We are rare earths

rare earths
Rare earths, John Lyons (40 x 40 cm, oil on canvas)

We are rare earths

Rare earths
           we bind in alloys
our bodies stretched
           across the periodic table
our flesh and blood
           our memories both
enriched and depleted
           in the process of time

We may pretend to love
           but our true destiny
is atomic and we are
down to the tiniest
           particle and thus when
all our closed circuits
           are finally broken down
and destroyed
           we are merely returned
to live among our faithful
           cosmic kith and kin

John Lyons

Bone ash

empty shells
Empty shells (Paris, 21 February 2020)

Bone ash

Bone ash
on a hillside
—that’s how
it ends

Let’s not

We are here
to make love
of our own destinies
for three score
and ten

Throw caution
to the wind
like there’s
no tomorrow

how it ends
—God knows

John Lyons

Versão em português

Cinzas de osso

Cinzas de osso
em uma encosta
-É assim que

Não vamos
o contrário

Estamos aqui
para fazer amor
— mordomos
de nossos próprios destinos
por setenta anos

Jogue a cautela
ao vento
como se não houvesse

como isso termina
-Deus sabe

Butterflies: Do not disturb

basket 2

Butterflies: Do not disturb

Nestled among the pansies
           the yellow violets
and the pink-veined petunias
           in the hanging baskets
small butterflies
           have passed the night

It’s my early morning task
           to water these flowers
to keep them fresh
           throughout the summer
and yet it pains me
           to rouse these frail beauties
from their sleep
           with a sharp shower
and drive them from
           their bed of roses

John Lyons

Particles of night

night sky
Night Sky, John Lyons (30 x 25 cm, oil on canvas)

Particles of night

Particles of night sky
           of hues and pigments
cadmium and titanium
           I paint with cosmic debris
myself a part of that debris
           my arms my hands my eyes
built from the same particles
           my spent breath
part of the shared dust
           I shed

time that beats in the temples
           universal time
pulsating fragments of infinity
           a sparrow that moves
unconsciously on its wings
           through the dense emptiness
of an elastic placeless

my life a silk screen
           an etching on the earth’s surface
a collision of atomic material
           tugged inwards
by the gravity of love
           feelings of prussian blue
and lamp black
           and the landscapes I carry
within the studio
           of my mind

my articles of faith
           particles of every kiss
I ever gave
           orbiting in the memory
the solar solace
           of our conmingled bones
enmeshed the particles
           of our being

John Lyons


The road less travelled

road less
Parksville NY, John Lyons (30 x 25 cm, oil on canvas)

The road less travelled

Just after the dawn dust
           had settled
after the larks had risen
           into the vacant sky
I chanced upon
           this fork in the road
a yellow wheat field
           and in the distance
the dense deep green
           of ancient woodland

and who knows
           where a road truly leads
or what awaits us in our day-to-day
           as we make our way
along paths unknown or known
           how for better or worse 
a random choice may 
           change a life forever

John Lyons

Revised text

Of art poetry and love

Infancy, John Lyons (40 x 40 cm, oil on canvas)

Of art poetry and love

Nothing changes
           from generation
to generation
           but the thing seen
and that makes

writing and painting
           are like that in that
what is observed
           whether internally
or externally
           provides the material
necessary to live
           as an outlaw
in defiance of rules
           and totally open
to the unexpected
           that is why lovers
are always ahead
           of their time
because they create
           something entirely new

a bond composed
           of myriads of affinities
alongside refreshing
love like that
           is always beginning
is never ending
           is a fount of constant
innovation and harmonious
art poetry and love
           are the natural trinity
in which beauty and truth
           are enshrined

John Lyons


Where lovers lie

St Paul's Deptford
St Paul’s, Deptford

Where lovers lie

And so to Deptford
       to St Paul’s
where death lies buried
       in the empty grounds
where fresh-blown roses
       are washed in the dew
petals gone in a final gasp
       to dust

In the broken darkness
       the birds fly silently
from oak to ash to sycamore
       and strands of light
filter through the dying leaves

Here we remember
       her silken hair
her rosy lips
       the shape of her smile
the taste of her kiss
       her gentleness of voice

What lies here
       under the earth
is love and beauty
       held on a threshold
by the edge of the creek
       the ash of stardust
awaiting resurrection

Here lie the remains
       of sweet young lovers
laid bone to bone
       in everlasting embrace
in the darkness

while all around them
       the swirl of autumn light
the frail dust
       of day-to-day debris
piled high in the gutters
       and — long forgotten
the ghost of silenced voices
       never to be heard again

John Lyons

St Paul’s in Deptford is a Grade 1 Listed Building designed by the architect Thomas Archer, dating from 1730. It is one of the places of worship built following the 1711 Act for building new churches in London and its suburbs. These are generally known as the Queen Anne churches. The poet, John Betjeman, described St Paul’s as “a pearl at the heart of Deptford”, and it is indeed a remarkable and important example of English Italianate Baroque.

