Harvesting in Summer by Aleksei Venetsianov (1780-1847)
Angels and Harvesters
Gilded book cover, Nests and Eggs of British Birds by F. O. Morris, 1870
Kevin and the Blackbird
The Dark Age
I never looked, but felt the spiky feet
Prickling my outstretched hand. I braced my bones,
My heart glowed from the settling feathered heat
Heavy, as smooth and round as river-rolled stones,
Warm as the sun that eased my back and legs.
Of wings, the sudden space, the cool air flow
fingers, I did not know the test
Had just begun – I could not bend my arms
But stood there stiff, as helpless as a scarecrow,
prayer hatching in my palms –
Love pinned me fast, and I could not resist:
ghostly nails were driven through each wrist.
© James Harpur 2008
Terentius Neo and wife, Pompeii, 1st century AD
To His Wife
And call each other by those names
That lingered on our lips the first night of our love.
As years add wrinkles to our ageing skin,
I hope to God the day does not arrive
When I forget that you’re my sweet young thing
Or you no longer see me as your suitor.
Though you outlive the prophetess of Cumae
And I surpass the age of old King Nestor,
This ripe longevity we shall deny:
Instead of ticking off the days of life,
We'll count the joys they bring, my dearest wife.
Translated from the Latin of Ausonius, c. AD 310-395
© James Harpur, 2001
Golden statue of the Lord Buddha
My Father’s Flat
from The Monk’s Dream
He always saw, three stories up, a grand
Sweep of the Thames, the trees of Battersea
And, squatting there, the Japanese pagoda –
Inflaming, a parody of a bandstand,
Its four sides flaunting a golden Buddha.
It glowed like a lantern near the glitzy braid
Of Albert Bridge at night.
If he had crossed
The river he might have heard Renounce the world
Escape the gilded lips or seen Gautama lying
In mortal sleep, his face relaxed, his flesh released;
Even in death, teaching the art of dying.
At night, across the river two golden eyes burn
Into the heavy velvet of the curtain.
From ‘The Frame of Furnace
Life’, a sonnet sequence that won the 1995 British National Poetry
Wraxall limes Oil painting by Merrily Harpur
From A Vision of Comets
In a tree both bare and black
A nest is lodged in a fork,
Growing daily though squalls shake
Each branch and batter the rook
Who flaps with tardy strokes
Back to his hide-out
Bristling like a stook.
He topples down groundwards
Till all his feathers flock
Upstream then slot in like slates.
The pumice-pale beak starts to poke
Away leaves, stilettoes the turf
Then swaggering, braggadocio, he croaks
Out gall from the pit of his craw
And listening keenly as a crook
Gathers his Sicilian shawl
Plucks a twig, mounts and rocks
The breeze until he drops
Down into his secret nook,
Ready at once to carry on the work,
Incessant work, kept in the dark,
As when Noah, scenting the future,
Built his ark.
© James Harpur 1993