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our preference for the overtly neat and tidy

Northern Meters
for Tony Harrison in Florida
Your grandad worked the signals
at Haworth, mine at Horton:
Old railwaymen.
Self-satisfied a little,
Their and our preference for
The overtly neat and tidy.
We have to be so overt!
The signals clack down smartly
Yes or No; no fudging
Unless it were... why yes,
As between fragrant cedar
And stinking, lasting cypress.
Done with a lovely touch, your
Emblem of that: the chairs
Standing opposed on your porch.
One cedarwood, one cypress,
I see them and yes, I smell them;
Together, but distinct.
No Old World sentinel
of graveyards, but the bald
Cypress of the swamplands,
Of alligator-haunted
Original stews: a symbol
Of rationality taunted.
Symbols make at best
A puttering sort of logic.
Aerosol does the trick:
Obscenities spray-painted
On parents’ headstones have
Made a morass of Beeston.
Pitiful understanding
Will not disperse that stench,
Nor tidy metres quench it.
Yorkshire’s man-made swamps:
Cedar, a cedarn fragrance,
How plant it, how impart it?

in Donald Davie, Collected Poems (1991) : google books preview : link

Donald Davie (1922-1995)
Poetry Foundation : link

31 March 2024