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Ann and Mary

"Is this the gate of Heaven?" asked Mary.
"Silly," said Ann. "It's only the gate of the park."
As they walked down a glade, Mary asked,
"Who lives in those trees over there?
Look, they're waving at us."
"It's nobody," said Ann. "Just the shades
dancing over the grass under the trees."
"Let's climb that mound," said Mary.
"Yes, let's," said Ann.
"Does this hill lead to the sky?" asked Mary.
"Of course it doesn't," snapped Ann.
"If you were big like me, you'd see.
the thorns and thistles with purple flowers
on the brow of the hill, you would."
"Are hilly brows like eyebrows?" asked Mary.
"Sort of, only different," said Ann,
looking very deliberate, like mum sometimes.
Mary ran ahead. "Look," she cried.
"You can see a piece of the sky
where there's a hole in the ground."
"Silly," said Ann, "That's the refegshun of the sky
in the lake. Let's go down to the swans."
Once at the lake-side they saw a swan
swimming towards them.
"Is it an angel," asked Mary.
Her elder sister was speechless
for a moment. "It's just lovely," said Ann,
who had dropped her omniscient guard.








There Was a Boy


Once there was a boy
Whose chief delight it ever was
to roam wherever fancy led,
to verdant mead or secret glade,
to copse or gently sloping hill,
where seated on his mossy throne,
he might survey his Arcady
and spy far-off spires and towers.
As if bound by a fairy spell
he heard melodies so strange
and saw yet stranger sights.
Sometimes he awoke to shouts
as loud as thunder-claps
that fell the mighty oak.
Rousing from his drowsy dreams one day
he saw standing there a figure,
more elf than man, goatish, small,
whose laughing eyes spelt
mischief but no harm.
"Hello," he said. "I'm Pan.
Learn of me, and I shall teach
the names of shrubs and trees,
the alder, hawthorn, bay, rowan,
the blackthorn, birch and ash.
Learn of me the songs birds sing,
of chaffinch, thrush, tit, piper,
the buzzard, rook and jay.
Learn of me what creeping things
there are, what life is found
in burrow, pool and stream.
Learn what games fox-cubs do play,
how weasels hunt and rabbits sport,
and I shall teach you how to tease
little girls by  pulling  plaits,
and bigger ones,  I'll come to that.
I'll teach much more, but for the while,
just listen to this pipe I play."
So sweet the strain that bade him muse
on things from Fancy's store purloined,
on changing scenes and what they told
of elves in grottoes, nixies coy
that bathed in streams by woody dells,
of golden fields and reapers gladsome,
yet unmindful of their toil,
of pastures lush where shepherds danced,
their gold-fleeced flocks untended grazed,
for wolves, for sure, were kindly then.
A voice bade me return to that same spot
to learn new wonders and explore new lands.

The vision over, sadly I homeward stepped,
cheered only by the promise I had heard.
Mine was this sorrow, for, yes, I was that boy.
I came again and waited there for Pan.
I waited though the wind was cold
and clouds, like zealous sentinels,
would let no sunbeams pass.
Pan never came, but one came in his stead,
a little man, in stature only like to Pan.
His clothes were black, as black as sin,
his hat was black and very tall.
Black were his shoes and mirror-shiny, too.
All was black, in fact, save silver buckles
on hat and shoe, his silver hair,
his haggard dead-pan face.
He also had a black sack on his back
and a spade held fast by a black strap.
He placed the black sack and spade
on the ground and glowered at me.
"Now I shall teach you, boy," he said,
producing a little black book
from a pocket in his black coat.
He opened the black book at chapter one,
and read it to me. This done, he read on
the second chapter, then the third,
the fourth, until the final chapter came,
and this also he read aloud to me.
He taught me words both new and long,
which soon would haunt me in my sleep,
dim in their meaning and dour in sound.
To wit: the Septennial and Triennial Acts,
the pragmatic Sanction and many Latin tags,
indefeasible rights, and other words
the square on the hippopotamus, two apple pie
Isausages triangles, cosine and tangerines,
and other words, mastication, cherry torts,
and gross moral turpentine, and more words,
jussive subjunkthings, ablative ablutions,
speculative Antinomianism, unclear warheads,
overkill, collateral damage, infernal combustion,
and finally words proving inconclusively
that all but a few must perish in perdition,
or, in keeping with this rational age,
a thermonuclear holocaust.
He made me carry the black sack
up to a hill and then handed me his spade,
with which I had to dig a hole.
"Why?" I asked. "Because I say!" said he,
"and because I want you to bury that black sack."
I dared not ask what that sack contained.
My task accomplished, I ran back
my homeward way, surmising as I did
what that sack might have contained.
Pan, I fancied, or else perchance, a boy.


