Twenty Sonnets of WM. Smith

Original Text: 
Caudwell, Christopher. Poems. London: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1939: 34-44.
I.
1Come live with me and be my love.
2Let us love's bourgeois pleasures prove
3Where grasses' homely knitting spreads
4Antimacassars for the hill's heads
5Or landlady, shrill-rattled snake,
6Glides through the aspidistran brake.
7Let us be honest, flesh is flesh,
8Yet there's a difference in the dish
9If spiced with natural pleasantries
10Or raw upon slab life-size.
11Where shall we fry our dish of love
12And its more subtle pleasures prove?
13   You know love is as we are able;
14   The dish is done when brought to table.
II.
15Before us all who worked this leaping oar
16Contrived to drench the handle with perfume
17But we in Love's hot galley load the grain
18With natural sweat that bites the kissing palm.
19Let words drip honey and drunk lovers pledge
20Their raptures in the rose's cleanly breast,
21Our own employ will have a rougher edge
22In its own liquors by our lips confessed,
23Shameless of whence it sucked its raw delights,
24As sailors in their rough and tarry mode
25Announce what grand extraordinary sights
26Are to their nest of stinking cabins owed
27   Concealing not the thing by which they move,
28   Old body, faithful vessel of our love.
III.
29If I obscure the flesh's endless shout
30With patterns of a stale complexity
31Admit me no excuse and no regret,
32Traitor to you and traitor to our love.
33If I betray our passion's simple gust
34With flavourings of vaporous romance
35May I be damned to burn in hell with lust
36And find how these vague bubbles flee my lips;
37But if I have exacerbated sense
38To ape the soul's deep suction of delight,
39If I have staggered with polyvalence
40The fantasies that scorch our giddy eyes
41   And shocked the slippery habitudes of night
42   Count it as merit and a poet's right.
IV.
43S to which mind ascribes the P of beauty!
44Class of all classes patient to desire!
45Let me pay learning and its conjuring tricks
46The verbal homage of delirium,
47And when we write that all-or-nothing h
48In which we nothing do; or utterly
49Expend our energy to glut our breasts
50Let me profane my lips with algebra.
51The ten co-ordinates of space achieved
52The moments' miracle I sum as you
53And tired of roses, eyes, superfluous stars
54I praise you with the filthy rags of time,
55   With universes, galaxies, those tracts
56   Of death that wait to drink our limbs and acts.
V.
57We are not what songs feign, my love my rose,
58but beings full of blood and filthiness
59And we must cram as desperately as beasts
60The increment of our experience.
61Each day is a concession to despair,
62Each look, sigh, hope, delusion's armoury
63And while Pygmalion smooths his frigid stone,
64Insultingly betraying love's hot smell,
65Let us squeeze with the furious haste of greed
66The utmost brightness from out clipping limbs
67Until the body's pulp distills its tears,
68Salt, sweet, the tribute of our peach-fed love,
69   Pressed from this fatty garment we have on,
70   Joys foreign to the decent skeleton.
VI.
71Lift the church and find the altar;
72Lift the altar; find the stone:
73Lift the stone and find the toad;
74Lift the toad and find the rock.
75I heaved the rock up, heaved like hell,
76I pulled the rock up by the roots;
77I pulled a church up by the hair:
78Church and altar; stone and toad.
79We found the occupation childish,
80And while the organ, solemn, godlike,
81Pealed out of the stained-glass windows
82We fornicated to its tune.
83Jones, more mystic, with a groan
84Bashed his brains out on the stone.
VII.
85Let the lovely birds and beasts
86Explicate our common love;
87How we lovers link our hopes
88Faithfullest of living things.
89Let the spider and his mate
90That digestive passion can
91Sing each praise of constancy
92Each to each; it were a wonder.
93Neither can the other part,
94Each embracing, each-embraced--
95Never two so dear and common.
96Now no fly can come between
97No butterfly with violent wings
98Flattering the sun and sirs of spring
99Win one's bright regard from other;
100Never were such true-loves seen.
