“Refugees”by Louis MacNeice

 

With prune-dark eyes, thick lips, jostling each other
These, disinterred from Europe, throng the deck
To watch their hope heave up in steel and concrete
Powerful but delicate as a swan’s neck,

Thinking, each of them, the worst is over
And we do not want any more to be prominent or rich,
Only to be ourselves, to be unmolested
And make ends meet–an ideal surely which

Here if anywhere is feasible. Their glances
Like wavering antennae feel
Around the sliding limber towers of Wall Street
And count the numbered docks and gingerly steal

Into the hinterland of their own future
Behind this excessive annunciation of towers,
Tracking their future selves through a continent of strangeness.
The liner moves to the magnet; the quay flowers

With faces of people’s friends. But these are mostly
Friendless and all they look to meet
Is a secretary who holds his levée among ledgers,
Tells them to take a chair and wait…

And meanwhile the city will go on, regardless
Of any new arrival, trains like prayers
Radiating from stations haughty as cathedrals,
Tableaux of spring in milliners’ windows, great affairs

Being endorsed on a vulcanite table, lines of washing
Feebly garish among grimy brick and dour
Iron fire-escapes; barrows of cement are rumbling
Up airy planks; a florist adds a flower

To a bouquet that is bound for somebody’s beloved
Or for someone ill; in a sombre board-room great
Problems wait to be solved or shelved. The city
Goes on but you, you will probably find, must wait

Till something or other turns up. Something-or-Other
Becomes an unexpected angel from the sky;
But do not trust the sky, that blue that looks so candid
Is non-committal, frigid as a harlot’s eye.

Gangways – the handclasp of the land. The resurrected,
The brisk or resigned Lazaruses, who want
Another chance, go trooping ashore. But chances
Are dubious. Fate is stingy, recalcitrant.

And officialdom greets them blankly as they fumble
Their foreign-looking baggage; they still feel
The movement of the ship while through their imagination
The known and the unheard-of constellations wheel.

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This poem appeared just about a year after MacNeice visited America where he met Auden and Isherwood amongst other prominent figures during a short lecture tour. It appeared at a time of extreme danger for Britain:- Dunkirk was a recent event and The Blitz too was starting. I am of the opinion that Auden and Isherwood need little justification for having left the country. They had worked bravely on “Journey to War” in Manchuria and Isherwood’s novels gave a clear insight into the rise of the Nazis and the persecution of leftists, Jewish people and so on. That is by the way, since although this poem could be considered in some ways slight, it has interesting parallels with the comparable plight of refugees today. Given Trump, entering America has become extremely difficult in the past year. In addition, it gives an insight into the New York seascape and skyline which I seem to remember has been written about movingly by two Jewish exiles, Rose Ausländer (Januar in New York) and I think, Mischa Kalako.

The poem itself is obviously of it’s time and the first line is rather brutal on facial characteristics. There are some interesting words like ‘milliner’ and ‘vulcanite’ that have dropped out of common parlance rather. I particularly like-‘Into the hinterland of their own future’ which suggests the confusion of trying to find in a new environment some reference to the land left behind. It also contains, I think, perhaps unconsciously, reference to  MacNeice’s hinterland as an Irish born poet as well as much effective and ambivalent use of religious imagery. His father became a bishop of the Anglican Church of Ireland.

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Tobago Fruits by Roger Robinson

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There was the pink firm flesh of the watermelons.

There were julie mangos that smelled like honey,

yellow bananas with black spots,

rare seasonal caimats weeping milk at their stems,

rows of white yellow pawpaws. I was in transit

in Tobago and had a few hours to kill

before I flew back to England.

I bought green oranges and sliced pineapple

salted and peppered in a clear plastic bag.

She offered me some water and asked Where you from?

From right here. She shook her head You’re not from here lately

She had her hair tied in a bright white headtie

and her army green shirt was buttoned to the top.

