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Archive by tag: Carol RumensReturn
Aug 24, 2020

Hopkins welds priest, father and doctor in this enormous expression of empathy, commemorating the life of a Liverpudlian farrier

Felix Randal

Felix Randal the farrier, O is he dead then? my duty all ended,
Who have watched his mould of man, big-boned and hardy-handsome
Pining, pining, till time when reason rambled in it, and some
Fatal four disorders, fleshed there, all contended?

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Aug 17, 2020

A father welcomes his wailing newborn child to the world and as her time begins he vows his love for ever

For Sena

Brown snow lines the roadways.
The still, grey city whispers

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Aug 10, 2020

Cheerful and anarchic, the forebears here are still intriguing and mysterious

The Ancestors

are having a summit –
they chase around the garden
disturbing hens.

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Aug 03, 2020

Melancholy but without self-pity, this sonnet self-portrait is one of the finest of the Romantic period

Long Time a Child

Long time a child, and still a child, when years
Had painted manhood on my cheek, was I, —
For yet I lived like one not born to die;
A thriftless prodigal of smiles and tears,
No hope I needed, and I knew no fears.
But sleep, though sweet, is only sleep, and waking,
I waked to sleep no more, at once o’ertaking
The vanguard of my age, with all arrears
Of duty on my back. Nor child, nor man,
Nor youth, nor sage, I find my head is grey,
For I have lost the race I never ran:
A rathe December blights my lagging May;
And still I am a child, though I be old:
Time is my debtor for my years untold.

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Jul 27, 2020

Imagining an impossible encounter with herself as a child, the poet discreetly evokes the girl’s intense life

If I Were to Meet

If I were to meet the ghost
of my childhood running
with slipping shoulder-straps
and half-plaited hair
beside a brown expanse
of memorising water
and the mellow faces of wooden houses
half-hidden by a weave
of coconut, mango, guenip trees

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Jul 20, 2020

The classroom’s unpredictable demands provide surprisingly poetical inspiration

On First Knowing You’re a Teacher

Robert’s not coming in, my boss tells me.
I’m sitting sweating in a windowless office,
a stack of résumés eye-balling me, stinking
up the desk – I’m first screener and sleepy
in this stuffy box. Would you be able to lead
a workshop on résumé writing?
I’m 22
and my own résumé got me the most boring
gig at Jobs for Youth-Chicago. Some of the “youth”
I’d be teaching are nearly my age, but there are
windows, and people, in that classroom
so I nearly yell, yes! 30 students look at me
and 45 minutes later look to me and I’m hooked.
And I’m floating and anchored at the same time.
For the first time. And I’m whole and broken
open. And I’m spinning and stunned still.

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Jul 13, 2020

The Soviet-era dissident writer’s defiant prison lyric has lost none of its immediacy

The Sparrows of Butyrka

Now even the snow has grown sad –
Let overwhelmed reason go,
And let’s smoke our cigarettes through the air-vent,
Let’s at least set the smoke free.
A sparrow flies up –
And looks at us with a searching eye:
‘Share your crust with me!’
And in honourable fashion you share it with him.
The sparrows – they know
Who to ask for bread.
Even though there’s a double grille on the windows –
And only a crumb can get through.
What do they care
Whether you were on trial or not?
If you’ve fed them, you’re OK.
The real trial lies ahead.
You can’t entice a sparrow –
Kindness and talents are no use.
He won’t knock
At the urban double-glazing.
To understand birds
You have to be a convict.
And if you share your bread,
It means your time is done.

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Jul 06, 2020

Before he became a pioneering ecological thinker, Thoreau was a poet and this youthful work contains the blueprint for his development

Sic Vita

(“It is but thin soil where we stand; I have felt my roots in a richer ere this. I have seen a bunch of violets in a glass vase, tied loosely with a straw, which reminded me of myself”
— A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers)

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Jun 29, 2020

The US poet’s reaction to the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown is a searing elegy for black lives destroyed

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Jun 22, 2020

Finding an unsettling symmetry between ecological catastrophe and the Aberfan Welsh pit village disaster, this sonnet conjures a fragile beauty


The miles-deep Greenland glacier’s lost its grip,
sliding nine miles a year towards the sea
on its own melt-water. As, forty years ago,
the slag-heap, loosened by a slip
of rain-swollen mountain stream, suddenly
gave with a roar, taking a primary school,
crushing the children. The century of waste
has burned a hole in the sky over the Pole.
Oh, science, with your tricks and alchemies,
chain the glacier with sun and wind and tide,
rebuild the gates of ice, halt melt and slide,
freeze the seas, stay the flow and the flux
for footfall of polar bear and Arctic fox.

