Category Archives: Poem

An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow

Les Murray

The word goes round Repins,

the murmur goes round Lorenzinis,

at Tattersalls, men look up from sheets of numbers,

the Stock Exchange scribblers forget the chalk in their hands

and men with bread in their pockets leave the Greek Club:

There’s a fellow crying in Martin Place. They can’t stop him.
The traffic in George Street is banked up for half a mile

and drained of motion. The crowds are edgy with talk

and more crowds come hurrying. Many run in the back streets

which minutes ago were busy main streets, pointing:

There’s a fellow weeping down there. No one can stop him.

The man we surround, the man no one approaches

simply weeps, and does not cover it, weeps

not like a child, not like the wind, like a man

and does not declaim it, nor beat his breast, nor even

sob very loudly—yet the dignity of his weeping

holds us back from his space, the hollow he makes about him

in the midday light, in his pentagram of sorrow,

and uniforms back in the crowd who tried to seize him

stare out at him, and feel, with amazement, their minds

longing for tears as children for a rainbow.

Some will say, in the years to come, a halo

or force stood around him. There is no such thing.

Some will say they were shocked and would have stopped him

but they will not have been there. The fiercest manhood,

the toughest reserve, the slickest wit amongst us

trembles with silence, and burns with unexpected

judgements of peace. Some in the concourse scream

who thought themselves happy. Only the smallest children

and such as look out of Paradise come near him

and sit at his feet, with dogs and dusty pigeons.

Ridiculous, says a man near me, and stops

his mouth with his hands, as if it uttered vomit—

and I see a woman, shining, stretch her hand

and shake as she receives the gift of weeping;

as many as follow her also receive it

and many weep for sheer acceptance, and more

refuse to weep for fear of all acceptance,

but the weeping man, like the earth, requires nothing,

the man who weeps ignores us, and cries out

of his writhen face and ordinary body

not words, but grief, not messages, but sorrow,

hard as the earth, sheer, present as the sea—

and when he stops, he simply walks between us

mopping his face with the dignity of one

man who has wept, and now has finished weeping.

Evading believers, he hurries off down Pitt Street.

An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbowfrom The Weatherboard Cathedral, 1969
Graeme Hughes will lead a reading and discussion about the major Australian poet, Les Murray, on March 22. Please bring your own favourite Les Murray poem and, preferably, post it on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for selections to-date.



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Today’s Birthday: Naomi Shihab Nye

The Art of DisappearingNaomi Shihab Nye was born in St. Louis, Missouri on March 12, 1952.
The Art of Disappearing


The Words Under the Words


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Kathleen Jamie

LandfallWhen we walk at the coast

and notice, above the sea,

a single ragged swallow

veering towards the earth-

and blossom-scented breeze,

can we allow ourselves to fail

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Odalisque with a Chair

R S Thomas

She is the mistress

of her contradictions,

an odalisque who

is not to be bought.
The chess-board stipulates

you must play her

at her own game if

you would have her mated.
From: R.S. THOMAS TOO BRAVE TO DREAM Encounters with Modern Arts Edited by Tony Brown & Jason Walford Davies..

Odalisque with a Chair.
When R.S. Thomas died in 2000, two seminal studies of modern art were found on his bookshelves – Herbert Read’s
Art Now (1933/1948) and Surrealism (1936), edited by Read and containing essays by key figures in the Surrealist movement. Some three dozen previously unknown poems handwritten by Thomas were discovered between the pages of the two books, poems written in response to a selection of the many reproductions of modern art in the Read volumes, including works by Henry Moore, Edvard Munch, George Grosz, Salvador Dalí, René Magritte and Graham Sutherland – many of whom were Thomas’s near contemporaries. These poems are published here for the first time – alongside the works of modern art that inspired them. Thomas’s readings of these often unsettling images demonstrate a willingness to confront, unencumbered by illusions, a world in which old certainties have been undermined. Personal identity has become a source of anguish, and relations between the sexes a source of disquiet and suspicion. Thomas’s vivid engagements with the works of art produce a series of dramatic encounters haunted by the recurring presence of conflict and by the struggle of the artist who, in a frequently menacing world, is ‘too brave to dream’. At times we are offered an unflinching vision of ‘a landscape God / looked at once and from which / later he withdrew his gaze’.

