Elizabeth Jennings: Selected Poems

Elizabeth Jennings: Selected Poems

by Elizabeth Jennings

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This volume draws on the books Elizabeth Jennings published before Growing-Points and includes the poems which established her as one of the most passionate and precise of writers of her time, a woman of humane values, religious vision and natural sympathy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847779939
Publisher: Carcanet Press, Limited
Publication date: 04/01/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 122
File size: 324 KB

Read an Excerpt

Selected Poems

By Elizabeth Jennings

Carcanet Press Ltd

Copyright © 2012 The Estate of Elizabeth Jennings
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84777-993-9



    The radiance of that star that leans on me
    Was shining years ago. The light that now
    Glitters up there my eye may never see,
    And so the time lag teases me with how

    Love that loves now may not reach me until
    Its first desire is spent. The star's impulse
    Must wait for eyes to claim it beautiful
    And love arrived may find us somewhere else.


    Let us have winter loving that the heart
    May be in peace and ready to partake
    Of the slow pleasure spring would wish to hurry
    Or that in summer harshly would awake,
    And let us fall apart, O gladly weary,
    The white skin shaken like a white snowflake.


    When I was happy alone, too young for love
    Or to be loved in any but a way
    Cloudless and gentle, I would find the day
    Long as I wished its length or web to weave.

    I did not know or could not know enough
    To fret at thought or even try to whittle
    A pattern from the shapeless stony stuff
    That now confuses since I've grown too subtle.

    I used the senses, did not seek to find
    Something they could not touch, made numb with fear;
    I felt the glittering landscape in the mind
    And O was happy not to have it clear.


    Tree without leaf I stand
    Bird unfeathered cannot fly
    I a beggar weep and cry
    Not for coins but for a hand

    To beg with. All my leaves are down,
    Feathers flown and hand wrenched off
    Bird and tree and beggar grown
    Nothing on account of love.


    It is not quite a house without the sun
    And sun is what we notice, wonder at
    As if stone left its hard and quarried state
    To be reciprocal to light and let
    The falling beams bound and rebound upon
    Shutter and wall, each with assurance thrown.

    So on descending from the snow we meet
    Not warmth of south but houses which contrive
    To be designed of sun. The builders have
    Instructed hands to know where shadows fall
    And made of buildings an obedient stone
    Linked to the sun as waters to the moon.


    This afternoon disturbs within the mind
    No other afternoon, is out of time
    Yet lies within a definite sun to end
    In night that is in time. Yet hold it here
    Our eyes, our minds, to make the city clear.

    Light detains no prisoner here at all
    In brick or stone but sends a freedom out
    Extends a shadow like a deeper thought,
    Makes churches move, once still,
    Rocking in light as music rocks the bell,

    So eyes make room for light and minds make room
    For image of the city tangible.
    We look down on the city and a dream
    Opens to wakefulness, and waking on
    This peace perpetuates this afternoon.


    When I decide I shall assemble you
    Or, more precisely, when I decide which thoughts
    Of mine about you fit most easily together,
    Then I can learn what I have loved, what lets
    Light through the mind. The residue
    Of what you may be goes. I gather

    Only as lovers or friends gather at all
    For making friends means this —
    Image and passion combined into a whole
    Pattern within the loving mind, not her or his
    Concurring there. You can project the full
    Picture of lover or friend that is not either.

    So then assemble me,
    Your exact picture firm and credible,
    Though as I think myself I may be free
    And accurate enough.
    That you love what is truthful to your will
    Is all that ever can be answered for
    And, what is more,
    Is all we make each other when we love.


    An idler holds that rose as always rose,
    Will not, before the bud discloses it
    Within a later season, in his thought
    Unwrap the flower and force the petals open
    And wish in mind a different rose to happen.

    So will not colour it with his own shadow
    As we contrive, living beyond the present,
    To move all things away from their own moment
    And state another time for us. O who
    Watches may yet make time refuse to grow.

