Love is universal migraine,
A bright stain on the vision
Blotting out reason.

Symptoms of true love
Are leanness, jealousy,
Laggard dawns;

Are omens and nightmares -
Listening for a knock,
Waiting for a sign:

For a touch of her fingers
In a darkened room,
For a searching look.

Take courage, lover!
Could you endure such pain
At any hand but hers?

“What do you think
The bravest drink
Under the sky?”
“Strong beer,” said I.

“There’s a place for everything,
Everything, anything,
There’s a place for everything
Where it ought to be:
For a chicken, the hen’s wing;
For poison, the bee’s sting;
For almond-blossom, Spring;
A beerhouse for me.”

“There’s a prize for every one
Every one, any one,
There’s a prize for every one,
Whoever he may be:
Crags for the mountaineer,
Flags for the Fusilier,
For English poets, beer!
Strong beer for me!”

“Tell us, now, how and when
We may find the bravest men?”
“A sure test, an easy test:
Those that drink beer are the best,
Brown beer strongly brewed,
English drink and English food.”

Oh, never choose as Gideon chose
By the cold well, but rather those
Who look on beer when it is brown,
Smack their lips and gulp it down.
Leave the lads who tamely drink
With Gideon by the water brink,
But search the benches of the Plough,
The Tun, the Sun, the Spotted Cow,
For jolly rascal lads who pray,
Pewter in hand, at close of day,
“Teach me to live that I may fear
The grave as little as my beer.”

An ancient saga tells us how
In the beginning the First Cow
(For nothing living yet had birth
But Elemental Cow on earth)
Began to lick cold stones and mud:
Under her warm tongue flesh and blood
Blossomed, a miracle to believe:
And so was Adam born, and Eve.
Here now is chaos once again,
Primeval mud, cold stones and rain.
Here flesh decays and blood drips red,
And the Cow’s dead, the old Cow’s dead.

Call it a good marriage -
For no one ever questioned
Her warmth, his masculinity,
Their interlocking views;
Except one stray graphologist
Who frowned in speculation
At her h's and her s's,
His p's and w's.

Though few would still subscribe
To the monogamic axiom
That strife below the hip-bones
Need not estrange the heart,
Call it a good marriage:
More drew those two together,
Despite a lack of children,
Than pulled them apart.

Call it a good marriage:
They never fought in public,
They acted circumspectly
And faced the world with pride;
Thus the hazards of their love-bed
Were none of our damned business -
Till as jurymen we sat on
Two deaths by suicide.

The difference between you and her
(whom I to you did once prefer)
Is clear enough to settle:
She like a diamond shone, but you
Shine like an early drop of dew
Poised on a red rose petal.

The dew-drop carries in its eye
Mountain and forest, sea and sky,
With every change of weather;
Contrariwise, a diamond splits
The prospect into idle bits
That none can piece together

Through long nursery nights he stood
By my bed unwearying,
Loomed gigantic, formless, queer,
Purring in my haunted ear
That same hideous nightmare thing,
Talking, as he lapped my blood,
In a voice cruel and flat,
Saying for ever, "Cat! ... Cat! ... Cat!..."

That one word was all he said,
That one word through all my sleep,
In monotonous mock despair.
Nonsense may be light as air,
But there's Nonsense that can keep
Horror bristling round the head,
When a voice cruel and flat
Says for ever, "Cat! ... Cat! ... Cat!..."

He had faded, he was gone
Years ago with Nursery Land,
When he leapt on me again
From the clank of a night train,
Overpowered me foot and head,
Lapped my blood, while on and on
The old voice cruel and flat
Says for ever, "Cat! ... Cat! ... Cat!..."

Morphia drowsed, again I lay
In a crater by High Wood:
He was there with straddling legs,
Staring eyes as big as eggs,
Purring as he lapped my blood,
His black bulk darkening the day,
With a voice cruel and flat,
"Cat! ... Cat! ... Cat! ... Cat!..." he said, "Cat! ... Cat!..."

