2621 Chapters
Medium 9781847770684

Pietà, 1999 (UD, uncatalogued)

Elizabeth Jennings Carcanet Press Ltd. PDF

A vague excitement. They have learnt their skill

Over years. They know the craft must be

Precise, much-practised and well-honed until

They deserve the language which is free

To those prepared. How they wing through the air

With all of song’s rapt, sweet immediacy.

So luck is not the issue anywhere.

Singers have to learn their discipline.

Self must be abandoned. Love and care

Are where the great words both end and begin.

Early Rituals

All day we’d play at saying Mass. We put

A toy train on a string and swung it for

A thurible. Imagined incense set

The air to fragrance. Then bright crayons were

Candles. So we let

The whole abundant ritual take on

Human needs beyond our years. Maybe

Instinct was the first prime mover. When

We blessed the paper hosts, we certainly

Were learning that all men

See shapes in clouds, read magic language in

The simplest spoors. Our world is everywhere

Waiting to be interpreted and when

We’re little children we are seeking more

Than we can know – a glory to adore.


We thrive, it seems, on mystery for there,

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Not Abstract

Elizabeth Jennings Carcanet Press Ltd. PDF

Not Abstract

Where the river bends, where the bridges break,

Where the willow does not quite

Fall to the current – here is the place to stake

Your life in, your delight

Once easily lost. Here again you could make

A day out of half a night.

The moon is assured. The sun has put its back

Against the wood, the trees

Carry their rotten fruit like a swollen sack.

Stand among all of these

And learn from desertion and luxurious lack

Why some fall on their knees.

Gods have given. Gods have taken away

But left us with the need,

In angry arguments, logics which pray

Even for ghosts of a creed.

The bridge is broken and the willows sway.

Where does the river lead?

Little Peace

Through intricacy of sharp air

The urgent messages are sent.

Voices become a thoroughfare,

Crunched leaves are now irrelevant.

For seasons have resigned to let

Emergencies take on the sway

Where rules and governments once met

And legal systems drew each day

A quiet map, imposed a scheme

For living through. Now to exist

Through hours that shake men from a dream

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A Decision

Elizabeth Jennings Carcanet Press Ltd. PDF

The fountains leapt in my mind,

The waters came to life.

I wish all my verse could be like this;

Too often it is hurried, shaken,

Too often it speaks of things

That it would be better for me to forget,

Art for me is that strength, that summoning fountain.

And when love comes into my work

I want passion sufficiently tamed

So that the form, the music are never lost,

When I was a child I wrote verse easily,

Now, every day, new problems enter in.

One day, perhaps, I shall be serene.

My old images – aged women, flowing waters, flowers,

Will find a world in which they can all meet.

But compassion must crown all this

And a great power enter, enter.

A Decision

This is my love and now it must be spoken.

I love you, I have loved you many years.

Now all my love is lapped around with tears.

There are so many things that have been broken.

Love is possession or it partly is.

This I know well and this I understand.

I can’t forget our former ecstasies

Or see in what way they can ever end.

My morning fantasies are always full

Of what we did together. I suppose

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Old Man Asleep

Elizabeth Jennings Carcanet Press Ltd. PDF

Only in pain, their bodies no longer seem

Dependent on blood, muscle, bone.

It is as if air alone

Kept them alive, or else a mere whim

On the part of instrument, surgeon, nurse

I too am one of them, but well enough

To long for some simple sign of life,

Or to imagine myself getting worse.


The wind is playing round the curtains,

The bowl of flowers throws shadows on the sill.

There is nothing to do now, nothing at all

But to lie still.

The mind has never been like this room, clear,

Containing only what I really need.

It has been full of antique objects, rubbish,

And dust indeed.

The objects seemed to swell, their shadows spread

More darkness than I knew how I could handle.

There was no sudden shock, simply a slow

Feeling that strength would dwindle,

That I would one day find myself like this –

Lying in bed, watching the curtains blow,

Seeing the flowers fall, petal by petal,

Longing for something to grow.

Old Man Asleep

He takes the snuff-box from his pocket and,

As many times before, taps on the lid.

The day’s newspaper slips on to the floor;

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In This Time

Elizabeth Jennings Carcanet Press Ltd. PDF

Each ponders, ‘Better hide myself in case

Those strangers have set up their homes in minds

I used to walk in. Better draw the blinds

Even if the strangers haunt in my own house.’


Many who spoke with him a little found

Him most indulgent to the common voice

And sensitive to quirks of character.

I wonder, then, was this sent underground,

This gift for understanding, when he chose

All the impersonal power of emperor?

So much the legend haunts us. His last days

Slide easily into the sentiment

We like to hide our great men in. But was

The truth elsewhere, his talk with valet and

Children a screen while his real thinking went

Still to the thought of Europe in his hand?

There is no answer. Emperors elude

Our logic and survive within the small

Moment when they seemed ordinary. All

Our thoughts of greatness disappear when we

Can catch the emperor quite off his guard

And think he lived such hours continually.

In This Time

If the myth’s outworn, the legend broken,

Useless even within the child’s story

Since he sees well they now bring lights no longer

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