101   Here they lie; who knew love; could apply it;
102   If they grew board, they could each other diet.
103   He made one dinner; she a little tried
104   To live without more; liked it not; and died.
VIII.
105Though rulers fall and nations perish
106Love's principality stands firm,
107Its feet four-square upon the floor;
108The floor upon the living rock.
109Sweet fields of hay by yokels pressed
110Or water buoying the cow whale
111The earth indifferently sustains
112On her basaltic carapace.
113Religion fades; art is a dream,
114Philosophy is bored to death;
115But while the globe is sound at heart
116Its beams will bear a lover's weight.
117And gravity is with us yet
118Let we forget, lest we forget.
IX.
119The nightingale! it only needed that--
120For this ex-reptile of an old-wives' tale
121With her lost only assent maidenhead
122To caterwaul into the sweaty night.
123I have worshipped this animal I must admit,
124Perched on many a thoughtful page, revealing
125Lonely headlands, scraped by whispering clouds
126And those great bumpers, filled with heady wine!
127But now when I walk out too cool my head
128Having tried to suck some sweetness from her breasts
129And turn the greasy book of love anew,
130My plucked nerves trembling with a stale delight
131   I hear this proclamation, rarely heard:
132   It's chance. You cannot know, gossiping bird!
X.
133In your bran lists of love no firstling tilter
134I lease your bed from many able wights
135Who to the tourney have rehearsed my part
136Better than I perhaps; I am not vain
137Nor would I now reproach your openness
138With any civil breach of guarantee.
139The best is ripe; yours is no colic love
140Nor rail I at those ghosts our converse warms,
141And yet I rail, tenacious of my dream
142In which I saw out only images
143Like swan and shadow solitary drawn
144Across the virgin belly of a lake,
145   Restless in rest because my poet's heart
146   Secrets a chasteness proper to my art.
XI.
147What is your essence, how can you have purged
148Your being of the ghosts that I evoked?
149A million flowers uselessly tinged my brain
150If your warm skin recalls no other scent
151Helen's advertisement was so much waste,
152Your proper features can blot out her looks,
153And ladies linking deftly chains of days
154With which to lap the shins of hero-knights
155Superfluous labour with their long white hands
156Since your economy ensnared my soul.
157Yes, you are you; you flaunt the naked fact
158And mock my dream-soaked youth with all its waste.
159   It is your trick or right and warms me well,
160   Dream as I may, you will be what you are.
XII.
161Tritons lift shells, the grapy bubbles pulp
162Against the silver blades which, music-smitten,
163Woo on the goddess's barge, and she, pearl-sphered,
164Leans forward, gold hair on curds bosom dripping
165And snuffs the crinkled incense. Doves descend
166And nymphs elaborately girt with swags
167Draw back the pleated clouds from a blue sea
168Where a plump brig pursues a sprouting whale.
169A crowd waits. In that beach of sunbrowned limbs
170Observe the curls, wine-spattered chins, great breasts
171And now we seen that Loves with coloured tapes
172Haul up the vessel.
173                               Get out, pay the fare,
174   And in we go. It is a cheap hotel;
175   The sheets are clean; and now they know us well.
XIII.
176I could inventory all the offices
177That make more palatable your skeleton;
178The various over-valued orifices;
179The sense-receptors love is moulded on.
180I know what kiss conditions what reflex
181To crook the leverage by which you move.
182I hate the hot condition of my sex,
183And yet, like any chanticleer, I love.
184Is it the act alone which I adore,
185Careless of whom so the delight is mine?
186No, for the act alone offends me more,
187A matter for that charlatan, the spine.
188   Mark me as one whom my low breeding mocks
189   Loving to loathe my love's cold paradox.
XIV.
190My notes on love: -- like an electric shock
191Hated yet grasped and cannot now let go.
192A wind impalpable that blows one way.
193All the mind's stiff and treelike qualities,
194A snare of flesh in which the soul has tripped
195And brought it on its face, the human way.