When I'm shot through heart and head,
And there's no choice but to die,
The last word I'll hear, no doubt,
Won't be "Charge!" or "Bomb them out!"
Nor the stretcher-bearer's cry,
"Let that body be, he's dead!"
But a voice cruel and flat
Saying for ever, "Cat! ... Cat! ... Cat!"

For me, the naked and the nude
(By lexicographers construed
As synonyms that should express
The same deficiency of dress
Or shelter) stand as wide apart
As love from lies, or truth from art.

Lovers without reproach will gaze
On bodies naked and ablaze;
The Hippocratic eye will see
In nakedness, anatomy;
And naked shines the Goddess when
She mounts her lion among men.

The nude are bold, the nude are sly
To hold each treasonable eye.
While draping by a showman's trick
Their dishabille in rhetoric,
They grin a mock-religious grin
Of scorn at those of naked skin.

The naked, therefore, who compete
Against the nude may know defeat;
Yet when they both together tread
The briary pastures of the dead,
By Gorgons with long whips pursued,
How naked go the sometime nude!

1.8k
Babylon

The child alone a poet is:
Spring and Fairyland are his.
Truth and Reason show but dim,
And all’s poetry with him.
Rhyme and music flow in plenty
For the lad of one-and-twenty,
But Spring for him is no more now
Than daisies to a munching cow;
Just a cheery pleasant season,
Daisy buds to live at ease on.
He’s forgotten how he smiled
And shrieked at snowdrops when a child,
Or wept one evening secretly
For April’s glorious misery.
Wisdom made him old and wary
Banishing the Lords of Faery.
Wisdom made a breach and battered
Babylon to bits: she scattered
To the hedges and ditches
All our nursery gnomes and witches.
Lob and Puck, poor frantic elves,
Drag their treasures from the shelves.
Jack the Giant-killer’s gone,
Mother Goose and Oberon,
Bluebeard and King Solomon.
Robin, and Red Riding Hood
Take together to the wood,
And Sir Galahad lies hid
In a cave with Captain Kidd.
None of all the magic hosts,
None remain but a few ghosts
Of timorous heart, to linger on
Weeping for lost Babylon.

In my childhood rumors ran
   Of a world beyond our door—
Terrors to the life of man
   That the highroad held in store.

Of mermaids' doleful game
   In deep water I heard tell,
Of lofty dragons belching flame,
   Of the hornèd fiend of Hell.

Tales like these were too absurd
   For my laughter-loving ear:
Soon I mocked at all I heard,
   Though with cause indeed for fear.

Now I know the mermaid kin
   I find them bound by natural laws:
They have neither tail nor fin,
   But are deadlier for that cause.

Dragons have no darting tongues,
   Teeth saw-edged, nor rattling scales;
No fire issues from their lungs,
   No black poison from their tails:

For they are creatures of dark air,
   Unsubstantial tossing forms,
Thunderclaps of man's despair
   In mid-whirl of mental storms.

And there's a true and only fiend
   Worse than prophets prophesy,
Whose full powers to hurt are screened
   Lest the race of man should die.

Ever in vain will courage plot
   The dragon's death, in coat of proof;
Or love abjure the mermaid grot;
   Or faith denounce the cloven hoof.

Mermaids will not be denied
   The last bubbles of our shame,
The Dragon flaunts an unpierced hide,
   The true fiend governs in God's name.

Cherries of the night are riper
Than the cherries pluckt at noon
Gather to your fairy piper
When he pipes his magic tune:
        Merry, merry,
        Take a cherry;
        Mine are sounder,
        Mine are rounder,
        Mine are sweeter
        For the eater
        Under the moon.
And you’ll be fairies soon.

In the cherry pluckt at night,
With the dew of summer swelling,
There’s a juice of pure delight,
Cool, dark, sweet, divinely smelling.
        Merry, merry,
        Take a cherry;
        Mine are sounder,
        Mine are rounder,
        Mine are sweeter
        For the eater
        In the moonlight.
And you’ll be fairies quite.

