Ruth Sophia Padel
Biography of Ruth Sophia Padel
Ruth Sophia Padel (born 8 May 1946) is a British poet, novelist and non-fiction author known for her poetry criticism, nature writing, and connections with music, science, Greece and conservation. She broadcasts for BBC Radio 3 and 4 on poetry, wildlife and music, and is on the Board of the Zoological Society of London, active in promoting its global conservation through literary programmes. She teaches Creative Writing at King's College London.
Padel is daughter of psychoanalyst John Hunter Padel and Hilda Barlow. Padel was born in Wimpole Street where her great-grandfather Sir Thomas Barlow practised medicine. She attended North London Collegiate School, studied classics at Lady Margaret Hall Oxford where she sang in Schola Cantorum of Oxford, wrote a PhD on Greek poetry, and was first Bowra Research Fellow at Wadham College Oxford which altered its Statutes for her to accommodate female Fellows. She was thus among the first women to become Fellows of formerly all-male Oxford colleges. She taught Greek at Oxford and Birkbeck, University of London, taught opera in the Modern Greek Department at Princeton University, has lived in Greece, and in Paris where she sang in the Choir of Église Saint-Eustache, Paris. Her publishing career began in 1985, while she was teaching Greek at Birkbeck College, with a poetry pamphlet. Later she left academe to support herself by reviewing and to publish her first collection in 1990. From 1984 to 2000 she was married to the philosopher Myles Burnyeat.
Padel's mother is the daughter of Sir Alan Barlow 2nd Baronet and Nora Barlow, née Darwin, granddaughter of Charles Darwin, through whom Padel is Darwin's great-great-grandchild. Her brother is historian Oliver Padel; cousins include prison reformer Una Padel, sculptor Phyllida Barlow and biographer Randal Keynes; her uncle is Horace Barlow
Ruth Sophia Padel Poems
WRITING TO ONEGIN
After Pushkin Look at the bare wood hand-waxed floor and long White dressing-gown, the good child's writing-desk And passionate cold feet Summoning music of the night, timbrels, gongs And gamelans. And one neat pen, one candle Puckering its life out hour by hour. Is "Tell Him I love him" never a good idea? You can't Wish this unlived - this world on fire, on storm Alert, till a shepherd's song Outside, some hyper-active yellowhammer, bulbul, Wren, amplified in hills and woods, tells her to bestow A spot of notice on the dawn. "I'm writing to you. Well, that's it, that's everything. You'll laugh, but you'll pity me too. I'm ashamed of this. I meant to keep it quiet. You'd never have known, if - I wish - I could have seen you once a week. To mull over, day And night, the things you say. Or what we say together. But word is, you're misogynist. Laddish. A philanderer Who says what he doesn't mean (that's not how you come across To me), who couldn't give a toss for domestic peace - Only for celebrity and showing off - And won't hang round in a provincial zone Like this. We don't glitter. Though we do, Warmly, truly, welcome you. "Why did you come? I'd never have set Eyes on a star like you, or blundered up against This crazed not-sleeping, hour after hour In the dark. I might have got the better of My clumsy fury with constraint, my fret For things I lack all lexica and phrase-book art To get straight in my head. I might have been a faithful wife, A mother. But that's all done with. This is Fate. God. Sorted. Here I am - yours, to the last breath. I couldn't give my heart to anyone else. My life till now has been a theorem, to demonstrate How right it is to love you. This love is love to death. "I knew you anyway. I loved you, I'm afraid, In my sleep. Your eyes, that denim-lapis, grey-sea, Grey-green blue, that Chinese fold of skin At the inner corner, that shot look Bleeping ‘vulnerable' under the screensaver charm, Kept me alive. Every cell, every last gold atom Of your body, was engraved in me Already. Don't tell me that was dream! When you came in, Staring round in your stripy brocade Jacket, I nearly fainted, I was flame. I recognised The you I'd always listened to - alone, when I wrote, Or tried to wrestle my scatty soul into calm. "Wasn't it you who slipped through the transparent Darkness to my bed and whispered love? Aren't you My guardian angel? Or is this arrant Seeming: hallucination, thrown up by That fly engineering a novel does, so Beguilingly, or poems? Is this mad? Are there ways