Tu Fu

Tu Fu ( or Du Fu), who was born in Gongyi in 712 A.D., was one of the foremost poets of the Chinese Tang dynasty. He and Li Bai, are normally thought of as the greatest of all Chinese poets. He died in Changsha, China, in 770 A.D.

I print below, two of his poems, both, as the majority of his poems,  exemplify his intense relationship with nature, wildlife, and with the seasons, even amidst the turmoil of the times in which he lived.

(Both designs are my own pen and wash drawings in an attempt at capturing a Chinese style.)

A Spring View

Though a country be sundered, hills and rivers endure;
And spring comes green again to trees and grasses
Where petals have been shed like tears
And lonely birds have sung their grief.
… After the war-fires of three months,
One message from home is worth a ton of gold.
… I stroke my white hair. It has grown too thin
To hold the hairpins any more.

A View of Taishan

What shall I say of the Great Peak? –
The ancient dukedoms are everywhere green,
Inspired and stirred by the breath of creation,
With the Twin Forces balancing day and night.
…I bare my breast toward opening clouds,
I strain my sight after birds flying home.
When shall I reach the top and hold
All mountains in a single glance?

ON  PARENTS   

‘My Parents’, David Hockney, 1977, Oil on Canvas, Tate Gallery, London

Leaving Larkin Alone

‘This Be My Verse’

We all do it
We pass on pain
From one generation
To the next
It is essential to
our rite of passage
backwards
to our parents
and forward
to our offspring

Leaving Larkin alone
Although I can see
Where he’s coming from
My mam and dad
Still
Loom large in my life
Even so long
After leaving it

They must have been lonely
Lovers of their son
Country child
Only child
Lonely child
Left so soon
Longing for London’s
Lively life
And a renewal
Of lost love

With some bitterness
No bile
No bombast
I recognise my
Ambitions
And accept
They damaged
Not destroyed
Their devotion

Through it all
Dedication to me
And to mine
Remained
How could I
Have acted differently
They set me up for this
Their ambitions for me
Self-harming
Through being
Selfless
Succeeding
To their own detriment

Now
I find myself
Bemoaning
With an intensity
Which hurts
More every day
My callous
Refutation of their need
For my love

If only
I’d not been
The only one
The only child
If I’d not deserted
That early home
With seeming
Eagerness
That cradle of my mind
Those roots of my soul
Now so full of meaning
So pertinent
To the man I have become

But when the conflict
Presented itself to me
I was by then
Committed
Other responsibilities
Crowded in
And parents
As happens to them
Take the rear seat

 And yet
I know
I had to go
To avoid
That tethering by love
Which smothers
More dutiful sons
It avoided
My hopes
Being stifled
Petrified
And pressed into
The backwaters
Of a life

Perhaps it must be so
For don’t we all do it

Think of those others
Leaving behind their roots
For pastures new
Able to look only onwards
Whilst leaving
The hurt
Of separation
From those who loved them
But would do nothing
But encourage their ambitions

Bennett
Showed how to escape
Walter and Lilian
Whilst continuing
To cull their histories

Hughes
With his animal instincts
Needing to roam free
Left William and Edith
For an itinerant life

Hockney
Soon found California
More suitable
To his calling
Leaving
Kenneth and Laura
To theirs

I claim
None of their skills
Their powers
To change the world
But my history
Reflects theirs
Grammarians
Tykes of a sort
And of an age
Seeking
Advancement
Searching for soul
For life
In pastures new
Neglectful of commitment
To our own past
Conscious only
Of our independent futures

It was ever thus
All took Larkin
At his word
Got out –
As early as they could
And
How odd
That two of them
Even followed Larkin’s advice
Eschewing
Parenthood
The essence of
Larkin’s dismissal
Of his own birthright
His reckoning
With Sidney and Eva
For giving him birth

But
Leaving Larkin alone
Again
Our legacies may prove
Our sense in cutting
The ties that bind
Perhaps the world is
Consequently
A better place.

