Caged Bird

Maya Angelou

 

A free bird leaps

on the back of the wind

and floats downstream

till the current ends

and dips his wing                                                                    5

in the orange sun’s rays

and dares to claim the sky.

 

But a bird that stalks

down his narrow cage

can seldom see through                                                        10

his bars of rage

his wings are clipped and

his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

 

The caged bird sings                                                             15

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill                                                                     20

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.

 

The free bird thinks of another breeze

and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees

and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn                 25

and he names the sky his own.

 

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams

his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream

his wings are clipped and his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.                                             30

University of Cambridge International Examinations

 

 

 

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard                                                             35

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rising Five

Norman Nicholson

 

‘I’m rising five’, he said,

‘Not four’, and little coils of hair

Un-clicked themselves upon his head.

His spectacles, brimful of eyes to stare

At me and the meadow, reflected cones of light                          5

Above his toffee-buckled cheeks. He’d been alive

Fifty-six months or perhaps a week more:

not four,

 

But rising five.

 

Around him in the field the cells of spring                                     10

Bubbled and doubled; buds unbuttoned; shoot

And stem shook out the creases from their frills,

And every tree was swilled with green.

It was the season after blossoming,

Before the forming of the fruit:                                                       15

not May,

But rising June.

 

And in the sky

The dust dissected tangential light:

not day,                         20

But rising night;

not now,

But rising soon.

 

The new buds push the old leaves from the bough.

We drop our youth behind us like a boy                                        25

Throwing away his toffee-wrappers. We never see the flower,

But only the fruit in the flower; never the fruit,

But only the rot in the fruit. We look for the marriage bed

In the baby’s cradle, we look for the grave in the bed:

not living,                       30

But rising dead.

 

 

 

Little Boy Crying

Mervyn Morris

 

Your mouth contorting in brief spite and

Hurt, your laughter metamorphosed into howls,

Your frame so recently relaxed now tight

With three-year-old frustration, your bright eyes

Swimming tears, splashing your bare feet,                                   5

You stand there angling for a moment’s hint

Of guilt or sorrow for the quick slap struck.

 

The ogre towers above you, that grim giant,

Empty of feeling, a colossal cruel,

Soon victim of the tale’s conclusion, dead                                    10

At last. You hate him, you imagine

Chopping clean the tree he’s scrambling down

Or plotting deeper pits to trap him in.

 

You cannot understand, not yet,

The hurt your easy tears can scald him with,                                 15

Nor guess the wavering hidden behind that mask.

This fierce man longs to lift you, curb your sadness

With piggy-back or bull-fight, anything,

But dare not ruin the lessons you should learn.

 

You must not make a plaything of the rain.                                    20

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carpet-weavers, Morocco

Carol Rumens

 

The children are at the loom of another world.

Their braids are oiled and black, their dresses bright.

Their assorted heights would make a melodious chime.

 

They watch their flickering knots like television.

As the garden of Islam grows, the bench will be raised.              5

Then they will lace the dark-rose veins of the tree-tops.

 

The carpet will travel in the merchant’s truck.

It will be spread by the servants of the mosque.

Deep and soft, it will give when heaped with prayer.

 

The children are hard at work in the school of days.                     10

From their fingers the colours of all-that-will-be fly

and freeze into the frame of all-that-was.

 

 

 

Song to the Men of England

Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

I

Men of England, wherefore plough

For the lords who lay ye low?

Wherefore weave with toil and care

The rich robes your tyrants wear?

 

II

Wherefore feed, and clothe, and save,                                         5

From the cradle to the grave,

Those ungrateful drones who would

Drain your sweat – nay, drink your blood?

 

III

Wherefore, Bees of England, forge

Many a weapon, chain, and scourge,                                             10

That these stingless drones may spoil

The forced produce of your toil?

 

IV

Have ye leisure, comfort, calm,

Shelter, food, love’s gentle balm?

Or what is it ye buy so dear                                                            15

With your pain and with your fear?

 

V

The seed ye sow, another reaps;

The wealth ye find, another keeps;

The robes ye weave, another wears;

The arms ye forge, another bears.                                                20

 

VI

Sow seed, – but let no tyrant reap;

Find wealth, – let no impostor heap;

Weave robes, – let not the idle wear;

Forge arms, – in your defence to bear.

 

 

 

VII

Shrink to your cellars, holes, and cells;                                          25

In halls ye deck another dwells.

Why shake the chains ye wrought? Ye see

The steel ye tempered glance on ye.

