Featured Poem: ‘At Burscough, Lancashire’

Helen Tookey is a Liverpool-based writer and editor. Her collection of poetry, Telling the Fractures, a collaboration with photographer Alan Ward, was published in May 2008. The poems tell of love, death, and time, of childhood and the passing of generations. The poem ‘At Burscough, Lancashire,’ first appeared in The Reader, issue 27 and tells of West Lancashire’s ‘moss’, a flatland that was once a vast lake.

At Burscough, Lancashire

Lancashire’s Martin Mere was the largest lake in England when it was first drained to reclaim land for farming, in 1697.

Out on the ghost lake, what’s lost
is everywhere: murmuring in names
on the map, tasted in salt winds
that scour the topsoil, westerlies
that wrenched out oaks and pines, buried now
in choked black ranks, heads towards the east.
Cloudshadows ripple the grasses as the seines
rippled over the mere by night, fishervoices calling
across dark water. Underfoot, the flatlands’
black coffers lie rich with the drowned.

Featured Poem: Amy Lowell, ‘Carrefour’

This week’s poem is selected by poet Rebecca Goss.

The word ‘carrefour’ means crossroads, a heady, allegorical title, but we have been at the very edge of something happening here.  Considering when Lowell was writing, it makes me like this poem even more.  Such sexual urgency and vulnerability, how passive ‘she’ is to her visitor, lying down, wet from bathing.  Such submission to the violent feeling of love and yet love’s beauty is here too.  Look at that language, ‘strangle’, ‘wild’, ‘mercy’, mixed with the delicate purity of ‘bees’ and ‘white honey’.  The word ‘strangle’ is an interesting one.  Lowell’s use of dense sensual imagery (all five senses employed in seven lines), leaves the reader at the end, as breathless as the voice in the poem.


O you,
Who came upon me once
Stretched under apple-trees just after bathing
Why did you not strangle me before speaking
Rather than fill me with the wild white honey of your words
And then leave me to the mercy
Of the forest bees?

Amy Lowell (1874-1925)


Rebecca Goss is a Liverpool poet whose work has appeared in  literary magazines including The Reader, Ambit, Stand, Magma, Mslexia, The Interpreter’s House and Smiths Knoll. She regularly gives readings in the city and you can next hear her read on Thursday July 24th, at the Costa Poetry Readings Series, Costa Coffee, Bold Street, Liverpool, 7.30pm.  She is also supporting Paul Durcan at The Bluecoat Centre, School Lane, Liverpool, Wednesday October 15th, 2008 and is ‘coming soon’ on http://poetrypf.co.uk, a directory of modern poets, where you will be able to read some of her work and discover her favourite poetry links.

Featured Poem: George Herbert, ‘The Flower’

Issue 30 of The Reader magazine has rejuvenation as its theme and takes its title “I live and write” from George Herbert’s poem, ‘The Flower’, described by S. T. Coleridge as ‘a delicious poem’. Here it is in full for your enjoyment:

The Flower

How Fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean
Are thy returns! ev’n as the flowers in spring;
To which, besides their own demean,
The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring.
Grief melts away
Like snow in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.

Who would have thought my shrivel’d heart
Could have recover’d greennesse? It was gone
Quite under ground; as flowers depart
To see their mother-root, when they have blown;
Where they together
All the hard weather,
Dead to the world, keep house unknown.

These are thy wonders, Lord of power,
Killing and quickning, bringing down to hell
And up to heaven in an houre;
Making a chiming of a passing-bell,
We say amisse,
This or that is:
Thy word is all, if we could spell.

O that I once past changing were;
Fast in thy Paradise, where no flower can wither!
Many a spring I shoot up fair,
Offring at heav’n, growing and groaning thither:
Nor doth my flower
Want a spring-showre,
My sinnes and I joining together;

But while I grow to a straight line;
Still upwards bent, as if heav’n were mine own,
Thy anger comes, and I decline:
What frost to that? what pole is not the zone,
Where all things burn,
When thou dost turn,
And the least frown of thine is shown?