Thomas Archer was specifically influenced by two churches in the Historic Centre of Rome: the interior, by Francesco Borromini’s restyling of S. Agnese in Agone, Piazza Navona using Corinthian pillars, 1653 onwards, and the portico by the semi-circular porch of S. Maria della Pace, (which is just off the Piazza Navona) by Pietro da Cortona, constructed 1656-1661.

A note on Deptford to place St Paul’s in its context: The deep ford which gave Deptford its name crossed the River Ravensbourne at what is now Deptford Bridge. It was on the ancient road from London to Canterbury and Dover, and Deptford is mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. One part of Deptford grew up here, beside the ford and the later bridge. The other part was the fishing village beside the Thames called Deptford Strand. There were fields between the two settlements until the nineteenth century.

In 1513 Henry VIII founded a dockyard at Deptford to build ships for the Royal Navy. In the eighteenth century a Victualling Yard was established alongside, where ships stores and provisions were assembled. The Dockyard closed in 1869.

After use as a cattle market and in other military and industrial capacities, the area is now being redeveloped for housing. The Victualling Yard remained until 1961. Its site is now occupied by the Pepys Estate. Samuel Pepys often visited the Dockyard when he was Clerk to the Navy Board, and his friend and fellow-diarist John Evelyn lived here, in the manor house called Sayes Court.

In this big house that nobody knows

In this big house that nobody knows

In this big house that nobody knows
With its façade, its walls caught
Between stone and human existence,
With the air that envelops it and always about to pulsate
With its secret life that makes a window rattle
Or rather showers it with tears,
In this big house a lamp shines day and night
It shines for no one
As though the Earth were uninhabited
Or as though hope had already withdrawn from the world.
And when I attempt to dash to catch the light
My legs go awry beneath me
And for an instant my heart
glimpses glacial eternity.

But perhaps one day the lamp
Constrained to move as when ice melts
Will spontaneously approach me to shine and reveal
Its colour to my soul
Its ardour to my spirit
And their true shape.

Meanwhile I must live without glooming about such gloom.
What’s called noise elsewhere
Is nothing but silence here,
What’s called movement
Is a heart’s patience,
What’s called truth
A man chained to his body,
And what we call tenderness
Ah! what would you have it be?

Jules Supervielle

Translation by John Lyons


Jules Supervielle – The Fish

Supervielle 2

Jules Supervielle (1884-1960) was born into a French-Basque family living in Uruguay. Aged ten, he was sent to Paris, where he completed his education at the Sorbonne. For the rest of his life, he divided his time between Uruguay and France. He was friends with André Gide, Paul Valéry and Jacques Rivière, and in 1923, he met the Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, a crucial influence on his later work. 


The fish

Memory of fish in deep coves,
What can I do here with your slow memories,
I know nothing about you except a little foam and shade
And that one day, like me, you’ll have to die.

So why do you come to question my dreams
As if I could be of help to you?
Go out to sea, leave me on my dry land,
We weren’t made to share our days.

Jules Supervielle
(translation by John Lyons)

Les poissons

Mémoire des poissons dans les criques profondes,
Que puis-je faire ici de vos lents souvenirs,
Je ne sais rien de vous qu’un peu d’écume et d’ombre
Et qu’un jour, comme moi, il vous faudra mourir.

Alors que venez-vous interroger mes rêves
Comme si je pouvais vous être de secours?
Allez en mer, laissez-moi sur ma terre sèche,
Nous ne sommes pas faits pour mélanger nos jours.

See also I dream you from afar.

Stars gliding through space

Simplicity, John Lyons (oil on wood)

Stars gliding through space

A light blue and a dark blue
and a faded pink
what do they make ?

An arrangement of shapes
suggestive of other shapes
an odd kind of ornament

There were swans on the Serpentine
on Monday resplendent in the sunlight
their plumage a deep titanium white

Swans are never careless
they know exactly what they are doing
at all times without fail

Most flowers have their season
but once they are cut
their days are numbered

So what is the lesson?
That some things last
and others do not ?

It’s hard to believe that the stars
are gliding through space
they seem so fixed in the heavens

Lovers who would be guided by their stars
can very often lose their path
they must trim their sails to the cosmic wind

John Lyons