    So has his subtle power wiser than ours
    And need elaborate no peace at all.
    Watch how a landscape kindest is to idlers
    Helping their shiftlessness grow to new powers,
    Composing stillness round their careless will.


    The bells renew the town, discover it
    And give it back itself again, the man
    Pulling the rope collects the houses as
    Thoughts gather in the mind unscanned, he is
    Crowding the town together from the night
    And making bells the morning, in remote

    Control of every life (for bells shout 'Wake'
    And shake out dreams, though it is he who pulls
    The sleep aside). But not into his thought
    Do men continue as in lives of power;

    For when each bell is pulled sufficiently
    He never sees himself as any cause
    Or need; the sounds had left his hands to sing
    A meaning for each listening separately,
    A separate meaning for the single choice.

    Yet bells retire to silence, need him when
    Time must be shown a lucid interval
    And men look up as if the air were full
    Of birds descending, bells exclaiming in
    His hands but shouting wider than his will.


    To the cold peak without their careful women
    (Who watching children climbing into dreams
    Go dispossessed at home). The mountain moves
    Away at every climb and steps are hard
    Frozen along the glacier. Every man
    Tied to the rope constructs himself alone.

    And not the summit reached nor any pole
    Touched is the wished embrace, but still to move
    And as the mountain climbs to see it whole
    And each mind's landscape growing more complete
    As sinews strain and all the muscles knot.

    One at the peak is small. His disappointment
    The coloured flag flown at the lonely top,
    And all the valley's motive grown obscure.
    He envies the large toilers halfway there
    Who still possess the mountain by desire
    And, not arriving, dream in no resentment.


    This to be peace, they think beside the river
    Being adapted well to expectation
    And their wives' mutiny at no achievement,
    And yet can sit watching the promises
    Escape through weeds and make a trial of biting,
    Can lose them, thankful that it is not yet
    Time to draw in the line and drain the net.

    Learning themselves in this uncertainty
    Each hardly cares whether a fish is caught,
    For here is privacy, each warns himself,
    The fish, inquiries in the river, not
    When drawn out promises at all
    Being so solid on the bank and still.

    Only the boys who live in certainty,
    With expectation other than the stream,
    Jeer at the patience and draw up their net
    Of future frogs, the river vague to them
    Until it's emptied. But the old men fill
    Their eyes with water, leave the river full.


    All travellers escape the mainland here.
    The same geology torn from the stretch
    Of hostile homelands is a head of calm,
    And the same sea that pounds a foreign beach
    Turns strangers here familiar, looses them
    Kindly as pebbles shuffled up the shore.

    Each brings an island in his heart to square
    With what he finds, and all is something strange
    But most expected. In this innocent air
    Thoughts can assume a meaning, island strength
    Is outward, inward, each man measures it,
    Unrolls his happiness a shining length.

    And this awareness grows upon itself,
    Fastens on minds, is forward, backward, here.
    The island focuses escape and free
    Men on the shore are also islands, steer
    Self to knowledge of self in the calm sea,
    Seekers who are their own discovery.


    Today the children begin to hope for snow
    And look in the sky for auguries of it.
    It is not for such omens that we wait,
    Our world may not be settled by the slow
    Falling of flakes to lie across our thought.

    And even if the snow comes down indeed
    We still shall stand behind a pane of glass
    Untouched by it, and watch the children press
    Their image on the drifts the snow has laid
    Upon a winter they think they have made.

    This is a wise illusion. Better to
    Believe the near world is created by
    A wish, a shaping hand, a certain eye,
    Than hide in the mind's corner as we do
    As though there were no world, no fall of snow.


    Now watch this autumn that arrives
    In smells. All looks like summer still;
    Colours are quite unchanged, the air
    On green and white serenely thrives.
    Heavy the trees with growth and full
    The fields. Flowers flourish everywhere.

