Biography of James Fenton
James Fenton Poems
HOW CAN THE HEART LIVE?
How can the heart live that loved once so well? The body that knew love without deceit? For I remember now I was not mad Loving my bright unblemished luck And finding a simple joy in what I had. And I remember now I was not deceived. The tongue lies. Really, the body does not lie. And long before the breaking of the wave I knew there was some great good I had mislaid And logic tells me what I lost was love. Affection with an electric charge of hope Is what love was. Affection died in the flames. There's no insurance: earthquake, fire and flood, War, famine, pestilence - all such are deemed The visitations of some love-crossed god. On some remote Olympus of the soul, Hidden beyond the brain's cloud-forest line, Some ancient grudge-match is being fought to the last. It seems that we were proxies in the fight And there's no compensation, no redress. Live without hope for a time, unlucky heart. Unlucky lover in this ruined city, Live with this loss, these lucky ruined lives.
WAS THAT YOUR IDEA OF LOVE?
Was that your idea of love? Was that your idea of love? Those brilliantly confected lies - They hit me straight between the eyes. Was that your idea of love? That endless digging for the dirt, That motive-seeking where it hurt - Was that your idea of love? And all those accusations you made About the subtle ways you'd been betrayed - Was that your idea of love? It felt like drowning. It felt like an immersion In a dark sea of blame Until I found out that it was all a diversion. You had a secret game. You had a game to play and you played rough. Was that your idea of love? Funny I never noticed it creeping up on us, This vengefulness and spite. Funny how long I went on thinking There must be a simple way to put things right. And funniest of all to think of you Pretending to seek professional advice, When what you wanted was to be shot of me At any cost to anyone, At any price To me . . . Was that your idea of love? Was that your idea of love? Resentfulness disguised as charm, That care in plotting future harm - Was that your idea of love? That skilful use of evidence To batter down each last defence - Was that your idea of love? That conjuring of bad from good, That mimicry of victimhood - Was that your idea of love? You certainly deserve congratulation On an effective campaign. I'd like to know the terms for outright capitulation But I suppose you've made it plain They're going to be tough. Is this your idea of love? Be shot of me I beg you. Let me be. Tell me again you want no more of me. Was that the reckoning? Was that the sum? Or is there more of this - Is there more of this to come? Is this your idea of love? Is this your idea of love? Be shot of me I beg you. Let me be. Tell me again you want no more of me. Is this your idea of love?
My mind was racing. It was some years from now. We were together again in our old flat. You were admiring yourself adjusting your hat. ‘Oh of course I was mad then,' you said with a forgiving smile, ‘Something snapped in me and I was mad for a while.' But this madness of yours disgusted me, This alibi, This gorgeous madness like a tinkling sleigh, It carried you away Snug in your fur, snug in your muff and cape. You made your escape Through the night, over the dry powdery snow. I watched you go. *** Truly the mad deserve our sympathy. And you were driven mad you said by me. And then you drove away, The cushions and the furs piled high, Snug with your madness alibi, Injured and forgiven on your loaded sleigh.
THE WATCHER IN THE SQUARE
I wake in the night with a start. A log settles in the grate And what was that? A cat? A rat? I hate them both with all my heart. What business have they being up so late? And what about that man On the dark side of the square? What harm has he In mind for me? What dark malevolent plan? What business has he standing watching there? The night is on the tiles. A mood settles on the moon. It gives the faintest of all watery smiles. It will be gone soon. But when the smile is gone And darkness has its day The watcher at my window will watch on. He will not slip away. The lovers hurry by The watcher in the square. They seem so busy in their ecstasy. Hatred has time to spare. Hatred knows no land, No hearth, no wife, no brood, And time lies heavy on the hater's hand And cold as the moon's mood. Though I take the forest track Or ride the mountain trail I'll never shake the watcher off my back, The wizard off my tail. In the stable lantern's soot, In the soft step on the stair, I shall glimpse the eye, I shall waken to the foot Of the watcher in the square.
Looking into the vase, into the calyx, into the water drop, Looking into the throat of the flower, at the pollen stain, I can see the ambush love sprung once in the summery wood. I can see the casualties where they lay, till they set forth again. I can see the lips, parted first in surprise, parted in desire, Smile now as a silence falls on the yellow-dappled ride For each thinks the other can hear each receding thought On each receding tide. They have come out of the wood now. They are skirting the fields Between the tall wheat and the hedge, on the unploughed strips, And they believe anyone who saw them would know Every secret of their limbs and of their lips, As if, like creatures of legend, they had come down out of the mist Back to their native city, and stood in the square, And they were seen to be marked at the throat with a certain sign Whose meaning all could share. _____ These flowers came from a shop. Really they looked nothing much Till they opened as if in surprise at the heat of this hotel Then the surprise turned to a shout, and the girl said, ‘Shall I chuck them now Or give them one more day? They've not lasted so well.' ‘Oh give them one more day. They've lasted well enough. They've lasted as love lasts, which is longer than most maintain. Look at the sign it has left here at the throat of the flower And on your tablecloth - look at the pollen stain.'
Looking into the vase, into the calyx, into the water drop,
Looking into the throat of the flower, at the pollen stain,
I can see the ambush love sprung once in the summery wood.
I can see the casualties where they lay, till they set forth again.
I can see the lips, parted first in surprise, parted in desire,
Smile now as a silence falls on the yellow-dappled ride
For each thinks the other can hear each receding thought
On each receding tide.