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Voices in the Cave of Being


The poems here are referred to in discussions in Voices.

Poetry and the Headmaster’s Wife

The Inchcape Rock

No stir in the air, no stir in the sea,
The ship was still as she could be,
Her sails from heaven received no motion.
Her keel was steady in the ocean.

Without either sign or sound of their shock
The waves flowed over the Inchcape Rocj;
So little they rose, so little they fell,
They did not move the Inchcape Bell.

The good old Abbot of Aberbrothok
Had placed that bell on the Inchcape Rock;
On a buoy in the storm it floated and swung,
And over the waves its warning rung.

When the Rock was hid by the surge’s swell,
The mariners heard the warning bell;
And then they knew the perilous Rock,
And blest the Abbot of Aberbrothok.

The Sun in Heaven was shining gay,
All things were joyful on that day;
The sea-birds screamed as they wheeled around
And there was joyaunce in their sound.

The buoy of the Inchcape Bell was seen
A darker speck on the ocean green;
Sir Ralph the Rover walked his deck,
And he fixed his eye on the darker speck.

He felt the cheering power of spring,
It made him whistle, it made him sing;
His heart was mirthful to excess,
But the Rover’s mirth was wickedness.

His eye was on the Inchcape float;
Quoth he, “My men, put out the boat,
And row me to the Inchcape Rock,
And I’ll plague the Abbot of Aberbrothok.”

The boat was lowered, the boatmen row,
And to the Inchcape Rock they go;
Sir Ralph bent over from the boat,
And he cut the Bell from the Inchcape float.

Down sank the Bell with a gurgling sound,
The bubbles rose and burst around;
Quoth Sir Ralph,”The next who comes to the Rock
Won’t bless the Abbot of Aberbrothok.

Sir Ralph the Rover sailed away.
He scoured the seas for many a day;
And now grown rich with plundered store,
He steers his course for Scotland’s shore.

So thick a haze o’erspreads the sky
They cannot see the Sun on high;
The wind hath blown a gale all day,
At evening it hath died away.

On the deck the Rover takes his stand,
So dark it is they see no land.
Quoth Sir Ralph, “It will be lighter soon,
For there is the dawn of the rising Moon.”

“Canst hear,” said one, “the breakers roar?
For methinks we should be near the shore.”
“Now where we are I cannot tell,
But I wish I could hear the inchcape Bell.”

They hear no sound, the swell is strong;
Though the wind hath fallen they drift along.
Till the vessel strikes with a shivering shock,—
“Oh Christ! It is the Inchcape Rock!”

Sir Ralph the Rover tore his hair;
He curst himself in his despair;
The waves rush in on every side,
The ship is sinking beneath the tide.

But even in his dying fear
One dreadful sound could the Rover hear,
A sound as if with the Inchcape Bell,
The Devil below was ringing his knell.

Robert Southey

Bishop Hatto and the Rats (conclusion)

He listened and looked; . . . it was only the Cat;
But the Bishop he grew more fearful for that,
For she sat screaming, mad with fear
At the Army of Rats that were drawing near.

For they have swum over the river so deep,
And they have climbed the shores so steep,
And up the Tower their way is bent,
To do the work for which they were sent.

They are not to be told by the dozen or score,
By thousands they come, and by myriads and more,
Such numbers had never been heard of before,
Such a judgment had never been witnessed of yore.

Down on his knees the Bishop fell,
And faster and faster his beads did he tell,
As louder and louder drawing near
The gnawing of their teeth he could hear.

And in at the windows and in at the door,
And through the walls helter-skelter they pour,
And down from the ceiling and up through the floor,
From the right and the left, from behind and before,
From within and without, from above and below,
And all at once to the Bishop they go.

They have whetted their teeth against the stones,
And now they pick the Bishop‘s bones;
They gnawed the flesh from every limb,
For they were sent to do judgment on him!

Robert Southey

Nursery rhymes

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick,
Jack jump over the candle-stick.

Hark, hark, the dogs do bark,
The beggars are coming to town,
Some in rags and some in tags,
And some in silken gowns.

Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady sit on a white horse.
Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
And she shall have music wherever she goes.

Hickory dickory dock,
The mice ran up the clock,
The clock struck one, the mice ran down,
Hickory dickory dock.

Ding dong bell,
Pussy’s in the well.
Who put him in?
Little Johnny Thin.
Who pulled him out?
Little Johnny Stout.


I could ride a sarnet
Upon an ease to Barnet.