And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing: O my only light,
It cannot be
That I am he
On whom thy tempests fell all night.

These are thy wonders, Lord of love,
To make us see we are but flowers that glide:
Which when we once can finde and prove,
Thou hast a garden for us, where to bide.
Who would be more,
Swelling through store,
Forfeit their Paradise by their pride.

–George Herbert


Have you voted in our Richard and Judy Classics reader poll? If not you can do so here.

And did you know that you can now download The Reader magazine issue 29 for free? Visit the downloads page here.

Featured Poem: Emily Dickinson, ‘With a flower’

Emily Dickinson is one of the most popular and well known American poets, but also among the most difficult to understand. Her poetry has an attractive simplicity and despite the clear-headed way with which she addresses subjects like death, there is also a softness in her work. This poem, ‘With a flower’ is among her best known. Flowers are often used by poets as symbols of the fragility of love, or life, but here Dickinson writes–as she does so often–at one remove. Not only is the supposed lover unaware of the writer’s presence hiding ‘within my flower’ but the flower dying in the vase is just that. Dickinson’s realism is such that the lover is unsuspecting and the loneliness not quite even that:

I hide myself within my flower,
That wearing on your breast,
You, unsuspecting, wear me too —
And angels know the rest.

I hide myself within my flower,
That, fading from your vase,
You, unsuspecting, feel for me
Almost a loneliness.

Posted by Chris Routledge

Featured Poem: Ephemera, by W.B Yeats

This week’s poem is recommended by Kirsty McHugh of the OUP Blog and Otherstories. Thanks Kirsty.

I only read this poem by Yeats recently because of an essay I was writing, but I was immediately struck by the sadness and resignation that runs through it. We see a couple in the autumn of their relationship, and we overhear their final conversation: the muted agreement that the “love is waning”. While the poem itself is shot through with the imagery that came to characterize Yeats’s early work of nature, trees, and the cyclical life of the soul, it is also one of the most poignant and stunning evocations of dying love that I have ever read.

Ephemera by WB Yeats (written 1884, published 1889)

‘Your eyes that once were never weary of mine
Are bowed in sorrow under pendulous lids,
Because our love is waning.’

And then she:
‘Although our love is waning, let us stand
By the lone border of the lake once more,
Together in that hour of gentleness
When the poor tired child, Passion, falls asleep:
How far away the stars seem, and how far
Is our first kiss, and ah, how old my heart!’

Pensive they paced along the faded leaves,
While slowly he whose hand held hers replied:
‘Passion has often worn our wandering hearts.’

The woods were round them, and the yellow leaves
Fell like faint meteors in the gloom, and once
A rabbit old and lame limped down the path;
Autumn was over him: and now they stood
On the lone border of the lake once more:
Turning, he saw that she had thrust dead leaves
Gathered in silence, dewy as her eyes,
In bosom and hair.

‘Ah, do not mourn,’ he said,
‘That we are tired, for other loves await us;
Hate on and love through unripining hours.
Before us lies eternity; our souls
Are love, and a continual farewell.’

Featured Poem: When We Two Parted

Byron’s poem ‘When We Two Parted’ is one of the most famous of all love poems and probably the greatest of all ‘breakup’ poems. But the most striking thing for me is the way this poem cuts through sentimentality to offer a direct and emotionally true realisation of how things will be: the lover will be left in ‘silence and tears’ while the loved, who has moved on, apparently feels nothing. This kind of tough Romanticism was called hard-boiled when Hemingway did it a century or so later in the 1920s.

When We Two Parted

When we two parted
In silence and tears,
Half broken-hearted
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.

The dew of the morning
Sunk chill on my brow–
It felt like the warning
Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
And light is thy fame:
I hear thy name spoken,
And share in its shame.

They name thee before me,
A knell to mine ear;
A shudder comes o’er me–
Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee,
Who knew thee too well:
Long, long shall I rue thee,
Too deeply to tell.

