A Browning Version

Ba stayed at home in bed now

mostly, while  Robert stayed out late

soirees & balls, the Roman social whirl

he told her all the gossip, all the news.


Her pale face sank in that dark hair

her books were selling: he felt rather dull.


Those sonnets may have come into her mind,

haloed, idolatrous, she’d written

when he was just a caller. Bosnian camouflage?

“Portuguese would sound better,” Robert said.


Oh she did love him, all those ways and more

and he loved her, the more they disagreed

on everything: on bringing up their son

Napoleans past, and present, and to come;

duelling, mediums, society

what evil’s like, and “our profound

ly different estimate of thing

and person: I was right, and she was wrong!”


 Move on to Casa Guidi: she was weak

again. He nursed her. In the night

he washed her feet, she laughing “Such a fuss,”

kissed him and held him tight

“God bless you.”  Round about dawn she died.


He hadn’t realised she was so ill,

but after all his tears,

argued with her for twenty-eight more years.

14 02 05

Elizabeth Barret Browning was nicknamed Ba (pronounced Bay, for half a ba-by).  She thought of publishing the secret sonnets she had written to RB as ‘from the Bosnian’: he suggested Portuguese. She died in Florence on 29 June 1861.  He lived on until 12 Dec. 1889, writing a large number of poems, including the verse novel The Ring and The Book.


A Good Year for Goosegrass & Stitchwort

Goosegrass has raced up each one of our hedge-rows

its stiff hanks imprison

oak yew and ivy, and hawthorn; diminutive flowers

embroider the surface, while rising, unfolding from under

meticulous stitchwort sets out

equidistant white stars, this firmament too in turn drowned

by an inundation of grasses

umbellifers, parsley and blood-spattered hemlock stretch up

and the goosegrass which only last month

strangled and smothered the hedge hangs in tatters and strigils,

dried strings of repentance,

its vanishing ghost leaving nothing but seeds and a promise,

or rather a threat: “I’ll be back!”

in a hoarse voice that’s failing: it’s not the disconsolate litter

of beer-cans and wrappers

for burgers, smashed mirrors and high witches- knickers

that tatter from talons of thornbush:

it’s not that intrusive detritus disgusts us this season,

but queasy, complicit,

we prefer to crane backwards and squint at the patches of blue

sewn together by innocent swallows.


09 08 06


A long cold winter
sequitur crepitans hanc dentibus algor – Lucretius

The season is locked up – and I am too –
Frost-hardened like the ground – here comes more snow,
blotting the clumps of snowdrops out of view
and the green spears they throw.

My bones have stiffened up in sympathy:
is that a frigid gleam where they might lie
frozen into the icy canopy?
It’s cold enough to make you cry.

This was once grass. We had a party here,
upon this white, foot-printed piece of land
six months back, wasps and glasses everywhere;
it didn’t run exactly as we’d planned,

careless al fresco revels: on that date
the farm decided to cut down the wheat,
they snowed their chaff on everything we ate,
but who cared, in that heat?

Lucretius says, see how the seasons change
and now they throw us everything they’ve got
Love endures Winter, Summer, the whole range –
but we prefer it hot

14 02 2010


The poet tempts the lady into bed,
so it is said,
with promises of immortality
“Your delicately outlined wings shall be
etched in the amber of my echoing song,”

and this of course is wrong:
it can’t be why
any sweet girl will shimmy off her shift
and lie akimbo looking at the sky-
for the mere promise of her name in verse?

And poets tell themselves a lie that’s worse:
after the terse
moment at cock-crow, why, the girl’s forgot,
the verse remains, the darling’s name does not-
they didn’t love the lady but the muse.

So when it comes to stratagems to use
you didn’t let me con you with some ruse
it isn’t news
that simple love and lust brought us together-
a poem’s the last thing I thought to use.

14 02 09

The Trouble with the Wasps

I stamp my foot. Just once. And out they pour,
this cloud of little wasps: they sting my hands
and drive me backwards like a cartoon bear,
slapping and stumbling till the onslaught ends.

I feared a lasting threat. Well. I was wrong:
the wasps ignored my apples, ignored me,
flew evenly southwest across the Beck:
I dug their delicate nest up when they’d gone.

This Spring I wonder why I was afraid
of little wasps who live in rabbit-holes;
stamp less, in case Suleiman laughs at me,
or lovely Balkis, making marmalade.

14 02 08

Bus and Bird

And you did take that bus. I saw it go
so many more times. I can see it still
pull up and stop and leave. How could I know
if you had gone for good, or gone for ill?

Parted a quarter century ago,
right now we hurry to the window-sill
to watch our barn-owl glide on the meadow
pallid, unhurried, waiting for the kill.

Actions freeze into images just so
to keep alive our anguish, or to thrill.
This, in the end, is what we have to show:
a bus that would not wait, a bird that will.

14 02 07