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To Ana at San Gimignano,  Good Friday 2000


In the garden at San Gimignano

I thought of you

and how we would no longer be together

for all eternity


It was midnight and I stared

up at the stone wall of the palazzo

under the gaze of a yellow moon

that was no longer full


And I thought, in the stillness, of us

and how we had almost made it

and the four years of our lives

lost in some dark hole

of vague and cloudy regrets.


And I thought bitterly of our time

together but not together

and of our strange destiny which led us

to love but not enough


And I wonder if what it brought us

is more than what it took away

whether it will leave us both feeling sadder

and more betrayed, or more fulfilled


when we each look back on it some day

ten years or so down the road

in another garden, at another midnight

when we have long gone from each other's lives.










In Palmy Lands (1981)


In palmy lands, by sunny seas

On beaches, beneath leafy trees

I lay with my young love at ease

And smoked the weed of vision.


We watched the idle days go by

In dreams that danced across the sky

And changed the world in our mind's eye

As though it were illusion.


But worlds they do not change so fast,

Men's minds do not escape the past;

The maddest ways of life outlast

All efforts at revision.


In time we came to see our cult

As remnants of a failed revolt

Against a madness none could halt

Before the last confusion.


In palmy lands, when I was young,

I little dreamed I would be one

To curse the setting of the sun

And hold life in derision.






















Autumn of the Missiles (1983)


Pulling on my boots

I think of the missiles

and pile another argument

against oblivion.


Like a wind inside my head

the madness of the time

beats at my brain.

-- Can it be

those who seem sane, walking

normally, talking casually, are all

sleepwalking towards the fire?

What words


Can scale this madness, compass this terror?


No sign from above!

No smile from the stars!


Not a breath of wind stirring

as mankind

drifts to annihilation.





















Hermit's Cell, Rishikesh




I sit outside my hut

overlooking the quiet river

waiting for darkness

and for the swami to call me for dinner.


Three days I have been alone here

and meditation has done nothing for me

sick, tired

seeking peace bores me.


Now I look at the little river

turning pink in the sunset

below the fingers of the tree.

I ask: what was I looking for?





The little circles in the pond

made by insects dipping wings

or by the snapping of invisible fish

they are like silent tear-drops

falling, falling

for the waste of a life

for my non-attainment





What is this sickness?

It is called Not-Having-Written.

What is its cure?

To talk again to that old friend and accomplice

the other ego of my pen

the eternal listener of my mind





I light a small candle

left by another

and admire the white sculptures of its

fallen leaves of wax.


                                                                                                                   Rishikesh 1976







The Writer of Tragedies


When I look back on the waste

the years of futile action in the war of words

the battles I have fought to a savage stalemate on ream

after ream of paper, struggling in the midnight hours

with the devils of disorder and mutiny, brutally conscripting

thousands of days to this imaginary campaign

this hundred years' war of the mind, and when I think

not one of these battles reported to the world

not one bay-leaf, not one historian's footnote,

not one dispatch got through to tell the tale

of slaughtered lives and victory, then the pen

falters sometimes on the page, then the piles

of rotting manuscripts become heaps of corpses

that stink in my nostrils, crying out for fire

to put an end to all.


What lunacy was it

launched my mind to sail on a dead sea

to besiege a lost city? The Muse of Tragedy --

when I began to serve that divinity, how little

I knew how she would triumph over me

how she drags her devotees by chains through the feet

seven times round the walls of Troy, and then throws

their bodies to the dogs.


    After such dismemberment

What resurrection?      
















Les Gorges du Tarn


Happy and released I wake from my meditation

and on the fresh world I look in the sloping glare

of the fleeing fireball, all my sense acid clear

and me under the delicate fronds of the perfect grass,


against the ice-age sky


Empty I know the world of all purpose and delirium

empty the earth of thought and full of child-colour

exquisite shades on the grass-seeds, pebbles, thorn-buds

and bird wings of the earth -- lines also curved

beyond measurement

like stalks in the wind

                                       and bird notes full of the harmony

of spirits that communicate nothing.  


And I, my wandering days begun, never to be finished

take my transient eye's palette and paint once


this beauty of scene on my hollow memory,

                                                                        tomorrow's vision

to blot it out in the endless negligence of pleasure

the onceness of all but oblivion.


Claude's cherry farm, Aguessac, June 1975



















St James' Park, 1978


(MRS PINCHWIFE: Pray sister, where are the best fields and woods to walk in, in London?

ALITHEA               : Why sister, Mulberry Garden and St James' Park.

Wycherley, The Country Wife)


Lying in St James' Park under a tree

with an American hash-smuggler

just out of jail in India

and an Italian girl junkie

my current lay

who reads T.S.Eliot to me at night

in between zombie bouts of the needle

and talks of the Red Brigades


Lying stoned on Moroccan hash

bought in some punk-rock pub the night before

we watch the ducks go sailing and the procession

of Londoners seeking peace and quiet

among the trees and grass.


