Sometimes it Happens

Brian Patten continues to be one of my favourite poets.  His ability to crystallise thoughts is wonderful and, of course, he speaks to me.  These are the two essential aspects of a poet’s role, in my opinion.

Sometimes it Happens

And sometimes it happens that you are friends and thenBlogPatten
You are not friends,
And friendship has passed.
And whole days are lost and among them
A fountain empties itself.

And sometimes it happens that you are loved and then
You are not loved,
And love is past.
And whole days are lost and among them
A fountain empties itself into the grass.

And sometimes you want to speak to her and then
You do not want to speak,
Then the opportunity has passed.
Your dreams flare up, they suddenly vanish.

And also it happens that there is nowhere to go and then
There is somewhere to go,
Then you have bypassed.
And the years flare up and are gone,
Quicker than a minute.

So you have nothing.
You wonder if these things matter and then
As soon you begin to wonder if these things matter
They cease to matter,
And caring is past.
And a fountain empties itself into the grass.

Brian Patten

The poetry of Brian Patten is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

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Brian Patten: You asked, Who will look after the garden while I’m gone?

For me this poem by Brian Patten makes the phrase ‘speaks volumes’ make sense.

You asked, Who will look after the garden while I’m gone?

‘I will,’ said January.
‘I will anchor it to the earth with snowdrops.
I will give it my stone, the garnet.’

‘It is mine,’ said February.
‘I will feed it the memory of all that grows.
I will welcome it with my stone the amethyst and with primrose.’

‘I will coax it with bloodstone and daffodil,’ said March,
Like a boxer battered by winter
I will lift myself from the frosty canvas of the earth to welcome it.’BlogPattenBrian

‘With diamond and daisy I will seduce it.
I will soak it in shower after shower,’ said April.
‘In the yawny earth its seeds will riot.’

‘I will make it dizzy with emeralds
And the fumes of the hawthorn,’ said May.
‘It will know of nothing but play.’

‘And I will adorn it with necklaces of honeysuckle and ruby,’ said June.
‘Their clasps will be made out of the honeybees wings.’
It will dance to my languid tune.’

‘I will contain it,’ said July.
‘I will handcuff it with briar and chrysolite,
Drug it with the scent of roses.’

August spoke from the garden’s still centre.
‘I will weep layer upon layer of sardonyx.
I will teach it the brevity of poppies.’

‘When its bones begin to creak
I will cure it with aster and opal,’
Promised September

I will guide it towards sleep with the cold light of sapphires.
For its lullaby I will provide the swan-song of dahilias,’
Said October.

‘Under the dead weight of chrysanthemums I will bury it,’
Said November.
‘I will give it a headstone of topaz, a rosary of berries.’

‘And I will guard its sleep,’ said December.
‘On a pillow of moonstone
It will dream of holly and the coming snowdrop.’

Brian Patten

The poems of Brian Patten are in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

Sometimes It Happens

This poem by Brian Patten is worth reading and committing to memory.

Sometimes It Happens

And sometimes it happens that you are friends and then
You are not friends,
And friendship has passed.
And whole days are lost and among them
A fountain empties itself.

And sometimes it happens that you are loved and then
You are not loved,
And love is past.
And whole days are lost and among them
A fountain empties itself into the grass.

And sometimes you want to speak to her and then
You do not want to speak,
Then the opportunity has passed.
Your dreams flare up, they suddenly vanish.

And also it happens that there is nowhere to go and then
There is somewhere to go,
Then you have bypassed.
And the years flare up and are gone,
Quicker than a minute.

So you have nothing.
You wonder if these things matter and then
As soon you begin to wonder if these things matter
They cease to matter,
And caring is past.
And a fountain empties itself into the grass.

Brian Patten

‘Sometimes It Happens’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

There is a Boat Down on the Quay

When in a contemplative frame of mind, turn to Brian Patten’s poetry.  I do!

There is a Boat Down on the Quay

There is a boat down on the quay come home at last.
The paint’s chipped, the sails stained as if
Time’s pissed up against them.
I imagine the sea routes it’s followed,
Sailing through the world’s sunken veins
With its cargo of longings;
A little boat that’s nuzzled its way
Into the armpits of forests,
That’s sliced through the moon’s reflection,
Through the phosphate that clings to the lips of waves.
I knew its crew once,
Those boys manacled to freedom
Who set sail over half a century ago,
And were like giants to me.
A solitary child in awe of oceans
I saw them peel their shadows from the land
And watched as they departed.
What did they think when they peered
Over the rim of the world,
Where Time roared and bubbled
And angels swooped like swallows?
Reading an ancient Morse code of starlight,
Stranded by the longing to be elsewhere,
What secrets did they learn to forget?
I longed to be among them,
A passenger curled up in fate’s pocket,
I longed to be a part of them –
Those ghosts who set sail in my childhood,
Those phantoms who shaped me,
That marvellous crew for whom
I have stretched a simple goodbye
Out over a lifetime.