Irving Berlin (sort of)

Lars Porsena of Clusium
By the Nine Gods he swore
That the great house of Tarquin
Should suffer wrong no more.
By the Nine Gods he swore it
And named a trysting day,
And bade his messengers ride forth
East and west and south and north
To summon his array.

From “How Horatius Kept the Bridge”
Thomas Babington. Macaulay

Dark behind it rose the forest,
Rose the black and glooming pine-trees,
Rose the first with cones upon them;
Bright before it beat the water,
Beat the clear and sunny water,
Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.
Slowly upward, wavering, gleaming,
Like a white moon in the water
Rose the Ugudwurk, the sun-fish,
Seized the line of Hiawatha,
Swung with all his weight upon it,
Made a whirlpool in the water,
Whirled the birch canoe in circles,
Round and round in gurgling circles . . . .

From “The Song of Hiawatha”
H.W. Longfellow

O God! Our Help in Ages Past

O God! Our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home:

Beneath the shadow of thy throne,
Still may we dwell secure;
Sufficient is thine arm alone,
And our defence is sure.

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting thou art God,
To endless years the same.

A thousand ages, in thy sight,
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night,
Before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

O God! Our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come;
Be thou our guard while life shall last,
And our eternal home.

Isaac Watts

Powers of Style

Richard Cory

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean-favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich—yes, richer than a king—
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light;
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

Edwin Arlington Robinson

Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion everywhere.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Wallace Stevens


Edward, Edward

“Why does your brand sae drop wi' blude,
Edward, Edward?
Why does your brand sae drop wi' blude,
And why sae sad gang ye, O?”
“O I hae kill'd my hawk sae gude,
Mither, mither;
O I hae kill'd my hawk sae gude,
And I had nae mair but he, O.”

“Your hawk's blude was never sae red,
Edward, Edward;
Your hawk's blude was never sae red,
My dear son, I tell thee, O.”
“O I hae kill'd my red-roan steed,
Mither, mither;
O I hae kill'd my red-roan steed,
That erst was sae fair and free, O.”

“Your steed was auld, and ye hae got mair,
Edward, Edward;
Your steed was auld, and ye hae got mair;
Some other dule ye dree, O.”
“O I hae kill'd my father dear,
Mither, mither;
O I hae kill'd my father dear,
Alas, and wae is me, O!”

“And whatten penance will ye dree for that,
Edward, Edward?
Whatten penance will ye dree for that?
My dear son, now tell me, O.”
“I'll set my feet in yonder boat,
Mither, mither;
I'll set my feet in yonder boat,
And I'll fare over the sea, O.”

“And what will ye do wi' your tow'rs and your ha',
Edward, Edward?
And what will ye do wi' your tow'rs and your ha',
That were sae fair to see, O?”
“I'll let them stand till they doun fa',
Mither, mither;
I'll let them stand till they doun fa',
For here never mair maun I be, O.”

“And what will ye leave to your bairns and your wife,
Edward, Edward?
And what will ye leave to your bairns and your wife,
When ye gang owre the sea, O?”
“The warld's room: let them beg through life,
Mither, mither;
The warld's room: let them beg through life;
For them never mair will I see, O.”

“And what will ye leave to your ain mither dear,
Edward, Edward?
And what will ye leave to your ain mither dear,
My dear son, now tell me, O?”
“The curse of hell frae me sall ye bear,
Mither, mither;
The curse of hell frae me sall ye bear:
Sic counsels ye gave to me, O!”


dule ye dree/ grief you suffer.

My Lute, Awake!

My lute, awake! Perform the last
Labor that thou and I shall waste,
And end that I have now begun;
And when this song is sung and past,
My lute, be still, for I have done.

As to be heard where ear is none,
As lead to grave in marble stone,
My song may pierce her heart as soon.
Should we then sigh, or sing, or moan?
No, no, my lute, for I have done.

The rocks do not so cruelly
Repulse the waves continually,
As she my suit and affection;
So that I am past remedy,
Whereby my lute and I have done.

Proud of the spoil that thou hast got
Of simple hearts thorough love’s shot,
By whom, unkind, thou hast them won,
Think not he hath his bow forgot,
Although my lute and I have done.

Vengeance shall fall on thy disdain,
That makest but game on earnest pain;
Think not alone under the sun
Unquit to cause thy lovers plain,
Although my lute and I have done.