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Jun 15, 2020

These stark lines set out a hard, unfinished personal reckoning with atrocious memory

My pity is fake,
my poems, atonement.
Mutation in my genes
began in the gas chambers.
Even before that,
antigens were
created in my blood
against torture and murder
and mindless oppression
and all kinds of atrocities.
Yet, nobody cares
if we count their dead
or our own dead.
See the dead
arranged in a row,
arranged in a pile
or burned in a pile.
Everyone wants
to keep evil at bay.
Therefore, I don’t cry
over the Palestinians,
nor do I cry
over anyone else!
Because, if I cry
over my dead,
they will stand before me
in a long line,
their fleshless corpses
eaten by time,
as in a roll call
or on the “day
of visitation”,
and their mute
muselmann hands
will offer
faded shreds
from an old shroud
to wipe my tears if I weep
If I weep

Translated by the poet and Anthony Rudolf

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Jun 08, 2020

One of the Malawian author’s many prison poems, this defiant work builds into a forceful cry of rage

Skipping Without Ropes

I will, I will skip without your rope
Since you say I should not, I cannot
Borrow your son’s skipping rope to
Exercise my limbs; I will skip without

Your rope as you say, even the lace
I want will hang my neck until I die;
I will create my own rope, my own
Hope and skip without your rope as

You insist I do not require to stretch
My limbs fixed by these fevers of your
Reeking sweat and your prison walls;
I will, will skip with my forged hope;

Watch, watch me skip without your
Rope; watch me skip with my hope –
A-one, a-two, a-three, a-four, a-five
I will, a-seven, I do, will skip, a-ten,

Eleven, I will skip without, will skip
Within and skip I do without your
Rope but with my hope; and I will,
Will always skip you dull, will skip

Your silly rules, skip your filthy walls,
You weevil pigeon peas, skip your
Scorpions, skip your Excellency Life
Glory. I do, you don’t, I can, you can’t,

I will, you won’t, I see, you don’t, I
Sweat, you don’t, I will, will wipe my
Gluey brow then wipe you at a stroke
I will, will wipe your horrid, stinking,

Vulgar prison rules, will wipe you all
Then hop about, hop about my cell, my
Home, the mountains, my globe as your
Sparrow hops about your prison yard

Without your hope, without your rope,
I swear, I will skip without your rope, I
Declare, I will have you take me to your
Showers to bathe me where I can resist

This singing child you want to shape me,
I’ll fight your rope, your rules, your hope
As your sparrow does under your super-
vision! Guards! Take us for a shower!

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May 04, 2020

A peaceful, lightly surreal scene is shadowed with wider foreboding

The Chess Player

They’ve left. They’ve all left.
The pigeon feeders have left.
The old men on the benches have left.
The white-gloved ladies with the Great Danes have left.
The lovers who thought about coming have left.
The man in the three-piece suit has left.
The man who was a three-piece band has left.
The man on the milkcrate with the bible has left.
Even the birds have left.
Now the trees are thinking about leaving too.
And the grass is trying to turn itself in.
Of course the buses no longer pass.
And the children no longer ask.
The air wants to go and is in discussions.
The clouds are trying to steer clear.
The sky is reaching for its hands.
Even the moon sees what’s going on.
But the stars remain in the dark.
As does the chess player.
Who sits with all his pieces
In position.

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Apr 27, 2020

To mark what would have been his 100th birthday, three pieces from his 100-part ‘war poem’ that is also about a forbidden love

Three poems from The New Divan

Hafiz, old nightingale, what fires there have been
in the groves, white dust, wretchedness,
how could you ever get your song together?
Someone stands by your tomb, thinks
as a shadow thinks: much, little, any?
You swore you’d be found shrouded in another
grave-cloth of pure smoke from a heart as
burning dead as beating but the names
of cinders are thick where passions were.
Whole cities could be ash. But
not the song the Sufi says we have
but our dying song, you knew, gives us our beings.

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Apr 20, 2020

Wondering where the house keys are sets off a chain of associations leading to a much larger question

Safe Houses

I find that I have started recently
to keep spare keys to the front door
in several pockets, such is my fear
of being locked out. Caught by the wind
the door could shut quietly behind you,
leaving you to face the outer world alone.
Once safe inside I don’t put on the chain.

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Apr 13, 2020

An internal dialogue wrestles with the question of how to contend with undeclared racism

Can I fight the power?

A meditation on ‘post-raciality’

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Apr 06, 2020

A chance sighting of an ex-lover sets off very ambivalent emotions, but also a kind of miracle


You walk by holding a bunch of flowers
never knowing that you’ve just performed a miracle.
Are those flowers for your girl?
I imagine her dressed up like an Easter egg
in yellow and pink. I’d tap at you like an egg,
cracking your thin chocolate shell.
If I were made of chocolate too, I’d break
off parts of myself to give to you and your girl.
Once, I gave my words for garden
and water and moonlit and love
to a man who kissed me. After he rolled
a stone over my heart and shut me off
from the world, I had no words left
to describe the dark dream that followed.
Now you’ve walked by, godlike in jeans
and an old t-shirt, the sun glinting on one
silver earring. Now a rose is once again
not only rose but also soft and red
and thorn and bee and honey.
Now a bird is singing song and tree
and nest in a high place and blue speckled egg.
You yourself are glowing with words, they move
up and down you as if they’re alive.
The words bring themselves to me
and tell my tongue sweetness over and over.
The words are everything. With them,
I’ll turn water to wine at your wedding.

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