At first it was only the rock-face that I saw,
a distant majesty of white, a hint
across the bleak sea, a glimmer reflecting,
a sun not risen yet.
Is it a rock-face?
So early in the morning there can be no certainty.
I’ve sailed this patch of empty sea before
and I had been told this was a landless ocean:
the drooped horizon and the motion of hurrying
waves the interminable narrative.
But then this rock
suggesting land – a geographic point
at which a continent leaned out and turned the dark sea
green and white.
I would not try to explore
the continent behind the shore. If this was
a swelling of firm earth out of the flux,
a site of fixity and love, I would not seek
for any further knowledge than that this land
lay here against the sea, an anchorage,
a place of stillness, joy and resolution always.
It has risen like Atlantis overnight!
These white citadels and palaces of rock
still glisten from the oceanic suck.
And now I’m anchored here and gone ashore,
climbing again and again above the rhyming
breakers into our tilted fields to lie
beside you in the sun, I ask if this land
that claims eternity will not sink back
another night beneath the impenetrable drift.
On my long shore you are the sea.
Down my long night-time you are the free
White dashing curve of waves –
The white interminable curve that craves
Only the loving shingle and the sharp
Drawn breath of rhythmic dark
Beneath which pebble ranges shift
Against the searching under-drift
Of foam-soft fingers.
The tall moon still lingers
Over palm-trees seaward tilting;
My long shore’s still lilting,
My long night-time’s iridescent
Under your wave-beat.
Why lead this present
Ever into future? why, Lord, this night
Ever into dawn-light?
He could no longer hold the sea back
Nor stop the cold waves browsing on his ribs
Now that she must leave this shore.
Yes, there had been encounter here, a play,
A sequence of events. Here are relics
Of a fire that cooked a meal,
Kept warm their shins once, many times,
Accompanied the kindling of their limbs –
Black stubs of driftwood, missiles spent,
Clustered in a narrow ceremonial circle.
The ash has blown away already.
Reveals nothing new on the long strand: only the weal of weed
And the surf-line and the same sounds that nursed them.
Then let the sea surge up again!
And in a monstrous tide such as first laid limits to this shore
(Up to where sand is overhung with turf)
Wash away all her footprints, his beside,
And all the properties two players left behind.
For seas will outmanoeuvre men and women’s love,
And what they thought was their beach was the sea’s –
Always the sea’s – as was the sound of surf, not theirs.
Even the kindling of their limbs was jetsam’s
Warmth, their rendezvous always between the tides.
They asked me at the table where you were – why
had I come without you? Who was I
(the waiter said) to be without “the lovely girl”?
One evening, in the smoke and swirl
of voices and guitar, we were known
to be together. They remembered you
and remembered me, as two, as one.
We have no record, but in soul and blood.
We are writ in water, a shadow in the wood;
we are words unsounded and our deeds
are secrets all. – Ah, but we are the seeds
of half creation, the sea’s spring and the buds
of mountains. And when you whisper, all
The heavens thunder forth the fact of love!
When you leave the bed and slip away
out of our lovers’ hide, into the hard day,
I lean my head against the wall and wonder
if all this world’s mad machine will sunder
a love that grows as true and wild as ours.
My eyes run round these blank white walls and ceiling
and the sightless window, I stunned at what feeling
we two, skin to skin, have generated here
from nothing but ourselves; and I fear
however wild and true, whatever the powers
of this love binding us now, stringing the streets
and leaping the rooves between us – all else competes
against it: all the millions in this city
broken in the search for our treasure – millions we pity
from the fortress of our arms when long hours
of loving lie beyond.
Dare we apart,
and again apart, defy by mere loving art
snatched here and there in the rubble of time and shelter –
dare we still defy the machine’s mad welter?
Following fresh snowfall
a shaft of low sunlight
stole through a broken wall
as the same lazy smile
steals over you after love.
Lying there snowbound,
that pale suffusing gleam
fell across my mound
and resurrected me.
Who are these, fur-capped