Love poems you wish you had written 2015 #3 – W. B Yeats

William_Butler_Yeats_by_George_Charles_BeresfordWell, haven’t I had some wonderful suggestions for this series of love poems for St Valentine’s Day and beyond? Donne, Auden and now Yeats. This one, I have to admit, is one that I have loved since my teens, with that vain hope that one day someone would write something like it for me….

Hey ho, such is real life that nothing has yet been forthcoming and a limerick might be the best I can hope for now. But that doesn’t prevent me, and it seems many of my Facebook friends, dreaming. This great poem – Aedh (or He) Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven was suggested by Jane Earthy, Ada Mournian and Deborah Metters, amongst others and it is one of those poems that itch to be learnt by heart.

William Butler Yeats was born in Dublin in 1865 and became one of the foremost literary figures of the twentieth century. His protestant background did not prevent him breaking with tradition and affirming his Irish nationality and as a young man he was intrigued by Irish myth and the occult and dabbled in spiritualism. There is so much to say about his life, and his love life, that I can’t hope to summarise here, so I recommend you visit The Poetry Foundation website.  It offers a  succinct biography that details his life and influences; he was a fascinating man and a great poet.

He wishes for the cloths of heaven, published in The Wind Among the Reeds in 1899is brilliantly imaginative and colourful; the poet admits to financial poverty but offers his love his dreams instead, seeming appealingly vulnerable (they are ‘only’ dreams). However, the richness of the words (and cloth) he spins are so utterly compelling that who could resist? The musicality of some of the lines is wonderful – I particularly love The blue and the dim and the dark cloths/Of night and light and the half-light…..

He wishes for the cloths of heaven

W B Yeats 

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

I have found another lovely reading, this time by Sir Anthony Hopkins. Brief, but beautiful.

Could you trample on the dreams of anyone who wrote those words for you? Thanks to everyone who suggested this one – truly a poem anyone could wish to have written, or have written for them!

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Love poems you wish you had written 2015 #2 – W.H. Auden

220px-AudenVanVechten1939For the second of my posts, specially written as we approach St Valentine’s Day, I focus on a poem by W.H. Auden. Anyone who has seen Four Weddings and a Funeral will know the poem which starts ‘Stop all the clocks…’, so movingly read by John Hannah at the funeral of his dead partner, played by Simon Callow. It is chokingly good, and bitterly sad.

However, for this week, as requested by historian Jessica Meyer on Twitter, I am reproducing another great love lyric by Auden – Lullaby. Sometimes referred to by the first line ‘Lay your sleeping head my love…’ it is about time passing, the inevitable fading of beauty and the enduring nature of love. Auden was born in 1907 and is now regarded as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.  He was a great poetic technician, but also wrote remarkable prose on profound topics. He is a poet I love to read, although I have never studied his work in depth. So I simply respond, and in this poem I like the way a classic meditation on love is subverted – most particularly by the lover’s ‘faithless’ arm. Is this a reference to atheistic beliefs? Is this about a night spent making love to someone other than the poet’s regular partner (with a further reference to fidelity in the third stanza)? Or is it simply a recognition that we are all frail, imperfect human beings when it comes to love and that in that moment there is no-one more entirely beautiful and adored than the sleeping lover? What do you think?

W. H. Auden, (1907 – 1973)

Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

Soul and body have no bounds:
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope;
While an abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit’s carnal ecstasy.

Certainty, fidelity
On the stroke of midnight pass
Like vibrations of a bell,
And fashionable madmen raise
Their pedantic boring cry:
Every farthing of the cost,
All the dreaded cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost.

Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly round your dreaming head
Such a day of welcome show
Eye and knocking heart may bless,
Find the mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness find you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.

Again, I have found a reading  – sometimes it helps to hear a poem read aloud (although I always like to read it to myself, under my breath or out loud and proud if I am alone in the house!) and this version is accompanied by some sweet music. I would love to know what you think, and as always do let me know your own favourite poems.

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Love poems you wish you had written 2015 – #1 John Donne

JohnDonneLast year I followed the example of the fabulous David J Bauman over at The Dad Poet and posted some of my favourite love poetry. I had a great time rediscovering some old favourites and finding new work that moved me; poetry that really had the power to distil emotions and make me cry out (internally anyway!) ‘Yes!!’

So this year, I thought I would do something similar, but with poems nominated by friends on social media. I have always maintained that those who say ‘I don’t like/get poetry’ just haven’t found the right poet for them, so I do hope something on this blog inspires you to take a closer look, for Valentine’s Day on the 14th, and onwards.

