Images and Reflections        


For T.S. Eliot on winning the Nobel Prize

Perambulations in the dawn
Through long cold silent empty streets
Bring him to the frozen playground
And one of many stony-hearted seats

Trepidations of the day around
Him gather on the concrete lawn
The clocks in hock
The morning still in pawn
As waters from the drinking-fountain
Fall in rusted ornamental sheets
By the yellow brick
The childhood block

‘Am I the mouse by parturition
Bringing forth the deckled mountain
Or merely of all dead beats
A study of decay in late fruition?’

This thought and others like it
Blow through the silent empty streets
As last nights final five-star news
Wreathed in the smoke of breakfast flues
Comes to the schoolyard for a taste of wit

A dillar, a dollar
A transatlantic scholar

Places
Faces
The face on the third Grade floor
And names
And games
‘Adoro te devote’
Humbly I adore
And because this lady of her beauty
I have unhorsed the golden traces
Drawn her carriage through
Long cold silent empty streets
Where the east wind, the Keats wind, blew

Gulls eggs and smoked salmon
Say the bells of Great Mammon

‘Your Majesty
Your Royal Highnesses
Your Excellencies
Your Graces
My Lords
Ladies
and -
But are there any further down
The sliding scale of imperfection?
I seem to be alone
Beyond the pale
Expanse of noble linen stretching to the throne

If I may say so, Sir
The simplest plowman setting out
To till his meagre parcel of your kingdom
Has better right
To speak about
The imminent collapse
Of all the values that we prize
Than I whom you have asked to bring some
Plaintive notes
In accents rough and wild
To your august attention

What need to summarize
The threats to gracious living?
Ill fares the Child of Progress, Sweet Invention!

The instant heated water chills
The telephone no longer dotes
On orders meekly taken
For even when reviled
Its silence shows we are forsaken

Monseigneur
Now in the ice-box years
When cubist hearts are shaken
Together
Forever
And a day

And then are taken
Unawares
And go away
In different pairs
Over and over again -
The banked machines embellished
With sudden lights
Falter
And the highly polished
Better than human brain
Has the terrors
In the midst of mechanical flights
Of fancy
And the scientific errors
Which pride abolished
Flutter
Like little chromium bats
Through the cardboard halls of knowledge

The rusted busted triumph car
Subsides with Dives in it
Gross tyrant of the age of tin

Don Cesare
                 Majestat
Consider at this moment how
A seeming distance overhead
Icarus, the wingless hearse
Made from the silken public purse
Upsets the lofty dead

Like toys across the floor
Of their no longer living room
The flickered words upon the wall
Will not resume
Nor will the radio
Another voice shall summon
You and me
Most Puissant Liege
Ah, look, the lights grow dim
Are going out
And who can say
What may
Be under
The quaking floor of doubt?

Listen!
The thunder’

Yankee Doodle comes to town
Dunce’s cap and academic gown

In lilac and in sumac
The windows of the Cadillac
Anoint the youthful gaze
By manifestly aged ways
With crinolines and champagne sec
The palace of Chapultepec
And early morning porridge served on trays

Their images
Give magic wages
And the heir apparent gauges
Mirror writing on the Christmas check

Black
The horses’ plumes are black
The private secretary loses track
Of cards with upper left-hand corners bent

Lo, the weeping in the pantry
Lo, the parlour-maids bereft
Lo, the gathering of the gentry
Oh, the gentry, Oh, the gentry
Oh, the iron-hearted gentry
Impoverished gentry
Local gentry
Legal gentry who are Heaven sent
To discover who’s in clover
How the money, how the money
Now the money can be spent

A perpetual chantry
So the gentry keep perpetual Lent
One two
Nothing new
Three four
Write some more

Perambulare, so he muses
The vestal hand is writing on the wall
With calligraphic strokes of coloured chalk
Infinities, infinity, the Latin way to walk