Our parents
May not think the same
But what are parents
Other than
The future’s hope

Pub. Faber & Faber … 2009

Jenny Kiss’d Me

LEIGH  HUNT  (1784–1859)  was an essayist, journalist and poet of the Romantic Period in English Literature.  Not perhaps one of the leading Romanticists, but he, nevertheless, did much to bring their poetry to prominence in the early 19th century, particularly through his friendships with Shelley, Keats and Byron, and by means of his editorship of the influential literary magazine, The ‘Examiner.’

A short poem of his, which I’ve long enjoyed for its sweetness and simplicity, is Leigh Hunt’s verse, originally entitled ‘Rondeau’, but more generally known as ‘Jenny kiss’d Me’.

This charming poem is said to have been inspired by a meeting, following an illness, with the wife of his friend, the eminent historian Thomas Carlyle.

JENNY KISS’D ME  . . .  By Leigh Hunt (1838

Jenny kiss’d me when we met,

Jumping from the chair she sat in;

Time, you thief, who love to get

Sweets into your list, put that in!

Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,

Say that health and wealth have missed me,

Say I’m growing old, but add

Jenny kiss’d me.

SUICIDE ON A WHIM

‘River Liffey Inciden’t . . . Pen & Wash . . . WHB – 1994

SUICIDE ON A WHIM

Suicide on a whim
is not unheard of
but few such perpetrators
live to tell the tale

one such
rescued from his indecision
by the Gardai
lived through his trauma

sweet Liffey run softly
while I tell the story

distraught by his
gambling debts
and the drinking
his only way to a conclusion
seemed to him to be
voluntary
self-inflicted
euthanasia
yes
he thought
that he wanted to die
half-determined
part irresolute

in a single moment of wavering
he had jumped
just fell perhaps
but the fear
and the cold water
soon hit him
hit harder
than the twenty foot drop

an instinctive cry
escaped him
you could call it
a change of mind
his cry for help
was a second thought
an unintended consequence
of his half-hearted conviction

and now he was held
grasped in a rescue bid

but did he wish to be salvaged
to be pleaded with
would that bring him
the closure he craved
attention unwanted

but secured
attention secured
but unwanted

and still
he could not let go
the ladder
his passport to life
a life he did not desire
could he bear to go there
yet again
to continue
victim to more pain
to yet more anguish

but temporary chagrin
is no killer
his cri de coeur
answered
his indecision
thwarted

is it heads or tails
is it stay or go
is life’s hurt
greater than death’s pain
is future shame
worse than eternity’s
opprobrium

we will never know
the prognosis
I suspect
he is still amongst us
ever indecisive
a suitor for attention
defaulting on his debts
not stopping at three pints
one of life’s
protean chancers

The Lessons Of History

The lessons of history are all around
Etched on death’s memorial
But who looks at memorials?

The war to end all wars ended
But the peace had not been won

Exchanging eyes
Has not proved a workable proposition
And yet the attempt goes on
And mankind is condemned to try again
To seek an end to conflict
By perpetuating conflict itself

Those lessons from the past
Unlearnt
At best misunderstood
Ignored
And so it continues
The errors of the past
Visited on countless future generations

Fear reigns
And stultifies hope
Because mankind remains
Because mankind will not change
Still comatose
Sleepwalking into conflict again
Again
And yet again

Original sin
Casts its sinister shadow
Over hope
And so
The cycle continues
War and peace
Unfeasible bedfellows
History hardly notices the difference

But we do
And suffer for it

The two illustrations above were scanned from my copy of Holbein’s ‘Le Triomphe De La Mort’ published in

1780 … Etchings of Holbein’s originals by Chr.De Michel

OUR VIKING FOREFATHERS

The Vikings . . . Embroidery by Eileen Phelps – 2013

OUR VIKING FOREFATHERS

(Or perhaps it should be ‘FiveFathers’?)

Kirk, Ulf, Dag, Garth and young Sven,
Five fierce and intrepid Norse men,
All were keen for a spot of adventure,
And some philand’ring as well now and then.

These five Vikings set off from their fiord,
Their longboat just bristling with gear;
Spangenhelm, chain mail and hatchets,
They thought they had nothing to fear.

But the North Sea didn’t prove easy,
They rowed until practically dead,
Till at last they spotted the Orkneys
Then got ready some Scots’ blood to shed.

They’d set out equipped to do battle,
To plunder, to pillage, despoil,
But they could not decide where to settle,
Where best to create more turmoil.