II: Early Adulthood


Getting Wise

So she finally decided to do
what she'd always said she'd do.
She left him! Slam went the door
with a deafening, mighty wham!
But scarcely had the landing and
the top of the banisters been cleared,
Then she stopped in her tracks,
and paced back very sprightly,
opened the door of his seedy flat:
the same old tatty, sordid scene!
Number eighteen, Wormwood Scrubbs Terrace.
It had all looked so different by candle-light.
Romantic glows conceal cobwebs and grime;
so too the tinged, dog-eared papering passed unrecorded.
It was the night, so many moons before,
when they met. "I'm your host, Mike Randle!"
"l'm Pauline Day, a friend of Jack Huntley."
From that moment Mike got to work fast.
"Up from the country are you, dear.
I expect you find London quite bewildering.
You'll soon get with the swinging city scene.
Have some wine, dear, red or white?
Help yourself to all you fancy on the buffet.
Bill, could you pass that platter--Edam, cheddar?
No one who's been to a party of mine
Leaves hungry, believe you me.
Care for a little dance in a minute?"
"A dance, oh dear!" she thought all in a stew.
She remembered Grandma's warnings about the sin
devised by the devil and his wicked band
to make a girl lose grip of all
she should keep to herself until her wedding day.
"Try some of this, dear, just a sip."
Mike had a shrewd idea where things were heading.
Soon they were reeling to the disco sound.
"Make the next one slow, there's a good man,"
said Mike to Disco Dick. Little did she know
Mike had a nickname, which was Randy Randle.
Soon locked in his tight and firm embrace
she was in Heaven. Such sweet nothings he did bandy,
whispering his banter into her receptive ears.
While she was dreaming of a cottage and tiny tots
he was figuring where he'd left those darned dispeptic pills.
"You're so ... different from the other girls one meets.
You so remind me of the one girl I truly loved.
Leucemia, you know." Oh, how the tears did flow!
Muffling his sobs, his face he buried
in her flaxen locks. Down her spine
his fingers like a piper's nimbly raced.
Why don't we two meet tomorrow for a tete-a-tete?
There's a very nice little Indian place I know.
Look, how about me meeting you at Shepherd's Bush around eight?
So, over a curried chicken he emptied his heart.
While they were waiting for the suite, he clasped her hand.
"So like her," he sighed. She gave a little start.
Yet her hand remained in his. "Coming on nicely," Randle thought.
"Let's get back to my place for coffee...Waitress, the bill!"
"lt's rather late," said Pauline, "l'd better get back home."
"The night is young," said Mike, "Let's live and have our fill."
"Just for half an hour then, but not a minute more."
"I've got a new LP. Just your style. I'll play just one side,"
said Mike, his eyes twinkling, as he opened the front door.
She failed to notice his deft turning of the disc
and by the middle of the second side, he gently kissed her back.
At the end he held her in a clinch. Yes, his style was brisk.
Now with fully opened eyes she spied that same sofa,
and a tear now trickled down her rosy cheek.
Then she looked down on the floor. She sighed.
lt was there in that vicinity she lost
what Granny had warned her about not lightly letting go.
"There's none so blind as them that will not see."
Then their trial marriage, as he so aptly termed it!
Soon the sweet nothings turned so strangely sour.
To be at his beck and call she enjoyed the dubious privilege.
What was it first gave the lie? The smug assumption
that she was somehow in his eternal debt, or his habits.
his forgetting to clean the washbasin, to pull the chain,
his toe clippings on the sofa, his snoring, his moods,
his long reads of the Sunday paper at breakfast
that made it oh so clear that she was bloody boring.
But even after she'd found him out, still she lacked the will
to make a break. Habits, good or bad, like iron bands compel.
It seemed she would accept her thraldom as an fact of life
till she decided to eat out one night on her own.
In fact she went to that Tandoori place in Shepherd's Bush.
While waiting for the menu, she heard a not unfamiliar drone:
"You're so different from the other girls one meets.
You so remind me of the first girl I truly loved.
Leucemia, you know...." Oh how the tears did flow.
So she finally decided to do what she'd always said she'd do.
She left him! Slam went the door
with a deafening, mighty thud.
Surprised at her own strength, she left
never to turn back--a virgin
maybe not--but very much the wiser.







