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

A Swarm of Bees Worth Hiving

I have a book, passed down to my wife from her father and his father before him, with the title of ‘ILLUSTRATED ANECDOTES and PITHY PIECES’.  It was published in 1874 and which, of course, contains just what the title describes – well, the Victorian idea of such things!

I am reproducing a scanned image of one of the entries which plays with words in rhyming couplets, as I often like to do in my own verses.  (Not sure about the attempt to rhyme ‘faith’ with ‘death’ though!). Amusing and educational aphorisms, life-enhancing even, and very PITHY !!!

ABOU BEN ADHEM

Stained Glass by Edward Coley Burne-Jones

Following my previous blog, here is a further poem by The Victorian poet, Leigh Hunt, and extremely popular in the early 20th Century for for being learnt by heart in schools.

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)

Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,

And saw, within the moonlight in his room,

Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,

An angel writing in a book of gold:—

Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,

And to the presence in the room he said,

“What writest thou?”—The vision raised its head,

And with a look made of all sweet accord,

Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”

“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”

Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,

But cheerly still; and said, “I pray thee, then,

Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”

The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night

It came again with a great wakening light,

And showed the names whom love of God had blest,

And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.

. . .

‘CAGED’ – William Blake … 1757-1827

‘Caged Beauty’ … Pen&Ink – WHB – 1981

FROM: ‘ Auguries of Innocence’

BY . . . William Blake

“ . . . A Robin Redbreast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.
A dove house fill’d with doves and pigeons
Shudders Hell thro’ all its regions.
A Dog starv’d at his Master’s Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State.
A Horse misus’d upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fiber from the Brain does tear . . . ”

William Blake … Poet & Artist  … 1757-1827

Father William

A Japanese ‘Father William’ …  Pen & Ink – WHB – 2014

Are Old, Father William” is a poem by Lewis Carroll that appears in his book  ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ (1865).

You are Old, Father William

“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head –
Do you think, at your age, it is right?

“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “as I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door —
Pray, what is the reason for that?”

“In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
“I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment — one shilling a box —
Allow me to sell you a couple?”

“You are old,” said the youth, “and your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak —
Pray, how did you manage to do it?”

“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose —
What made you so awfully clever?”

“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said his father. “Don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you down stairs.”

By Lewis Carroll

Life Force – 2

Mantegna – ‘Samson & Delilah’

LIFE  FORCE – TWO

“These fragments I must shore against my ruin.”

I wish to put a hold on life,
freeze it at this instant;
stop my headlong race to reach
some intangible resolution
before life, and with it death,
overtake me.

Yet, a wanton fervour
forces me to write;
a defining greed pushes me on;
a need to achieve,
to find the telling phrase
to verify my competence.

There is a frenzy on me,
a new lust for life
alien to my past;
but still I draw on that very past
to colour the present
and steer me into my aspired future.

My imperative is to leave an imprint
on the foreshore of my life
before its tide recedes.
Regardless of renown,
I wish to leave a noble fragment of myself
with a proven hint of worth
to carry me beyond my grave.

Such fragments,
the flotsam of my endeavours,
washed up  and left
for those seashore scavengers,
those ardent beachcombers
of other people’s detritus;
my scraps left for Autolycus to pick over.
I need the harvest of my life to be
another’s prized perception,
their acquired inspiration.

And yet I know I must desist,
I must allow those morsels,
slivers of myself already extant,
to speak for themselves,
to represent me to the future.

I must accept
that already
I have utilised my credit with the past
and created my memorial for the future.

“These fragments I must shore against my ruin.”

The quotation appearing at the beginning and end of my poem is, slightly adapted, taken from T.S.Eliot’s poem  “The Wasteland”.

Delilah, of course, took away Samson’s Life Force, his strength, by cutting off his hair whilst asleep.

Will you marry me?


My photograph was taken from a beach in Cornwall, U.K.,  in 2006.  I do trust things turned out better in reality than in my  rather jaundiced, wholly imagined, speculations on the subject of marriage and the impulsive gestures which do often bring it about  –  as demonstrated in some of the ostentatious proposals which took place at the Rio Olympics. (WHB)

‘MARRY ME’ it said in the sky,
The brazenly shouted plea;
Showcasing a lover’s great passion?
A proposal she had to agree.

Was love in there somewhere I wondered?
Was that what the question implied?
A lifelong commitment on offer –
Based on whim, or desire for a bride?

“I’d love to” she whispered so gently,
Accepting his plea without question.
Her doubts were dispelled by his bluster
How could she deny his suggestion?

They married in bliss shortly after,
A lifetime of rapture to come.
With hope for a lifetime of passion?
Well, that’s how it’s meant to be done

The first happy years ran so smoothly;
The path of love seemed to be fine,
But the storm clouds were looming above them
Creating a warning fault line.

It was life intervened in their story,
A lassitude lay on their marriage,
Their ardour and pleasures defeated.
Love stalled, reduced to the humdrum,


Both felt as though they’d been cheated.

Habit had killed off their lustre;
Routine  had entered their souls;
Self-regard took over from closeness;
Possessions their only goals.

So was it for this they were married,
Just to reach an acceptance of sorts?
All passion long lost from their dowry
Now littered with bile and retorts.

The end of this story I’m told?
They parted with barely a whisper;
What began with a flamboyant gesture,
Ended, ‘Not with a bang but a whimper’.

This last line echoing T.S.Eliot’s oft-quoted lines from ‘The Hollow Men’  . . .

‘This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.’

A Death I Die

Loch Earn, Scotland

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow.

T.S. Eliot (The Journey of the Magi)

I wrote this poem, as I did several of my recently blogged poems, many years ago.
In ‘A Death I Die’ below the sober thoughts reflect a dark  mood,  the reason for which I now have no recollection.   For me, at the time of writing, they obviously represented the Shadow, that halfway house between knowing and not-knowing,
between what is and what might be,
between Eliot’s ‘the motion and the act’.

A DEATH I DIE

I have no heart for selfish love
that starts and ends with flesh.
It leads along an endless path,
it binds, compels afresh.

There is a sort of death I die;
Am killed and kill myself.
I am alone in this. I am a willing suicide.
I go on a journey bearing my own end.

This death is a habit, a nasty selfish habit
I know and hate it.
I both give and receive.
The giving is good
– but also a habit.

Receiving – an infinite regression.
We plan the means and the end is all.
Purgatory is the cemetery, time the resurrection.
And All is planned that This should be so.

Without a Bang

Hullabaloo
That joyous word
Gone away
Now little heard

Oft I dwell
On my failed successes
Gone to ground now
With all those other
Of life’s excesses

Clamour ended
Without a racket
Ballyhoo
No more a habit

No more thunder
Don’t misbehave
Cause no stir
A quiet grave


No Commotion
Palaver none
No consternation
And mayhem gone

Brouhaha
was once in fashion
Hubbub
rumpus
Were then a passion

Kerfuffle
bedlam
Have had their day
Pandemonium
no more holds sway

Ballyhoo
And Imbroglio
Tumultuous
turmoil
All had to go


Consternation
Furore
And Ruckus
All dead and gone
without much fuss

Donner und blitzen
Sturm und drang
Together ended
without a bang

Thus the world ends
While I whisper
Not with a bang
But with a whimper


With my grateful thanks to T. S. Eliot who assisted me with the last verse.