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This page gives commentary for some of the poems on the page Poems.

'Bats blinking in the dark wings...'

Obviously, the image in the opening lines of the poem is theatrical. The 'dark wings' are the wings of a theatre, the moths are players, that is, actors, playing in the theatrical lighting. 'Playing' also has overtones of heedless enjoyment - but the moths are threatened by the bats.

The moon is 'swung' as it passes in its apparent orbit in the night sky. It's 'a' moon which, like all the other moons in the solar system, is known to us, but there must be moons too which are not known to us outside our solar system

The inner life of the moths that flutter and the bats that flitter isn't known in the same way. They are 'others,' whose inner life we can only imagine. As for the consciousness of bats, I had in mind the essay of the philosopher Thomas Nagel, 'What is it like to be a bat?' The essay, though, is not about the mysterious otherness of bats but an anti-reductionist viewpoint in the philosophy of mind according to which consciousness, subjective experience, can't be reduced to neurophysiology. I share this viewpoint.

Bats, of course, emit sounds which can't be heard by us. The 'unheard shrieking' of people gives a linkage with the opening of Rilke's First Duino Elegy, 'Who if I cried out , would hear me among the angels'/hierarchies?'

'Shrieking' suggests something unpleasant. I oppose views of human life which reduce it to something completely unpleasant, without denying that there are unpleasant aspects and that 'shrieking' or similar responses are part of life. I give some other responses: 'shouting,' that is, the shouting of defiance as well as the shouting of anger and argument, 'saying,' expressing states which are not intense, such as normal human conversation, and 'singing,' the creation of beauty. The viewpoint of the poem is anti-reductionist in a wider sense.

The bats and moths are the first two players on the world's stage in this particular drama. Humanity is the third player, but 'third' refers also to the musical interval.

They are gone...

Each of the short lines has 3 syllables.This kind of syllabic verse I call 'syllabic unit poetry.' In concrete unit poetry. (See the examples in the region 'Concrete poetry') there's complete control of the letters, punctuation marks and spaces so as to shape the poem. In syllabic unit poetry there's complete control over the number of unit-syllables. The lines are iambic monometers to begin with but the monometers are varied.

She licks it into shape...

Inscape. Collins English Dictionary has 'the essential inner nature of a person, object etc.' as expressed in literary or artistic works.' The word was introduced by Gerard Manley Hopkins. He makes significant use of it in his Journal, eg.1871: 'End of March and beginning of April - This is the time to study inscape in the spraying of trees, for the swelling buds carry them to a pitch which the eye could not else gather - for out of much much more, out of little not much, out of nothing nothing: in these sprays at all events there is a new world of inscape.'

A poem isn't the place for a systematic and exhaustive discussion of anything, the poem 'she licks it into shape...' included. A few remarks about the place of sexuality in human nature (obviously a very big and important topic. Not only is it impossible to do justice to it here, it's impossible to do justice to it anywhere.)

D H Lawrence would surely have accepted Nietzsche's claim 'The degree and kind of a person's sexuality reaches up into the topmost summit of his spirit.' (Beyond Good and Evil 75, translated by R J Hollingdale. I don't accept this claim. I'm sure that Nietzsche liked the sound of this claim but it's isolated in his writings, the rest of his writings do nothing to support it or reinforce it and there's no evidence that Nietzsche was anything other than sexually ignorant, far more so than D H Lawrence - who, in the interesting account by Martin Seymour Lawrence was 'a would-be sex-mage whose practical grasp of his subject was notably imperfect.'

The Jaws of Borrowdale, Derwentwater

The poem may be straightforward but the linked poem and image show dissonance. The poem makes the claim that the scene is so compelling, it presents itself with such directness, that it is reality, without the difficulties we face whenever we concentrate upon appearances, the deceptiveness of appearances, the unreliability of our senses. The image which is linked with the poem is, though, very much a distortion of reality. The mound in the centre represents Castle Crag without undue distortion. The fells on the left and right are very much distorted. Our senses impose {adjustment} and so do our memories. For a photograph, showing the Jaws of Borrowdale and Derwentwater from Friar's Crag (the scene that John Ruskin valued so highly):

Lincolnshire, asleep, Turin, wide awake

This poem was suggested by a passage in Jack Currie's 'Lancaster Target:' 'At Modane, the railway ran from Grenoble to Turin, deep under the Graian Alps...Our task...was to block the tunnel...We arrived early in the target area, and circled high among the Alpine peaks, gazing at magnificent Mont Blanc, towering massive in the moonlight, with our target to the south and Lake Geneva to the north.' However, there was no collision in Jack Currie's account and the poem is fictional.

'felt a bump.' Collins English Dictionary for 'bumping race:' '( Oxford and Cambridge) a race in which rowing eights start an equal distance one behind the other and each tries to bump the boat in front.' Collins English Dictionary for 'bump ball,' 'Cricket. a ball that bounces into the air after being hit directly into the ground by the batsman.'

The poem reflects, of course, the social background, including the sports they played, of a significant proportion of the English who lost their lives in the Second World War, as in other wars. King's College is the Cambridge College and Wadham is the Oxford College.


In this poem, I imagine two conscience-stricken machine gunners from two opposing armies. The reality is that the vast majority of machine-gunners have never been as sensitive as in the poem. The harsh reality is that they could not have allowed any sensitivity to influence their actions. Failure to fire on the advancing troops would have most likely led within a short time to their being shot or bayoneted.

Since writing the poem, though, I've been very impressed to find in 'The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915 - 1918' by Mark Thompson - a magnificent book - descriptions of the action of very sensitive machine-gunners. These were gunners of the Austro-Hungarian army confronting troops of the Italian army, trained, led and equipped to a catastrophically bad standard. On something like half a dozen occasions, occasions probably unique in the First World War or any other mechanized war, the machine-gunners refused to fire on the advancing Italians. "Stop, go back!" one of them shouted on one of these occasions, "We won't shoot any more. Do you want everyone to die?"


Very often, a poem can give only one aspect, not a balanced or comprehensive view. I'd emphasize the obvious fact that not all 95 year olds have this degree of impairment and that whether they do or not, their lives may well make admiration the overwhelmingly important response.