“Rule Britannia” by James Thomson (1700 – 1748)


“Rule Britannia”

When Britain first, at heaven’s command,
    Arose from out the azure main,
This was the charter of the land,
    And guardian angels sung this strain—
       “Rule, Britannia, rule the waves;
       Britons never will be slaves.”
The nations, not so blest as thee,
    Must in their turns to tyrants fall;
While thou shalt flourish great and free,
    The dread and envy of them all.
       “Rule, Britannia, rule the waves;
       Britons never will be slaves.”
Still more majestic shalt thou rise,
    More dreadful from each foreign stroke;
As the loud blast that tears the skies
    Serves but to root thy native oak.
       “Rule, Britannia, rule the waves;
       Britons never will be slaves.”
Thee haughty tyrants ne’er shall tame;
    All their attempts to bend thee down,
Will but arouse thy generous flame,
    But work their woe and thy renown.
       “Rule, Britannia, rule the waves;
       Britons never will be slaves.”
To thee belongs the rural reign;
    Thy cities shall with commerce shine;
All thine shall be the subject main,
    And every shore it circles thine.
       “Rule, Britannia, rule the waves;
       Britons never will be slaves.”
The Muses, still with freedom found,
    Shall to thy happy coast repair:
Blest isle! with matchless beauty crowned,
    And manly hearts to guard the fair.
       “Rule, Britannia, rule the waves;
       Britons never will be slaves.”
Source: The Longman Anthology of Poetry (2006)

“Clowns’ Houses” by Edith Sitwell (1887 – 1964)


Clowns’ Houses

by EDITH SITWELL

BENEATH the flat and paper sky

The sun, a demon’s eye,
Glowed through the air, that mask of glass;
All wand’ring sounds that pass

Seemed out of tune, as if the light
Were fiddle-strings pulled tight.
The market-square with spire and bell
Clanged out the hour in Hell;

The busy chatter of the heat
Shrilled like a parakeet;
And shuddering at the noonday light
The dust lay dead and white

As powder on a mummy’s face,
Or fawned with simian grace
Round booths with many a hard bright toy
And wooden brittle joy:

The cap and bells of Time the Clown
That, jangling, whistled down
Young cherubs hidden in the guise
Of every bird that flies;

And star-bright masks for youth to wear,
Lest any dream that fare
–Bright pilgrim–past our ken, should see
Hints of Reality.

Upon the sharp-set grass, shrill-green,
Tall trees like rattles lean,
And jangle sharp and dissily;
But when night falls they sign

Till Pierrot moon steals slyly in,
His face more white than sin,
Black-masked, and with cool touch lays bare
Each cherry, plum, and pear.

Then underneath the veiled eyes
Of houses, darkness lies–
Tall houses; like a hopeless prayer
They cleave the sly dumb air.

Blind are those houses, paper-thin
Old shadows hid therein,
With sly and crazy movements creep
Like marionettes, and weep.

Tall windows show Infinity;
And, hard reality,
The candles weep and pry and dance
Like lives mocked at by Chance.

The rooms are vast as Sleep within;
When once I ventured in,
Chill Silence, like a surging sea,
Slowly enveloped me.

Dame Edith Louisa Sitwell

“What the Goose-Girl Said About the Dean” by EDITH SITWELL (1887 – 1964)


What the Goose-Girl Said About the Dean

Turn again, turn again,
Goose Clothilda, Goosie Jane.
Bright wooden waves of people creak
From houses built with coloured straws
Of heat; Dean Pasppus’ long nose snores
Harsh as a hautbois, marshy-weak.
The wooden waves of people creak
Through the fields all water-sleek.
And in among the straws of light
Those bumpkin hautbois-sounds take flight.
Whence he lies snoring like the moon
Clownish-white all afternoon.
Beneath the trees’ arsenical
Sharp woodwind tunes; heretical—
Blown like the wind’s mane
(Creaking woodenly again).
His wandering thoughts escape like geese
Till he, their gooseherd, sets up chase,
And clouds of wool join the bright race
For scattered old simplicities.
from Coterie, 1919

“By Candlelight” by Edith Sitwell (1887 – 1964)


"By Candlelight"
BY EDITH SITWELL
Houses red as flower of bean,
Flickering leaves and shadows lean!
Pantalone, like a parrot,
Sat and grumbled in the garret—
Sat and growled and grumbled till 
Moon upon the window-sill
Like a red geranium
Scented his bald cranium.
Said Brighella, meaning well:
“Pack your box and—go to Hell!
Heat will cure your rheumatism!” . . .
Silence crowned this optimism—
Not a sound and not a wail:
But the fire (lush leafy vales)
Watched the angry feathers fly.
Pantalone ’gan to cry—
Could not, would not, pack his box!
Shadows (curtseying hens and cocks)
Pecking in the attic gloom
Tried to smother his tail-plume . . .
Till a cockscomb candle-flame
Crowing loudly, died: Dawn came.