So they carried on rowing southwards
And kept their eyes skinned for a village;
For any old Saxon encampment  
With people and pastures to pillage.

Before long they came to an island
That was covered in seaweed and priests;
They decided to stop and replenish,
While the priests signalled, clear off you beasts.

At first they weren’t kind to the natives;
They took all their women and corn,
But they could not abide all the chanting
And treated the abbot with scorn.

But in time they took to the island,
Found some fair Saxons to wed;
Even started attending the chapel,
Word of their atonement soon spread.

When I think of my Norsemen forefathers

Now I don’t see foreign insurgents;
I think of them solely as tourists,
Who created a bit of disturbance.

NOTES:

I am indebted to the artist, Eileen Phelps, for permission to use a photograph of her embroidery, first exhibited at the Barn Arts Centre, Surrey, in 2013.

Because Eileen’s embroidery on which I based these verses is clearly light-hearted, jocular and whimsical, I have followed that approach with my verses.  I apologise to the historians of the period of British history for seemingly making light of the violence and deprivation which the Viking raids wreaked on coastal communities in the North of Britain.

The Vikings first invaded Britain in AD 793 and last invaded in 1066 when William the Conqueror became King of England after the Battle of Hastings.

The first place the Vikings raided in Britain was the monastery at Lindisfarne, a small holy island located off the north-east coast of England. Some of the monks were drowned in the sea, others killed or taken away as slaves along with many treasures of the church.

Following many years of incursions by the Vikings, eventually, King Alfred of Wessex was able to confront the Viking ‘Great Army’ at Edington, in 878, when his victory enabled him to establish terms for peace, though this did not put a complete stop to Viking activity which continued on and off for several more generations.  Alfred had to concede the northern and eastern counties to the Vikings, where their disbanded armies settled, created new settlements and merged with the local populations.  Lincoln, Nottingham, Derby, Stamford and Leicester became important Viking

 towns within The Danelaw (or ‘Scandinavian England’), while York became the capital of the Viking Kingdom of York, which extended more or less over what we now call Yorkshire.

These areas were gradually reconquered and brought back under English control by Alfred’s successors, but not before the Scandinavian influence had been locally imprinted to an extent which is still detectable today in place names as well as the DNA of many of its inhabitants.

. . . And Then There Were Four

London, Victoria Embankment, late 19th Century … Pen & Wash – WHB – 2014

Late autumn evening
treading wet leaves
on the broad embankment
 beside the dark river;
starry sky
and the pavement spotted
with lights
dark pools between
those balustrade sentries
the eighty year old
yablochkov candles
(the country’s very first

electric street lights)
still throwing the trees’ shadows
across the road
to Victoria’s gardens.

Perhaps memory twists my tale;
mike, dave, wally, ray,
with me five of us,
fresh lads
freshers too
up from the far country
to study
to see the big city
to re-start a life
men now
together
soliciting knowledge
tempting experience.

Interned for a Chelsea month,
then the anticipated incursion,
our first excursion
into the great city
set for new challenges
no plan
just exploration;
for the moment
nothing cerebral
just life in the moment
awaiting a happening
neophytic
greenhorns.

Walking where Victoria walked,
or did she ever really
enjoy her gardens by the river?
thrilling evening
walking that promenade,
drinking the sights
eating the sounds
devouring the smells and tastes
soaking up the river
and the beer,
Victoria’s Embankment Gardens.

We didn’t know it then
nor did any of us suspect
it was to be ray’s swan song
sweet Thames run softly
and be his swan song.

Turned up Villiers Street,
Kipling’s and Evelyn’s street,
tumbled into The Trafalgar,
seedy then,
well, rare student prices,
waitress in black and white
I remember
the white cap with lace
and black band
the tiny white apron
on black dress
alluringly short
wiping her hands
by rubbing them seductively
on her aproned thighs,
“what can I get you lads?”
… ribaldry …
ray “what time do you finish?”
… her answer
no more than a half-smile;

After the spam fritters
and the glorious knickerbockers
and more small pink hands
attentive hands
rubbed clean
on lacy white apron,
ray’s eyes never taken off them
then drinks
nothing heavy.