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Shelley’s famous poem “Ozymandias” is germane 200 years after its publication

Ozymandias-2Curtis Fox and David Mikics discuss “Ozymandias”.

Listen to the podcast

By Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land,

Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”


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Auden-3I met Auden late in his life and mine—at an age when the easy, knowledgeable intimacy of friendships formed in one’s youth can no longer be attained, because not enough life is left, or expected to be left, to share with another. Thus, we were very good friends but not intimate friends. Moreover, there was a reserve in him that discouraged familiarity—not that I tested it, ever. I rather gladly respected it as the necessary secretiveness of the great poet, one who must have taught himself early not to talk in prose, loosely and at random, of things that he knew how to say much more satisfactorily in the condensed concentration of poetry. Reticence may be the déformation professionnelle of the poet. In Auden’s case, this seemed all the more likely because much of his work, in utter simplicity, arose out of the spoken word, out of idioms of everyday language—like “Lay your sleeping head, my love, Human on my faithless arm.” This kind of perfection is very rare; we find it in some of the greatest of Goethe’s poems, and it must exist in most of Pushkin’s works, because their hallmark is that they are untranslatable. The moment poems of this kind are wrenched from their original abode, they disappear in a cloud of banality. Here all depends on the “fluent gestures” in “elevating facts from the prosaic to the poetic”—a point that the critic Clive James stressed in his essay on Auden in Commentary in December 1973. Where such fluency is achieved, we are magically convinced that everyday speech is latently poetic, and, taught by the poets, our ears open up to the true mysteries of language. The very untranslatability of one of Auden’s poems is what, many years ago, convinced me of his greatness. Three German translators had tried their luck and killed mercilessly one of my favorite poems, “If I Could Tell You” (Collected Shorter Poems 1927–1957), which arises naturally from two colloquial idioms—“Time will tell” and “I told you so”:

Time will say nothing but I told you so,

Time only knows the price we have to pay;

If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,

If we should stumble when musicians play,

Time will say nothing but I told you so. . . .

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,

There must be reasons why the leaves decay;

Time will say nothing but I told you so. . . .

Suppose the lions all get up and go,

And all the brooks and soldiers run away;

Will Time say nothing but I told you so?

      If I could tell you I would let you know.
Read the complete article

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After Making Love

By Stephen Dunn
After Making Love-text
After Making Love

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Love, We Must Part Now

Philip Larkin

Love, We Must Part NowLove, we must part now: do not let it be

Calamitous and bitter. In the past

There has been too much moonlight and self-pity:

Let us have done with it: for now at last

Never has sun more boldly paced the sky,

Never were hearts more eager to be free,

To kick down worlds, lash forests; you and I

No longer hold them; we are husks, that see

The grain going forward to a different use.
There is regret. Always, there is regret.

But it is better that our lives unloose,

As two tall ships, wind-mastered, wet with light,

Break from an estuary with their courses set,

And waving part, and waving drop from sight.
Thanks to Anne Fletcher for bringing this poem to my attention.

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R S Thomas

HeMy belief is

that he is a clock

without hands. Haven’t you

looked up on a fine

day and seen the timelessness

on his face? So without eyes

he observes us, and the ticking

of time’s insect is not

that he goes, neither because

he has never started

can he stop. Our mistake

is to name him, when

his alibi is his

number, that single

figure that the more

nothing is added

to it the more nothing

can be taken away.

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Nick Flynn

killdeerYou know how it pretends

to have a broken wing to

lure predators away from its

nest, how it staggers just out

of reach . . . if, at this moment,

you’re feeling metaphorical,

nest can be the whatever

inside us that we think needs

protection, the whatever that is

small & hasn’t yet found its

way. Like us it has lived so long

on scraps, on what others have

left behind, it thinks it could live

on air, on words, forever almost,

it thinks it would be better to let

the predator kill it than to turn

its back on that child again,

forgetting that one lives inside

the other.
About This Poem

“I generally have a problem with anthropomorphizing, with what’s called the pathetic fallacy, forgetting that we are all part of the deeper mystery of the natural world. I think our minds are the limits of what is measurable. I sometimes think that everything is measurable, yet the fact that a killdeer does this dance fills me with unspeakable sadness and joy.”

—Nick Flynn

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