Open 11am to 8pm
Royal Festival Hall (Level 5), Southbank Centre, LondonOpen Tuesday - Sunday from 11am to 8pm
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
Resurfaced, never widened.
The verges grassy as when
Bill Pickering lay with his gun
Under the summer hedge
Nightwatching, in uniform –
Moonlight on rifle barrels,
On the windscreen of a van
Roadblocking the road,
The rest of his patrol
Sentry-still, in profile,
Or me in broad daylight
On top of a cartload
Of turf hand-built and squat
As a drystone beehive hut,
Looked up to, looking down,
Allowed the reins like an adult –
In the picture at last,
The one on the whitewashed wall
Of a horse and cart and turfman
Embroidered on calico
In what they called ‘the long ago’,
Framed in passe-par-tout.
Or that August day I walked it
To the hunger striker’s wake,
Across a silent yard,
In past a watching crowd
To where the guarded corpse
And a guard of honour stared.
Film it in sepia,
Drip-paint it in blood,
This was/is the Wood Road.
Resurfaced, never widened,
The milk-can deck and the sign
For the bus-stop overgrown.
I never knew you in the days of your glory,
Your turbulent dawn in all I know;
But perhaps I’m qualified to tell your story
At last of that day from long ago.
The lines of your powerful verse were filled with
Strange new voices we’d never heard . . .
And your youthful hands were never still as
You raised up a terrible scaffold of words.
Whatever you touched was no longer the same as
The thing it had been before that time,
All that you censured and covered in shame was
Condemned to death in your thunderous lines.
So often alone and disaffected,
You impatiently tried to seep up fate,
For already you freely, gladly accepted
That soon you must go and take part in the great
Struggle. And as you read an answer
Of rumbling dissent could be heard all round
And the angry rain eyed you askance as
You debated at length with the outraged town.
And now a name, unknown, obscure,
Was flashing around the stuffy hall,
And all through the land today it endures,
Reverberates still like a warrior’s call.
It begins as a house, an end terrace
in this case
but it will not stop there. Soon it is
which cambers arrogantly past the Mechanics’ Institute,
at the main road without even looking
and quickly it is
a town with all four major clearing banks,
a daily paper
and a football team pushing for promotion.
On it goes, oblivious to the Planning Acts,
the green belts
and before we know it it is out of our hands:
hemisphere, universe, hammering out in all directions
mercifully, it is drawn aside through the eye
of a black hole
and bulleted into a neighbouring galaxy, emerging
smaller and smoother
than a billiard ball but weighing more than Saturn.
People stop me in the street, badger me
in the check-out queue
and ask ‘What is this, this that is so small
and so very smooth
but whose mass is greater than the ringed planet?’
It’s just words
I assure them. But they will not have it.