‘Take up your bed’
He said
‘Perambulate with Me
Across the rusted waters of Lake Galilee
O ye of little faith’

How little? How little?
As little as a child
The grown-up fingers whittle
The wood that would grow wild

‘And so I came by public stages
To the furious winter’s rages
Here have walked and ta’en - ’
The splintered chalk shuts off a classic vein

Simple Simon
Met a rhyme man
Going on the air

And some die mad
Others exhausted by their honours
Eat sacrificial dinners
Belated entries in the journals of the young
But everyone has had
Perambulating failures
Which amuse the less-inspired
The hounds of Swinburne giving tongue
Bay from the next back yard
And some have grown up early, being tired
Of weeded hedgerows where the dahlias
Are not deified
Nothing is easy
But working makes it hard

‘Myself,’ he says, ‘a shy boy playing hide
And seek among the numerous and recollected dead
Myself when young, if ever I were young
And not, as now, a blank word for the sleazy
And sycophantic syncopations of the demi-read
Myself, then, raised through miser-mocking days
With paper, cardboard, inkstains, cloth and glue
A monument beside the pyramid of Gaius Cestius
And there, God willing, I shall lie among
The children who in childhood led me through

The blackboard scored with symbols to infinity
Until I came to take my present concrete view!’

And yet the broken window-panes remind
The wind to mend its ways
The creaking floorboards in the washroom graze
The sun beyond the blind
Nothing is as nothing was
The dazzled panther hunts the milkwhite hind
And there’s an end of days

Little Jack Horner
Sat in a corner
Writing his life away

He startles from his curule chair
Oh, well-brushed locks, Oh, locket’s wear
The telling marbles click with prayer
The swings upset the prophet’s glare
The balanced see-saw breaks his stare
The hopscotch squares surround him there
The basketballs inflated bear
The weight of his presumed despair
Through rings and rings and rings of air
The schoolbell rings within his ear
Nine o’clock

The yellow brick
The childhood block
If he could drink the florid waters once
Again, and hear the music, thin but clear
Of clarinets attendant on the near
Performance of a stage play titled Charlie’s Aunt
If he could cut the lilac
There the Indians might bivouac
There the baseball diamond glitter through the summer months
And if, and if, and if
He’d had a different life
Had once forgotten he must water Teacher’s window plant
Would he now be named among the English poets?
Would he now, so venerable, serene
Breathe in the fumes of ancient gasoline?
The thought requires some study

Eeeny, meeny, miney, mo
Catch a critic in the no
If he hollers ‘Shelley-ho!’
Eeeny, meeny, miney, mo

And now for the words the sea-birds say
After the aeroplane has passed them by

‘Adoro te devote
Latens deitas’

To see and do a duty
To wash the dirty glass

The footsteps of the tired
Go slowly home to Heaven
Their small-time lives prepared
The proud to be forgiven

What matter to the wicked
The prayer the poor put up?
The tallow candles flicker
That dying they may hope

Hidden lives are spent
Recklessly, and all for
Love of those who won’t
Come back at once from Hell door

The lame, the halt, the blind
The blessed mourners too
The world’s rejected stand
On stars above the sky

Their songs like trumpets shatter
Even the fierce denials
On earth the men who matter
Pale and their power fails

And so the rich complacent
World of brass and art
Is kept by many recent
Deaths from deadly hurt

God in His goodness takes
The sufferings of the just
For cargo to the shipwrecks
Refloated from the past

All glory be to Him
The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
Ah, beata Seraphim
Bear up the words that love the most

So sing the convent sisters and their song
Borne up above the heaving chimney stack
Comes down to rest beside him on the dark cement

But soon the words begin to move among
Their daily errands, and the vacant seats
Of those who have been long in childhood pent
Receive a dusting from the soot in peace

He rises with his genius and his lack
Of certainty and goes through crumbling broken streets
To find an endless language
                        …the lost poems of Greece