of dreaming I don't know? Too bad. My soul has made its home In you. I'm here and bare before you: shy, In tears. But if I didn't heft my whole self up and hold it there - A crack-free mirror - loving you, or if I couldn't share it, Set it out in words, I'd die. "I'll wait to hear from you. I must. Please let me hope. Give me one look, from eyes I hardly dare To look back at. Or scupper my dream By scolding me. I've given you rope To hang me: tell me I'm mistaken. You're so much in The world; while I just live here, busy with harvest, songs, And books. That's not complaint. We live such different lives. So . . . this is the end. It's taken all night. I'm scared to read it back; I'm faint With shame and fear. But this is what I am. My crumpled bed, My words, my open self. All I can do is trust The whole damn lot of it to you." She sighs. The paper trembles as she presses down The pink wax seal. Outside, a milk mist clears From the shimmering valley. If I were her guardian Angel, I'd divide myself. One half would holler Don't! Stay on an even keel! Don't dollop over All you are, to a man who'll go to town On his next little fling. If he's entranced today By the way you finger your throat inside its collar, Tomorrow there'll be Olga, Nicole, Jane. But then I'd whisper Go for it, petal. Nothing's as real as what you write. His funeral, if he's not up to it. What we feel Is mortal, and won't come again. So cut, weeks later, to an outside shot: the same girl Taking cover ("Dear God, he's here, he's come!") Under fat red gooseberries, glimmering hairy stars: The old, rude bushes she has hide-and-seeked in all Her life, where mother tells the serfs to sing While picking, so they can't hurl The odd gog into their mouths. No one could spy Her here, not even the sun in its burn-time. Her cheeks Are simmering fire. We're talking iridescence, a Red Admiral's last tremble Before the avid schoolboy plunks his net. Or imagine a leveret Like the hare you shot, remember, at the country house, Which ran round screaming like a baby? Only mine is shivering in papery winter corn, While the hunter (as it might be, you) stomps his Hush Puppies through dead brush. Everything's quiet. She's waited - how long? - ages: stoking pebbly embers Under the evening samovar, filling The Chinese teapot, sending coils of Lapsang Suchong Floating to the ceiling in the shadows, tracing O and E In the window's black reflection, one finger Tendrilling her own breath on the glass. Like putting a shell to your ear to hear the sea When it's really your own red little sparkle, the echo Of marching blood. She's asking a phantom world Of pearled-up mist for proof That her man exists: that gamelans and timbrels Won't evade her. But now, among The kitchen garden's rose-haws, mallow, Pernod- Coloured pears, she unhooks herself thorn by thorn For the exit aria. For fade-out. Suddenly there he is In the avenue, the man she's written to - Charon Gazing at her with blazing eyes! Darth Vader From Star Wars. She's trapped, in a house she didn't realise Was burning. Her letter was a gate to the inferno.
THE ALLIGATOR'S GREAT NEED AND GREAT DES...
To be thermally, forever, stable. (That surprised you.) Harder than it seems, But thermo-regulation is their thing. When the air Is colder than the water, October to late March, They keep to dens below the water table. Away from them, caught by a cold snap, they become Completely numb, incapable of moving. All they do is breathe Surface-oxygen through air-holes. Temperature is their goal, Their god and good. During winter, they take no food. They pick an under-hang of lake or stream which will Stay filled with water when the spring freshet recedes. Listen to Mr Ned. "See him," he says, "back out of that hole He's making burdened with dollops of soft mud In his mouth and on his tail, pushing a mass of mud With webbed hind feet. He's one busy alligator, sweeping his tail From side to side. And trees round gator holes grow Darker green, their roots enriched by droppings." For water's everything. The darkest alligators come, thought Ned, From Tupelo Gum Swamp where the flow is black, Dyed by its maker's hand - the bark, roots, fallen leaves Of Tupelo Gum. Gator holes, especially of older beasts Who, weary, cannot want to move, Run a long way underground. That's how they manage. They survive, When they can't bear what's outside. They know, whatever knowing is For them, they'll have to face the winter. So, they dig.
