Friday, September 26, 2008

341. On the Lido

My troubled heart, dear boy, is not your concern
as we progress along these silent polished galleries,
and if I pause for a moment before a painting
to take a moment's breath, it is the appreciation of art,
and not the sharp and sudden shadow of beyond.
O, God, you very young and eager people, lapping
up what you think is knowledge, happy and brown
in the bright Italian sun; a sun, I might add, that shone
upon people I loved in my youth, now long gone,
but lending a shimmer, a penumbra of light, a parting glow
among the fading embers where old age must go.
Ladies in those days were thoughtful in their dress,
with linens and cottons, an instinct for appearance,
and the gentlemen had carefully-knotted heraldic neckties
and summer suits which draped most beautifully,
so beautiful that it was a pleasure to look upon them.
It was a gentle age, an age of wonder, and I was among them.
Now I look at beefy children of all and many ages
striding white-legged across the Piazzas and Platzes of Europe
in voluminous many-pocketed shorts, their upper portions
adorned with stretched but simple short-sleeved garments
advertising the more obscure American seats of learning.
One has doubts concerning these extraordinary establishments
since one can hardly say they know or understand anything,
yet they make a quite flagrant use of the Roman alphabet
in such barking phrases as "Duke Sucks" and "Yadda Yadda Boom".
One harbours the suspicion that they do not really read.
I retrieve the slim leatherbound volume of Keats
from the innermost pocket of my rather well-fashioned suit
which fits as well now as when I was an undergraduate
and note the spidery scrawl of DeVere Hutchinson on the flyleaf,
one of the more roguish dons of unpublished consequence,
and my thoughts, rarely maudlin, go back to Magdalene.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

340. The third (corrupt) stage of nationalism

O salacious ungracious paperfalls,
po-faced political policy statements,
raining down, damply drizzling,
plashing among the half and the quarter innocent,
among citizens ill-prepared, all those who go
shuffling off to work in the morning.

Hi-ho, hi-ho ...
Put a D-notice on that man; surround his house.

Yes, well, it's all just background noise,
predictable, so typical: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,
lullabies to lull us all to lovely sleep.
But there are promises we must keep,
agreements, aspirations, things to be done,
lovers to be lied to, contracts to be won;
and the last thing we bloody well need
is another major war. What for?

I mean, huff-puff, it's all very well
to make this life a living hell
for dusky people in a faraway village;
after all, they are used to rape and pillage
and I doubt that they can really care
about the odd atrocity here and there.
Oops, there goes Granny and Papa and Mama,
there go the cousins and fifteen kids:
one well-placed bomb can do it all.

Well, I can't see anything wrong with it,
because, I mean, you'd expect that, wouldn't you,
if you lived in one of those dreadful places?
It's not as though they lived in Pimlico
where the black-lipped ladies come and go
to the Starbucks on the corner
carrying Penguin editions of Proust
or How to Lose Fifteen Pounds of Ugly Fat
in Fifteen Days. Guaranteed.

What I do not need is your noddy-noddies.
No, I don't want to see photos of the victims' faces:
I gave generously at the office, so why can't you
fuck off, please, just leave me alone?
Chase another dog, dig another bone.
I support the King, the President, the Kaiser,
and that's just the way it is.
OK, it's sad; it's sometimes bad,
but what do you expect?

I love my family, pay my taxes,
damn all braces, bless relaxes;
I go to the seaside and play with my kids,
go fishing on the river, drink with old pals,
slap my wife on her ample bottom,
listen gaily to her shrill and outraged giggles,
then bound upstairs for the blessings of marriage.
So tell me, where did I go wrong?

I'm just so tired. Yes, I know.

But sit back, so, and listen.
Dungeon-dim, it's like dark, still with me?
Dungeon-dim desultory desuetude,
deadly decades of dull decrepitude,
have become a cancer of the soul.
We no longer think, but stagger and roll,
balancing our feet on a heaving deck,
grinning inanely, suggesting control:
but the deep ocean, the ocean coils beneath.
And we, from childhood trained to hate the Other,
at length have learned
to hate each other.

* in some countries this is described as "patriotism", which rather neatly relegates nationalism, as such, to foreigners.