Tuesday 12 February 2008

Three poems: a guest-post by John Milbank

In response to my recent post, John Milbank was kind enough to send me his unpublished poetry, some of which is quite extraordinary (including a magnificent epic on the mythic history of England). And he has kindly allowed me to reproduce a few of his shorter poems here – so here are three of my favourites.

Three Revelations in Gloucestershire

Crimped oak-tree
by the centuries set
with slow lightning,
whose zigzags are as sure
as they are sudden.

The shock of endurance.
Pure gold pours gift
of the sun’s cornlight
through the slatternly opening
of the slanting gateposts.

The bold of the evening.
Broad original shadow
extends the wood’s domain
over the golden stubble
in the passing twilight.

A rare, a ravishing most secret.

Considering Lilies

Looking for rain,
celestial water
above all ponds,
the weed-lilies of convulvulus
in September foregather in the hedgerows
like white bells for a late marriage
of a still beautiful virgin,
their pure glamour disparaged,
as gypsy-women are the tares of queendom,
more savagely still in their darkness
and more blowingly resplendent
through its untamed virtue.

Returning on the train in hope
after many years
of a better consummation, he
recalled the school bell’s autumn sound
which once confirmed yet interrupted
his childhood rural pasturage.
It had reached attractively and insidiously
across all fields and past them,
suspending forever nature’s mute
untimetabled instruction.
So we probe the stars with signals,
travel anywhere in lines and pay
in numbers if we get them right
for anything available.

While nature lost still stays our course,
like a vast golden shadow of background,
ever forgotten, ever present
to accuse us of a wholly inadequate answer
to her perennial welcome.
Why do the skies alter, the seas surge and yet
the earth stays firm on which we are planted
in order to till, walk ever onwards,
look upwards that we might re-consider always?
Shifting the soils like a horde of phantoms
has got us nowhere.
Gridding the earth with waves and networks
has communicated to us nothing.

The road bends: he longs to linger
by the gate’s opening perchance
to greet her. Lone winds leave
the fascinating clouds from which
the dark birds also swarm. The willowherb
grows in this season more freely than the grasses.

One Green Day

One green day
        with you above
the valley deep
                with promises
to market now
                        the road
                                so steep
a gradient of dreams
so light
        we rise
together and the vertiginous is wanted
for its near verticality
                        which is you for me
eased just enough from the precipice
for us to glide upwards thrilled
by the terror
                and yet the ease
before the plunge sideways
by the green sheltering deviation
that lies still higher yet before us
                                        you beside me.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, that's beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this, Ben. 'Considering Lilies' made my day.

Matt said...

Thanks for this pair of posts on Milbank's poems, Ben. An epic on the mythic history of England? Don't tease us like that! Does M. have any plans to publish it? Is it Miltonic or Spenserian?

Anonymous said...

Echoing Matt, I'd love to know if there are plans to publish all this poetry? And any chance of a sneak preview of this epic?

Ben Myers said...

Hi Matt and others: well, I hope the long poem on the history of England (entitled "The Legend of Death") will be published — if I hear anything, I'll let you know...

Anonymous said...

I heard Milbank is to publish a new collection with Eerdmans soon.

Ben Myers said...

Hi Anon: no, it's not coming out with Eerdmans, but he should have a big collection of poems coming out with another publisher soon. I'll post some details once it's all confirmed...

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