As each of us floats on his own dope dream

delivered to the whims and back alleys of the mind

I sail down the dark of London's past

down the rotting river of time

into dead sunshine's ragged company.


On the banks of old canals

I drift among those idle spirits

who lived on the scruffy edges of the times

the penniless scribblers, unknown poets

drifters and gamblers

misfits, thieves

who sat here once maybe to muse

in quiet under a shady tree

on the incurable madness of their age.


I wonder idly how much has changed

in all this time, if they too

sat in their cabalistic rags

a fashion of their own

and surveyed that ordered world

where good men swung from gallows trees

and wealth hung at my lady's ear

that could feed a town for a year

while in Calcutta's slums in Cheapside spawned

child whores hawked skin and bone.


What curses did they mutter on this spot

against a mad world with no way out?

What struggle was it then to keep their reason

against the age's mental poison?


Did they like us form friendship's hold

based on the hatred of the world?

And did they sometimes dream of future times

and curse the slowness of men's minds?


And did they sometimes take a break

from the long fight to stay awake

            by letting mind float up

            launched by pipe or cup

            to a realm on high

where visionaries journey when they die?


I think of this as I lie here

in gentle company

with my junkie lay and jailbird friend

drifting with the dope smoke through the trees.

It gives me much pleasure to imagine

my confreres, the lost poets of other times,

stoned on this same spot, with these same thoughts,

while time's black wings hover over London.









To Any Girl  (Autumn 2006)


I saw your father this morning

You were two and a half years old

You leaned against a shop window

Watching your breath blur it.


He knelt down at your feet

To straighten your little white socks

In your little yellow shoes.


His giant frame was bent in three

His cowlick grazed your blond curls

As he frowned seriously at his task

While you gazed at your reflection


I saw your father there

And mine too

And his father, and his.

I saw all the fathers of the world.

It happened in a flash as I walked to work









Under a Full Moon at Rapallo

Easter Week 2007


The full moon over the castle at Rapallo

Reminds me of the full moon over the mosque at Cordoba

Seen from the bridge over the vast river

Contemplating a thousand years of history.


And that moon in turn makes me think of another moon

Above the sea on Formentera, beside the rocks

Outside the Spartan guest-house where I stayed alone

For the first time, after my divorce.

Or the moon in the garden where Renate danced

Naked under the grapevines in a Cretan village,

Or the moon that used to guide me up the winding road

From the seashore to my house in Valle Gran Rey

Which cast a shadow just like in the song.

And the moons I lay on the grass and contemplated

On summer nights at my old farmhouse in Burgundy,

Wishing on the shooting stars.


What moons did I see over Lake Atitlan

In Guatemala that I have now forgotten?

Or in the outback, after the galahs

Had done their mad, riotous sunset circuit

And gone finally to roost?  But one moon

Sticks in my mind, many years before that

High above the full moon party at Goa

On Anjuna beach, how we watched it rise and fall

Following its path across the sky

Between the dancing, the joints, the chapattis cooked by the old ladies

On their little camp stoves, the cups of tea

Brought by the eager boys

Till the colours seeped back into the trees

And the strains of Strauss's Zarathustra announced

The first fiery rim of sun above the sea.


So we live from moon to moon, and every place

Where we have contemplated moon or stars comes back to us

Like a lost love, a lost moment in time

Recovered by memory.

                                    And I thought tonight

As I looked out over the sea at Rapallo

The castle and the moon -- what if this love affair

Is unrequited, what if we imagine the earth

Returns our love when it is cold and empty?

What does it matter? It is our love that counts

Not whether there is a God that makes our story

A happy one, it is the love itself

That gives meaning, and whether the Secret Listener

Is really there is immaterial.

What if

Our love for earth is like those demented lovers

Suffering from erotomania, who imagine

All their life long some king or princess loves them

And is showing them secret signs, what if our love

For earth is as deluded as that love,

What does it matter? It is our love story

That we have lived-- tragic, sad or deluded

Is all one-- we have lived in love and felt

The passion in our veins. If life itself

Is a cold, hostile and indifferent process 

Which grinds our dreams to dust, it does not matter,

So long as we have lived in passionate faith 

That has raised our existence from the dust

And made it drama. That is all that counts. 

If we have lived under the delusion of meaning

Where no meaning is, this act of deluded

Faith in meaning gives us meaning -- delusion

Is our truth. And whether objective truth

Exists or not is immaterial.


The artist who has lived his life believing

In his genius, dying unrewarded,

Unknown, unrecognized, has lived a faith,

A vocation whose essence is in no way changed

By fame after his death. Whether he was Van Gogh

Or some eccentric on his own trip who will never

Be found fashionable by the trivial trends

Of a new age, it makes no difference.

