now unimpeded

Now the forgiving sun, with beams aslope

Now when his hour shall strike



O grasses wet with dew, yellow fallen leaves

O here is Paradise for me

O Providence, I will not praise

O sing or tell a story. What shall I tell?

O sky, grass, earth!

O sometimes when I wake at night

O why do you walk through the fields in gloves

Old Mrs Thompson down the road is dead

On days when you have been

On moony nights the dogs bark shrill

Our orchard with her wealth of blossoms spent

Out of this seemliness, this solid order




See where the stones are worn beside the street

So begins the day

So, my proud soul, so you, whose shining force

Still the medieval hunger to atone



That eager, honouring look

The air is still grey

The children of my fiery heart and brain

The Cypriot woman, as she closed her dress

The day my great-aunt Sarah died

The first created pair possessed a world

The lawns, the light, the shrouded trees are grey

The liquid unhorizoned sea

The midnight wind pours darkness through the trees

The moths of night in vain

The olive boughs are black, like blinding hair

The rounded buses loom through softest blue

The spirits of children are remote and wise

The stacks, like blunt impassive temples, rise

The train. A hot July. On either hand

The waiter brought a vision by mistake

The winds are out in the abysm of night

The wrong you did is gentle, like the trust

There is a bed-time sadness in this place

There is a moment country children know

There is no cider at the Traveller’s Rest

This is the hour when night says to the streets

This is your nursing mother, this is sleep

This once protected flesh the War-god uses

Though iron-strong and grey

Through all these days and all these weeks

Time stands still

Too many of the dead, some I knew well

Travelling at night no man has any home



Unshaken world! Another day of light



We who are met to celebrate

We, who must grow old and staid

What’s early spring in Spain?

What sound more pleasant to the ear from birth

When captains are preoccupied

When he was questioned at the time of the trial

When I was twenty inches long

When someone’s happy in a house there shows

When we had reached the gate I raised my eyes

When we would reach the anguish of the dead

Where have you been? You look queer

Who heard a whistle in the night, so far

Whoso maintains that I am humbled now

Why frown? Why stare?

Why is it grown so suddenly cold at night?



You often went to breathe a timeless air

You who, frustrated, died so long ago

Your youth is like a water-wetted stone



Mis-spelled words and printer errors have been fixed.

Inconsistency in hyphenation has been retained.

[The end of Collected Poems by Frances Cornford]