Quaker Poetry Group

Theme for January/February is people

Elegy by Callimachus (c. 310-260 BC) tr. WILLIAM CORY (1823-1892)

They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead,

They brought me bitter news to hear, and bitter tears to shed.

I wept as I remember’d how often you and I

Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.

And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,

A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,

Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;

For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.


I Am Becoming My Mother

by Lorna Goodison

Yellow/brown woman
fingers smelling always of onions

My mother raises rare blooms
and waters them with tea
her birth waters sang like rivers
my mother is now me

My mother had a linen dress
the colour of the sky
and stored lace and damask
to pull shame out of her eye.

I am becoming my mother
brown/yellow woman
fingers smelling always of onions.

The Revenge: A Ballad of the Fleet

At Flores in the Azores Sir Richard Grenville lay,
And a pinnace, like a fluttered bird, came flying from far away:
"Spanish ships of war at sea! we have sighted fifty-three!"
Then sware Lord Thomas Howard: "'Fore God I am no coward;
But I cannot meet them here, for my ships are out of gear,
And the half my men are sick. I must fly, but follow quick.
We are six ships of the line; can we fight with fifty-three?"

Then spake Sir Richard Grenville: "I know you are no coward;
You fly them for a moment to fight with them again.
But I've ninety men and more that are lying sick ashore.
I should count myself the coward if I left them, my Lord Howard,
To these Inquisition dogs and the devildoms of Spain."

So Lord Howard passed away with five ships of war that day,
Till he melted like a cloud in the silent summer heaven;
But Sir Richard bore in hand all his sick men from the land
Very carefully and slow,
Men of Bideford in Devon,
And we laid them on the ballast down below;
For we brought them all aboard,
And they blest him in their pain, that they were not left to Spain,
To the thumbscrew and the stake, for the glory of the Lord.

He had only a hundred seamen to work the ship and to fight,
And he sailed away from Flores till the Spaniard came in sight,
With his huge sea-castles heaving upon the weather bow.
"Shall we fight or shall we fly?
Good Sir Richard, tell us now,
For to fight is but to die!
There'll be little of us left by the time this sun be set."
And Sir Richard said again: "We be all good English men.
Let us bang these dogs of Seville, the children of the devil,
For I never turned my back upon Don or devil yet.”

A Man’s a Man for a that -by Robbie Burns.

Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an’ a’ that;
The coward-slave, we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that.
Our toils obscure an’ a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The Man’s the gowd for a’ that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an’ a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man’s a Man for a’ that:
For a’ that, and a’ that,
Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that;
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.

Ye see yon birkie ca’d a lord,
Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that,
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
His ribband, star, an’ a’ that,
The man o’ independent mind,
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.

A Prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that!
But an honest man’s aboon his might –
Guid faith, he mauna fa’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their dignities, an’ a’ that,
The pith o’ Sense an’ pride o’ Worth
Are higher rank than a’ that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
As come it will for a’ that,
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth
Shall bear the gree an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s comin yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man the warld o’er
Shall brithers be for a’ that.

The Cave Man’s Prayer

(Unattributed but thought possibly to be by Rudyard Kipling)


This is the prayer the cave-man prayed,

When first the household fires he lit,

And saw the solemn stars o’erhead

Contemptuously looked down on it

The sweep and silence of the night,

The brooding dusk on every side

Oppressed his simple mind with fright

And ‘Heaven send me friends’ he cried


‘Wise friends who know what track will lure

The wounded mammoth to defeat.

And cunning friends who have the cure

For pains inside me when I eat.

Strong friends who know how spears are hurled,

Bold friends that charge and drive them in.

It takes all sorts to make a world,

But give me friends and I’ll begin.’


The gods considered his distress

And guided to his lonely blaze

Companions in loneliness

The cave-men of the elder days

With twitching nose and eyes astare,

They crouched and watched him for a spell,

Till to his caution ‘who goes there?’

They grunted ‘Friend’ and all was well.


And when at last their leave they took

Refreshed by meat and drink and talk,

For lack of any proper book,

They scratched their Totems on the chalk,

And host and hostess at the door

Bade them goodbye and made their plans

Next Saturday to ask some more

And that was how the world began.


The wash tub and the kitchen range

Electric lighting, paper, pens,

Affect the life but do not change

The heart of Homo Sapiens.

O long, long may the record run,

And you enjoy until it ends,

The four best gifts beneath the sun;

Love, peace and health, and honest friends.




