SOFAS, FOGS AND CINEMAS
(London in the 1950s)
lived it , and lived it,
My nervous, luxury civilization,
My sugar-loving nerves have battered me to pieces.
Their idea of literature is hopeless.
Make them drink their own poetry!
Let them eat their gross novel, full of mud.
quiet; just the fresh, chilly weather
Gets up from his dead bedroom, and comes in here
And digs himself into the sofa.
He stays there up to two hours in the hole - and talks
- Straight into the large subjects, he faces up to everything
(That great lavatory coat
the cigarillo burning
In the little dish
And when he calls out: 'Ha!'
Madness! - you no longer possess your own furniture.)
bad days (and I'm being broken
At this very moment) I speak of my ambitions
Becomes intensely gloomy, with the look of something jugged,
Morose, sour, mouldering away, with lockjaw
I grow coaser: and more modern (I, who am driven mad
By my ideas; who go nowhere;
Who dare not leave my frontdoor, lest an idea
All right. I admit everything, everything!
Oh yes, the opera (Ah, but the cinema)
He particularly enjoys it, enjoys it horribly, when someone's
At the last minute; and they specially fly in
A new, gigantic, Dutch soprano. He wants to help her
With her arias. Old goat! Blasphemer!
He wants to help her with her arias!
go to the cinema,
I particularly like it when the fog is thick, the street
Is like a hole in an old coat, and the light is brown as laudanum,
the fogs! the fogs! The cinemas
Where the criminal shadow-literature flickers over our faces,
The screen is spread out like a thundercloud - that bangs
And splashes you with acid
or lies derelict, with lighted
waters in it,
And in the silence, drips and crackles - taciturn, luxurious.
The drugged and battered Philistines
Are all around you in the auditorium
is somewhere else, in his dead bedroom clothes,
He wants to make me think his thoughts
And they will be enormous, dull - (just the sort
To kep away from).
when I see that cigarillo, when I see it
And he wants to face the international situation
Lunatic rages! Blackness! Suffocation!
- All this sitting about in cafés to calm down
Simply wears me out. And their idea of literature!
The idiotic cut of stanzas; the novels, full up, gross.
I have lived it, and I know too much.
My café-nerves are breaking me
With black, exhausting information.
Take care whom you mix with in life, irresponsible one,
For if you mix with the wrong people
- And you yourself may be one of the wrong people -
If you make love to the wrong person
in some old building with its fabric of dirt,
As clouds of witchcraft, nitro-glycerine, and cake,
Brush by (one autumn night) still green
From our green sunsets...and then let hundreds pass, unlit,
They will do you ferocious indelible harm!
Far beyond anything you can imagine, jazzy sneering one,
And afterwards you'll live in no man's land,
You'll lose your identity, and never get yourself back, diablotin,
It may have happened already, and as you read this...
Ah, it has happened already. I remember, in an old building;
Clouds which had cut themselves on a sharp winter sunset
(With its smoking stove of frosts to keep it cold) went by,
LITTLE CARDBOARD SUITCASE
Events pushed me into this corner;
I live in a fixed routine,
With my cardboard attaché case full of rotting books.
...If only I could trust my blood! Those damn foreign women
Have a lot to answer for, marrying into the family -
- The mistakes, the wrong people, the half-baked ideas,
And their beastly commnts on everything. Foul.
But irresistibly amusing, that I the whole trouble.
my cardboard suitcase full of occidental literature
I reached this corner, to educate myself
Against the sort of future they flung into my blood -
The events, the people, the ideas - the ideas!
And I alone know how disreputable and foreign.
But as a thinker, as a professional water-cabbage,
From my desk, of course, I shall dissolve events
As if they were of no importance...none whatever.
...And those women are to blame!
I was already half-way into my disreputable future,
When I found that they had thrown into my blood
With the mistakes, the people, the ideas (ideas indeed!)
This little cardboard suitcase...damned
Beloved women...and these books, opium, beef, God.
At my desk (lit by its intellectual cabbage-light)
I found them - and they are irresistibly amusing -
These thoughts that have been thrown into my blood.
ICE-CREAM ROOM TOWNS
we must go south to escape
The bubonic yellow-drink of our old manuscripts,
You, with your career, toad-winner, I with my intolerance.
The English seacoast is more oafish than a ham.
We can parade together softly, aloof
Like envoys in coloured clothes - on the promenades,
The stone sleeping-tables where the bourgeois bog down,
And the brilliant sea swims vigorously in and out.
There will be hot-house winds to blunt themselves
Against the wooden bathing-huts, and fall down senseless;
Lilos that swivel in the shallow, iced waves, half-submerged;
Skiffs - trying to bite into a sea that's watertight!
One whiff of it - careerist - and we fall down senseless,
Bivouacked ! Your respirating, steep, electric head,
Filled by its nervous breakdown, will slumber narcotized
By the clear gas that trembles in the sandpit.
Under the pier will be an overdose of shadows - the Atlantic
Irrigates the girders with enormous, disembodied cantos,
Unless you're quick - they pull the clothes off your soul
To make it moan some watery, half-rotten stanzas.
Night! The plasterboard hotels that rattle shanty bedrooms
On the front, are waiting! Without gods, books, sex or family,
We'll sink to a vast depth, and lie there, musing, interlocked
Like deportees who undulate to phosphorescent booming.
And the little night-shops of the Underworld
With their kiosks...they know it,
The little bars as full of dust as a stale cake,
None of these places would exist without Orpheus
And how well they know it.