Ray fell
must have done
from a great height
smitten I would say
to his adam’s apple core,
eyes only for a pretty face
and those lacy edges.

Conversation ricocheted
across the tables
voices spurted out their verbiage
as those yablochkov candles
expended their light,
more raucous than uncouth.

Then the attempt to close
to dispense with customers
we head for the street
ray stays in his seat
“’bye chaps, I’ll see you.”

… But he never did.

Nor we him.
Ever again.

The Thames Embankment is a work of 19th Century civil engineering which reclaimed marshy land next to the River Thames in central London.  It follows the North Bank of the river from Westminster Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge.

The Victoria Embankment Gardens , built also in the latter part of the 19th Century, separate the embankment and the road running alongside from the buildings on the south side of Whitehall, Trafalgar Square and The Strand.

Villiers Street is a short connecting thoroughfare, now mainly pedestrianised, running from the Thames Embankment and Charing Cross underground Station uphill to the Strand, Charing Cross Mainline Railway Station  and Trafalgar Square.  It contains many restaurants and eating establishments.  
The Trafalgar Cafe, however, can no longer be found there.

Poem by WHB and re-published in memory of Dave and Mike – now passed on to where all memories are filed and all mysteries are resolved.

Telling FIBS

Search for ‘Pine Cones & the Fibonacciri Sequence’

TELLING  FIBS

This
Life
Is short
Remember
Honest and modest
You’re not in a beauty contest.

So
When
I’m gone
Do not pray
For my godliness
Just remember my gentleness.

If
I
Survive
To be old
One hundred and five
I hope it’s worth being alive.

But
It
Only
Merits it
If you are still there
To continue our love affair.

I am grateful to M.Zane McClellan who in his January 2016 poem  ‘Repeating Pattern’  on The Poetry Channel, introduced me to The format of the Fibonacci Poem. He also gave in his blog the reference to the article on the ‘Poetry Foundation’ website, which gives the history of this fascinating verse format:  What’s a Fib? Math plus poetry.

Essentially the ‘Fib’, as it’s creator, Gregory K. Pincus, calls it, will have 20 syllables in total, with the syllables in each of the 6 lines increasing in the Fibonacci sequence familiar in Mathematics and in Nature, that is: 1,1,2,3,5,8…  ,

In my first attempt at this format, I have attempted to write a poem of 4 connected verses, with the added feature of making the last two lines in each verse rhyme.

Westminster Chorus – Oh Love, That Will Not Let Me Go

Today . . . a plug for my favourite choir – the Westminster Chorus – with their moving rendering of ‘Oh Love that will not let me go’  . . .

The Westminster Chorus, singing a David Phelps arrangement of the George Matheson Hymn, “Oh Love, That Will Not Let Me Go” in the Petrikirche, a Protestant church (start of construction 1322) in Dortmund, Germany. The church is famous for the huge carved altar (known as “Golden Miracle of Dortmund”), from 1521. It consists of 633 gilt carved oak figures depicting 30 scenes about Easter.

 

 

 

Bosham (West Sussex) in Paint

Bosham, West Sussex . . . Watercolour – WHB: 2000

Bosham is a delightful village situated on an arm of Chichester Harbour (West Sussex). Bosham has a long history; it is thought that it was one of the first sites in Sussex were the Saxon St Wilfrid preached, around the year 681 AD. Three centuries later, it was at Bosham that King Canute, tongue in cheek, ordered the waves to cease their movement. Canute’s daughter is buried at Holy Trinity parish church, which features a superb 11th century chancel arch and a Saxon tower.

One of Canute’s successors, Harold, set sail from Bosham in 1064 on the voyage which was to eventually cost him his kingdom, after a storm cast him into the hands of William of Normandy.

Today, Bosham remains a popular boating centre, and it retains many charming 17th and 18th century buildings in the narrow, winding streets and alleys that lead to the harbour. The manor of Bosham House, which may stand on the site of a Saxon house built for Canute, was the home of Henry Hamblin, the popular writer and spiritualist known as the ‘Saint of Sussex’.

From: http://www.britainexpress.com/attractions.htm?attraction=3123

Two more watercolours of Bosham Harbour . . . WHB c.2000