When I sound the fairy call,
Gather here in silent meeting,
Chin to knee on the orchard wall,
Cooled with dew and cherries eating.
        Merry, merry,
        Take a cherry;
        Mine are sounder,
        Mine are rounder,
        Mine are sweeter.
        For the eater
        When the dews fall.
And you’ll be fairies all.

Double red daisies, they’re my flowers,
Which nobody else may grow.
In a big quarrelsome house like ours
They try it sometimes—but no,
I root them up because they’re my flowers,
Which nobody else may grow.

Claire has a tea-rose, but she didn’t plant it;
Ben has an iris, but I don’t want it.
Daisies, double red daisies for me,
The beautifulest flowers in the garden.

Double red daisy, that’s my mark:
I paint it in all my books!
It’s carved high up on the beech-tree bark,
How neat and lovely it looks!
So don’t forget that it’s my trade mark;
Don’t copy it in your books.

Claire has a tea-rose, but she didn’t plant it;
Ben has an iris, but I don’t want it.
Daisies, double red daisies for me,
The beautifulest flowers in the garden.

You, love, and I,
(He whispers) you and I,
And if no more than only you and I
What care you or I?

Counting the beats,
Counting the slow heart beats,
The bleeding to death of time in slow heart beats,
Wakeful they lie.

Cloudless day,
Night, and a cloudless day;
Yet the huge storm will burst upon their heads one day
From a bitter sky.

Where shall we be,
(She whispers) where shall we be,
When death strikes home, O where then shall we be
Who were you and I?

Not there but here,
(He whispers) only here,
As we are, here, together, now and here,
Always you and I.

Counting the beats,
Counting the slow heart beats,
The bleeding to death of time in slow heart beats,
Wakeful they lie.

The cruel Moon hangs out of reach
Up above the shadowy beech.
Her face is stupid, but her eye
Is small and sharp and very sly.
Nurse says the Moon can drive you mad?
No, that’s a silly story, lad!
Though she be angry, though she would
Destroy all England if she could,
Yet think, what damage can she do
Hanging there so far from you?
Don’t heed what frightened nurses say:
Moons hang much too far away.

Not to sleep all the night long, for pure joy,
Counting no sheep and careless of chimes
Welcoming the dawn confabulation
Of birch, her children, who discuss idly
Fanciful details of the promised coming -
Will she be wearing red, or russet, or blue,
Or pure white? - whatever she wears, glorious:
Not to sleep all the night long, for pure joy,
This is given to few but at last to me,
So that when 1 laugh and stretch and leap from bed
I shall glide downstairs, my feet brushing the carpet
In courtesy to civilized progression,
Though, did 1 wish, I could soar through the open window
And perch on a branch above, acceptable ally
Of the birds still alert, grumbling gently together.

1.3k
Free Verse

I now delight
In spite
Of the might
And the right
Of classic tradition,
In writing
And reciting
Straight ahead,
Without let or omission,
Just any little rhyme
In any little time
That runs in my head;
Because, I’ve said,
My rhymes no longer shall stand arrayed
Like Prussian soldiers on parade
That march,
Stiff as starch,
Foot to foot,
Boot to boot,
Blade to blade,
Button to button,
Cheeks and chops and chins like mutton.
No! No!
My rhymes must go
Turn ’ee, twist ’ee,
Twinkling, frosty,
Will-o’-the-wisp-like, misty;
Rhymes I will make
Like Keats and Blake
And Christina Rossetti,
With run and ripple and shake.
How pretty
To take
A merry little rhyme
In a jolly little time
And poke it,
And choke it,
Change it, arrange it,
Straight-lace it, deface it,
Pleat it with pleats,
Sheet it with sheets
Of empty conceits,
And chop and chew,
And hack and hew,
And weld it into a uniform stanza,
And evolve a neat,
Complacent, complete,
Academic extravaganza!

