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Selected Poems

Selected Poems

by Roy Fuller, John Fuller, Neil Powell

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From his first wartime collection evoking a generation’s experience of a country made strange by blackouts and air raids to the consolatory wisdom of poems written later in his life, Great Britain’s Roy Fuller was a poet of the familiar and ordinary made extraordinary. Mundane details, observed with the author’s tolerant humor and acute eye, reveal


From his first wartime collection evoking a generation’s experience of a country made strange by blackouts and air raids to the consolatory wisdom of poems written later in his life, Great Britain’s Roy Fuller was a poet of the familiar and ordinary made extraordinary. Mundane details, observed with the author’s tolerant humor and acute eye, reveal depths and dissonances from which a civilized life may be created. On the centenary of Fuller’s birth, this generous selection—introduced by the poet’s son and including an afterword by Neil Powell, Fuller’s biographer—brings to a new generation of readers the work of one of the essential poets of the 20th century.

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Roy Fuller

Selected Poems

By Roy Fuller, John Fuller

Carcanet Press Ltd

Copyright © 2012 The Estate of Roy Fuller
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84777-653-2



    To M.S., Killed in Spain

    Great cities where disaster fell
    In one small night on every house and man,
    Knew how to tell the fable from the flesh:
    One crying O, his mouth a marble fountain;
    Her thigh bones in immortal larva
    At compass points, the west and east of love.

    Necks bent to look for the seditious geese,
    Or over blocks, gazing into freedom;
    Heads all alike, short noses, brows
    Folded above, the skin a leather brown;
    Wrists thick, the finger pads worn down
    Building oppression's towering stone.

    Now uncovered is the hero,
    A tablet marks him where his life leaked out
    Through grimy wounds and vapoured into air.
    A rusty socket shows where in the night
    He crammed his torch and kept by flame at bay
    Dark, prowling wolves of thought that frightened him.

    The poor outlasted rope and crucifix,
    We break the bones that blenched through mastic gold;
    And excavate our story, give a twist
    To former endings in deliberate metre,
    Whose subtle beat our fathers could not count,
    Having their agile thumbs too far from fingers.

      I fear the plucking hand
      That from our equal season
      Sent you to war with wrong
      But left me suavely wound
      In the cocoon of reason
      That preluded your wings.

      As the more supple fin
      Found use in crawling, so
      Some new and rapid nerve
      Brought close your flesh to brain,
      Transformed utopia
      To death for human love.

      And my existence must
      Finish through your trauma
      The speechless brute divorce
      Of heart from sculptured bust:
      Turn after five acts' drama
      A placid crumpled face.

    I see my friend rising from the tomb,
    His simple head swathed in a turban of white cloth.
    The vault is spotted with a brownish moss,
    One corner broken, fallen to the floor,
    Whereon I read SPAIN as he advances like
    An invalid, changed terribly with pain.

    A quiet room holds him, half-raised from the bed,
    Eyes big and bright, a waxwork, and the blood
    Of waxworks running down his cheek. Two candles
    Rock their light. The bed is moving, tilting,
    And slips him rigidly to take a new position,
    The elbow sharp, the skin a yellow leaf.

    The third time he stands against a summer country,
    The chestnuts almost black in thunderous air,
    The silver green of willow lining dykes
    Choked with flesh. He moves along the furrows
    With labourer's fingers, spreading death against
    The imperishable elements of earth.

    What is the meaning of these images?
    The wish to leave all natural objects richer,
    To quicken the chemistry of earth, to be
    Immortal in our children. Such desires
    Are bodies in a pit, the rotting and bloody
    Backwash of a tidal pestilence.

      The scalpel in my back
      That broke my uneasy dream
      Has extended in a scythe,
      Is passing through the quick,
      Forcing like strychnine
      My body to its curve.

      The future is not waking,
      Nor the name and number
      Of distorted figures, and knowledge
      Of pain. It is the breaking
      Before we slumber
      Of the shaping image.

      So from the nightmare, from
      The death, the war of ghosts,
      Those chosen to go unharmed
      May join the tall city, the swan
      Of changing thoughts
      Set sailing by the doomed.

    August 1938

    Mapping this bay and charting
    The water's ribby base
    By individual smarting
    And walks in shifting sand,
    We note the official place;
    Dover with pursed-up lips
    Behind the purple land
    Blowing her little ships
    To danger, large and bland:

    Aeroplanes softly landing
    Beyond the willowed marsh:
    The phallic lighthouse standing
    Aloof with rolling eye
    From shingle flat and harsh:
    And sequinned on the coast
    Beneath the usual sky
    The pleasure towns where most
    Have come to live or die.

    Far off the quinsied Brenner,
    The open hungry jaw
    Of Breslau and Vienna
    Through day-old papers join
    The mood of tooth and claw
    To useless coastal road,
    The excursion to Boulogne
    And valedictory ode,
    The hairy untanned groin.

    Oh never is forever
    Over this curving ground
    When both the dull and clever
    Leave for their town of graves,
    And on the dissolving mound
    By snowy seabirds signed
    'Through all routes quit these waves,'
    Lonely among his kind
    The local spirit raves.

    After the Spanish Civil War

    The common news tells me
    How I shall live:
    There are no other values.
    In central Spain I lie,
    Fed by what earth can give
    Through an iron mesh.

    The roads are blown to air;
    Tracks drawn to wire with the chill
    Of this snowy winter.
    Along the air and wire
    The news comes, even evil,
    Fainter and fainter.