... when the word goes ahead to the next city,
An underworld is hastily constructed,
With bitch-clubs, with cellars and packages,
So that he can go on searching, desperately!
As the brim of the life is lit,
And breath pours softly over the earth,
And as Heaven moves ahead to the next city
With deep airs, and with lights and rains,
He plunges into Hades, for his search is desperate!
And there is so little risk...down there,
That is the benefit of searching frenziedly
Among the dust-shops and blind-alleys
...there is so little risk of finding her
In Europe's old blue Kasbah, and he knows it.
TO AN OLD MATTRESS
No, this is not my life, thank God...
...worn out like this, and crippled by brain-fag;
Obsessed first by one person, an then
(Almost at once) most horribly besotted by another:
These Februaries, full of draughts and cracks,
They belong to the people in the streets, the others
Out there - haberdashers, writers of menus.
Salt breezes! Bolsters from Istanbul!
Barometers, full of contempt, controlling moody isobars.
Sumptuous tittle-tattle from a summer crowd
That's fed on lemonades and matinées. And seas
That float themelves about from place to place, and then
Spend hours - just moving some clear sleets across glass stones.
Yalta; deck-chairs in Asia's gold cake; thrones.
Meanwhile ...I live on...powerful, disobedient,
Inside their draughty haberdasher's climate,
With these people...who are going to obsess me,
Potatoes, dentists, peoples I hardly know, it's unforgivable
For this is not my life
But theirs, that I am living.
And I wolf, bolt, gulp it down, day after day.
DRINKERS OF COFFEE
We talk openly, and exchange souls.
Power-shocks of understanding knock us off our feet!
The same double life among the bores and vegetables,
By lamplight in the coffee-houses you have sat it out
Half toad, half sultan, of the rubbish-heap,
You know the deadly dull excitement; the champagne sleet
Of living; you know all the kitchen details of my ego's thinking,
When, with our imaginations shuddering.
We move arrogantly into one another's power,
And the last barriers go down between us....
More at home in a jazz pit than with you,
Hotter on the Baltic, when it fries in ice,
Better understood by cattle, grocers, blocks of wood,
My refrigerated body feels the coffin's touch in every word
You utter, and backs away forever from your bed.
You know me far too well, O dustbin of the soul;
My sex, her nerve completely broken by it, has constructed
Barriers, thick walls, never to be battered down.
On the other side (with a last mouthful of the double-dutch
She looks away; and in a wholly opposite direction.
OF A HOTEL-ROOM
Thinking we were safe - Insanity!
We went in to make love. All the same
Idiots to trust the little hotel bedroom.
Then in the gloom
And who does not know that pair of shutters
With all the awkward hooks on them
All screeching whispers? Very well then, in the gloom
We set about acquiring one another
Urgently! But on a temporary basis
Only as guests - just guests of one another's senses.
idiots to feel so safe you hold back nothing
Because the bed of cold, electric linen
Happens to be illicit
To make love as well as that is ruinous.
Londoner, Parisian, someone should have warned us
That without permanent intentions
You have absolutely no protection
-If the act is clean, authentic, sumptuous,
The concurring deep love of the heart
Follows the naked work, profoundly moved by it.
Criminal, you took a great piece of my life,
And you took it under false pretences,
That piece of time
- In the clear muscles of my brain
I have the lens and jug of it !
Books, thoughts, meals, days, and houses,
Half Europe, spent like a coarse banknote,
You took it - leaving mud and cabbage stumps.
Criminal, I damn you for it (very softly).
My spirit broke her fast on you. And, Turk,
You fed her with the breath of your neck
- In my brain's clear retina
I have the stolen love-behaviour.
Your heart, greedy and tepid, brothel-meat,
Gulped it, like a flunkey with erotica.
And very softly, Criminal, I damn you for it.
I was leaning across your chest;
Like a marble-smith, I made pencil marks over
Its vanilla skin, its young man's skin,
Refreshing as the pleasure page in a daily newspaper.
I sniffed you to quench my thirst,
As one sniffs in the sky huge, damp sheets of lightning
That bring down the Chablis, Hocks, Moselles,
And tear cold, watery holes,
Those soaking wet chords from Brahms (...their overflow,
On which you could float a canoe)
Are not more refreshing! Nor is the fragrant gin-fizz
From the glass joint of a rod of grass.
cries out for water!
Haughty sheets of newsprint, lightning, music, skin!
Haughty bathrooms where the lukewarm swimmer
In his watercolour coat of soap is king.
Winter! We pour our politics into bron walls,
These little eating-houses run with grease like a meat chop.
Each man stuffs himself with ideas, he eats his pork newspaper.
With two or three cabbage banknotes you can listen to the fog-horn,
The striking of the great clocks (how terrible), the alarm-bells,
We are ready to slide away into the nearest gutter,
Like old Paris hotels the fogs won't leave in peace,
In the souks where the young pair off, dog-tired and dirty,
On a February evening...
Nothing holds us upright but some cold green diction, banknotes,
And they talk of Literature!
But after all, give me again that new green diction.
Oh yes, it's atrocious. Certainly it's literature.
Tonks, whom I consider to be as good as Sylvia Plath
and much better than her contemporaries Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney,
seems to have had a Kurdish lover.
poems remind me of the novels and memoir of Jean Rhys,
also her contemporary.
See also https://vanishedpoets.blogspot.com/
and Wikipedia, of course.