    Proust who collected time within
    A child's cake would understand
    The ambiguity of this–
    Summer still raging while a thin
    Column of smoke stirs from the land
    Proving that autumn gropes for us.

    But every season is a kind
    Of rich nostalgia. We give names–
    Autumn and summer, winter, spring–
    As though to unfasten from the mind
    Our moods and give them outward forms.
    We want the certain, solid thing.

    But I am carried back against
    My will into a childhood where
    Autumn is bonfires, marbles, smoke;
    I lean against my window fenced
    From evocations in the air.
    When I said autumn, autumn broke.


    You send an image hurrying out of doors
    When you depose a king and seize his throne:
    You exile symbols when you take by force.

    And even if you say the power's your own,
    That you are your own hero, your own king
    You will not wear the meaning of the crown.

    The power a ruler has is how men bring
    Their thoughts to bear upon him, how their minds
    Construct the grandeur from the simple thing.

    And kings prevented from their proper ends
    Make a deep lack in men's imaginings;
    Heroes are nothing without worshipping,

    Will not diminish into lovers, friends.


    Last night they came across the river and
    Entered the city. Women were awake
    With lights and food. They entertained the band,
    Not asking what the men had come to take
    Or what strange tongue they spoke
    Or why they came so suddenly through the land.

    Now in the morning all the town is filled
    With stories of the swift and dark invasion;
    The women say that not one stranger told
    A reason for his coming. The intrusion
    Was not for devastation:
    Peace is apparent still on hearth and field.

    Yet all the city is a haunted place.
    Man meeting man speaks cautiously. Old friends
    Close up the candid looks upon their face.
    There is no warmth in hands accepting hands;
    Each ponders, 'Better hide myself in case
    Those strangers have set up their homes in minds
    I used to walk in. Better draw the blinds
    Even if the strangers haunt in my own house.'


    If the myth's outworn, the legend broken,
      Useless even within the child's story
    Since he sees well they now bring light no longer
      Into our eyes: and if our past retreats
    And blows away like dust along the desert,
      Not leading to our moment now at all,
    Settling us in this place and saying 'Here
      In you I shall continue'–then what kind
    Of lives have we? Can we make myths revive
      By breathing on them? Is there any taper
    That will return the glitter to our eyes?

    We have retreated inward to our minds
      Too much, have made rooms there with all doors
    All windows shuttered. There we sit and mope
      The myth away, set by the lovely legends;
    Hardly we hear the children shout outside.
      We only know a way to love ourselves,
    Have lost the power that made us lose ourselves.
      O let the wind outside blow in again
    And the dust come and all the children's voices.
      Let anything that is not us return.
    Myths are the memories we have rejected
      And legends need the freedom of our minds.


    Our images withdraw, the rose returns
    To what it was before we looked at it.
    We lift our looks from where the water runs
    And it's pure river once again, we write
    No emblems on the trees. A way begins
    Of living where we have no need to beat
    The petals down to get the scent of rose
    Or sign our features where the water goes.

    All is itself. Each man himself entire,
    Not even plucking out his thought, not even
    Bringing a tutored wilfulness to bear
    Upon the rose, the water. Each has given
    Essence of water back to itself, essence of flower,
    Till he is yoked to his own heart and driven
    Inward to find a private kind of peace
    And not a mind reflecting his own face.

    Yet must go deeper still, must move to love
    Where thought is free to let the water ride,
    Is liberal to the rose giving it life
    And setting even its own shadow aside;
    Till flower and water blend with freedom of
    Passion that does not close them in and hide
    Their deepest natures; but the heart is strong
    To beat with rose and river in one song.


    Sometimes the tall poem leans across the page
    And the whole world seems near, a simple thing.
    Then all the arts of mind and hand engage
    To make the shadow tangible. O white
    As silence is the page where words shall sing
    And all the shadows be drawn into light.

