The poet I probably have read and re-read more than anyone else is Robert Graves. (True Fact: Graves, during his long residency in Mallorca, enjoyed a lively correspondence with Spike Milligan of The Goon Show.) I read The White Goddess before I was out of my teens and thought it a tour de force; today, it looks to me almost like a psychosis, but one in which I would gladly submerge even now. Graves was a Big Ole Sexist and went haring after women (and possibly the odd comely boy) till the end of his days, or damn near, but he was one Englishman who came out of the mud of the trenches without feeling the need to incinerate everything that civilization had produced up to that point.
And he loved an abstract idea of Woman, which is supposed to be an Oppressive Attitude, but it was an honest reverence, which shows up the gender-stereotyping of today for the crass frat-boy crudity that it is.
I wrote this a few years before he died in 1985.
For Robert Graves
Great and simple as the sea, phosphorescent
With delicate moonlight and strange fishes,
His art mingles the fantastically grotesque
With the commonplace: Fiddler-crabs and beasts
With lamps and suckers jostle the debris
Of old tins and planks washed up on the shingle.
On the ninth wave our Lady sits, her mermaid tail
Doubled coyly beneath her as if on a divan:
The golden comb rides the crests and troughs of her hair.
The old man whose slipshod feet shuffle over the cobbles
Catches the flash of her mirror as he looks seaward:
The young smile on his lips makes passersby tap their temples.
Old poets, like other old men, are quite entitled
To gout, lumbago, and oddities of digestion:
The world endorses such excuses for petrifaction.
Men are reverenced who act decently ancient,
and after a lifetime fishing the Goddess’ preserve
To have made one’s catch and mounted it seems sufficient.
But Merlin who was Caridwen’s son was a poet
And the ancient Celtic bards are all in accord
That, lovestruck in dotage for high-breasted Nimue,
He smote the harp in her praise with knotted fingers:
Spurning senescence’s easy dignity,
Took up a lover’s watch beneath her apple tree.
Senex amans is the butt of an easy joke
From Aristophanes to Chaucer, yet
As the old man in baggy trousers gazes
Out to the line where sea joins sky, the Goddess
Lifts up her delicate chin and sketches a kiss.
Though cruel and fickle, she keeps her promises.
As a woman (last I checked), I have a less idealized relationship with the Goddess of the Poets:
Come, fickle Muse, ungracious Bitch,
Sing to me of the anger which
Rifles the broken heart for words
And leaves it prey to dogs and birds.
Let them take what they will take,
I still spit venom for your sake,
Regurgitating vicious verse
Each time things go from bad to worse.
Claiming direct descent from Lust
And his uncomely spouse, Disgust
(the chance of some adultery
with Indolence and Vanity
Exists), it is my chief delight
To perpetrate in all men’s sight
Anthologies of sins, and hei-
nous acts of carnal poetry.
Youth naked in the beckoning bed,
The Bitch is waiting to be fed:
Come, come, and come, and try your luck:
All she needs is one good f***.
The ones before you failed (they tried)
To keep her three mouths occupied:
The ruse that served Ulysses well
When he got out alive from Hell.
The way is long, the way is steep,
And at its foot the pit is deep;
Fall, foolish bugger, be my guest,
Assume the pose my Muse loves best:
Buffoon of the eternal farce,
Spreadeagled with your upturned arse
Exhibited for all to see
In [Mama Sledpress’] poetry.
A score and six of years like these
(Filled mostly with depravities)
Defame my Muse to not a few:
But when she says “Pay up!” I do.
Painters of the Madonna make
Her set her foot upon a snake,
But my lubricious Muse is wise
And breaks its back between her thighs.
Likewise the Virgin in the yarn
Receives devotion in a barn:
Going one better, my barren Muse
Plunks backward on the straw and screws.
Rage and revulsion lace the art
Of us she treasures in her heart,
Her dearest gift, that while you curse
Our acts, our Lady, or our verse,
We slip the latch and break the gate
To all that you abominate,
Stoke up your heart to fog your head
And drag you by the balls to bed.
Better to give the bitch her due:
As Ovid and Catullus knew,
And Sophocles, and Sigmund Freud,
She isn’t gentle when annoyed.
It’s been a while since I added to this page, but once in a while, I stay up late and pour myself a bit of single malt. (This time it was because my knee was swearing at me and I needed an interval of detachment to properly address the soft tissue restrictions involved. I am more pragmatic than I used to be.)
At times like this, I tend to remember the last time I loved anyone in the farcical fantasy that love is ever repaid. Late-night applications of single malt and/or Drambuie, coupled with Arthur Foote’s C Minor Piano Trio and recitations aloud of the following poem, written twenty-some years earlier (I am a slow study) were all that saw me through the death of that damn delusion.
Let me never love again,
Great Lady, for I here confess
That I am sick for weariness,
That I am satiate with pain
And cannot bear Your lash again.
As in the oft-distorted tale
Of Garden, Psychopomp, and Tree,
Mocking resolve’s fragility
You cast Your snare before my frail
Terrible as the falcon from
The gauntlet of the falconer
When he unhoods and frees its power,
Or when the quarry, stricken dumb
In halt or flight is overcome,
Great Lady, must I fall again
Pierced by that shaft, aflame within,
Or feel like leaping hare or stoat
The kiss of talons round my throat?
Am I the author of that sin?
What I have suffered for Your sake
I can no more, I cannot burn
Spent embers, yet too late I learn
That every promise which You make
Goes unfulfilled, until it break.
The Queen Of Thule Sends Her White Raven Southward
This is from a cycle I sketched out called Fimbulwinter. This is the only part of it I liked. I set it for piano and my vocal register in D minor, so I could weird people out (at least in fantasy) by hitting the D below middle C on the last go in the text.
I believe in the Queen, in a queer way. Gods and goddesses extend (inflict?) redemption in their own individually inflected ways; She resolves all the pain and agitation and despair with a long, white, wind-sculpted silence.
O bird of bitter cruelty,
Southward over the snow
Bear your burden of cold death:
Go, sweeting, go.
Let the earth’s smoke and fire
And the breath of all things
Fall expiring, extinguished
Beneath your wings.
All life’s futile passion —
The babe at the breast,
The lover by his beloved
Ravished or distressed,
The soldier in his conquest,
The tyrant in his state,
All, all their ambitions
On their cities and forests
Let the bleak snow fall:
The time is past waiting:
End all, all.
Bird of my spirit,
Still rivers and seas:
Make glass of the hillsides
And the leafless trees:
In the wind of your pinions
Let the deep drifts blow:
Beyond that, silence:
Go, darling, go.