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SPENDER, Stephen

The Double Shame

You must live through the time when everything hurts

When the space of the ripe, loaded afternoon

Expands to a landscape of white heat frozen

And trees are weighed down with hearts of stone

And green stares back where you stare alone,

And the walking eyes throw flinty comments,

And the words which carry most knives are the blind

Phrases searching to be kind.

Solid and usual objects are ghosts

The furniture carries cargoes of memory,

The staircase has corners which remember

As fire blows reddest in gusty embers,

And each empty dress cuts out an image

In fur and evening and summer and spring

of her who was different in each.

Pull down the blind and lie on the bed

And clasp the hour in the glass of one room

Against your mouth like a crystal doom.

Take up the book and stare at the letters

Hieroglyphs on sand and as meaningless –

Here birds crossed once and a foot once trod

In a mist where sight and sound are blurred.

The story of others who made their mistakes

And of one whose happiness pierced like a star

Eludes and evades between sentences

And the letters break into eyes which read

The story life writes now in your head

As though the characters sought for some clue

To their being transcendently living and dead

In your history, worse than theirs, but true.

Set in the mind of their poet, they compare

Their tragic sublime with your tawdry despair

And they have fingers which accuse

You of the double way of shame.

At first you did not love enough

And afterwards you loved too much

And you lacked the confidence to choose

And you have only yourself to blame.

Ultima Ratio Regum

The guns spell money's ultimate reason
In letters of lead on the spring hillside.
But the boy lying dead under the olive trees
Was too young and too silly
To have been notable to their important eye.
He was a better target for a kiss.

When he lived, tall factory hooters never summoned him.
Nor did restaurant plate-glass doors revolve to wave him in.
His name never appeared in the papers.
The world maintained its traditional wall
Round the dead with their gold sunk deep as a well,
Whilst his life, intangible as a Stock Exchange rumour, drifted outside.

O too lightly he threw down his cap
One day when the breeze threw petals from the trees.
The unflowering wall sprouted with guns,
Machine-gun anger quickly scythed the grasses;
Flags and leaves fell from hands and branches;
The tweed cap rotted in the nettles.

Consider his life which was valueless
In terms of employment, hotel ledgers, news files.
Consider. One bullet in ten thousand kills a man.
Ask. Was so much expenditure justified
On the death of one so young and so silly
Lying under the olive tree, O world, O death?

O night O trembling night O night of sighs

O night when my body was a rod O night

When my mouth was a vague animal cry

Pasturing on her flesh O night

When the close darkness was a nest

Made of her hair and filled with my eyes

(O stars impenetrable above

The fragile tent poled with our thighs

Among the petals falling fields of time

O night revolving all our dark away)

O day O gradual day O sheeted light

Covering her body as with dews

Until I brushed her sealing sleep away

To read once more in the uncurtained day

Her naked love, my great good news.


At Dawn she lay with her profile at that angle

Which, when she sleeps, seems the carved face of an angel.

Her hair a harp, the hand of a breeze follows

And plays, against the white cloud of the pillows.

Then, in a flush of rose, she woke, and her eyes that opened

Swam in blue through her rose flesh that dawned.

From her dew of lips, the drop of one word

Fell like the first of fountains: murmured

'Darling', upon my ears the song of the first bird.

'My dream becomes my dream,' she said, 'come true.

I waken from you to my dream of you.'

Oh, my own wakened dream then dared assume

The audacity of her sleep. Our dreams

Poured into each other's arms, like streams.


I hear the cries of evening, while the paw

Of dark creeps up the turf;

Sheep’s bleating, swaying gulls’ cry, the rook’s caw,

The hammering surf.

I am inconstant yet this constancy

Of natural rest twangs at my heart;

Town-bred, I feel the roots of each earth-cry

Tear me apart.

These are the creakings of the dusty day

When the dog night bites sharp,

These fingers grip my soul and tear away,

And pluck me like a harp.

I feel this huge sphere turn, the great wheel sing,

While beasts move to their ease:

Sheep’s love, gull’s peace – I feel my chattering

Uncared by these.