(after old ballad found in the poetry of Johann Wolfgang Goethe)


Sire Gaddabout one spring-tide morn
his sturdy dappled pard did mount.
for he would wed the highly born
Maid Ethrelda Holyfount


He plucked his lute and sang an air,
but scarce a league was trod
than came a cry. "Beware, beware!
Here comes the knave, Sire Heaviplodde.

"Sire Heaviplodde, my mortal foe?
Seeks THIS day a fight?
'Tis him or me a mortal blow
must soon dispatch to endless night."

Sir Heaviplodde in armor black
rode up to mock and jeer.
Then said he, holding high a a sack:
"Your head shall be my souvenir."

"Make good, black knight, your foolish boast,"
stern-faced Sire Gaddabout did cry,"
or by ye saints your wretched ghost
anon the Stygian strait must ply."

The shields did clash, the horses snort,
the dust did fly, the swords did ring,
and, to cut a long tale short,
'twas Heaviplodde who felt death's sting.

A fullsome wench with babe at breast <
stood steadfast in the way.
Sire Gaddabout at her behest
stopped to hear what she would say.

She raised her babe for him to see,
she cocked her head and gave a sneer:
"Knight-at-arms, remember me?
You left behind this souvenir."

On seeing this the knight did blush.
He bade his squire go fetch some beer.
Then said he to that woman "Hush,
this bag of gold should help out, dear."

Past hill and hamlet, wood and mire,
he rode with noble carriage.
Might even yet the fates conspire
to dash all hopes of marriage?

Who stood with visage grim and old
to guard the way before?
A man in black held up a scroll,
whereon were writ his debts of yore.

Not all the gold the knight did hold,
not lands, not herds, nor dowry,
could e'er redeem his debts of old
accrued in youthful folly.

"I have sinned," the knight did weep,
"and mercy is my plea.
I must to church my pledge to keep
in holy matrimony."

The grim collector smiled and said:
"As bridegroom you are free.
Your past is like a shadow fled.
What counts today is what shall be."



Upon a Snow--White Wedding Day


The black-clad diplomat treads warily,
and so should we, lest careless feet
crush the beetle, the centipede or the ant
all little folk with whom the Emperor,
his purple robe adorned with golden bees,
must come to share the same large bed
the all-giving and all-taking Earth
with impartial hospitality affords
her children great and small.
As time flies, the busy spiders spin
their supple threads with cunning hands,
as in antique legend the triune Fates
mete out and cut the many-colored threads,
strands golden, yarn sea-blue and dark,
in which are woven every raiment worn
by man and woman, in sunshine or in storm.
His chalk-white corse in colors three bedecked
they have borne to the yielding earth,
and not without that circumstance
accorded the hero by the nation
for which he died.

Wreaths of red and yellow flowers recall
that evening scented by autumnal leaves
when she, now clad in widow's weeds,
put on the hues of bounteous summer,
and danced enchanted by a stranger
dressed in coat of red with golden epaulets;
their threads swayed like harvest corn
as he, breached the defending ramparts
of a heart unready for long sieges.
White flowers recall another and much shorter day
when the chill midwinter sun half-smiled
like a mother hearing the tongues of bells
and rumours by grave sages told
upon her daughter's wedding day.
"But, Mother, Boney's on Elba,
tending his mules and rearing his cattle,
while in Vienna the architects of concord
have banished war for a thousand years,
and though it were only for ninety and nine
we and our children shall in peace."
But soon blind bats sensed distant peals,
the sickle moon cast down its sallow rays.
Scarce had the month of warlike Mars begun
than Apollyon reared up from troubled seas.
"What soldier slays his emperor?"
cried he who shrewdly guessed the answer,
and the ensuing moment proved him right!
Grenoble! Paris! The King flees north.
Marching orders, the parting night,
the dread no whirlwind's passion can dispell,
the letter from Brussels on the eve of strife.
"Dearest, it's going to be a son.
He'll live to become great, a general,
I wager my last sou. To think,
that knavish little Corsican
has caused my dove to fear.
We'll teach him and shake him bone apart! No jest!
A few hours more, and all will be over."
I'll bring perfumes from Paris, lace from the Hague,
We'll sack the French quarters for brandy and wine,
and cozen from Prussia a boatload of hock.
I'll take leave. Await my tap on a pane
before midnight when the longest day is done."
Alas, at noon on the longest day
she knew why Mother had faintly smiled
upon one winter's wedding morn.
"But Madam, however hard the blow, this note
was signed by none less than the Iron Duke himself."