 

VIII

With plough and spade, and hoe and loom,

Trace your grave, and build your tomb,                                         30

And weave your winding-sheet, till fair

England be your sepulchre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Spectator Ab Extra

Arthur Hugh Clough

 

As I sat at the Café I said to myself,

They may talk as they please about what they call pelf,

They may sneer as they like about eating and drinking,

But help it I cannot, I cannot help thinking

How pleasant it is to have money, heigh-ho!                       5

How pleasant it is to have money.

 

I sit at my table en grand seigneur,

And when I have done, throw a crust to the poor;

Not only the pleasure itself of good living,

But also the pleasure of now and then giving:                               10

So pleasant it is to have money, heigh-ho!

So pleasant it is to have money.

 

They may talk as they please about what they call pelf,

And how one ought never to think of one’s self,

How pleasures of thought surpass eating and drinking, –            15

My pleasure of thought is the pleasure of thinking

How pleasant it is to have money, heigh-ho!

How pleasant it is to have money.

 

 

 

 

Monologue

Hone Tuwhare

 

I like working near a door. I like to have my work-bench

close by, with a locker handy.

 

Here, the cold creeps in under the big doors, and in the

summer hot dust swirls, clogging the nose. When the

big doors open to admit a lorry-load of steel,                      5

conditions do not improve. Even so, I put up with it,

and wouldn’t care to shift to another bench, away from

the big doors.

 

As one may imagine this is a noisy place with smoke

rising, machines thumping and thrusting, people                10

kneading, shaping, and putting things together.

Because I am nearest to the big doors I am the farthest

away from those who have to come down to shout

instructions in my ear.

 

I am the first to greet strangers who drift in through the               15

open doors looking for work. I give them as much

information as they require, direct them to the offices,

and acknowledge the casual recognition that one

worker signs to another.

 

I can always tell the look on the faces of the successful              20

ones as they hurry away. The look on the faces of the

unlucky I know also, but cannot easily forget.

 

I have worked here for fifteen months.

It’s too good to last.

Orders will fall off 25

and there will be a reduction in staff.

More people than we can cope with

will be brought in from other lands:

people who are also looking

for something more real, more lasting,                                30

more permanent maybe, than dying. . . .

I really ought to be looking for another job

before the axe falls.

 

These thoughts I push away, I think that I am lucky

to have a position by the big doors which open out 35

to a short alley leading to the main street; console

myself that if the worst happened I at least would

have no great distance to carry my gear and tool-box

off the premises.

 

I always like working near a door. I always look for a                    40

work-bench hard by – in case an earthquake

occurs and fire breaks out, you know?

 

Before the Sun

Charles Mungoshi

 

Intense blue morning

promising early heat

and later in the afternoon,

heavy rain.

 

The bright chips                                                                     5

fly from the sharp axe

for some distance through the air,

arc,

and eternities later,

settle down in showers                                                          10

on the dewy grass.

 

It is a big log:

but when you are fourteen

big logs

are what you want.                                                                 15

 

The wood gives off

a sweet nose-cleansing odour

which (unlike sawdust)

doesn’t make one sneeze.

 

It sends up a thin spiral                                                         20

of smoke which later straightens

and flutes out

to the distant sky: a signal

of some sort,

or a sacrificial prayer.                                                            25

 

The wood hisses,

The sparks fly.

 

And when the sun

finally shows up

 

in the East like some                                                             30

latecomer to a feast

I have got two cobs of maize

ready for it.

 

I tell the sun to come share

with me the roasted maize 35

and the sun just winks

like a grown-up.

 

So I go ahead, taking big

alternate bites:

one for the sun, 40

one for me.

This one for the sun,

this one for me:

till the cobs

are just two little skeletons 45

in the sun.

 

Muliebrity

Sujata Bhatt

 

I have thought so much about the girl

who gathered cow-dung in a wide, round basket

along the main road passing by our house

and the Radhavallabh temple in Maninagar.

I have thought so much about the way she                                   5

moved her hands and her waist

and the smell of cow-dung and road-dust and wet canna lilies,

the smell of monkey breath and freshly washed clothes

and the dust from crows’ wings which smells different –

and again the smell of cow-dung as the girl scoops                     10

it up, all these smells surrounding me separately

and simultaneously – I have thought so much

but have been unwilling to use her for a metaphor,

for a nice image – but most of all unwilling

to forget her or to explain to anyone the greatness                      15

and the power glistening through her cheekbones

each time she found a particularly promising

mound of dung –

She dwelt among the untrodden ways

William Wordsworth

 

She dwelt among the untrodden ways

Beside the springs of Dove,

A Maid whom there were none to praise

And very few to love:

 

A violet by a mossy stone                                           5

Half hidden from the eye!

– Fair as a star, when only one

Is shining in the sky.

