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Hugh Sykes Davies

Four Poems

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Decline of Phæthon (Experiment [Cambridge U.K.], No. 3, May 1929, page 12)
Sententiæ (Cambridge Review, 52/1290, October 1931, page 493)
Poem (‘In the stump of an old tree...’) (Contemporary Poetry and Prose, 7, November 1936, page 129)
Poem (‘It doesn’t look like a finger...’) (London Bulletin, No. 2, May 1938, page 7 [T400.b.372])

Decline of Phæthon

i    40-Phæthon’s
leash    more    suns
for    caravan
with    your    body’s-span
more    zodiac’s    bears
than    eye    unbars
show-crabs    and    goats
than    telescopes
yet    must    decline
in    rounded    time
of    40    suns
I,   —   Phæthon’s!

and    suffer    this    preferment
because    you    pierce    dreams
because    you    overhang
night’s    snarl    with    body’s-fang
see    where    my    blood
                                          streams
in    the    firmament

Experiment, No. 3 (May 1929), 39.


Sententiæ

If the father’s bankrupt, and the sons fail,
   Blaming it on their own bad start,
Say the father should have gone to gaol,
   Forgetting their grandfather’s part.

So with all centuries of blame
   Fathers by their children cursed,
Say that all the trouble came
   From Eve and Adam first.

Both wrong: are wronged. But we are wronged
      the most.
   Their life was deep, but only deep, immersed.
We fathom further, deep enough to boast
   We know a worse beneath our father’s worst.

Cambridge Review, 52/1290 (10 June 1931), 493.



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Hugh Sykes-Davies


Photo copyright St John’s College, Cambridge, courtesy of the College Library


Poem (‘In the stump of the old tree...’)


      In the stump of the old tree, where the heart has rotted out, there is a hole the length of a man’s arm, and a dank pool at the bottom of it where the rain gathers, and the old leaves turn into lacy skeletons. But do not put your hand down to see, because

      in the stumps of old trees, where the hearts have rotted out, there are holes the length of a man’s arm, and dank pools at the bottom where the rain gathers and old leaves turn to lace, and the beak of a dead bird gapes like a trap. But do not put your hand down to see, because

      in the stumps of old trees with rotten hearts, where the rain gathers and the laced leaves and the dead bird like a trap, there are holes the length of a man’s arm, and in every crevice of the rotten wood grow weasel’s eyes like molluscs, their lids open and shut with the tide. But do not put your hand down to see, because

      in the stumps of old trees where the rain gathers and the trapped leaves and the beak and the laced weasel’s eyes, there are holes the length of a man’s arm, and at the bottom a sodden bible written in the language of rooks. But do not put your hand down to see, because

      in the stumps of old trees where the hearts have rotted out there are holes the length of a man’s arm where the weasels are trapped and the letters of the rook language are laced on the sodden leaves, and at the bottom there is a man’s arm. But do not put your hand down to see, because

      in the stumps of old trees where the hearts have rotted out there are deep holes and dank pools where the rain gathers, and if you ever put your hand down to see, you can wipe it in the sharp grass till it bleeds, but you’ll never want to eat with it again.

Contemporary Poetry and Prose, 7 (Nov. 1936), 129.


Poem (‘It doesn’t look like a finger...’)

It doesn’t look like a finger it looks like a feather of broken glass
It doesn’t look like something to eat it looks like something eaten
It doesn’t look like an empty chair it looks like an old woman
                                        searching in a heap of stones
It doesn’t look like a heap of stones it looks like an estuary where
                              the drifting filth is swept to and fro on the tide
It doesn’t look like a finger it looks like a feather with broken teeth
The spaces between the stones are made of stone
It doesn’t look like a revolver it looks like a convolvulus
It doesn’t look like a living convolvulus it looks like a dead one
KEEP YOUR FILTHY HANDS OFF MY FRIENDS USE THEM ON
        YOUR BITCHES OR
YOURSELVES BUT KEEP THEM OFF MY FRIENDS
The faces between the stones are made of bone
It doesn’t look like an eye it looks like a bowl of rotten fruit
It doesn’t look like my mother in the garden it looks like my father
     when he came up from the sea covered in shells and tangle
It doesn’t look like a feather it looks like a finger with broken wings
It doesn’t look like the old woman’s mouth it looks like a handful
                of broken feathers or a revolver buried in cinders
The faces beneath the stones are made of stone
It doesn’t look like a broken cup it looks like a cut lip
It doesn’t look like yours it looks like mine
BUT IT IS YOURS NOW
SOON IT WILL LOOK LIKE YOURS
AND ANYTHING YOU SEE WILL BE USED AGAINST YOU

London Bulletin, No. 2 (May 1938), 7.



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