The first poem of the week was nominated by Lorna Fergusson, over at Fictionfire, and seconded by Emma Darwin. It was published nearly 400 years ago, but it still has the power to send (pleasurable) shivers down the spine…..

The Good-Morrow
By John Donne

I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?
But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?
’Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love, all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,
Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres,
Without sharp north, without declining west?
Whatever dies, was not mixed equally;
If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.

This is a wonderful evocation of the sensual and spiritual aspects of the love between two people, and as the film Fifty Shades of Grey hits the screen, I posit the idea that Donne is sexier by far than anything E L James came up with. The lines For love, all love of other sights controls/And makes one little room an everywhere is so quietly passionate that the intensity of the emotion expressed can escape you. Makes me go all warm inside and conjures up an illicit weekend away – 48 hours and never leaving the room…….

I thought I would also offer a reading of the poems I post on here, if possible, and on YouTube I found my favourite actor, the lovely Kenneth Branagh, reading it. Do let me know what you think, and if you have favourite love poems of your own.

Enjoy :-)

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‘let’s talk! about mental health – #Take5 on the 5th February to discuss mental health


As today is the (deep breath!) Time to Change ‘Time to Talk’ #Take5 minutes to start a conversation about mental health day I am on the ‘let’s talk!’ blog for The Terrace Psychotherapy & Complementary Therapy Clinic in Taunton, talking about my life affected by depression and anxiety, and about Dandelions and Bad Hair Days, the book filled with the wonderful contributions from guest posters to No wriggling out of writing. Do follow the links and buy the book if you haven’t yet got a copy and are interested – all money goes to SANE and OCD Action. And remember keep TALKING :-)

Originally posted on let's talk!:

logoToday is Time to Talk Day, when the charity Time to Change asks us to all to spend five minutes discussing mental health issues. The aim is to raise awareness, reduce stigma and encourage people to open up about a subject which is still taboo for many.

So here on let’s talk! we thought we should do just that, and have asked our regular contributor, Suzie Grogan, to start a conversation about how mental health issues affect her, and what raising awareness means to her.

My name is Suzie and I have experienced mental illness. There I have said it.

This is actually how I began my first ever post about mental health, four years ago, on my blog over at No wriggling out of writing and the response to it was overwhelming. It led to my offering a monthly guest post slot to someone else who wanted to say something…

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Number of British Soldiers experiencing mental ill health rising significantly: 100 years on, why can’t we get this right?

Cleared for public release by MAJ Clarence Counts, 7th Special Forces Group, Public Affairs OfficerWriting Shell Shocked Britain: The First World War’s legacy for Britain’s mental health I quickly realised that although it was, on the face of it, a book about the aftermath of the First World War, it had a very modern significance. I have now given a lot of talks about the book, and the impact of the trauma on the soldiers and their families during and after the Great War. Invariably, an audience member will ask me a post-talk question about how far I think things have changed for service personnel over the past century. One hundred years ago there was little understanding of the mental health needs of civilians, let alone those facing the horrors of conflict, but today? No excuses surely?

So I was really interested to read in the press today that the number of servicemen and women suffering from mental illness has risen by almost a third since 2011, when significant cuts to the defence budget took hold.

The Daily Telegraph published official Ministry of Defence figures showing the number of Armed Forces personnel with “mental health disorders” has risen from 3,927 in 2011 to 5,076 in 2013, a rise of 28%. It is anticipated that the figures for 2014 will show a further steep rise.

How far this rise is related to a greater willingness to discuss mental health issues is unclear. Certainly the Ministry of Defence attributes the rise to a drive to raise awareness, including the ‘Don’t Bottle it Up’ campaign, but are challenged by veteran’s charities who believe that a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan have contributed to the rise.

Col. Stuart Tootal

Col. Stuart Tootal

The Telegraph quotes Colonel Stuart Tootal, who led troops into Helmand Province in 2006:
“You cannot ignore the fact that the Army has just spent over 10 years on intensive operations in Iraq and Afghanistan…..You have soldiers who have been exposed to intense operations. There is pressure on their families and pressure on themselves, often during long tours.”

Researching Shell Shocked Britain I uncovered many stories of families destroyed by the mental scars men returned with. It was very difficult for many to slip back into civilian life and they might break down months or years after war ended, unable to relate to their families, find employment or forget the terrible things they had witnessed.

Col. Tootal continued: “We have come a long way. There is better recognition of mental health and more awareness, but more can be done. We have to remember that the mental scars of war are just like the physical scars.” He would like the government to commit to continuity of support as soldiers (and the problem is most acute in the Army) move into retirement.