We are the music makers,

    And we are the dreamers of dreams,

Wandering by lone sea-breakers,

    And sitting by desolate streams; —

World-losers and world-forsakers,

    On whom the pale moon gleams:

Yet we are the movers and shakers

    Of the world for ever, it seems.


With wonderful deathless ditties

We build up the world's great cities,

    And out of a fabulous story

    We fashion an empire's glory:

One man with a dream, at pleasure,

    Shall go forth and conquer a crown;

And three with a new song's measure

    Can trample a kingdom down.


We, in the ages lying,

    In the buried past of the earth,

Built Nineveh with our sighing,

    And Babel itself in our mirth;

And o'erthrew them with prophesying

    To the old of the new world's worth;

For each age is a dream that is dying,

    Or one that is coming to birth.


A breath of our inspiration

Is the life of each generation;

    A wondrous thing of our dreaming

    Unearthly, impossible seeming —

The soldier, the king, and the peasant

    Are working together in one,

Till our dream shall become their present,

    And their work in the world be done.


They had no vision amazing

Of the goodly house they are raising;

    They had no divine foreshowing

    Of the land to which they are going:

But on one man's soul it hath broken,

    A light that doth not depart;

And his look, or a word he hath spoken,

    Wrought flame in another man's heart.


And therefore to-day is thrilling

With a past day's late fulfilling;

    And the multitudes are enlisted

    In the faith that their fathers resisted,

And, scorning the dream of to-morrow,

    Are bringing to pass, as they may,

In the world, for its joy or its sorrow,

    The dream that was scorned yesterday.


But we, with our dreaming and singing,

    Ceaseless and sorrowless we!

The glory about us clinging

    Of the glorious futures we see,

Our souls with high music ringing:

    O men! it must ever be

That we dwell, in our dreaming and singing,

    A little apart from ye.


For we are afar with the dawning

    And the suns that are not yet high,

And out of the infinite morning

    Intrepid you hear us cry —

How, spite of your human scorning,

    Once more God's future draws nigh,

And already goes forth the warning

    That ye of the past must die.


Great hail! we cry to the comers

    From the dazzling unknown shore;

Bring us hither your sun and your summers;

    And renew our world as of yore;

You shall teach us your song's new numbers,

    And things that we dreamed not before:

Yea, in spite of a dreamer who slumbers,

    And a singer who sings no more.

On Leaving Friends House, 2015 

by Andrew O'Hanlon

It’s that time again,
That leaving time,
That cake, cut and share
Gather round time.
A sad happy gift giving speech time.
That time again.
What’s it for?
Hard to tell
For the person who’s going it can be awkward as hell,
For the rest of us too.
It’s a milestone of sorts
And for both it’s a poke and a prompt for some thoughts.
Like, what have I loved from my three years here?
Including the yoga, the band and the beer
The netball, the phone calls, my tolerance skills,
of people, their stories,  the thrills and the spills
Of the telephone calls from plain speaking Friends
And others who don’t care for feelings or trends
In outreach and inreach and what on earth’s that?
The last thing I thought of; I’ve lost my flat,
I don’t like the poster, I won’t be told no,
Your Quaker schools stink, you should put on a show.
It’s all about porridge. Will you marry me please?
or welcome my young one; You should invent a new cheese.
It’s that time again
That listening time
That curious cake on a plate
Gather round time
It’s a sad happy tea-time a gift taking free time
It’s that time again.
And beneath this the love of the worship and sharing
Volunteers and chaplains, listening, caring
Enquirers who gently want to know more
Of the pearl of great price and will push at our door
To discover the lover within and without
To embark on an adventure of spiritual doubt.
So what next? There are things that I plan to do
To share them would jinx them
(which means they’re not quite thought through)
Being here gives me time to think deep and reflect
On some long-standing stuff that I’d like to perfect
Or at least to persue while I can still run
And imagine and make and act and have fun
I’m taking a risk but it feels it is right
Like a leading, a calling, a song in the night
And if that I find it all goes off key
I’ll know – thanks to you – its not about me
And honestly there will be no one to blame
As everything changes – it’s always the same.
It’s that time again
That levelling time
That community quake – like a wake
Gather round time
Let’s meet up, heat up, get ready to bake
And now I’ve said grace
Let us eat the cake.