    And no one else is necessary then.
    The poem is enough that joins me to
    The world that seems too far to grasp at when
    Images fail and words are gabbled speech:
    At those times clarity appears in you,
    Your mind holds meanings that my mind can reach.

    Are you remote, then, when words play their part
    With a fine arrogance within the poem?
    Will the words keep all else outside my heart,
    Even you, my test of life and gauge?
    No, for you are that place where poems find room,
    The tall abundant shadow on my page.


    What ceremony can we fit
    You into now? If you had come
    Out of a warm and noisy room
    To this, there'd be an opposite
    For us to know you by. We could
    Imagine you in lively mood

    And then look at the other side,
    The mood drawn out of you, the breath
    Defeated by the power of death.
    But we have never seen you stride
    Ambitiously the world we know.
    You could not come and yet you go.

    But there is nothing now to mar
    Your clear refusal of our world.
    Not in our memories can we mould
    You or distort your character.
    Then all our consolation is
    That grief can be as pure as this.


    No use to speak, no good to tell you that
    A love is worn away not by the one
    Who leaves but by the one who stays and hopes,
    Since you would rather have the hoping still
    Than be yourself again. What can I say
    Who know, better than you, the one who has
    Moved on, away, not loving him at all?

    And certainly to you I would relinquish
    This knowledge held in other ways of feeling
    Though dressed up in the properties of passion
    Looked at by you. Something is deeply held
    By me who never deeply searched at all
    And we are not yet wise enough or subtle
    To offer anyone a state of mind.

    This the particular problem, and I search
    A power over our general condition,
    Where love is like a landscape we can change
    And where desire may be transformed to friendship
    If friendship gives the really wanted knowledge,
    Where we can see the end and have the power
    To take the journey there a different way,
    And we can move our minds as we move houses:
    Where love is more than lucky in the land.


Excerpted from Selected Poems by Elizabeth Jennings. Copyright © 2012 The Estate of Elizabeth Jennings. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


The poems in this book follow the chronology of publication of Elizabeth Jennings's work and are taken,
Title Page,
Winter Love,
Italian Light,
Afternoon in Florence,
The Idler,
The Climbers,
The Island,
Poem in Winter,
Song at the Beginning of Autumn,
The Enemies,
In This Time,
Beyond Possession,
For a Child Born Dead,
In the Night,
Old Man,
Taken by Surprise,
The Storm,
Her Garden,
Summer and Time,
At Noon,
The Parting,
A Death,
The Shot,
Song for a Departure,
Telling Stories,
A Fear,
In a Foreign City,
The Roman Forum,
A Conversation in the Gardens of the Villa Celimontana, Rome,
A Roman Window,
San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Rome,
Letter from Assisi,
The Annunciation,
Teresa of Avila,
Song for a Birth or a Death,
Family Affairs,
A Game of Chess,
My Grandmother,
In Praise of Creation,
World I Have not Made,
Harvest and Consecration,
A World of Light,
A Requiem,
The Resurrection,
Mantegna's Agony in the Garden,
Visit to an Artist,
The Diamond Cutter,
Stargazers and Others,
To a Friend With a Religious Vocation,
Greek Statues,
The Pride of Life: A Roman Setting,
Men Fishing in The Arno,
Two Deaths,
About These Things,
The Instruments,
Remembering Fireworks,
Sequence in Hospital,
Man in a Park,
Father to Son,
Warning to Parents,
The Young Ones,
A Mental Hospital Sitting-Room,
The Interrogator,
Night Sister,
Words from Traherne,
Samuel Palmer and Chagall,
On a Friend's Relapse and Return to a Mental Clinic,
Night Garden of the Asylum,
A Depression,
Grove House, Iffley,
Chinese Art,
Love Poem,
One Flesh,
The Animals' Arrival,
Never to See,
A Letter to Peter Levi,
Any Poet's Epitaph,
First Evening (from the French of Rimbaud),
The Rooks (from the French of Rimbaud),
A Sonnet,
Let Things Alone,

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