ON English Readings a short podcast/microlecture on Thomas Hardy’s poem, “Drummer Hodge”.
Il Duce was too soft on you
and let you live
so your hair survived
the damp cells of Ustica and Turi
where you wrote a way out for your comrades
from the ruins of their revolution
I saw you in that photo
on a tutor’s wall
from before those prison days
hair thick and black
you in your neat commissar’s outfit
now every student reading Dante
inhales your spores
and can spell the word hegemony
afterwards I see it was a simple suit your wore
like any old bourgeois citizen
and your face had grown fat
though your hair was still black
if not so voluminous
pity you didn’t live to see
the bald dictator strung up and bloody
like a bulbous spider
that hegemonic bastard, death,
did for both of you, hair or no hair
@ Michael Blackburn, 2018
Telling lies to the young is wrong.
Proving to them that lies are true is wrong.
Telling them that God’s in his heaven
and all’s well with the world is wrong.
the young know what you mean. The young are people.
Tell them the difficulties can’t be counted,
and let them see not only what will be
but see with clarity these present times.
Say obstacles exist they must encounter,
sorrow happens, hardship happens.
The hell with it. Who never knew
the price of happiness will not be happy.
Forgive no error you recognize,
it will repeat itself, increase,
and afterwards our pupils
will not forgive in us what we forgave.
“Lies” by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, translated by Robin Milner-Gulland and Peter Levi. From the Selected Poems in the Penguin Modern Poets series, 1968.
where the English wilderness is
in the interstices
along the margins
here at the roadside
deep in grasses, poppies,
mallows and escaped hypericum
wherever the wind bears the seed
wherever the buzzard has moved in
new territory of field, wood and air
not asking for our opinion
us, who are
wilderness in wilderness
(Poem 105: 29/06/08 from the poem-a-day project, 2008 – 2012, Michael Blackburn).
“THE INIQUITY OF OBLIVION blindly scattereth her poppy, and deals with the memory of men without distinction to merit of perpetuity.” So wrote Sir Thomas Browne, a writer who has not had the full weight of said iniquity fall upon him and managed to remain partly in the light of literary remembrance. Those of us stricken with the vanity that we may be remembered after our death for our poems, novels, plays, paintings, songs or whatever, never find out, of course, though we know the odds are in favour of the poppy.
Such was the case with Brian Higgins (1930 – 1965), poet, mathematician, teacher, rugby player, freelance journalist and dole wallah. Higgins published three (hardback) collections, two of them during his very short life (The Only Need and Notes While Travelling), and one posthumously (The Northern Fiddler). His poems had appeared in reputable magazines and anthologies, including The Faber Book of Twentieth Century Verse, so he was not exactly an obscure scribbler while alive. His portrait was painted by Patrick Swift, one of the leading Irish artists of the day, and he knew many of the more successful writers of the period. This included George Barker, himself a permanently half-remembered poet, who wrote a foreword to The Northern Fiddler.
Read on at The Fortnightly Review.
Poem 40 from Housman’s A Shropshire Lad is one of his most famous. Here’s a microlecture on it.