Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "In Westminster Abbey" by John Betjeman

Let me take this other glove off
As the vox humana swells,

And the beauteous fields of Eden

Bask beneath the Abbey bells.

Here, where England's statesmen lie,

Listen to a lady's cry.

Gracious Lord, oh bomb the Germans,

Spare their women for Thy Sake,

And if that is not too easy

We will pardon Thy Mistake.

But, gracious Lord, whate'er shall be,

Don't let anyone bomb me.

Keep our Empire undismembered

Guide our Forces by Thy Hand,

Gallant blacks from far Jamaica,

Honduras and Togoland;

Protect them Lord in all their fights,

And, even more, protect the whites.

Think of what our Nation stands for,

Books from Boots' and country lanes,

Free speech, free passes, class distinction,

Democracy and proper drains.

Lord, put beneath Thy special care

One-eighty-nine Cadogan Square.

Although dear Lord I am a sinner,

I have done no major crime;

Now I'll come to Evening Service

Whensoever I have the time.

So, Lord, reserve for me a crown,

And do not let my shares go down.

I will labour for Thy Kingdom,

Help our lads to win the war,

Send white feathers to the cowards

Join the Women's Army Corps,

Then wash the steps around Thy Throne

In the Eternal Safety Zone.

Now I feel a little better,

What a treat to hear Thy Word,

Where the bones of leading statesmen

Have so often been interr'd.

And now, dear Lord, I cannot wait

Because I have a luncheon date.

by John Betjeman

I love this poem. It's very funny and it cuts straight to the heart of the hypocrisy often paraded as devoutness.

For more about the poet, John Betjeman, see:

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "The Solitary" by Rainer Maria Rilke

No: my heart shall be a tower,
and I myself set at its highest rim:

where nothing else exists, once again pain

and the unsayable, once again world.

Still one thing alone in immensity,

growing dark then light again,

still one last face full of longing

thrust out into the unappeasable,

still one uttermost face made of stone

heeding only its own inner gravity,

while the distances that silently destroy it

drive it on to an ever deeper bliss.

by Rainer Maria Rilke
(translated from the German by Edward Snow)

Rilke certainly had the remarkable ability to be concise, compact, succinct and yet say so much with so few words. The essence of poetry, I suppose. The maximum impact with the minimum possible words.

For more information on the poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, see:

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Tuesday Poem: " Acceptance" by Robert Frost

When the spent sun throws up its rays on cloud
And goes down burning into the gulf below,

No voice in nature is heard to cry aloud

At what has happened. Birds, at least must know

It is the change to darkness in the sky.

Murmuring something quiet in her breast,

One bird begins to close a faded eye;

Or overtaken too far from his nest,

Hurrying low above the grove, some waif

Swoops just in time to his remembered tree.

At most he thinks or twitters softly, 'Safe!

Now let the night be dark for all of me.

Let the night be too dark for me to see

Into the future. Let what will be, be.'

by Robert Frost

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "Exiles from the Dreamtime"

Tell me of the Dreamtime, Grandfather,
the young boy said.
Fill me with your memories
so you may live on in me.
Show me the past
so I might see the future.

There, under the cold light of the stars,
the fire of youth smouldered in the old man’s eyes
as they travelled the pathway of his tongue
and heard the unheard voices.

It was a time of wonders, he said,
but our currency was change.
We thought we could buy new miracles,
but we sold ourselves short.

The sea was lover to the land.
It knew where to kiss
and where to bite.
The seed of the sea was awash in our veins,
drawing us into it, on it, near it
and we were rewarded
by its majesty and generosity.
From some deep heart the malachite sculptures came,
refined by reef and wind,
until they exploded with white intensity
upon the beaches of the world,
some the cool, white velvet of crushed stars,
some warm and tawny like sleeping lions
and some black and hot with iron.
And in its depths we heard
the songs of our siblings,
but we had lost the lyric language.
Noble cetaceans whose forgiveness never waned
even as the last giant tail fluke
waved goodbye as it sank
into the cauldron of poison we had created.

Forests were the libraries of the land.
In life they charted the planet’s progress
and in death they froze fragments of history.
Like great ideas they affected our lives
and their shelves held the catalogues of Nature.
There were the cathedral canopies of the tropics
where soft light fell like a blessing
on a steamy palette of greens.
There were the eucalypts of the drier climates
which grew lean and tough, seeking the groundwater
like a seaside resort seeks the summer.
Or the mountain pines,
spectral in the moonlit snow,
alive with the red eyes of wolves
and the wind murmuring the secrets of the valleys.

But, like a petulant child,
we pulled the thread that unravelled the tapestry.
One day we awoke
to a desert of silence.

The ants we had taken for granted
were noticeably absent.
The bees, bereaved of flowers,
had nothing to live for.
The birds, robbed of progeny and homes,
plummeted from the sky,
made gangrenous by our excreta.
We had made the Sun an enemy
and it boiled the sea in its rage.

Tears extinguished the youthful fire
as the old man said, Forgive us, Grandson,
we squandered your inheritance
like callow, hedonistic youths
then fled the island
when the volcano erupted.
Surveying the barren landscape of their exile,
he said, It is fitting that
we banished ourselves to the Red Planet
because the blood of the Dreamtime
is on our hands.