On a dusty track a wayfarer stands, a man ignored,
a painter unrecognized, who in youth
used only colors that were gaily bright,
whose canvas now declares dark shades have beauty too.
Some evenings, by the fire-side glow he tells his friends
of a widow beautiful in black:
"I saw her in a jetblack coach
drawn by four horsed black to match.
Though pure the beauty of a bride in white,
hers was a beauty yet worthier of a master's brush.
She wore a dress of silk. My eye is trained to catch
the fleeting sheen of every cloth. The scene
lives with me still. Though like fugitives,
she and her beauty have passed from sight.
They left behind a cloud of dust, no more."
O little worm that toils in darkness
to clothe our mortal limbs in Beauty's sheen,
whose unfading glory only seems to die
when we seek it in one place,
to stay its onward course.






IV: Early Parenthood

Father Time

It was one of those splendid mellow golden days
in early autumn when many trees, though still green,
begin to betray a trace of red or yellow.
In the afternoon I took little Eleanor to the park
just round the corner from where we live.
I came across a man whose hair, greying slightly,
was swept back to hide a bald patch. His cheeks
were hollow and he wore bifocals:
"Der Hund tut nicht beissen!"--he reassured me
when Eleanor ran up to one of his hounds.
Only little children and dogs were worth knowing,
he said, the rest he didn't give a hang for.
Eleanor was accosting all-comers--frosty matrons,
flint-faced marchers who had calculated that
the most direct path between A and B led through the park.
Then she joined in a knock-about game of football
till a young Turkish lad, shrewd in psychology,
gave her a spare ball to play with all on her own.
Her euphoria was ended when, carrying her trophy off
she tumbled down a six-inch hole. By the time
she'd recovered, the ball, ineluctably, was somewhere else.
Unabashed, she toddled to the playground, where
she found some children digging away in a sandpit.
She brought out the mother in a girl of eleven
and bathed in the glow of much adulation,
too young to know divisions of language and custom,
to be aware that the minutes were fast ticking away.
Then I looked at my watch: Well past six, almost dark.
Despite my entreaties, Eleanor remained unpersuaded
that it was really time for us to go.
With what vehemence she kicked and screamed,
how transfixing her glares when I got the pushchair
and strapped her down. She made me feel
what a pig I was all the way home.





I'd got the introduction done,
had the basic facts on tap.
There was a bang! It was my son,
that messy little chap,
who always makes me lose the thread
of some abstruse conjecture,
as I scan the contents of my head
on the day before a lecture.
As he looked up
and I looked down
his sunny smile
dispelled my frown.

Kafka, Bertold, Brecht and Proust
have doubtless come to stay,
so must the quest fore that mot juste
await another day.
No lofty flight of higher thought,
no cerebral endeavour,
makes good the bitter loss, alack!
of a joy renounced forever.
Then Smutty-Face, thee I embrace,
let gooey hands possess me,
that Self-Reproach shall have no case
At length to bring against me.






V: Life's Decline?