His act of faith was the same. So with us

Whether the meaning that we give our lives

Proves in some final reckoning to be wrong  

Or right is not material --- what counts

Is to live in faith that what we do has meaning

And that faith gives it meaning. In the end

The only reality is the human world

Of our values-- if they do not transcend it

And nothing in the greater cosmos corresponds

To human sentiments, tant pis, we live

By our own standards, we do not need the universe

To justify us. If there is some spirit

In the cosmos that relates profoundly to us

So much the better; if there is none, too bad,

We are what we are -- our sentiments are ours,

Our values ours -- we have made this reality,

This drama of life, this fable of good and evil,

This infatuation with the beauty of the moon,

And it is ours -- by this we live and die,

Let the universe go hang.








Cinque Terre, Maundy Thursday Night 2007


A beautiful day in Cinque Terre

The beach at Moneglia --- quelle douceur de vivre!

In the late afternoon sun, on dune-soft sand,

The waves lapping the shore inside the line

Of rocks that form the sea break

Where seagulls nest and tirelessly cavort

With their wild, harsh cries.


And over to the left the hill with every house

Turned towards the setting sun

And above me on the other side the castle

And looking back the green and white striped steeple

Of the old church, caught in fleeting glimpses,

As you walk along the beach.

And the fish restaurant with the pretty waitress

Full of smiles, the play of the last supper

In the churchyard, before a crowd of parishioners,

A little solemn but effective-- such devotion,

As though it were a passionate part of their culture

In a way it is not for the French. The great story,

The greatest story ever told, still fresh here,

As though the scientific, rationalist revolution 

Had passed them by -- they cling to their fairy tale

Their tale of Christ, the greatest representation

Of the human condition ever -- of innocence betrayed,

Of tyranny and injustice trampling all over it,

And yet, not absolutely, not forever,

Truth and justice not dead permanently,

But rising again, because they represent

Some spirit of the cosmos, and man's highest values

Are deeply in harmony with the cosmos, are what the cosmos

Tends ultimately to produce -- what a story is there

To inspire millennia! By comparison with that

 What do the scientists and the rationalists have

To stir the soul?


What we must rediscover,

Is the true meaning of Christianity, how it has kept

Certain values alive, and has affirmed

A simple truth : man and his spiritual ideals

Are not an aberration, a lost cause

In a cold, impersonal cosmos -- we are the product

Of this cosmos, we are the highest form

Of life, and if we are what life tends towards,

Then we are in profound harmony with life,

And human values are the soul of the cosmos.

The God we have made in our own image is real

Because we are real, and what we are

All life tends to produce at its most complex:

A consciousness so sophisticated it can doubt

Even its own existence, and morally judge

The universe that made it. 


Therefore our moral nature is not alien

To an indifferent cosmos -- the whole cosmos

Has striven to produce our moral nature.

We are its soul, its living essence. Only in us

Does the cosmos have meaning (or in such other beings

On other planets that have reached our level

Or gone higher.)  Therefore our story is

Not peripheral to the cosmos but central,

Because the cosmos exists to produce life

And thinking beings are life's highest form.


If the universe

Is a machine for producing intelligence

If evolution is a process whereby

The inanimate becomes animate, the lifeless living,

The ignorant stone an animal, and animals

Progress in sophistication till they reach

Rationality, self-consciousness, and finally 

A moral conscience that can judge the whole process

Which produced them -- if all evolution

Tends to produce the highest consciousness,

Then this high consciousness must be at the core

Of life itself. That is the only rational

Conclusion from our situation-- that rationality

Lies at the innermost essence of the cosmos

Or it could not produce rationality.

That the highest consciousness, far from being

An aberration in an alien world

Is what the entire cosmos tends to produce.

And if it produces this, then this very consciousness

Is profoundly in harmony with the cosmos,

Is an end-product and goal and cannot merely be

An accidental by-product.  If it were so,

It would not happen again and again in cycles,

No matter how many species or races are destroyed,

As we now suspect has happened.  And everywhere

That life exists this process is in motion.


Thought is the goal of life and life itself

Can only therefore be thought -- on some level

Our thoughts are in harmony with the essence of the cosmos,

And being in harmony with it helps us to act.

That is what all religions and philosophies

Of contemplation teach at their core. And all the trappings

Of religious worship, prayer, meditation,

Bowing to the ground, are all simply methods

For putting the mind in order and aligning it

With the spirit of the cosmos. Whether we can

Evolve ways of aligning ourselves with the cosmos

Which do not require the crude trappings of religion

Is another question. Only the future will tell.

But it is time to cease this self-pitying whining,

This pretence that we are orphans in the universe,

Adrift on a planet without sympathy for us.

We evolved here, something made us what we are,

And that something lies at the heart of life.







 Postcards from another time


 Some of the people I was