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The Lie of the Land

“And because you are beautiful do not think/The Nereids will hear you, or Neptune wake/And the sea calm, and you will not sink”

In time there is freedom. More than this

Is forgotten in the flesh of youth,

In the hunger of the lips for a kiss,

For the press of another’s mouth,

Yet in such adamant feast we cut our tooth—

That greed for the beyond is no type

Of sustenance—and we mouth a harder truth:

That we need fruit of another stripe,

Taking its color, flavor, when we are ripe.


Still, always the will runs back to innocence—

To a half-pretended season in the mind,

Full-leaved and bountiful, every sense

Caressed, the world seeming kind,

A sliding trail on water all we leave behind—

For light that ravished when it shone,

The lake, the sun’s possession, willow-lined,

That gathered us in what we looked upon,

In ecstasy, all separate being gone.


But pellets of rain and corrugated iron

Crash on the memory, the willows stampede

At their roots, and the children drown

Like wide-eyed tiny trout in piled up weed:

So nature frees the things that bleed

Out of time altogether and returns

To the calm, providing place they need,

The beauty for which the child yearns:

Enduring, but cold as only drowning learns.


And because you are beautiful do not think

The Nereids will hear you, or Neptune wake,

And the sea calm, and you will not sink:

But remember Aeneas when the heavens break,

The ships sailing with a delivery to make,

And the innocent sky with all Troy lit

Above fields of water the chill winds rake,

For this was Eden also, and the ships quit

A city burning just as they perfected it.


To be overwhelmed by things: Is this to be free?

To have done with the quarrel at the heart,

And fix mind in a glimpse of destiny—

As Alexander rejoices when the killings start,

So Hamlet should relax, glad of his part:

Surely this is freedom, like Alexander to roam

With his thousands, phalanxes, battery, cart,

As far as the fish-eaters, standing in the foam,

With shark-skin shirts and a whalebone home.


Where in creation can the being rest,

Longing dissolve, this disquiet cease?

Or out of the scheme of things to wrest

Some purpose and know that for peace:

To set your head on Jason’s marvelous fleece—

Some good at the end—but more than this,

More than goods, desire, must be some release

Into understanding, as onto a shore,

A thing here for grasping, not to be dying for.


So I walk, the road rises and the hedges blow

In a wind coming off the peaks of the sea:

There swallowing the light, reckless snow,

Beyond the lane, the fields, this tree,

And these—not made of imagination, memory,

Of nothing of me—light as lakes of sunlight break

And the moving acres of shadow flee, and

Freedom this is, where sprigs of thorn shake

And birds launch shrieking when they wake.


Harold Jones is a New Zealander, who was educated at Cambridge University, where he was awarded an Exhibition to read English. His poetry has been widely published in literary journals in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, and it has won the acclaim of pre-eminent critics and poets: among them, Ted Hughes, who wrote, “I hear a real voice, a real movement of mind cutting through resistances.” In the United States, his poems appear in Merion West and VoegelinView.

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