The Man Who Never Missed an Upportunity

At birth he was as hairless as a coot,
though in his case,
it would be more appropriate to say.
"as hairless as a rock face."
A bare two-year old, he kept
his parents in suspense
by clambering up and over
the furniture--the stools and chairs,
table tops, window-sills and shelves,
there, like fledgling, precariously to perch.
When a boy, he scrambled up apple-trees,
oaks, cedars, maples and poplars.
Whenever mewed up in a school room,
or forced to stay indoors,
he would pine for another upportunity.
A youth, he was rock-climbing in Wales
and then mountaineering in the Alps.
Having turned professional, he went
on expeditions in the Rockies,
the Andes and the Himalayas.
His copious head of sandy hair
and patriarchal beard prompted
the Sherpas to call him:
"shaggy mountain he-goat,"
This I render in English,
not being well-versed
in Sherpa or Nepalese.
He could pick his way
up, down and along
the most perilous crevasse.
He almost married a young Swiss
he met on the south face of the Eiger,
or was it the Jungfrau?
Whichever the case, he gave her up
for a piece of fluff
atop a far-off mountain.
Now he is old and his hair is snowy white.
Few friends are left, especially in
the mountaineering fraternity.
Was he to blame
if some aspiring Icarus said:
"If he can do it, so can I?"
He now lives on a hill,
and finds his way up
something of a climb.
Only in memory, they say,
may he relive those peaks
strung up or pinned up over his chalet walls.
But how come that enigmatic smile of his,
suggesting, I opine, that far from being content
with nostalgic memories
of the snows of yesteryear,
the old boy actually looks forward
to his conquest of a last
and greater summit.






VI: Death and Retrospect

Unaccustomed as I Am to Rising from the Grave in Public


They placed me in a wooden box
and then they put the lid on. They left
me to shiver the cold night through and
picked me up next day around eleven a.m.
I heard dogs bark and children play, I heard
sweet songs among the dirges; friends and relatives
said such lovely things about me that afore were quite
unheard of. Inevitably, old Uncle Jim came out with
the one about the actress and the archbishop,
and what the fallen woman said at confessional
to a rabbi who'd taken over from the priest
for the day in a spirit most ecumenical. Then
the pall-bearers at last bore the box to the
spot assigned for burial. "Ashes to ashes,
dust to dust," said the reverend with
solemn finality as they let down the
box with me inside into the yawning
cavity, and that, if you'll allow me
add, with something akin to
alacrity. Then just as he gave
the final sign
to set the spades
showering earth down,
I lifted the lid of the box where I lay,
I said to the assembled all gasping and white:
"Sorry to stop the proceedings so late in the day, but one assumption I
challenge as completely unfounded, though it's been all too readily
taken for granted:
Far be it from me to cause an upset, but I think you should know--I'M
Some of the assembled felt very let down,
and made no bones about it.






Dream Cottage


There are so many locations--but so few places.
Have you noticed?
Where the honeysuckle hangs in the porch,
and the ivy clings to the wall,
where house martins build their nests in the eve,
Oh, there I long to return
I remember the gilded days
when I watched through diamond panes
familiar friends in the garden outside, birds,
stray sheep and the trees,
foals that rubbed their sides on the fence,
and kids at play in the fields.
I remember Father at the garden gate
chatting to old Adams from next door,
who told me tales of distant Mesopotamia;
there, single-handed, it seems, he engaged the Turk in the First World War.
But war or no, he took time to err in Babylon's ruins.
He would babble on for hours about Ur.
And I remember--how could I ever forget - her,
the farmer's flaxen daughter Lin, who
led me rather far down the orchard path, and Cerberus,
the farmer's bull-terrier, the brute,
that tore a patch from my trouser--leg and then,--
the day father summoned me to the brown study:
"I've had to earn my bread by the sweat of my brow. 'Bout time you did the
same, son, don't you think? Instead of gallivanting around, giving Mum and me grey hairs."
It was a grey and dull morning the day
I left for London. What a come-down
having to find digs in Stratford, (no, not on Avon--the other one, near
Mile End, you know,
where the Central Line dives underground,
or surfaces, if you're optimistically inclined.)
I don't wish to bore you with all the particulars of my curriculum vitae, so
here's a brief outline:

