Excerpts for All the Poems of Muriel Spark


Chapter One A Tour of London I. DAYBREAK COMPOSITION Anyone in this top-floor flat This morning, might look out upon An oblong canvas of Kensington Almost ready for looking at. Houses lean sideways to the light; At foreground left, a crowd of trees Is blue, is a footman, his gloves are white. The sky's a pair of legs, top-right, The colour of threadbare dungarees. All the discrepant churches grind Four, and in the window frame is Picasso at least, his scene; its name is Morning; authentic, but never signed. II. KENSINGTON GARDENS Old ladies and tulips, model boats, Compact babies, mobile mothers, Distant buses like parakeets, Lonely men with mackintoshes Over their arms-where do they go? Where come from? now that summer's Paraphernalia and splash is Out, as if planted a year ago. III. WHAT THE STRANGER WONDERED Where does she come from Sipping coffee alone in London? The shoes, the hair-I do not think She has anything in the bank. Has she a man, where is he then, Why is she sitting at half-past ten Reading a book alone in London? Where does the money come from That lets her be alone and sipping Not with a man, not in a job, not with a dog to the grocer tripping? IV. DAY OF REST The clock knocked off at quarter to three And sat there yawning with arms stretched wide, And it was set going again by nobody, It being Sunday and we being occupied. Therefore the day happened and disappeared, But whether the time we kept was appropriate To rend, to sew, to love, to hate, No one could say for certain; all that occurred Was Sunday, London, bells, talk, fate. V. SUBURB It is the market clock that moonish glows. Where two hands point, two poplars interlock. Night's verities knock Normal perspectives comatose, Proving the moon a market clock, The trees, time's laughing-stock. VI. THE HOUSE Their last look round was happening when The bus pulled up outside. Nothing burning? Windows tried? The lights go on and off again And they are satisfied, And we already starting off- But see the house, how curious, The lights again! and sure enough, Feeling the catch behind the curtain A hand-just to make certain. VII. MAN IN THE STREET Last thing at night and only one Man in the street, And even he was gone complete Into an absence as he stood Beside the lamplight longitude. He stood so long and still, it would Take men in longer streets to find What this was chewing in his mind. The Dark Music of the Rue du Cherche-Midi If you should ask me, is there a street of Europe, and where, and what, is that ultimate street? I would answer: the one-time Roman road in Paris, on the left bank of the river, the long, long Rue du Cherche-Midi, street of my thoughts and afterthoughts and curiosity never to be satisfied entirely, and premonitions, inconceivably shaped, and memories. Suppose that I looked for the street of my life, where I always could find an analogy. There in the shop-front windows and in the courtyards, the alleys, the great doorways, old convents, baronial properties: those of the past. And new hotels of the present, junk shops, bead shops, pastry cooks, subtle chocolate-makers, florists of intricate wonder, and merchants of exceptional fabrics. Suppose that I looked, I would choose to find that long, long Rue, of Paris, du Cherche-Midi, its buildings, they say, so tall they block out the sun. I have always thought it worth the chase and the search to find some sort of meridian. From 1662 to the Revolution: No. 7, owned in 1661 by Jrmie Derval, financier, counsellor, and master of the king's household. All along the street: Marquises, dukes, duchesses, financiers, mathematicians, magistrates, philosophers, bibliophiles, prioresses, abbesses, princes and, after them, their widows, generals, ambassadors, politicians. Some were beheaded and others took over. In essence none has departed. No. 38: there was the military prison where Dreyfus first stood trial, in December, 1894. At No. 40 resided the Comte de Rochambeau until he was sent to help George Washington; he forced the English to surrender at Yorktown and took twenty-two flags from them. What a street, the Rue du Cherche-Midi! Here, Nos. 23-31, was a convent where a famous abbess reigned, disgusted in girlhood by her father, a lecher, she imposed a puritan rule and was admired, especially when, great lady that she was, she humbled herself to wash the dishes. Beads and jewels of long ago look out from their dark shopwindows like blackberries in a wayside bramble bush holding out their arms: Take me, pick me, I am dark and sweet, ripe and moist with life. The haggard young girl in charge of the boutique reaches for the beads, she fondles them, sad, sad, to part with such a small but undeniable treasure. Rose quartz: she sells it with eager reluctance. Listen to my music. Hear it. Raindrops, each dark note. She has not slept well. Her little black dress was hastily donned, and the half-circles are drooping under her eyes. They say the Rue du Cherche-Midi, with its tall houses set at shadowy angles,' never catches the sun. Still, in the shop, that raddled, dignified young girl- frugal, stylish, experienced-will, with bony fingers, pick out a pile of necklaces: the very one that you want, those opals, those moonstones. Dark boutiques, concerns; their shadow falls over the bright appointments of the day. It is a long, long past that haunts the street of Europe, a spirit of vast endurance, a certain music, Rue du Cherche-Midi. The Yellow Book They did not intend to distinguish between the essence Of wit and wallpaper trellis. What they cared Was how the appointments of the age appeared Under the citron gaslight incandescence. Virtue was vulgar, sin a floral passion And death a hansom at the door, while they Kept faith with a