Photo Credit: www.edgee.com

I offer my own sort of companion piece to last week's poem by W.S. Merwin just because I'm an old greenie hippie at heart, folks. I wrote this poem way back in 1988 and, sadly, things have probably only got worst since then. Let's be more careful with our precious planet. What say you?

Photo Credit: http://operationfailwhale.blogspot.co.nz

Photo Credit: Wolf Wallpapers

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "For a Coming Extinction" by W. S. Merwin

Gray whale
Now that we are sending you to The End
That great god
Tell him
That we who follow you invented forgiveness
And forgive nothing

I write as though you could understand
And I could say it
One must always pretend something
Among the dying
When you have left the seas nodding on their stalks
Empty of you
Tell him that we were made
On another day

The bewilderment will diminish like an echo
Winding along your inner mountains
Unheard by us
And find its way out
Leaving behind it the future
And ours

When you will not see again
The whale calves trying the light
Consider what you will find in the black garden
And its court
The sea cows the Great Auks the gorillas
The irreplaceable hosts ranged countless
And fore-ordaining as stars
Our sacrifices

Join your word to theirs
Tell him
That it is we who are important

by W. S. Merwin

For more information about the poet, W.S. Merlin, see:

I thought it was appropriate to share this poem because the International Whaling Commission is presently discussing the fate of the near-to-extinction Maui's Dolphin. 

A scientific study into the existing population of the Maui's Dolphin is being presented at an annual meeting of the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in San Diego, USA.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "Money" by Philip Larkin

Quarterly, is it, money reproaches me:
    ‘Why do you let me lie here wastefully?

I am all you never had of goods and sex.

    You could get them still by writing a few cheques.’

So I look at others, what they do with theirs:  

    They certainly don’t keep it upstairs.

By now they’ve a second house and car and wife:

    Clearly money has something to do with life

—In fact, they’ve a lot in common, if you enquire:

    You can’t put off being young until you retire,

And however you bank your screw, the money you save

    Won’t in the end buy you more than a shave.

I listen to money singing. It’s like looking down

    From long french windows at a provincial town,  

The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad

    In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.

by Philip Larkin

With the New Zealand Budget announcement looming, this seemed a very appropriate poem to post.

For more information about the poet, Philip Larkin, see:

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "Savage Spring"

comin’ down like a machine gun on the brothers.
Ain’t no “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”, baby!
Martin Luther King, Rodney King,
keep beatin’ on the black man for any old thing.
Lotta anger down here in South Central LA.
Keep worryin’, Hollywood, we’re comin’ your way.
Spike Lee comin’ atcha, Ice T comin’ atcha.
George Bush keeps talkin’ ‘bout Laura Norder.
Who she? She a waitress?
Gimme fries with that order.

news ‘copter, news ‘copter,
hangin’ there in judgement like the finger of God.
Yeah, Joshua fought the battle of Jericho.
You built the walls, baby, now we’re gonna blow.
Picture-takin’ while we fry white bacon,
hoverin’ out of reach like a kid at the zoo
showin’ white America the black bugaboo.
Film at eleven, CNN, Alabama,
but Rodney King’s assailants ain’t sittin’ in the slammer.
WelI, Miss Daisy, I don’t know what happen.
Uncle Tom Bradley, get back to your cabin!

Chutta- chutta-chutta-chutta,
eye in the sky got no tears for the sisters.
Laura Norder sleeps in the white man’s bed.
Black children die while she’s givin’ him head.
It ain’t no John Wayne, rootin’ and tootin’,
Hispanic child killed in a drive-by shootin’.
Crack money rules ‘cause there ain’t no jobs.
It’s enough to make even Laura Norder break down.
American Dream is a nightmare in this town.
Lotta anger down here, just needs a spark to ignite it.
Martin Luther King, Rodney King,
whitey look in horror at the savage spring.

The recent story in the international media of the murder by "rough riding" of the young black man, Freddie Grey:


reminded me that race issues and the perception of African-Americans has not changed much since the days of the civil rights movement. It also reminded me of the Rodney King case in 1992 which sparked the LA riots.


There is a litany of names of young black men in America  who have been, essentially, seriously assaulted or even murdered by racist cops or vigilantes: Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Cameron Tillman, Vonderrit Myers Jr., Laquan McDonald, Qusean Whitten...the list goes on, saddeningly.

I wrote the poem above in 1992 after watching news footage of the LA riots. I don't condone rioting, but you could see how the African-Americans in South Central Los Angeles were angered to the point of uncontainable rage. You just sensed that they faced incidents of racist attitude almost daily and the small trickles of everyday indignation built up into a torrent of anger that sought an outpouring. The media's coverage itself was laced with subtle and not-so-subtle racist viewpoints.

These riots will continue as longer as these racist murders continue by those who are supposedly in authority, on the side of law.

As a coda, I was a 35-year-old middle-class white guy living in the suburbs of Perth, Western Australia when I wrote this poem. What did I know about the reality of being black and living in South Central LA? Nothing! Naturally, I was concerned that writing this poem in a rap style might not be perceived as the empathetic viewpoint it was intended to be. But I received a blessing in a most unusual way. One night while I was performing this poem to a white Australian audience in an inner-city Perth pub, unbeknown to me, two African-American sailors from a visiting US naval ship walked into the bar. Later, when I went to the bar they congratulated me on my poem and for "tellin' it like it is". I was elated. I felt validated that I had done the right thing, that my instinct was a good one.