Monday, 1 November 2010

Rakes' Progress

 Last Wednesday I attended the unveiling of a plaque outside the flat where John Heath-Stubbs used to live (22 Artesian Road, just off Westbourne Grove, for plaque-spotters among you). There were readings of John's poems by some of his old friends: Alan Brownjohn, Eddie Linden, Dinah Livingstone and Oliver Bernard.
   The latter (translator of Rimbaud and Apollinaire, brother of Jeffrey Bernard) was the most appealing, both for his rakeish old-school manner and his choice of poem, which on account of its brevity he read twice, its urbane self-ironising romanticism summing up both John the man and the enduring charm and piquancy of his poetry:

The goddess Fortune be praised (on her toothed wheel

I have been mincemeat these several years)

Last night, for a whole night, the unpredictable

Lay in my arms, in a tender and unquiet rest -

(I perceived the irrelevance of my former fears)

Lay, and then departed. I rose and walked the streets

Where a whitsuntide wind blew fresh, and blackbirds

Incontestably sang, and the people were beautiful.

Alan Brownjohn

Oliver Bernard


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