On hearing Dusapin's String Quartet No. 6 ('Hapax')
I am, of course, a spider:
my obstinacy, a viola;
my gossamer back-and-forthing,
of a violin. Watch me,
busy always to continue
a spider's life. All things
love the little kingdom
they inherit. This is home,
intricate with fetched
fidget, this scratchy bow-flight
is a busy cello urging
me to tracery,
all tossed about in
winds of orchestra.
And did you hear that bar
when everything united,
when an abseil's pause
by a coalescence in the score?
It was as if the sun
saw our swaying,
and hurried to republish
Opera rehearsal, Holland Park 2013
Summer will not sing more beautifully than this.
Verdi, I would guess, epiphanic and sudden,
grows out of the open-air rehearsal marquee
superimposing tone on neutrality:
the boy's football match finds its drama,
an elderly couple, their inveterate hands linked,
becomes first courtship, perhaps beside the Arno,
when a music like this went off in their minds.
The eventual concert, tense with the burden of money,
will intervene between listener and music
with the distractions of formality,
but now, the soprano gilds the pigeons with sun,
the drinks in the café are all ambrosial,
and we are taller, that much stronger, for this music.
Waking from drunkenness on a spring day
And life, really little more than a dream:
no point worrying about it, or trying too hard.
Which is the chief reason I was drunk today,
and woke to find myself lolling on the porch.
I blinked at the surprise of light on lawn,
and a unique bird outsinging the rest of the garden.
Had the day been disastrous or clement?
I only knew the wind blowing by the mango-bird.
Its song caused me to smile and sigh,
and fill my cup with leftover wine.
I sang with new delight as the moon rose.
Then my song ended. My senses were spent.
— from the Chinese of Li Bai
What I remember is the feel of boots,
my toes wiggling in a mudless warmth.
I didn't hear the echo of spoken grief.
I was taught the winter snow beyond.
And I saw the trees had shed their violence.
And I knew the wolf had lost its bite.
I loved the sun-dial, and the earth's turn.
Anxiety had always been a fiction.
I slapped over the February-touched hills,
refinding my boots-balance in the uneven ground.
I looked with fire-eyes at the bluebell's architecture.
I looked with fire-eyes at the robin's carcass.
At the top of the hill, I first turned back;
the wake was finished, and all the poems said.
The second time, my bed had become a crib for a child.
The third, that child was stood at the window ninety years old.
The pike lifted, and levelled in clear zenith.
An immensity, almost European in scale,
like the alps he'd later grapple with
in The Prelude: why should nature not pull
the dead back from their having died
if it can do this — melt and mould rock
into sculpture, and raise up these bulbs
from clods to petal-veins a tongue can lick?
They patted them together, grief-inspired.
They stooped, their seventy years bent to hope,
and found a task there fit for hurt hearts.
To planting was to cope. It was not to stop.
Faith is work. Because work is continuing,
and in that decision is trust: to see
things through beyond the bitter conclusion
into good habits of mind where self-pity
isn't: to construe a thread of light
out of the confusions of the dark wood,
and prove it true against all fear:
Courage is the sum of what is withstood.
Chris Jackson is a London-based poet who has been published in, among other places, Ambit, The Interpreter's House, and in numerous anthologies including 2016's The Poet's Quest for God. His first collection The Gallery received critical acclaim. His new collection The Monkey Fragment is forthcoming from Originals Plus this year.