Friday, July 23, 2010


By Jenny Joseph

Only when we are in each other's arms
Babies or lovers or the very ill
Are we content not to reach over the side;
To lie still.

To stay in the time we've settled in, that we've
Like a gourd of its meat,
And not, like a sampling fly, as soon as landed
Start to our feet,

Pulling one box on another, Ossa on Pelion;
Getting the moment, only to strain away
And look each day for what each next day brings us:
Yet another day;

Pleased with the infant's health and the strength of
its frame
For the child it will grow to,
The house perfected, ready and swept, for the new
Abode we go to,

The town in order and settled down for the night
The sooner for the next day to be over,
The affair pushed straight away to its limit, to leave
and notch up
Another lover.

Lie still, then, babies or lovers or the frail old who
In dreams we carry
Seeking a place of rest beyond the crowds
That claim and harry.

We are trying to reach that island for the festive
Where our love will stay –
Waylaid, prevented, we wake as that vivid country
Mists into day.

Stay on this side of the hill.
Sleep in my arms a bit longer.
This driving on will take you over the top
Beyond recall the sooner.

Born in 1932 in Birmingham, Joseph has written poetry for adults and children, as well as fiction. In 1986 she was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial prize for Persephone.


What I really love about this poem, is how relaxed it is. One line falls into another and you hardly notice the rhyme and meter. And yet the images stay with you, the gourd scooped of its meat, the abode swept clean - in an unhurried manner, they create clear distinct images, one linking into another.

Very often with poems in a distinct verse form, one has the feeling that the lines are contorted to fit the rhyme, very much the way you see a contortionist twist his body to fit in an impossibly small box.

But this is free and easy. It reaches for the skies and yet curves gracefully into rhymes, looping itself in and out.

Just like when you see terns fly low over the sea, dipping now and then into blue silk water, and there are no words but it is sheer poetry.

No comments: