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Tag Archives Europe

OCCAM’S RAZOR…

…a maxim named for a Franciscan friar,

William of Ockham, from the Surrey village –

and from London, Oxford, Avignon,

Munich – Pope’s enemy, Emperor’s friend,

dying just as the Black Death was scourging.

 

It is a metaphor, not logic chopping –

best summarised, perhaps, as ‘less is more’,

‘don’t over-egg the pudding’, even

‘fine words butter no parsnips’. He was

the radical philosopher of his age,

a nominalist – words are words, ideas

ideas,

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MOUNTAIN VIEW

Some time after midnight, when the bars have closed,

the hoots and laughter of revellers

on the stone-clad stairs wakes us. Much later

wind, billowing through the open corridors

of the steel framed building, shakes our door

intermittently like some errant soul.

In the shallow valley below the hotel

a cock crows above the gusts and the rattles.

 

***

 

In the morning a warm west wind blows

over the sea from what was Carthage.

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THINKING OF AMERICA

‘Unlike any nation in Europe, the United States holds whiteness as the unifying force.’

MAKING AMERICA WHITE AGAIN, Toni Morrison

 

Twenty five years ago – the year of the First

Gulf War, the launching of the World Wide Web,

the repeal of South Africa’s Apartheid Law,

and the ‘End of History’ – one August

Saturday in Godfrey, Illinois –

a town on the Mississippi bluffs –

I watched the wooden New England style

Church of Christ at Monticello cross the road,

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MONKS’ MOUND, CAHOKIA, ILLINOIS

The river valleys – Missouri, Ohio,
Illinois, Mississippi – are thronged
with prehistoric earthen mounds. Monks’ Mound
was lived on briefly by Trappists, hence
its English soubriquet. The city
of Cahokia – the name means ‘Wild Geese’ –
was six miles square, had more than eighty mounds.
At its thirteenth century zenith,
it was as populous as any city
in the then contemporary Europe.

The Trinculos and Stephanos came:
mockers and con men – drunken, violent,
slaughtering bison, fencing the prairie –
satraps of Washington and the railways,

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ONLY ARTIFICE WILL REMAIN

When a joiner made the oak frame of this

long sash window, when a builder set it

in the wall, when a glazier puttied

in the panes that keep the weathers in their place,

all I would have seen were hedges, fields, ponds

and grazing dairy cattle – before the rise,

the decline and the fall, in a hundred

and sixty years, of so many empires.

 

When I stand on the back doorstep and search

for the stars amid the urban glare and the overcast

and then look down I see me silhouetted

in the gazebo’s windows – like the figure,

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THE SAME SHARED GROUND

Larks and herons rise from the same shared ground –

a salt-marsh sprinkled with scurvy grass

like early snow. A navigable channel

is impossibly distant, far-off as

childhood’s spring tides. Silt obscured endeavour.

Sailors and milkmaids and priests lie low

as the worked-out coal seams. Glaciers made this –

ice miles, thick as centuries, combing valleys,

teasing out hills, a slow explosion

of seas. I imagine, back in Europe’s

reticular forests, a homely,

mackerel sky caught in another’s vision –

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DEDHAM VALE REVISITED

Dedham Vale, John Constable, 1802

 

 

Dedham Vale, John Constable, 1828

 

 

September touches the Vale like a sigh,

a mellow, fruitful suspiration

edging from green to lemon, agitating

gently the skieyest leaves. The Stour

meanders to a sea of clouds vanishing

over an unimaginable Europe.

Dedham Church, a testament to wool,

focuses an especial scene: Saxon names,

corn marigolds, skylarks and enclosures.

 

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A PLACE AND A NAME

Of the nine men in the photograph, eight

are soldiers, their boots as yet unblemished.

One of them cuts the ninth man’s hair and beard.

Though his prayer shawl is trailing on the ground,

his waistcoat is firmly fastened, watch chain

still in place. He is standing stolidly

as in a queue. His eyes only we see.

He looks through the lens with – not fear – contempt.

The burning of children, of millions deceives.

‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem…’

 

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ON FIRST READING ‘THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO’

It was time to revise our atlases.

Europe was a river of broken ice,

Russia a mouth widening to a

frozen sea. GULAG was permanent winter.

Innocent, we had traced railways to

romantic ends. The atlas of knowledge showed

obscured crimes, its charts the colours and scale

of blizzards. A new world had been shaping.

Multitudes were shunted across nations.

A chronicle of whispers is the pure

saga, epic of the supreme fiction,

where history is lost, where ten million

lives are broken like glass.

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4th AUGUST 1944

Anne Frank

The canal dapples the office ceiling.

Upstairs, the fugitives are still as dust.

A siren unpeoples the city.

Into the waiting sky, with the raucous gulls

and the chestnut, her words like breathing…Her life

has turned, beyond all her desires, so

brutally to art…They packed and waited:

beyond, a locked compartment to themselves

and telephone wires curvetting by –

then countrysides of shuddering, noisome wagons.

She died alone.

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