“Little Red-Cap” by CAROL ANN DUFFY


Little Red-Cap

BY CAROL ANN DUFFY | 2 MINS

(Read Carol Ann Duffy‘s Biography)

At childhood’s end, the houses petered out

into playing fields, the factory, allotments

kept, like mistresses, by kneeling married men,

the silent railway line, the hermit’s caravan,

till you came at last to the edge of the woods.

It was there that I first clapped eyes on the wolf.

He stood in a clearing, reading his verse out loud

in his wolfy drawl, a paperback in his hairy paw,

red wine staining his bearded jaw. What big ears

he had! What big eyes he had! What teeth!

In the interval, I made quite sure he spotted me,

sweet sixteen, never been, babe, waif, and bought me a drink,

my first. You might ask why. Here’s why. Poetry.

The wolf, I knew, would lead me deep into the woods,

away from home, to a dark tangled thorny place

lit by the eyes of owls. I crawled in his wake,

my stockings ripped to shreds, scraps of red from my blazer

snagged on twig and branch, murder clues. I lost both shoes

but got there, wolf’s lair, better beware. Lesson one that night,

breath of the wolf in my ear, was the love poem.

I clung till dawn to his thrashing fur, for

what little girl doesn’t dearly love a wolf?

Then I slid from between his heavy matted paws

and went in search of a living bird – white dove –

which flew, straight, from my hands to his open mouth.

One bite, dead. How nice, breakfast in bed, he said,

licking his chops. As soon as he slept, I crept to the back

of the lair, where a whole wall was crimson, gold, aglow with books.

Words, words were truly alive on the tongue, in the head,

warm, beating, frantic, winged; music and blood.

But then I was young – and it took ten years

in the woods to tell that a mushroom

stoppers the mouth of a buried corpse, that birds

are the uttered thought of trees, that a greying wolf

howls the same old song at the moon, year in, year out,

season after season, same rhyme, same reason. I took an axe

to a willow to see how it wept. I took an axe to a salmon

to see how it leapt. I took an axe to the wolf

as he slept, one chop, scrotum to throat, and saw

the glistening, virgin white of my grandmother’s bones.

I filled his old belly with stones. I stitched him up.

Out of the forest I come with my flowers, singing, all alone.

“The Christian to His Dying Soul”


Vital spark of heav’nly flame!
Quit, O quit this mortal frame:
Trembling, hoping, ling’ring, flying,
O the pain, the bliss of dying!
Cease, fond Nature, cease thy strife,
And let me languish into life.

Hark! they whisper; angels say,
Sister Spirit, come away!
What is this absorbs me quite?
Steals my senses, shuts my sight,
Drowns my spirits, draws my breath?
Tell me, my soul, can this be death?

The world recedes; it disappears!
Heav’n opens on my eyes! my ears
With sounds seraphic ring!
Lend, lend your wings! I mount! I fly!
O Grave! where is thy victory?
O Death! where is thy sting?

“He Who Serves” by Edgar Albert Guest


He has not served who gathers gold,
Nor has he served, whose life is told
In selfish battles he has won,
Or deeds of skill that he has done;
But he has served who now and then
Has helped along his fellow men.

The world needs many men today;
Red-blooded men along life’s way,
With cheerful smiles and helping hands,
And with the faith that understands
The beauty of the simple deed
Which serves another’s hour of need.

Strong men to stand beside the weak,
Kind men to hear what others speak;
True men to keep our country’s laws
And guard its honor and its cause;
Men who will bravely play life’s game
Nor ask rewards of gold and fame.

Teach me to do the best I can
To help and cheer our fellow man;
Teach me to lose my selfish need
And glory in the larger deed
Which smoothes the road, and lights the day
For all who chance to come my way.