I joined up with Thorndyke, Thorndyke, Briarly and Thorndyke, a very
established firm of solicitors with a finger and
thumb in many a lucrative pie.
I courted Briarly's daughter, got married,
settled down in a semi-detached in Leytonstone,
the better half of course, large garden, too.
We made a prickly pair. What weekend bliss
clipping the privet hedge, weeding, mowing the lawn, laying the crazy
trimming the edges with shears.
When Dad passed away, Mum hoped
she'd be able to stay at the cottage.
Would I be in a position to help out with the costs, rates and payments?
I wanted to, but I had rather a lot on my plate
at the time, we were expecting our second,
and, you know, with one thing, then another,
I declined.
Anyway, she had to leave the place in the end,
so she came down to Leytonstone.
She'd only been in the area a couple of months when she took poorly;
found her a home.
It was the winters she couldn't stand.
She got over the first, but not, sad to say,
the second. In fact she died of pneumonia brought on by the flu, a
Asian strain, the doctor said,
that thrives in conditions of dampness and smog.
Beyond that, he suggested, her nervous system
hadn't been able to stand the shock
of an all too sudden environmental change.
I used to get nagged by remorse,
but when I was really down,
my mates at the local did their best to cheer me up. "Don't reproach
yourself, Bill. After all, she was getting on."
It was just after I had become a partner
with the firm of Thorndyke, Thorndyke,
Briarly and Thorndyke that I first
experienced these night visitations - these peculiar dreams.
It was all so vivid, so real - I was back there.
The scent of the honeysuckle in the porch
was just as sweet,
no sweeter than before, and the hue of the flowers was lovelier; there
a sparrow
was a bird of paradise.
But dreams must end, and so with these--
I would begin walking down the orchard path,
saw boughs arched by the weight of mellow fruit.
Where rambling weeds once,
now the vine did grow
bearing clusters of grapes
as big as plums.
that which
most aroused
desire was the fruit of
a noble and mysterious tree.
I would stretch out my hand to cup its
voluptuous rotundity, to feel the texture
of its gentle yielding skin, to breathe
in its aromas, to possess its flesh,
but just as I assayed to pluck,
the bough sprang back.
Just then
I would
the peal
of hideous
laughter ringing in my ears,
to find myself streched out,
an unwilling patient on my suburban bed,
staring up at a ceiling that badly needed distempering over walls in no
lesser need
of repapering; then the wife shouted:
"It's five to eight, you'll be late!"
Like a mouse at bay, my only thought was of escape, but one look out
of the
window dashed all hope.
The pylons! I'd forgotten the pylons standing guard on the horizon.
get me wrong.
It's not that I have anything against pylons as such. They are, I grant,
most necessary,
no laudable things, in their own way. It's just that they betray an
which, first thing in the day, strikes one as
somehow less than pleasing.
As it happened I adopted an escape route of a different kind: I became
so-called workaholic.
After my first bout of heart trouble, my doctor advised me to move to a
flat. I acquired one
in Woodford overlooking the park,
excellently appointed; lift, large balcony,
central heating, double glazing, all mod con,
no garden, no weeding, no mowing, alas,
just potted flowers.
My dreams became more vivid, more insistant still;
my doctor was seriously considering giving me shock treatment.
After my second attack I was sent to hospital, where I had to spend
weeks under observation, together with lengthy
periods under sedation (enabling me to enjoy extended visits to the
and environs), but as I came round, I would find
myself wired up, plugged in to this thingamijig, this 'cardiac machine'
its flickering lights, its bewildering array of
switches and digits.
The operator, being overworked, poor chap,
had little opportunity to pass the time of day, except once when I asked
about this most impressive cardiac machine- His
face lit up: "Yes, she'a beaut', isn't she? Latest thing, only four others
like it in the entire world. They've got one in
Boston, one in Moscow, one in Cape Town,
and the fourth is--hold on--Oh, yes--it's in Kuwait."
Don't get me wrong. It's not that I've got anything against these
machines as such.
They are doubtless very necessary and admirable things in their way.
just that,
when the anaesthetic's wearing off, they betray
an aspect which does not altogether please.
One of the nurses reminded me of her. She understood, or at least she
she did, when I talked to her about my dreams,
the cottage, the garden and things. It was she who held my hand just
as I suffered my third, and after that
I was obliged, regrettably, to change location once again.
I still dream of the cottage and my youthtime haunts. It's a pity my
now seem to scare
its present incumbent for yes,
no prizes for having guessed,
I no longer reside in a highrise flat,
not even on the ground floor. I am presently located, down in the
let us say.
The fruit? Delicious ... is not the word.





The sword of
the flesh,
may burn through bone
and marrow,
but never
shall the
sword of
the soul
and the
place it


A Joy Deferred--That's Absurd


III: Weddings and Marriage


How Sire Gaddabout unto His Nuptials Came
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