After the First World War men who were physically wounded were given far better pension provision than those who were suffering long-term psychological problems, and although that is no longer the case, it is still often difficult for service personnel who break down after leaving the army to convince the MoD that it is related to their time serving their country.

The Telegraph piece comes in the week that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, claims there remains an “unspoken bias” in Britain that prioritises physical illness ahead of concerns about mental health. As someone who has worked in the field and written about mental health issues on a regular basis I can say this is most certainly the case.

These figures were published following a Freedom of Information request made by The Daily Telegraph to the MoD. They are certainly not figures that are widely published, but then the Ministry of Defence is no different from many other organisations who may be reluctant to admit that their staff are under increasing stress and experiencing mental ill-health. More than £7 million pounds has been allocated to support service personnel with conditions such as PTSD and depression, which is laudable but only effective is utilised in the right way. Co. Tootal is right – only by making sure a man or woman leaving the Forces has continued support can we reduce the higher levels of family breakdown, domestic violence, crime and homelessness that are often a consequence of psychological trauma and which affect the war veteran now, as they did 100 years ago.

So we must hope that the budget cuts affecting our Armed Forces do not extend to the psychological support available. I end my talks with the hope that the centenary of the Great War, if it has one long-term outcome, raises awareness of the impact of war trauma down the generations, something which has affected many over the century and which will continue to blight lives if robust action is not taken.

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The Loss of the Joy


Here is a heartfelt and melancholy post by the lovely Vivienne Tuffnell on her blog, Zen and the art of tightrope walking. She is clearly speaking for many authors as she writes about the role authors now have to take when their work is published. Marketing Shell Shocked Britain has left me drained and lacking the motivation to start the next books, knowing how hard it is to get one’s work noticed. And it is work – it is, as Viv says, what gets us up in the morning. …..

Originally posted on Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking:

The Loss of the Joy

I don’t know precisely when it really began, this loss. They say when you lose something you should go back to the last time you know you had it and work forward until you see when it stopped being there. It worked for the dog lead (it fell in the river) and it worked for my daughter’s purse left behind in a shop in Glastonbury (it was handed in, much to my surprise, money intact). I still had it when I began this blog in 2009, I know that. Looking back, though, I can see it started to disappear not long after that.

Did blogging drive away my joy in writing? No, I don’t think so. I still have a ghost of joy, sitting with me as I write this. After all, I still manage to blog once a week. How many folks can manage…

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Sitting under Walter de la Mare’s ‘Mistletoe’: Happy Christmas from an exhausted writer…

merry-christmas2014 has passed in a blur. As did 2013. Does writing a book shorten your life? Now there is a question. I have put on two stone and done little exercise, sitting as I have done in coffee shops, or at my PC scribbling or tapping away to get Shell Shocked Britain completed and ‘out there’. Certainly the Grogan bum is now spreading indelicately over the edges of the chair as I write this. New year resolutions include better planning and more exercise -new ways of working that I tried to stick to early in 2014. So we shall see…

So this is Christmas…. I did one of those Facebook ‘review’ things that use the photos you have posted to create an overview of the past 12 months. Mine was so boring in comparison to those my friends were posting that I didn’t bother. Now I have two more to write for Pen & Sword over the next two years and at present my batteries are drained to the dregs. Even rubbing them between my hands, blowing on them and putting them back can’t get the words flowing again. Fingers crossed for 2015.

Anyway, I am whining. I have had a great year, challenging myself in ways I never imagined (talks on Shell Shocked Britain have gone really well despite my nerves), so I wanted to write this as a THANK YOU to everyone who has read this blog and taken an interest in my work. If you have bought a book, that is great but a re-tweet or Facebook share is also greatly appreciated.

images (4)As always, poetry is something I read avidly at Christmas. A poem can distil the essence of the season and strike an emotional chord worthy of a ding dong merrily on high. This year I have chosen Mistletoe by Walter de la Mare. It reminds me of the late evening Christmas Day, when I relax in the sitting room, with just the Christmas tree lights to cast shadows around the room. It is a moment of sadness in a way, but I try to ignore the fact that all that mad spending and celebration is drawing to a close for another year and just enjoy that moment of peace, looking forward to the new year.

Sitting under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
One last candle burning low,
All the sleepy dancers gone,
Just one candle burning on,
Shadows lurking everywhere:
Some one came, and kissed me there.

Tired I was; my head would go
Nodding under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
No footsteps came, no voice, but only,
Just as I sat there, sleepy, lonely,
Stooped in the still and shadowy air
Lips unseen—and kissed me there.

Have a lovely Christmas everyone, take care of yourselves and each other and let us hope the new year is a happy and healthy one for us all.

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