    Though events stop happening,
    There remain the forces:
    The wrestlers immense outside,
    Oiled and immobile; wrong
    Red between love and faces
    In broken shade.

    To My Brother

    A pistol is cocked and levelled in the room.
    The running window opens to the sounds
    Of hooters from the Thames at Greenwich, doom

    Descends the chimney in the rustling grounds
    Of soot. The Globe edition of Pope you gave me
    Is open on the chair arm. There are bounds

    To feeling in this suburb, but nothing can save me
    Tonight from the scenic railway journey over
    Europe to locate my future grave: the

    Arming world rushes by me where you hover
    Behind right shoulders on the German border,
    Or at the Terminus removing a cover,

    Taking perhaps your memories, like a warder,
    The memories of our responsible youth,
    To give the refugees a sense of order.

    My real world also has a base of truth:
    Soldiers with labial sores, a yellowish stone
    Built round the common into cubes, uncouth

    Reverberations from a breaking bone,
    The fear of living in the body. Is it
    Here we start or end? Tonight my own

    Thoughts pay a merely temporary visit
    To the state where objects have lost their power of motion,
    Their laws which terrify and can elicit

    A furious tale from casual emotion,
    Where life with instruments surveys the maps
    Of cut-out continent and plasticine ocean,

    Far from the imminent and loud collapse
    Of culture, prophesied by liberals,
    Whose guilty ghosts can never say perhaps.

    This kind of world Pope, with his quartz and shells,
    Constructed in his azure Twickenham grotto,
    Which in the daytime entertained the belles,

    But glowed and writhed to form a personal motto
    At night, with brute distraction in its lair;
    The mirrors flattering as part of the plot: 'O

    Alex, you are handsome; you have power
    First to arrange a world and then to abstract
    Its final communication; virtues shower

    From the exercise of your genius; the pact
    Of friendship is good and all your enemies only
    In opposition to civilization act.'

    When I am falsely elevated and lonely,
    And the effort of making contact even with you
    Is helped by distance, the life is finely

    Shown which holds on contract, and the true
    Perish in cities which revolve behind
    Like dust.

      The window explodes, and now
    The centre land mass breathes a tragic wind.

    Autumn 1939

    Cigar-coloured bracken, the gloom between the trees,
    The straight wet by-pass through the shaven clover,
    Smell of the war as if already these
      Were salient or cover.

    The movements of people are directed by
    The officious finger of the gun and their
    Desires are sent like squadrons in the sky,
      Uniform and bare.

    I see a boy through the reversing lens
    Wearing a shirt the colour of his gums;
    His face lolls on the iron garden fence
      Slobbering his thumbs.

    I have no doubt that night is real which creeps
    Over the concrete, that murder is fantasy,
    That what should now inform the idiot sleeps
      Frozen and unfree.

    The Barber

    Reading the shorthand on a barber's sheet
    In a warm and chromium basement in Cannon Street
    I discovered again the message of the hour:
    There is no place for pity without power.

    The barber with a flat and scented hand
    Moved the dummy's head in its collar band.
    'What will you do with the discarded hair?'

    The mirror showed a John the Baptist's face,
    Detached and side-ways. 'Can you tell me how,'
    It said, 'I may recover grace?

    'Make me a merchant, make me a manager.'
    His scissors mournfully declined the task.
    'Will you do nothing that I ask?'

    'It is no use,' he said, 'I cannot speak
    To you as one in a similar position.
    For me you are the stern employer,
    Of wealth the accumulator.
    I must ignore your singular disposition.'

    He brushed my shoulders and under his practised touch
    I knew his words were only a deceit.
    'You spoke to me according to the rules
    Laid down for dealing with madmen and with fools.'

    'I do my best,' he said, 'my best is sufficient.
    If I have offended it is because
    I never formulate the ideal action
    Which depends on observation.'

    'And do you never observe and never feel
    Regret at the destruction of wealth by war?
    Do you never sharpen your razor on your heel
    And draw it across selected throats?'

    He smiled and turned away to the row of coats.
    'This is your mackintosh,' he said, 'you had no hat.
    Turn left for the station and remember the barber.
    There is just time enough for that.'

    First Winter of War

    There is a hard thin gun on Clapham Common,
    Deserted yachts in the mud at Greenwich,
    In a hospital at Ealing notices

    The last trains go earlier, stations are like aquaria,
    The mauve-lit carriages are full of lust.
    I see my friends seldom, they move in nearby
    Areas where no one speaks the truth.

    It is dark at four and on the peopled streets,
    The ornamental banks and turreted offices,
    The moon pours a deathly and powdered grey:
    The city noises come out of a desert.

    It is dark at twelve: I walk down the up escalator
    And see that hooded figure before me
    Ascending motionless upon a certain step.
    As I try to pass, it will stab me with a year.


Excerpted from Roy Fuller by Roy Fuller, John Fuller. Copyright © 2012 The Estate of Roy Fuller. 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.

Meet the Author

Roy Fuller was the legal director of the Woolwich Building Society and the author of 18 poetry collections, nine novels, and four volumes of memoirs. He was also a professor of poetry at Oxford University and the recipient of the Commander of the Order of the British Empire award and the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. John Fuller is a poet, a novelist, and a critic. He is an emeritus fellow at Magdalen College as well as a former lecturer at the State University of New York and at the University of Manchester in England. He is the author of six poetry collections and four novels, including Flying to Nowhere, which won the Whitbread First Novel Award.

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