May: the Dyad Moon One cub has died on the road. Magpies have eaten her. The last two play-learn, eat solid food and follow their parents through dusk. Twins of the Greek night sky, Castor and Pollux, shine through damp London nights as earthworms leave burrows. Parents spoon crane-flies off lawns with their tongues, teach young to deadhead the bins on Bemerton and Havelock, lift black plates for frankincense, rot-lustre gems of sunk baconfat. To strip flaking bark for silverheave woodlice, listen for worm-bristles rasping through grass. If worm-tails are gripping the burrow - even a worm can be frantic - the grey-black lips pull gently taut - and pause - and pull again. A technique used by bait-collecting fishermen.
THE FREE WILL OF AN OYSTER
Probably some error in the argument here. Should be grateful if pointed out. Lurcher puppies, brown and gold, playing in the straw of a farmyard. Ears, teeth and tails. The individual in society. Tussle, flight, invention, fight. "It cannot be doubted that they have free will. If they, then all animals - even an oyster: whose free will must result from the limits of shell, pulp, valve. Free will is to mind what chance is to matter, changing the body's arrangements. So may free will make changes, too, in Man." And the mind, belvedere of the body? "Beyond doubt, part of the process." No deity, no lutes of paradise. Only the smell of tall grass, tissue adaptive as light from a star and quick cells vivid to change in the struggle for life.
CAT O' NINE TAILS
Shrieks from above, on deck. One sailor lashed by the cat, twenty-five times for Drunkenness. Three strands of rope, unravelled into three ("the Trinity of Trinities" sets sinners on the path to righteousness) and then replaited for a more effective wound. Drum rolls - all hands to witness punishment. Silence as tails are disentangled. In the Bay of Biscay, the naturalist lies retching on the floor: trying not to picture barbed knots biting a cross on every spine and shoulderblade, a glary scarlet scribble on open flesh again, again, again. Thirty-one lashes for Neglect of Duty; Disobeying Orders, thirty-four. Forty-four - that's Drunkenness with Insolence. The Captain says he must establish order from the start. Leg irons on five more. Till we passed Teneriffe, says the Captain's log, he was terribly sick. "The misery," he tells his journal, "is excessive."
THE CODDINGTON MICROSCOPE
Stand a moment in the centre of these panels. His room's empty now, being restored. Just the mahogany table and carved doors - leading, if you open them, one to a tiny bedroom, one to a brick wall. A stone fireplace, chest-high - just right for a gentleman to warm his backside in icy weather. Outside are pale wood stairs and steps to an upper floor with a vertical iron bar to grab when drunk. We're here. The mantle of antiquity, of always. These rooms once belonged to William Paley! The panels are bayonet geometries with Ionic capitals on top, like a set of watching owls. A Bible and Latin books un opened on the desk. "I used to throw my gun to my shoulder before the looking-glass and fire with a cap on the nipple at the flame of a candle held by a friend. If my aim was accurate, the little puff of air blew it out. There was a sharp crack! When the Tutor passed below he thought I had a taste for snapping a whip." He's twenty-one. Quite soon he'll be a parson pursuing Natural History part-time but now the world is vivid, a bright rug of dark-hearted poppies. His collecting net hangs from a pole like the dug of a breeding bitch. The circus of polished oak reflects brass glitter on his Coddington's Microscope, the first real scientific instrument he's owned, even more prized than his gun. He's friends with Botany and Geology Professors; he competes for favour at their lectures. He's in debt. He reads Paley - of course - and novels. He rides out to the Fens to catch beetles. He dreams of a Natural History expedition to Teneriffe, before he gets down to parsoning. Let's walk him out to the jade lawn, scarlet geraniums and black stone walls (now cleaned and pale) familiar, once, to Milton. Everything in its place: college history; the Laws of Nature and of God. A great regard for understanding order stirs in him like a sleeping bird. A roc perhaps. Or a phoenix.
