W.R. Rodgers (1909-1969)

Life’s Circumnavigators

Here, where the taut wave hangs
Its tented tons, we steer
Through rocking arch of eye
And creaking reach of ear,
Anchored to flying sky,
And chained to changing fear.

O when shall we, all spent,
Row in to some far strand,
And find, to our content,
The original land
From which our boat once went,
Though not the one we planned.

Us on that happy day
This fierce sea will release,
On our rough face of clay,
The final glaze of peace.
Our oars we all will lay
Down, and desire will cease.

The Swan

Bottomed by tugging combs of water
The slow and loath swan slews and looks
Coldly down through chutes of stilled chatter
Upon the shadows in flight among the stones.

Into abashed confusions of ooze
It dips, and from the muddy fume
The filtered and flute like fishes rise
Endlessly up through all their octaves of gloom.

To where the roofed swan suavely swings
Without qualm on the footling wave
That laves it on, with elbowing wings swelled
Wide under its eyes’ held look and architrave.

Slow slow it slides, as if not to chafe
The even sleeve of its approach
Stretched stiff and oval in front of it,
Siphoning it on, selfless, silent and safe.

Jonquil-long its neck adjudicates
Its body’s course, aloof and cool
It cons the nonchalant face of air
With its incurious and dispassionate stare.

On that grey lake frilled round with scufflings
Of foam, and milled with muttering,
I saw, lingering late and lightless,
A single swan swinging, sleek like a sequin.

Negligently bright, wide wings pinned back,
It mooned on the moving water,
And not all the close and gartering dark
Or levering winds could lift or flatter

That small and dimming image into flight,
Far from shore and free from foresight,
Coiled in its own indifferent mood
It held the heavens, shores, waters and all their brood.

Song for War

Put away the flutes
Into their careful clefts,
And cut the violins that like ivy climb
Flat to their very roots;
All that a subtler time
Allowed us we must now commute
To commoner modes; for here come
The hieratic trumpet and demotic drum
Fall in and follow, let the beat
Hyphenate your halved feet,
Feel its imbricating rhythm
Obliterating every schism
And split through which you might espy
The idiosyncratic I;
Let the assumptive trumpets pace
And pattern out the sounding space
Into stillnesses that numb
By iteration and by sum,
Till the walls of will fall down
Round the seven-times-circled town
Of your mind, and not a jot
Is left of fore or after thought.
O slowly go and closely follow,
Toe to heel and hill to hollow,
All the ditto feet that lead
You onward in a millipede
To the battle where, as one,
A hundred thousand tip and run.
But when the burning sun again
Behind the hill
Slides down and leaves the separate slain
Frosted and still,
Then over the rued fields that drum and trumpet fled
Slow musics rise like mists and wreathe their requiem
Round the bruised reeds, and coldy mounts the moon
Of thought, and rules among the quorum of the dead.