pomaded sense of history In their fashion. Behind the domino, those fringed and fanned Exclusive girls, prinked with the peacock's eye Noted, they believed, the trickle of a century Like a thin umbrella in a black-gloved hand. What? A black velvet embroidered handbag full of medium-size carrots All of which said 'Good morning in one. What does the dream mean? The black velvet is death; and the embroidery? Oh, I daresay, a fancy funeral. The carrots are sex, plenty of them. Why did they say 'Good morning'? Well, I said 'Good morning' back to them, This in my dream being the right thing to do. Verlaine Villanelle Like poor Verlaine, whom God defend, I see the sky above the roof, And write my book till summer's end. When tree, town, bell and birdnote blend, I feel, since summer sails aloof Like poor Verlaine, whom God defend, Who went to jail but did not mend. I taste the pity sure enough And write my book till summer's end. I see a tree, and won't pretend I'm warped on that nostalgic woof Like poor Verlaine, whom God defend. But rue the crooked dividend These days will yield of galley-proof, And write my book till summer's end. Therefore I see the sky and spend An hour of lyrical reproof, Like poor Verlaine, whom God defend, And write my book till summer's end. Edinburgh Villanelle These eyes that saw the saturnine Glance in my back, refused the null Heart of Midlothian, never mine. Hostile High Street gave the sign. Hollyrood made unmerciful These eyes that saw the saturnine Watchmen of murky Leith begin To pump amiss the never-full Heart of Midlothian, never mine. Withal they left the North Sea brine Seeping the slums and did not fool These eyes that saw the saturnine Waters no provident whim made wire Fail to infuriate the dull Heart of Midlothian, never mine. Municipal monuments confine What ghosts return to ridicule These eyes that saw the saturnine Heart of Midlothian, never mine. Holy Water Rondel For salt, no word seems apposite; Its common wisdom would defy All praise, so far as meets the eye, Salt is so meek a hypocrite. And not the most selective wit Has words to measure water by, Because, so far as meets the eye, Water is exquisite. But cited sacerdotally, Multiple evils up and quit, Which proves that water and salt commit Pathetic faults beyond the eye; And shows a happy flaw whereby The fabric is bereft of it, Since there is nothing left of it But mercies more than meet the eye. Therefore I rate the creatures high Whose salt and watery features knit So strict and strange a composite Of blessings and of brine thereby. No wonder that the clergy ply The people every week with it, Who are of virtue infinite So far as meets the eye. The Creative Writing Class 'There is,' he declared. 'Really?' she grinned. 'Undoubtedly,' he stated. 'Tomorrow,' she burbled. 'A majority,' he chortled. ' The statues?' she enquired. 'Public health,' he opined. 'The signature,' she ventured. 'Miss Universe,' he emoted. 'The confederation,' she growled. 'Hostile ethics!' he exclaimed. 'The Tears of Time,' she choked. 'Everything entire,' he warbled. 'It's a mere obsession,' she roared. 'Develop the wolf,' he demanded. 'Done,' she snarled. 'On with the job,' he guffawed. 'Not unanimous,' she yelled. 'You're breaking my jaw,' he groaned. 'Silence!' she sneered. Authors' Ghosts I think that authors' ghosts creep back Nightly to haunt the sleeping shelves And find the books they wrote. Those authors put final, semi-final touches, Sometimes whole paragraphs. Whole pages are added, re-written, revised, So deeply by night those authors employ Themselves with those old books of theirs. How otherwise Explain the fact that maybe after years Have passed, the reader Picks up the book-But was it like that? I don't remember this ... Where Did this ending come from? I recall quite another. Oh yes, it has been tampered with No doubt about it- The author's very touch is here, there and there, Where it wasn't before, and What's more, something's missing- I could have sworn ... That Bad Cold That hand, a tiny one, first at my throat; That thump in the chest. I know you of old, you're a bad cold Come to stay for a few days, Unwanted visitor-a week perhaps. Nobody asked him to come. (Yes, He is masculine, but otherwise Don't try to parse the situation.) Everything stops. Perhaps He is providentially intended to Make cease and desist an overworking State of mind. Yes, there is a certain Respite. Friends mean merely a bed And a hot drink. Enemies and all Paranoias, however justified, lose their way In the fog. And the desk diary Lies open with a vacant grin. Leaning Over an Old Wall Leaning over an old wall, gazing into a dark pool, waiting like a moonling to see only the water traffic, fish and frogs I saw my image stare at me, appraising. Suddenly a voice spoke from a stone in the bed of the pool, saying it is the pebble on the path you tread, it is the tomb's substance, it pillows your head, it is the cold heart lamenting alone, it is all these things, the stone said. A willow moaned, it is your despair, it is your unrest and your grieving, your fears that have been and those that are to be, it is your unbelieving and the wanhope of your days, said the tree. And the roots of the willow, lying under the bed of the pool were crying, it is the twisted cord that feeds this tree which is your clay and entity; it is the filament that fed your birth; from your wanton seed into the faithful earth impulsive tendons lead. But the green reeds sang, it is the voice of your life's joy. It is the green word that springs

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Excerpted from ALL THE POEMS OF Muriel Spark by Muriel Spark Copyright © 2004 by Muriel Spark. Excerpted by permission.
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