LEARNING TO MAKE AN ‘OUD IN NAZARETH
The first day he cut rosewood for the back, bent sycamore into ribs and made a belly of mahogany. Let us go early to the vineyards and see if the vines have budded. The sky was blue over the Jezreel valley and the gilt dove shone above the Church of the Annunciation. The second day, he carved a camel-bone base for the fingerboard. I sat down under his shadow with delight. The third day, he made a nut of sandalwood, and a pickguard of black cherry. He damascened a rose of horn with arabesques as lustrous as under-leaves of olive beside the sea. I have found him whom my soul loves. He inlaid the soundhole with ivory swans, each pair a Valentine of entangled necks, and fitted tuning pegs of apricot to give a good smell when rubbed. The fourth was a day for cutting high strings of camel-gut. His left hand shall be under my head. For the lower course, he twisted copper strings pale as tarmac under frost. He shall lie all night between my breasts. The fifth day he laid down varnish. Our couch is green and the beams of our house are cedar and pine. Behind the neck he put a sign to keep off the Evil Eye. My beloved is a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of Engedi and I watched him whittle an eagle-feather, a plectrum to celebrate the angel of improvisation who dwells in clefts on the Nazareth ridge where love waits. And grows, if you give it time. Set me as a seal upon your heart. On the sixth day the soldiers came for his genetic code. We have no record of what happened. I was queueing at the checkpoint to Galilee. I sought him and found him not. He'd have been in his open-air workshop - I called but he gave me no answer - the selfsame spot where Jesus stood when He came from Capernaum to teach in synagogue, and townsfolk tried to throw Him from the rocks. Until the day break and shadows flee away I will get me to the mountain of myrrh. The seventh day we set his wounded hands around the splinters. Come with me from Lebanon my spouse, look from the top of Shenir and Hermon, from the lions' dens. On the eighth there were no more days. I took a class in carpentry and put away the bridal rug. We started over with a child's ‘oud bought on eBay. He was a virtuoso of the ‘oud and his banner over me was love.
That fox you didn't know you had In your front garden Is craning his velour neck From the hedge at two in the morning To see what he doesn't often get a glimpse of, That moonspark On a glass of Scotch He doesn't often smell Being more at home with fish-heads And the rinds of Emmental: Identifying, to his fox-astonishment, A tumbler doing the rounds of his own beat About heart-height in the dark.
He's gone. She can't believe it, can't go on. She's going to give up painting. So she paints Her final canvas, total-turn-off Black. One long
Then spoke the thunder, shattering the looming blackness of our national life. The rumble that breaks a spell of the dry season - Saro-Wiwa, 'The Storm Breaks'
Writing To Onegin
(After Pushkin) Look at the bare wood hand-waxed floor and long White dressing-gown, the good child's writing-desk And passionate cold feet
Icicles Round A Tree In Dumfriesshire
We're talking different kinds of vulnerability here. These icicles aren't going to last for ever Suspended in the ultra violet rays of a Dumfries sun.
Flamingo silk. New ruff, the ivory ghost of a halter. Chestnut curls,
I was with Special Force, blue-X-ing raids to OK surfing on the Colonel's birthday. Operation Ariel: we sprayed Jimi Hendrix loud from helis to frighten the slopes
He's gone. She can't believe it, can't go on. She's going to give up painting. So she paints Her final canvas, total-turn-off
Black. One long
Obsidian goodbye. A charcoal-burner's Smirnoff, The mirror of Loch Ness Reflecting the monster back to its own eye.
But something's wrong. Those mad Black-body particles don't sing Her story of despair, the steel and
Of the storm.
This black has everything its own sweet way, Where's the I'd-like-to-kill-You conflict? Try once more, but