In secret we met–
In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?
With silence and tears.

Featured Poem: from Dr. Faustus

We’re stretching the definition of ‘poem’ a little bit this week to enjoy this famous speech from Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragicall History of Dr Faustus. Near the end of the play Faustus seems to be reneging on his deal with Lucifer. Mephistopheles, trying to keep Faustus’ soul for his Lord thinks out loud: “I cannot touch his soul; / But what I may afflict his body with / I will attempt, which is but little worth.” Faustus chooses Helen of Troy, “Whose sweet embracings may extinguish clean / Those thoughts that do dissuade me from my vow, / And keep mine oath I made to Lucifer”. Then she appears and he is lost:

Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium–
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.–
Her lips suck forth my soul: see, where it flies!–
Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again.
Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips,
And all is dross that is not Helena.
I will be Paris, and for love of thee,
Instead of Troy, shall Wertenberg be sack’d;
And I will combat with weak Menelaus,
And wear thy colours on my plumed crest;
Yea, I will wound Achilles in the heel,
And then return to Helen for a kiss.
O, thou art fairer than the evening air
Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars;
Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter
When he appear’d to hapless Semele;
More lovely than the monarch of the sky
In wanton Arethusa’s azur’d arms;
And none but thou shalt be my paramour!


Text courtesy of the Gutenberg Project from the Quarto, 1604.

Posted by Chris Routledge

Featured Poem: ‘Lucy Gray’ by William Wordsworth

Wordsworth’s poem ‘Lucy Gray’ (1799) is one of his best known. Reading it recently with my daughter–who is fascinated with the idea of ghosts and not at all scared [so far – Ed.]–it struck me that apart from the obvious subject of the loss of a child, there is a very modern sort of guilt expressed here. For me the real horror in this poem is in the father going back to his work while the child goes out into the storm. Wordsworth’s rural poor no doubt had starvation nagging them should they slack off from work, where modern parents have mortgages and car payments, but Lucy Gray is there wherever there is an adult too busy to pay her enough attention.

Lucy Gray

Oft I had heard of Lucy Gray:
And, when I crossed the wild,
I chanced to see at break of day
The solitary child.

No mate, no comrade Lucy knew;
She dwelt on a wide moor,
–The sweetest thing that ever grew
Beside a human door!

You yet may spy the fawn at play,
The hare upon the green;
But the sweet face of Lucy Gray
Will never more be seen.

"To-night will be a stormy night–
You to the town must go;
And take a lantern, Child, to light
Your mother through the snow."

"That, Father! will I gladly do:
‘Tis scarcely afternoon–
The minster-clock has just struck two,
And yonder is the moon!"

At this the Father raised his hook,
And snapped a faggot-band;
He plied his work;–and Lucy took
The lantern in her hand.

Not blither is the mountain roe:
With many a wanton stroke
Her feet disperse the powdery snow,
That rises up like smoke.

The storm came on before its time:
She wandered up and down;
And many a hill did Lucy climb:
But never reached the town.

The wretched parents all that night
Went shouting far and wide;
But there was neither sound nor sight
To serve them for a guide.

At day-break on a hill they stood
That overlooked the moor;
And thence they saw the bridge of wood,
A furlong from their door.

They wept–and, turning homeward, cried,
"In heaven we all shall meet;"
–When in the snow the mother spied
The print of Lucy’s feet.

Then downwards from the steep hill’s edge
They tracked the footmarks small;
And through the broken hawthorn hedge,
And by the long stone-wall;

And then an open field they crossed:
The marks were still the same;
They tracked them on, nor ever lost;
And to the bridge they came.

They followed from the snowy bank
Those footmarks, one by one,
Into the middle of the plank;
And further there were none!

–Yet some maintain that to this day
She is a living child;
That you may see sweet Lucy Gray
Upon the lonesome wild.

O’er rough and smooth she trips along,
And never looks behind;
And sings a solitary song
That whistles in the wind.


Posted by Chris Routledge. Powered by Qumana