Tag Archives: eros

Poem of the Week #22: Adam’s Curse (Yeats)

We sat together at one summer’s end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, ‘A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.’

. . . . . . . . . And thereupon
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake
There’s many a one shall find out all heartache
On finding that her voice is sweet and low
Replied, ‘To be born woman is to know-
Although they do not talk of it at school-
That we must labour to be beautiful.’

I said, ‘It’s certain there is no fine thing
Since Adam’s fall but needs much labouring.
There have been lovers who thought love should be
So much compounded of high courtesy
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks
Precedents out of beautiful old books;
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.’

We sat grown quiet at the name of love;
We saw the last embers of daylight die,
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell
Washed by time’s waters as they rose and fell
About the stars and broke in days and years.

I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:
That you were beautiful, and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.


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Paris, Je t’aime

“Parisian life is rich in miraculous and poetic subjects. The miraculous envelops us and waters us like the atmosphere, but we do not see it.” Baudelaire

Paris is the brother of London, or its more glamourous cousin at the very least. They are expensive, cultured cities filled with unhappy, hurried people. Hubs of art and literature, centres of government and commerce, irresistible magnets for the artistic, the ambitious, and the insane.

Paris is the more beautiful by far. All the tourists and tat shops in the world can’t detract from Montmatre and the Sacre Coeur, and a walk along the banks of the Seine, especially around the Ile de France, reveals spectacular beauty after spectacular beauty – even the most humble of streets seems sculpted to perfection.

The city as a whole seems designed to catch the light, especially the soft light of spring and gentle electric glow that fills the street at night. The city is a prism, an elegant trap for light – “the City of Light” lives up to its name.

Some memories, mostly of tranquil spaces…

Strolling the entire length of the Canal Saint-Martin at night, people dancing around CD players, practising capoeira, drinking and smoking beside the placid waters.

In the garden of the Rodin Museum, the interplay of muscles is caught in bronze, and a single instant of myth or emotion is frozen in time, trapping the perfect precision of a moment.

Napping contentedly in the Jardin Royal, feet propped on the fountain and a book splayed open on my chest.

The scholarly excitement in the upstairs rooms at Shakespeare and Co, where book lovers, aspiring writers, curious tourists and itinerant wanderers all peer surreptitiously over each others shoulders to see what everyone else is reading.

I am, in truth, a little in love with Paris.


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St Pancras Five Thirty Five

In the cathedral of glass and steel
we pilgrims grow thin; our skin
wanes, transluced by the touch
of neon strips.

Now, our feet hover an inch or so
above the ground. We cannot smell the air,
or taste our tongues. We are become
something other, something lighter.

Even the striplights
are become stars,
reflected in a sky of glass.

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Essential Supplies

Packing continues apace (well, not really, but in my mind it does), and the time has come to select the most essential supplies. Not clothes or toiletries or travel gadgets, but books. Given that I’m traveling to Greece to work in a bookshop, this is not as critical decision as it could be, but still – careful selection of travel books is critical. Here are the four, all of which have find their way in by dint of their size (small), relevance to my travels (high), and their pretentious literary kudos (extreme).

For Paris: Les Fleurs Du Mal


Baudelaire’s funny, filthy and beautiful poetry is the perfect companion to Paris.

Venice: Invisible Cities


Italo Calvino’s perfect, poetic fable is the ideal guide to Venice – the city is described, in suitably fantastic fashion and concealed as other cities, fifty five times over. It’s also a useful crib sheet for writing – prose has rarely been more imaginative or more beautiful than this.

For Greece: The Odyssey


Cliche cliche, irresistable cliche. The first novel, the emblem of Greece, the ultimate travel book for the lonesome wanderer, the namesake for my goddamn blog. If there is one book that was always going to find its way into my back pack, it was going to be this one (even though if there is one book that will inevitably be found in the bookshop, it is this one).

For London: Teeline Fast


Eh? Teeline what?

I’ll be learning shorthand when I get back, and it seems sensible to try and get started whilst I am out there. Progress will only be made by intensive application of the will…we’ll see how that turns out.

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Poem of the Week #10: Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (Byron)

My departure draws near, and it is time for Byron, for three reasons. One, he was a great European traveller. Two, he is venerated as a national hero in Greece (my final destination). And three, because I wish to be more Byronic in my own life. This essentially means that I want to be eccentric and characterful in conversation, brilliant and prolific in my writing, and to sleep with everyone. This does not seem like too much to ask.

from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

The waters heave around me, and on high
the winds lift up their voices. I depart
Whither I know not, but the hour’s gone by
When Albion’s lessening shores could grieve or glad mine eye.

Once more upon the waters, yet once more!
And the waves bound beneath me as a steed
That knows his rider – welcome to their roar!
Swift be their guidance, wheresoe’er it lead!
Though the strained mast should quiver as a reed
And the rent canvas fluttering strew the gale,
Still must I on – for I am as a weed
Flung from the rock on ocean’s foam, to sail
Where’er the surge may sweep, the tempest’s breath prevail.

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Back To The Sofa II


I came into London and made my home on sofas various over a year and a half ago. My last two weeks in the city will be spent on a sofa again. As it began, so it ends.

Sofa surfing can be torture – living on the fragile goodwill of others without a square foot of private space to call your own, often without a key to the house that holds your belongings. Not that there are many left of the latter; all of the funky possessions that you’ve carefully chosen to act as your ambassadors of self (the erudite books on your shelf, tasteful hippy throw across the bed) have been put in cold storage. All you have left is what will fit in a backpack. Even my laptop charger is on loan, the minutes left on my battery counting down to zero, slowly, surely, even as I type.

In my case, the lack of a home is amplified, as I am living in a flat that has just been moved into. Perhaps this is for the best – this is in unspoilt world, a protoflat where I can can carve out my own little niche for a fortnight. My backpack squats like an intruder in the corner of the living room, but it is camouflaged with the boxes of electronics, three televisions, deconstructed desks and discarded duvets that are currently its roommates. It can be much harder to come in as an invader to an established domestic space.

Then again, new accommodation has its downsides – we currently have one plate between four (a situation soon to be rectified) and I am reduced to scouring for free broadband from the neighbouring flats (thus far unsuccessfully). Having spent a year and a half with a house and a room to call my own, the transition can be unsettling.

But there is pleasure in reduction as well. Everything becomes simpler. The bookcase filled with unread books that stare down reproachfully has been reduced to the two in my bag (Lolita and The Defence, both by Nabokov). My vast piles of useless clothes is now a slim bundle of the essentials (who needs so many coats and pairs of jeans anyway?), and all the clutter that I’ve accumulated excised to my parents attic. Time, money, space, possessions; all are limited, so life is simple again. As a man who has shown a tendency to wrap himself in loops of life’s complexities until one ends up around his neck, the simplicity is refreshing.

Sofa surfing can be a kind of purgatory, a domestic recreation of Waiting for Godot, a life spent as a ghost without even a natural haunt to call your own. Or it can be a decompression chamber, an airlock to a new world. Beyond the door waits a new life – a bookshop on a Santorini, a cottage in the French countryside, the Edinburgh festival, five months of cramming shorthand, sub-editing press law and news writing techniques into my skull, then who knows? There might even be the beginnings of a book or two to be found in the midst of all that. All things are possible, and fortune favours the brave.






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Poem of the Week #7: To His Coy Mistress (Andrew Marvell)

Somehow I’ve only recently come across this marvel from Andrew Marvell, courtesy of the book of poetry in our toilet. Superb, Mr Marvell, superb…

To His Coy Mistress

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv’d virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am’rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp’d power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

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