 

She lived unknown, and few could know

When Lucy ceased to be;                                  10

But she is in her grave, and, oh,

The difference to me!

 

Farmhand

James K. Baxter

 

You will see him light a cigarette

At the hall door careless, leaning his back

Against the wall, or telling some new joke

To a friend, or looking out into the secret night.

 

But always his eyes turn                                                                  5

To the dance floor and the girls drifting like flowers

Before the music that tears

Slowly in his mind an old wound open.

 

His red sunburnt face and hairy hands

Were not made for dancing or love-making                                  10

But rather the earth wave breaking

To the plough, and crops slow-growing as his mind.

 

He has no girl to run her fingers through

His sandy hair, and giggle at his side

When Sunday couples walk. Instead                                             15

He has his awkward hopes, his envious dreams to yarn to.

But ah in harvest watch him

Forking stooks, effortless and strong –

Or listening like a lover to the song

Clear, without fault, of a new tractor engine.                                  20

 

Plenty

Isobel Dixon

 

When I was young and there were five of us,

all running riot to my mother’s quiet despair,

our old enamel tub, age-stained and pocked

upon its griffin claws, was never full.

 

Such plenty was too dear in our expanse of drought                             5

where dams leaked dry and windmills stalled.

Like Mommy’s smile. Her lips stretched back

and anchored down, in anger at some fault –

 

of mine, I thought – not knowing then

it was a clasp to keep us all from chaos.                                                 10

She saw it always, snapping locks and straps,

the spilling: sums and worries, shopping lists

 

for aspirin, porridge, petrol, bread.

Even the toilet paper counted,

and each month was weeks too long.                                            15

Her mouth a lid clamped hard on this.

 

We thought her mean. Skipped chores,

swiped biscuits – best of all

when she was out of earshot

stole another precious inch                                                            20

 

up to our chests, such lovely sin,

lolling luxuriant in secret warmth

disgorged from fat brass taps,

our old compliant co-conspirators.

 

Now bubbles lap my chin. I am a sybarite.                                    25

The shower’s a hot cascade

and water’s plentiful, to excess, almost, here.

I leave the heating on.

 

And miss my scattered sisters,

all those bathroom squabbles and, at last, 30

my mother’s smile, loosed from the bonds

of lean, dry times and our long childhood.

 

Storyteller

Liz Lochhead

 

she sat down

at the scoured table

in the swept kitchen

beside the dresser with its cracked delft.

And every last crumb of daylight was salted away.                       5

 

No one could say the stories were useless

for as the tongue clacked

five or forty fingers stitched

corn was grated from the husk

patchwork was pieced                                                                              10

or the darning done.

 

Never the one to slander her shiftless.

Daily sloven or spotless no matter whether

dishwater or tasty was her soup.

To tell the stories was her work.                                                     15

It was like spinning,

gathering thin air to the singlest strongest

thread. Night in

she’d have us waiting, held

breath, for the ending we knew by heart.                                       20

 

And at first light

as the women stirred themselves to build the fire

as the peasant’s feet felt for clogs

as thin grey washed over flat fields

the stories dissolved in the whorl of the ear                                  25

but they

hung themselves upside down

in the sleeping heads of the children

till they flew again

in the storytellers night.                                                                   30

 

 

The Old Familiar Faces

Charles Lamb

 

I have had playmates, I have had companions

In my days of childhood, in my joyful school-days;

All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.

 

I have been laughing, I have been carousing,

Drinking late, sitting late, with my bosom cronies;                         5

All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.

 

I loved a love once, fairest among women:

Closed are her doors on me, I must not see her –

All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.

 

I have a friend, a kinder friend has no man:                                   10

Like an ingrate, I left my friend abruptly;

Left him, to muse on the old familiar faces.

 

Ghost-like I paced round the haunts of my childhood,

Earth seem’d a desert I was bound to traverse,

Seeking to find the old familiar faces.                                  15

 

Friend of my bosom, thou more than a brother,

Why wert not thou born in my father’s dwelling?

So might we talk of the old familiar faces.

 

How some they have died, and some they have left me,

And some are taken from me; all are departed;                           20

All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.

 

 

 

 

Mid-Term Break

Seamus Heaney

 

I sat all morning in the college sick bay

Counting bells knelling classes to a close.

At two o’clock our neighbours drove me home.

 

In the porch I met my father crying –

He had always taken funerals in his stride –                                  5

And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

 

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram

When I came in, and I was embarrassed

By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were ‘sorry for my trouble’.                                 10

Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,

Away at school, as my mother held my hand

 

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.

At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived

With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.            15

 

Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops

And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him

For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

 

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,

He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.                                         20

No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

 

A four foot box, a foot for every year.