All these poems were written in 2006. I was still an atheist at this time (and would be for several years), and I had reached the fever pitch of my anti-modernism. I was anti-car, anti-consumerism, anti-tourism. I really believed that history had come to an end.
This is a poem about the sensation I get whenever I talk to people who, as Boswell put it about one Scottish author, "rail against all established systems", see all institutions as corrupt, etc. etc. I never know what to say to them. If things were really that bad, wouldn't we all be in slave camps instead of drinking coffee and eating cakes? At the same time, I always get a pleasant sensation from sampling different sorts of social consensus (even if that consensus is only amongst a small group). It's like looking through coloured glass, a thing I have always enjoyed.
Nothing is truer, here and now,
Than that all governments are criminals
With power to tax. Religions are all frauds.
I have fallen amongst cynics. But it's nice.
Hell is a sort of paradise
When you have the inside track. They won't allow
That the police are more than killing squads
Or that ideals are more than frills
To fool the gullible. But there are scones
Yes, there are scones. There's coffee. And they smile.
Here in this room we're safe for a little while
But the wolves that howl outside will pick our bones.
I wrote this poem in a pub called the Frog and the Nightingale in Chester. It's probably the extremest expression of my anti-modernist anguish. One of my key preoccupations was that the twenty-four-hour, 365-day society had obliterated all the life-giving cycles of nature and tradition. I still think this is something to be concerned about, but I'm not quite as pessimistic about it as I was then.
We are the fraternity of Judas
Except we paid the money to betray,
Thousands on thousands. Every single day
We dream about it, read about it, talk
About Majorca or the fitted kitchen
We can afford at last.
God, not the lewdest
Of top-shelf magazines, by a long chalk,
Is squalid as that universal urge
To tomb ourselves in concrete, to disperse
Our bacillus to uninfected zones
On package holidays.
And when we purge
The past forever, when our universe
Is tarmacadamed, will-- deep in our bones--
There even be one stirring of regret?
Judas repented; we're too late for death.
The lights in the none-so-tacky superstore
Are never off. The crowd call out for more,
For a world with a sun that can never rise or set.
Forty Years Ago
This is a fairly decent poem, despite some awkward phrasing here and there. I really did believe history had come to an end and that the triumph of worldwide liberal consumerism was all the future held. Perhaps this poem explains why I was so overjoyed by Brexit. But, even before Brexit, I had abandoned my "end of history" thesis.
Behind closed curtains, forty years ago
Fills up the screen in black and white.
Oh, what he wouldn't give to grow
Amongst the craters the Luftwaffe made,
To be a baby of the Blitz! But night
Has fallen now on history's parade.
He watches mini-skirted women jive
The pale young hero cursing TV sets
And package holidays. To be alive
When time was like the weather! When the news
Was like a story! Now nobody gets
Excited about class, no-one has views
About the Common Market, no-one talks
About how things were different in their day.
That's gone the way of Cromwell and Guy Fawkes.
Time is an air-conditioned office now
And history an infinite replay.
There's nothing left the world will not allow;
No rationing; no walking half a mile
To hear a radio, no being called
To spend two years in khaki, no big trial
For dirty books; at last nobody cares.
Curse on the telly, no-one is appalled;
Puncture your face with studs and no-one cares.
Nostalgic for small-mindedness, he feeds
On scenes of caps and queues and kitchen-sinks
And every month the whole damned lot recedes;
That guy who played the miner's son just died
And she's a Dame, that mini-skirted minx
In this last room where history can hide
He lives a past unseen, self-mummified.
"These metal hounds" are cars-- at this time, I passionately advocated the outlawing of cars-- and "that concrete envelope" is presumably some concrete building the narrator passes.
All that I crave is yesterday,
A yesterday not mine.
The January dawn is grey
And leaves long-withered line
The well-worn paths. My weary way
Lies up a steep incline.
Two hundred years ago, or more,
Who climbed this unnamed slope?
Before these metal hounds, before
That concrete envelope?
What was that walker making for,
What slogan-pictured hope?
All of our visions ended here;
What angel will rescind
Our granted dreams? What pioneer
Could measure how he sinned?
All life is leaves from a vanished year
Blown by a winter wind.
A touch of the Thomas Hardies here. But not derivative at all, at least on in the sense that the feelings aren't my own. Indeed, I've rarely written anything more heartfelt, and these are feelings that have preoccupied me for as long as I can remember. The last verse is not bad. Longtime readers of the blog may recognize the reference to the time I saw an early morning sky thronged with crows, out a bedroom window, when visiting my grandfather in the small town of Croom. One day I hope I can write something equal to that moment.
The tea left cooling in the cup
The time you went away
To watch the rockets going up
To call in New Year's Day...
I only want it all to stop,
For twelve o'clock to stay.
The time we sat there eating scones
And talking about Greece
In here-we-are-forever tones
In a moment of pure peace...
I only want those vanished sounds
Back on an endless lease.
The crows that filled the morning sky
Some time before I'd learned
To watch the world with a jealous eye
Or fear how the candle burned...
I would not grudge the need to die
If the vanished bird returned.