Brian Patten

Brian Patten’s poetry is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

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Brian Patten: Geography Lesson

Here is a poem that celebrates teachers for the inspiration they offer to others, whether they know it or not.  It reminds us that there are many people who do good but who may not always aware of the impact they have had on other people and I do not just mean professional teachers, I mean all people who set an example through the life they lead.

The poem also reminds us to live life to the full.   It is a good poem for the start of the year.

Geography Lesson

Our teacher told us one day he would leave
And sail across a warm blue sea
To places he had only known from maps,
And all his life had longed to be.
The house he lived in was narrow and grey
But in his mind’s eye he could see
Sweet-scented jasmine clinging to the walls,
And green leaves burning on an orange tree.
He spoke of the lands he longed to visit,
Where it was never drab or cold.
I couldn’t understand why he never left,
And shook off the school’s stranglehold.
Then halfway through his final term
He took ill and never returned,
And he never got to that place on the map
Where the green leaves of the orange trees burned.
The maps were redrawn on the classroom wall;
His name was forgotten, it faded away.
But a lesson he never knew he taught
Is with me to this day.
I travel to where the green leaves burn
To where the ocean’s glass-clear and blue,
To all those places my teacher taught me to love
But which he never knew.

Brian Patten

Brian Patten

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The poetry of Brian Patten is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

So Many Different Lengths of Time

Here is a poem by Brian Patten that moved me when I heard him read it aloud some years ago.  It came back to me in 2000 when someone close to me died suddenly.  It captures the stage many of us reach when grieving.  Death, especially an unexpected death, attacks our certainties.  The search for equilibrium involves more questions than answers.   But, we do reach an accommodation with life without the person we loved.  This poem explores that sense we make of this new reality.  Yet, it is also a poem of hope as it reminds us of the impact humans have on one another and the ways that one life touches so many others.

So Many Different Lengths of Time

How long does a man live after all?
A thousand days or only one?
One week or a few centuries?
How long does a man spend living or dying
and what do we mean when we say gone forever?

Adrift in such preoccupations, we seek clarification.
We can go to the philosophers
but they will weary of our questions.
We can go to the priests and rabbis
but they might be busy with administrations.

So, how long does a man live after all?
And how much does he live while he lives?
We fret and ask so many questions –
then when it comes to us
the answer is so simple after all.

A man lives for as long as we carry him inside us,
for as long as we carry the harvest of his dreams,
for as long as we ourselves live,
holding memories in common, a man lives.

His lover will carry his man’s scent, his touch:
his children will carry the weight of his love.
One friend will carry his arguments,
another will hum his favourite tunes,
another will still share his terrors.

And the days will pass with baffled faces,
then the weeks, then the months,
then there will be a day when no question is asked,
and the knots of grief will loosen in the stomach
and the puffed faces will calm.
And on that day he will not have ceased
but will have ceased to be separated by death.

How long does a man live after all?

A man lives so many different lengths of time.

Brian Patten

Brian Patten’s poetry is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

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The Minister for Exams

I met a young friend yesterday to celebrate his success in A levels this summer and to wish him well before he goes off to study medicine at university.

We were talking about the purpose of education and the dilemma faced by educated young people who want exam success but who also want to know more, study more widely or be more creative in their learning.  Here was a young man who received the best possible results; he could not have done better!  Yet, he still felt short changed by a system that did not have time for his hunger for learning.  It would be too inconvenient to allow schools to be places of exploration.  There are judgements to be made and these are made based on results.  Results are only of use because they are measurable, hence a system that only values that which can be measured.

There is so much creativity in our young people that cannot be measured and which is being devalued as a result.  Worse, creativity is discouraged if it gets in the way of the things schools are required to measure.

The young man, on the threshold of an exciting university course was not complaining.  The system has, after all, allowed him to embark on a course that will lead to his career of choice.  It was just clear to him that, to be successful in exam terms, other things were lost on the way.

This all reminded me of this poem by Brian Patten.

The Minister for Exams

When I was a child I sat an exam.
The test was so simple
There was no way I could fail.

Q1. Describe the taste of the moon.

It tastes like Creation I wrote,
it has the flavour of starlight.

Q2. What colour is Love?

Love is the colour of the water a man
lost in the desert finds, I wrote.

Q3. Why do snowflakes melt?

I wrote, they melt because they fall
onto the warm tongue of God.

There were other questions.
They were as simple.

I described the grief of Adam when he was expelled from Eden.
I wrote down the exact weight of an elephant’s dream.

Yet today, many years later,
For my living I sweep the streets
or clean out the toilets of the fat hotels.

Why? Because I constantly failed my exams.
Why? Well, let me set a test.
Q1. How large is a child’s imagination?
Q2. How shallow is the soul of the Minister for Exams?

Brian Patten

I read this in the Guardian years ago, cut it out and put it on my office wall.  It appears in his collection, ‘Armada’, and I was lucky enough to hear him read it at the Bath Literature Festival a few years later.  After the reading, I bought a copy and lined up to get it signed.  I intended to say, “I was so glad you read ‘The Minister for Exams’  but I became tongue tied at the last minute and what came out of my mouth was nonsense.  Be careful if you get to meet your heroes!

Brian Patten’s poetry is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?