Fend off those shades. They throng my dreams
With their high incessant chatter
Crowding round the trench or crouch like dogs
On all fours lapping up the blood.
It is not these that I would parley with,
But lost companions whose luck ran out:
Who even in the ribald fellowship
Of youth suddenly fell silent
Or vanished overboard without a cry
At midnight in mid-sea-pioneers So far ahead I cannot read
Their signals now, much less interrogate
Them on this leafless, fog-bound shore.
Look, this land, mist-shawled
Mostly, earth and sea and sky
A monochrome grey wash,
Is Midas-touched by spring,
Its ragged banks and boreens
Burgeoning gold: how soon spent
In wild profligacy of wind and rain.
He was shopping, he said, leaning on his stick,
For his wife, who seldom ventured out these days.
I too had my instructions and a list
Of small necessities. We stood on the corner
While others-women mostly-hurried past,
Heads down, ignoring him, and talked of times gone by
And the evils fallen since upon the city:
Ancient codgers on the walls of Troy
Peering into the dusk and smoke and din,
The confused carnage on the plain below.
ROBIN AMONG SUMMER VISITORS
Connoisseur of bread crumbs and grilled bacon rind,
He would materialise through fog and frost,
Wolf-light of the slinking dawn, with a sudden
Blink of wings outside the kitchen window,
Red kerchief slashed, pirate-fashion, round his neck.
A swivel of head and eye, a few brisk bobs,
And he was gone, to gorge or shelter God knows where.
Occasional accomplices apart-deft
Milk-bottle-raiding blue tits, the whole gang
Hooked on cream-he had the place all winter through
Almost to himself. Yet, so deafening the din
The squatters make these mornings crowded here
Within his tenement, he can't be seen Or heard.
Globetrotters, they will migrate with the sun
Soon enough. But will he swagger back then, buccaneer,
Chest puffed out, ready to defy the dark again?
The rooms were empty but the lights still on.
They had retouched the ceilings, moved the portraits round,
I noticed; but the tables, books, the leather chairs
And velvet draperies were much as I had found
Them years beforeƒthat slightly faded opulence,
The silence tingling with expectancy.
A woman entered whom I didn't know,
Sat behind the desk, and startled to see me,
'Yes' she said. 'Can I help you?' 'Thank you,'
I replied, 'I'm waiting for your colleague to appear,'
And mentioned the name. 'There must be some mistake,'
She said. 'There's nobody of that name here.'
'Nobody of that name here? Oh, come,' I said.
She bristled. 'Either you have picked the wrong address,
Or else this ... this person that you speak of left
A long time sinceƒunder the old regime, I'd guess.'
'Old regime? What do you mean, the old regime?
And who are you?» I asked. 'Look. You»d better go,'
She said, and rang a bell. 'You weren't invited
And clearly you've no business here. This man will show-'
I'd turned already, blundering through the marble hall
And out. I had found the place again, no question,
Whatever that strange woman may have said:
But far too late-usurpers in possession,
The godhead overthrown, the sibyl fled.
Head prefect, captain of the First XI,
He lounges there, athlete, aesthete, all the rage
In Wilde as wit, or Shakespeare as tragedian,
Presaging triumph on the West End stage,
And smiles into the future. Nathaniel
To his Berowne, gawky, shy,
Too easily put down, I recollect
Chiefly now his arrogance and vanity-
And seeing him later once on television
In a minor role, by younger men outshone.
He must be somewhere still, still craving stardom's call.
Wind frets the low peninsula,
Scuffs pools, rubs cheekbones raw. Gulls screech,
Red-eyed, and squabble over small
Pickings on a bladderwrack-strewn shore
That shelves to mud. I crunch dry sticks
Along the strand, waiting for the faint
Susurrus in the distance, glint
And ripple of the tide that lifts
Stranded boats off their beam-ends,
Encircles islands, fills the creeks.
When will it fetch you shimmering in
To repossess your precincts,
Bring the bee-delighting scents
And stir of summer once again?
It isn't just what fills the frame or box-
The smile, the hairdo-that you ought to watch,
But the mirthless eyes that give away the show,
The flick knife glinting in the fist below.
LEADER OF MEN
Strange how they foundered under him, each ship
In turn, all hands lost save one. As they sank
He bobbed up like a cork among the wreckage,
Gathering glory, medal ribbons, rank;
While in green darkness down below, his crews,
Open-mouthed but mute, rolled helpless at the news.
OLD MAN SITTING IN THE PARK
To renounce the world is one thing:
To be abandoned by it quite another.
'The spiders hidden in high places here
Are weaving treason. We're flies caught in their trap,'
You cry. But then, they»d never cock things up
Like this, those subtle spinners you so fear.
No. When ignorance and folly squat
Like toads on top, arachnids scuttle clear.