Muir Holburn - Selected Poems

Previous   Contents   Back to Muir   Next










From a dark womb and a cool cradle we come forth,

We wander into the sunlight breathing, travelling slowly North

To the iced forests of senility. We are alone,

Silent, most wondering—till love steals upon us, and we groan

That our flesh and our glances can never accurately record

Our love and our longing for the one who broke the greyness and the stillness,

Who held our hands and warned us as we crossed the ford,

Who taught us that by dying we achieve defiance.





From the green walled schoolhouse and the track by the river,

From the livid curdling crash of the spring water running, and the handshake and the sudden burst of laughter,

We are aflame with zest and music, and our lips tremble, and our thoughts quiver,

Quiver gently violent between the loneliness and the warmth. Our eyes are gouged by the laughter. We cannot see till after

When all alone once more we rock exhausted on a dais of ice and hate.


O in tha wizened track of time, there are no margins and no markings, no focus or pinpoint of light and radiance,

Until we are quite alone—to single out the rose and the grass seed

Appreciate the lush coronet of the young oasis.




We are developed in a dark room where the eye is closed,

And the purple cogs and the crimson chains weave before us.

There is the yellow sea with the grey galleon-globules, passing before us, between us.

Protoplasmic submarines skimming through the yokes of eggs.

Such marvels we witness in the dark room, with the lights dimmed and the eyes closed, and no breath stirring.

And the visions pass quickly among us, between us;

Unknown to us, they are of our fashioning

We are disturbed and soon cry for light, musing uneasily towards the doorway.

This city, these houses are of our making, the sharp spires, the bouncing elevators.

Have we built the wall too high? What happens to the young architect in the earthquake?

O we dread lest our children will scatter in horror around our ruins,

With echoes from defunct languages taunting their ears, haunting and torturing their ears, seduced and damned with rancid promises.




I am the Work,

I sprout in a vacant square.

I shall be more vacant than any square, than any virgin allotment,

When I am finished and the elevators cruise along my spine,

And the typists hurry to salads and coffee—I shall be more vacant shielding,

Large sized men, worn faces, vacant minds, defective sight, no fantasy, passion, hate or appetite.

I shall conceal the whisper across the well, the clasp of hands over the desk, and the brush of lips in unfrequented strong rooms.

When the switch girl, sometimes timid schoolgirl, departs after her first violation,

I shall be more vacant than she, ever

Unsympathetic with her dingy virtues, the bitterness, the wormwood gall of her heart,

Her hat lightly creasing a velvet forehead,

Her chill brief tweeds flapping about her knees.


Boys boys! You who are bound to me, bound to me,

By the charm of concrete, the promise of regular bread—

Is everything ready? Are the sanitary flushes functioning as predicted in the manufacturers' specifications?

Could the lift cling to the fifth floor? Are the electric switches artistic, the lacquered architraves faithful to plan?

Pardon the cross examination—but unlike you I am interested in my own interior decoration. I am the Work.

And what about the facial expression? Is it mete, mere, impressively suggestive of officebound opulence?

Is betrayal a possibility? Are we lonely? Are we blue? Have we marked off our days? Are we

Tempted to betray our inevitable vacancy?

I, the Work, shall bear institutions,

A black lane over white marble will mark my debut into commerce.

A child may get a thin pink finger sliced off in a fire door.

A charity worker will be drenched when the sprinklers go off accidentally in the hot days.

But taxis will stop short beside my façade, asking no further questions.

Helicopters will flutter up to god, and flutter back to me.

Thus the exchange of grimaces, the rapidly vacuous shifting of capital.




And thus

Do we travel slowly North, over the snow country and the sand dunes under a blue sun,

With a tramticket, a pack of cards, dominoes, ludo, cash and enough love to last you till Thursday.

Fear not ye who have faith. Fear nat lest the silver cord shall break.

It shall . . .

The light powder shower shall fall inexorably before the young picnickers have spread bright colours over damp turf,

And the dead trees and the starched rocks refuse to yield up their inevitable loneliness.

Fear nat what shall occur to you, death, fester or disease, the low

Hum of a slum's gloom.

Fear only lest something might not happen

To butcher and banker, to broker, to break the murmuring pavements.




Let us forget the green walled schoolhouse and the track by the river,

And our sweat as we raced over a field laughing,

Or darted across a ford, holding hands and uttering threatening solemnities.

Let us forget the beer and the pale ale foaming about our lips,

The glib spurt of pain as you swallowed a chocolate,

Drums and tramplings, travel and trek and blood––

Forget Miss Pearson who sold fibrous sugar and dusty sweets, and had a brown paper bag over the gas mantle,

Forget the terrifying silence in the broom box under the stairs

Where you saw galleons and yellow hills bedded in the blackness.

Forget Miss Maymie Allonby who whispered of the Heavenly Promise.

Forget the warmth of your mother's breast. Forget your lover's arms about you.

O forget.




O wither shall we wander? said the flower-maiden to the madman with the wicked yellow eyes.

Let us hustle like soap suds into the unreality of a large family washing,

Forsaking the truth of dream and theory, the glistening thrill of a revolutionary madness.

Let us read our newspapers unassertively, rejoicing in the lucid impartiality of journalist and announcer.

Let us thank God for liberty to die.

Let us be stoical and British as we wait for the signs in the sky,

O let us be subtle and clever and nice when the sky has ceased its gasping,

When we are plucked and stuck in the brown bubbling treacle of truce.




Slowly travelling North . . .

We shall be lucky if we reach the Equator . . .

O Christ we shall be lucky . . .



Winter in January,







Previous   Contents   Back to Muir   Next


© Copyright Muir Holburn 2010