If you’re looking for a wife I could cook and clean, maybe?

I ent have no children I doh cause no trouble

I real quiet and lovin’. I looked at her for a minute

and told her that I don’t deserve a woman sweet like her.

She gave me a free extra mango and I kissed her cheek

and on the plane I thought where is home now,

and what will become of my Tobago fruit wife.

(From “In their own words” by Ivory and Szirtes)

 

The Butterfly Farm by Medbh McGuckian

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The film of a butterfly ensures that it is dead:
Its silence like the green cocoon of the car-wash,
Its passion for water to uncloud.

In the Japanese tea house they believe
In making the most of the bright nights:
That the front of a leaf is male, the back female.

There are grass stains on their white stockings;
In artificial sun even the sound are disposable;
The mosaic of their wings is spun from blood.

Cyanide in the killing jar relaxes the Indian moon moth,
The pearl-bordered beauty, the clouded yellow,
The painted lady, the silver-washed blue.

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I think this is a really interesting and beautiful poem and found in a collection by Ruth Padel at https://www.amazon.co.uk/52-Ways-Looking-At-Poem/dp/0099429152/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510774406&sr=1-3&keywords=ruth+padel

THE HEART’S MEMORY OF THE SUN GROWS FAINTT

THE HEART’S MEMORY OF THE SUN GROWS FAINT
by Anna Akhmatova

The heart’s memory of the sun grows faint.
The grass is yellower.
A few early snowflakes blow in the wind,
Barely, barely.

The narrow canals have stopped flowing —
The water is chilling.
Nothing will ever happen here —
Oh, never!

The willow spreads its transparent fan
Against the empty sky.
Perhaps I should not have become
Your wife.

The heart’s memory of the sun grows faint.
What’s this? Darkness?
It could be!… One night brings winter’s first
Hard freeze

Charles Baudelaire-Parfum Exotique

Quand, les deux yeux fermés, en un soir chaud d’automne,
Je respire l’odeur de ton sein chaleureux,
Je vois se dérouler des rivages heureux
Qu’éblouissent les feux d’un soleil monotone ;

Une île paresseuse où la nature donne
Des arbres singuliers et des fruits savoureux ;
Des hommes dont le corps est mince et vigoureux,
Et des femmes dont l’œil par sa franchise étonne.

Guidé par ton odeur vers de charmants climats,
Je vois un port rempli de voiles et de mâts
Encor tout fatigués par la vague marine,

Pendant que le parfum des verts tamariniers,
Qui circule dans l’air et m’enfle la narine,
Se mêle dans mon âme au chant des mariniers.

Translation on https://www.frenchtoday.com/french-poetry-reading/poem-parfum-exotique-baudelaire

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Simone Weil on Education

Although people seem to be unaware of it today, the development of the faculty of attention forms the real object and almost the sole interest of studies. Most school tasks have a certain intrinsic interest as well, but such an interest is secondary. All tasks that really call upon the power of attention are interesting for the same reason and to an almost equal degree. ( On the right use of School Studies with a view to the Love of God)

Entre deux coeurs qui s’aiment, nul besoin de paroles.

Le Pont Mirabeau

Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine

Et nos amours

Faut-il qu’il m’en souvienne

La joie venait toujours après la peine.

Vienne la nuit sonne l’heure

Les jours s’en vont je demeure

Les mains dans les mains restons face à face

Tandis que sousLe pont de nos bras passe

Des éternels regards l’onde si lasse

Vienne la nuit sonne l’heure

Les jours s’en vont je demeure

L’amour s’en va comme cette eau courante

L’amour s’en va Comme la vie est lente

Et comme l’Espérance est violente

Vienne la nuit sonne l’heure

Les jours s’en vont je demeure

Passent les jours et passent les semaines

Ni temps passé

Ni les amours reviennent

Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine

Guillaume Apollinaire (1912)

There is a translation at https://www.talkinfrench.com/french-poems-english-translations/

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