'But that was nothing to what things came out
From the sea-caves of Criccieth yonder.'
'What were they? Mermaids? dragons? ghosts?'
'Nothing at all of any things like that.'
'What were they, then?'
                                    'All sorts of queer things,
Things never seen or heard or written about,
Very strange, un-Welsh, utterly peculiar
Things. Oh, solid enough they seemed to touch,
Had anyone dared it. Marvellous creation,
All various shapes and sizes, and no sizes,
All new, each perfectly unlike his neighbour,
Though all came moving slowly out together.'
'Describe just one of them.'
                                        'I am unable.'
'What were their colours?'
                                        'Mostly nameless colours,
Colours you'd like to see; but one was puce
Or perhaps more like crimson, but not purplish.
Some had no colour.'
                                'Tell me, had they legs?'
'Not a leg or foot among them that I saw.'
'But did these things come out in any order?'
What o'clock was it? What was the day of the week?
Who else was present? How was the weather?'
'I was coming to that. It was half-past three
On Easter Tuesday last. The sun was shining.
The Harlech Silver Band played Marchog Jesu
On thrity-seven shimmering instruments
Collecting for Caernarvon's (Fever) Hospital Fund.
The populations of Pwllheli, Criccieth,
Portmadoc, Borth, Tremadoc, Penrhyndeudraeth,
Were all assembled. Criccieth's mayor addressed them
First in good Welsh and then in fluent English,
Twisting his fingers in his chain of office,
Welcoming the things. They came out on the sand,
Not keeping time to the band, moving seaward
Silently at a snail's pace. But at last
The most odd, indescribable thing of all
Which hardly one man there could see for wonder
Did something recognizably a something.'
'Well, what?'
                    'It made a noise.'
                                              'A frightening noise?'
'No, no.'
              'A musical noise? A noise of scuffling?'
'No, but a very loud, respectable noise ---
Like groaning to oneself on Sunday morning
In Chapel, close before the second psalm.'
'What did the mayor do?'
                                      'I was coming to that.'

The great sun sinks behind the town
Through a red mist of Volnay wine....
But what’s the use of setting down
That glorious blaze behind the town?
You’ll only skip the page, you’ll look
For newer pictures in this book;
You’ve read of sunsets rich as mine.

A fresh wind fills the evening air
With horrid crying of night birds....
But what reads new or curious there
When cold winds fly across the air?
You’ll only frown; you’ll turn the page,
But find no glimpse of your “New Age
Of Poetry” in my worn-out words.

Must winds that cut like blades of steel
And sunsets swimming in Volnay,
The holiest, cruellest pains I feel,
Die stillborn, because old men squeal
For something new: “Write something new:
We’ve read this poem—that one too,
And twelve more like ’em yesterday”?

No, no! my chicken, I shall scrawl
Just what I fancy as I strike it,
Fairies and Fusiliers, and all
Old broken knock-kneed thought will crawl
Across my verse in the classic way.
And, sir, be careful what you say;
There are old-fashioned folk still like it.

This valley wood is pledged
To the set shape of things,
And reasonably hedged:
Here are no harpies fledged,
No rocs may clap their wings,
Nor gryphons wave their stings.
Here, poised in quietude,
Calm elementals brood
On the set shape of things:
They fend away alarms
From this green wood.
Here nothing is that harms -
No bulls with lungs of brass,
No toothed or spiny grass,
No tree whose clutching arms
Drink blood when travellers pass,
No mount of glass;
No bardic tongues unfold
Satires or charms.
Only, the lawns are soft,
The tree-stems, grave and old;
Slow branches sway aloft,
The evening air comes cold,
The sunset scatters gold.
Small grasses toss and bend,
Small pathways idly tend
Towards no fearful end.

When I’m killed, don’t think of me
Buried there in Cambrin Wood,
Nor as in Zion think of me
With the Intolerable Good.
And there’s one thing that I know well,
I’m damned if I’ll be damned to Hell!

So when I’m killed, don’t wait for me,
Walking the dim corridor;
In Heaven or Hell, don’t wait for me,
Or you must wait for evermore.
You’ll find me buried, living-dead
In these verses that you’ve read.

So when I’m killed, don’t mourn for me,
Shot, poor lad, so bold and young,
Killed and gone — don’t mourn for me.
On your lips my life is hung:
O friends and lovers, you can save
Your playfellow from the grave.

— The End —

Over the Brazier by Robert Graves