  STREET MUSIC    by John Souter  2004

High Street: early Saturday afternoon:
crowds of pedestrians on the move.
A foggy night comes down much too soon
dimming the Christmas lights hanging above
the last-minute shoppers who heave and shove,
as in and out the bursting shops they go
ebbing and flowing to and fro.

Here in a break from the surging crush
of people milling aimlessly around,
some have taken their chance to push
out of the mill to where they gather round
a street musician. Lured by the sound
of his golden trumpet loudly braying,
they stop and listen to what he's playing.

To delight the few who stay to hear him,
huddling against the winter cold, he blows
effortlessly and with perfect rhythm
his repertoire of old songs from the shows,
and blues, and pops, and tunes everyone knows.
And when each time comes that he takes a pause
To catch his breath, he bows to their applause.

Then up to his side there skips a little child,
prancing and dancing to the trumpet's swirl.
The amused audience nod and smile
as, quite absorbed in her dance, the tiny girl
solemnly turns and spins a careful twirl,
stamps and steps as to the manner born,
moving to the sweet sounds of the golden horn.

Now the hanging lights seem to shine
much more brightly onto the darkened street.
Now when he plays his listeners mark the time
with wagging heads and tapping feet,
as a backing tape measures out the beat.
Now hearts are warmed and gloomy spirits lift,
for he gives them music's priceless gift.


How pleasant to know Mr Lear
Who has written such volumes of stuff!
Some think him ill-tempered and queer
But a few think him pleasant enough.

His mind is concrete and fastidious,
His nose is remarkably big;
His visage is more or less hideous,
His beard it resembles a wig.

He has ears, and two eyes, and ten fingers,
Leastways, if you reckon two thumbs;
Long ago he was one of the singers
But now he is one of the dumbs.

Hre sits in a beautiful parlour,
With hundreds of books on the wall;
He drinks a great deal of Marsala,
But never gets tipsy at all.

He has many friends, laymen and clerical;
Old Foss is the name of his cat;
His body is perfectly spherical,
He weareth a runcible hat.

Whe he walks in a waterproof white,
The children run after him so!
Calling out, "He's come out in his night-
Gown, that crazy old Englishman oh!"

He weeps by the side of the ocean,
He weeps on the top of the hill;
He purchases pancakes and lotion,
And chocolate shrimps from the mill.

He reads but he cannot speak Spanish,
He cannot abide ginger beer:
Ere the days of his pilgrimage vanish,
How pleasant to know Mr Lear!

  ON THE UNIVERSITY CARRIER (who sickn'd in the time of his vacancy, being forbid to go to London, bny reason of the plague)          by John Milton

Here lies old Hobson, Death hath broke his girt,
And here, alas, hath laid him in the dirt,
Or else, the ways being foul, twenty to one,
He's here, stuck in a slough, and overthrown.
'Twas such a shifter, that if truth were known,
Death was half glad when he had got him down;
For he had any time this ten years full,
Dodged with him betwixt Cambridge and the Bull,
And surely, Death could never have prevailed,
Had not his weekly course of carriage failed;
But lately finding him so long at home,
And thinking now his journey's end was come,
And that he had taken up his latest Inn,
In the kind office of a Chamberlin
Showed him his room where he must lodge that night,
Pulled off his boots, and took away the light;
If any ask for him, it shall be said,
Hobson has supped, and's newly gone to bed.

             Sir Geoffrey Chaucer    by Robert Greene   1558-1592

His stature was not very tall,
Lean he was, his legs were small,
Hosed within a stock of red,
A buttoned bonnet on his head,
From under which did hang, I ween,
Silver hairs both bright and sheen.
His beard was white, trimmed round,
His countenance blithe, and merry found.
A sleeveless jacket, large and wide,
With many plights and skirts side,
Of water camlet did he wear;
A whittle by his belt he bare,
His shoes were corned, broad before,
His inkhorn at his side he wore,
And in his hand he bore a book.
Thus did this ancient poet look.

         AN OLD MAN    by William Wordsworth

The little hedgerow birds,
That peck along the roads, regard him not.
He travels on, and in  his face, his step,
his gait, is one expression: every limb,
His look and bending figure, all bespeak
A man who does not move with pain, but moves
With thought.  He is insensibly subdued
To settled quiet: he is one by whom
All effort seems forgotten; one to whom
Long patience hath such mild composure given,
That patience now doth seem a thing of which
He hath no need. He is by nature led
To peace so perfect that the young behold
With envy, what the Old Man hardly feels.