Perchance thee lie withered and old,
The winter nights that are so cold,
Plaining in vain unto the moon;
Thy wishes then dare not be told.
Care then who list, for I have done.

And then may chance thee to repent
The time that thou hast lost and spent
To cause thy lovers sigh and swoon;
Then shalt thou know beauty but lent,
And wish and want as I have done.

Now cease, my lute! This is the last
Labour that thou and I shall waste,
And ended is that we begun;
Now is this song both sung and past.
My lute, be still, for I have done.

Thomas Wyatt

That/what, thorough/through, plain/complain

Drummer Hodge

They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
Uncoffined—just as found;
His landmark is a kopje-crest
That breaks the veldt around;
And sovereign constellations west
Each night above his mound.

Young Hodge the Drummer never knew—
Fresh from his Wessex home—
The meaning of the broad Karoo,
The Bush, the dusty loam,
And why uprose to nightly view
Strange skies amid the gloam.

Yet portion of that unknown plain
Will Hodge for ever be;
His homely Northern breast and brain
Grow to some Southern tree,
And strange-eyed constellations reign
His stars eternally.

Thomas Hardy

Vision and Analogy

Le Pitre Châtié

Yeux, lacs avec ma simple ivresse de renaître
Autre que l’histrion qui du geste évoquais
Comme plume la suie ignoble des quinquets,
J’ai troué dans le mur de toile une fenêtre.

De ma jambe et des bras limpide nageur traître,
A bonds multipliés, reniant le mauvais
Hamlet! c’est comme si dans l’onde j’innovais
Mille sepulchres pour y vierge disparaître.

Hilare or de cymbale à des poings irrité,
Tout à coup le soleil frappe la nudité
Qui pure s’exhala de ma fraîcheur de nacre,

Rance nuit de la peau quand sur moi vous passiez,
Ne sachant pas, ingrat! Que c’était tout mon sacre,
Ce fard noyé dans l’eau perfide des glaciers.

Stéphane Mallarmé

Eyes, lakes with my simple intoxication to be reborn other than the actor, who, with his gestures as with a pen, evoked the disgusting soot of the lamps, I have pierced a window in the wall of cloth.

Limpid treacherous swimmer with my leg and arms in many a bound renouncing the evil Hamlet! It is as if I began a thousand tombs in the waves to disappear into them virgin.

Merry gold of the cymbal beaten with fists, all at once the sun strikes the nakedness purely breathed from my cool mother-of-pearl,

when you passed over me, rancid night of the skin, not knowing, ingrate! that it was my whole anointing, this rouge drowned in the deceitful water of glaciers.

Tr. Anthony Hartley

Pour ses yeux,—pour nager dans ces lacs, dont les quais
Sont plantés de beaux cils qu’un matin bleu pénêtre,
J’ai, Muse,—moi, ton pitre,—enjambé la fenêtre
Et fui notre baraque où fument tes quinquets.

Et d’herbes enivré, j’ai plongé comme un traître
Dans ces lacs défendus et, quand tu m’appelais,
Baigné mes membres nus dans l’onde aux blancs galets,
Oubliant mon habit de pitre au tronc d’un hêtre.

Le soleil du matin séchait mon corps nouveau
Et je sentais fraichir loin de ta tyrannie
La neige des glaciers diont ma chair assainie,

Ne sachant pas, hélas! quand s’en allait sur l’eau
Le suif de mes cheveux et le fard de ma peau,
Muse, que cette crasse était tout la génie!

Stephane Mallarmé


Future Work

“Please send future work”
—Editor’s note on a rejection slip

It is going to be a splendid summer.
The apple tree will be thick with golden russets
Expanding weightily in the soft air.
I shall finish the brick wall beside the terrace
And plant out all the geranium cuttings.
Pinks and carnations will be everywhere.

She will come out to me in the garden,
Her bare feet pale on the cut grass,
Bringing jasmine tea and strawberries on a tray.
I shall be correcting the proofs of my novel
(third in a trilogy—simultaneous publication
in four continents); and my latest play

will be in production at the Aldwych
starring Glenda Jackson and Paul Scofield
with Olivier brilliant in a minor part.
I shall probably have finished my translations
Of Persian creation myths and the Pre-Socratics
(drawing new parallels) and be ready to start

on Lucretius. But first I’ll take a break
at the chess championships in Manila—
on present form, I’m fairly likely to win.
And poems? Yes, there will certainly be poems:
They sing in my head, they tingle along my nerves.
It is all magnificently about to begin.

Fleur Adcock

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