196I am much skilled in derogation's art .-
197Will you hear more of an answer with a kiss?
198Best answer, nor indeed are you unskilled
199In body's older dialectice
200Where thesis and antithesis achieve
201By friction a diviner synthesis.
202   How oft have we disputed! Till the skies
203   Paling, have bade us cease philosophize.
XV.
204When I could bite my tongue put in desire
205To have your body, local now to me,
206You were a woman and your proper image
207Unvarying on the black screen of night,
208What are you now? A thigh, a smile, an odour:
209A cloud of anecdotes and fed desires
210Bubblingly unfolds inside my brain
211To vex its vision with a monstrous beast.
212There is no pure or intellectual you
213But flesh usurps the brain's forsaken throne
214And soaked in vision as in native lymph
215Responds convulsively to sight of you:
216   Give us this, O Lord, our daily bread.
217   The hungry flesh looks up and is not fed.
XVI.
218Even the old Egyptians had more tact
219Than you, complaining I was cold to touch
220Whom winter winds had battered as I crept
221Through lonely streets to sneak up draughty stairs.
222Be still, be still! The natural warmth we own
223Endlessly monotonously stoked
224And guarded as we can from puffing death
225Suffices for a while to kiss and cling
226But this same you hang you warmed between our breasts
227Consumes the marrow of my roaring bones
228And spite of all the sheets we wrapped us in
229Our furnaces hearts will burn themselves to death,
230And we'll not try, we two, when we are dead
231Like ignorant ghosts, to warm ourselves in bed.
XVII.
232If I have love you mainly with my brain
233Until it sizzled in its pan like milk
234Reproach me not; I cannot hope to prove
235My genuine passion with prodigious feats
236That bawds and bards might celebrate in sheets.
237You know the I am; then how I love
238Mark the outrageous froth upon my lips
239And the hoarse fancies of delirium.
240The brain that sways me, in no rite revered,
241You have inflamed, distended, pumped with blood.
242Yes, you have heard these lips botch genteel verse,
243The comfortable murmur of delight
244   Expect it not yourself; not from then ask
245   More than the slobber of love's prentice task.
XVIII.
246In Nature's factory not laggard workers
247We've yet produced no trophy of our skill
248And she may well dismiss us both as shirkers
249Barren by no misfortune but ill-will.
250Yet she approves the ruby's fruitless splendour
251And wastes on hairy nostrils her perfume:
252Let her, so spendthrift, be to lovers tender
253And take these songs as produce of your womb;
254Time will destroy them but they'll dance as long
255As coloured flies or the short hopes of spring
256And let her know, we shall not do her wrong,
257But every shift we work on, I shall sing,
258   Wherefore, industrious labourer, I write
259   While the day's light holds, and still work at night.
XIX.
260If I have shocked you that dislikes to hear
261The thing named you so excellently do
262Forgive me love, for I am fighting foes
263You know not, proud in your unmortgaged flesh.
264The body of my song is too corrupt,
265Foul with the staleness of great athletes' beds,
266I could not trick her out in virgin clothes
267To pass as honest among worldly men,
268And if I have bewhored her to the skies
269Accept it not insultingly in me
270That sucked fresh vigour from your tender lips
271And the reviving greenness of your breasts.
272   We have been honest and song's naked sight
273   Now promises unpalated delight
XX.
274In which we shall have earned the rose the rose
275Whose petals crumpled by a thousand thighs
276Were virgin and unfingered once God knows
277Then worth and scented burthen of our sighs.
278I have been niggard of enjoying spring
279But yet the time must come when a ripe Muse
280May hear the name pronounced without a grin
281And automatic twitching of her hams.
282yes, even the wood's great pimp the nightingale
283Is full flood of meretricious song
284Set on by his unholy bawd the moon
285May be permitted to observe our love
286And sing of it, no more a leering foe,
287As once he used, two thousand years ago.
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire, assisted by Ana Berdinskikh
RPO Edition: 
2009
Form: