All along the watchtower

All along the watchtower

Broad Street in Reading town centre
         standing beside a tall tree
draped with fairy lights
         a busker in his fifties
stocky and with a short beard
         is playing his guitar to a backing track
with bass and drums
         a version of the Jimmy Hendrix take
on a Bob Dylan classic

It’s the last Sunday before Christmas
         the sky is overcast
but only a fine drizzle is falling
         shoppers are hurrying
from one store to another
         in a barely controlled frenzy
But the guitar playing is brilliant
         and when the man begins to sing
his voice is powerful and in key
         an excellent all-round performance

Sitting in a chair just behind the singer
         and holding an iPad or some other tablet
a stocky woman in her fifties
         is absorbed in a world of her own
in whatever she’s watching or playing
         but there’s a young boy aged about ten
in a wheelchair and he’s dancing
         and waving his arms with a huge smile
energetically reacting to the music
         he has glasses and there are gaps
in his teeth but he’s soaking up the song
         with pure delight living
totally in the moment
         a perfect audience

John Lyons

The Warren at Mapledurham

The Warren at Mapledurham

At night the grass verges
                 leading up to the clubhouse
are littered with white rabbits
                 Caught in the car headlights
their bodies glow with innocence
                 and those that are playing
continue to play
                 and those that are sitting
shooting the breeze
                 watching the world go by
continue to sit
by the motorized human traffic

Beyond the hedge is the golf course
                 and the rabbits continually pass
back and forth
                 Who knows what goes
through their minds
                 in the course of an evening
when they have the run
                 of the eighteen mysterious holes
the eighteen holes
                 down which not a single
rabbit is slim enough to fit
                 The foibles of humanity
they think – or perhaps not
                 perhaps they think nothing at all
and take the world as they find it
                 placid laid-back fluffy creatures
beloved of children and without
                 a single axe to grind

John Lyons

Moon Head


Moon Head 1964 Henry Moore OM, CH 1898-1986 Presented by the artist 1978
Henry Moore, Moon Head, 1964



Today’s poem, written this morning, was inspired by the eponymous sculpture by Henry Moore, contemplated during a visit to Tate Britain in Pimlico last Sunday. This relatively small piece, dating from 1964 and cast in bronze, is one of Moore’s most intimate and expressive sculptures. Its eloquent, wordless beauty, like that of any true classic, is inexhaustible.


Moon Head

The face has phases
       that ebb and flow
with the tides of time
       the soft sensuous bronze
of your face
       illuminated at the eyes
and the mouth :
       the smoothness of your skin
the modest inclination
       of the head poised
on the erect neck

The face has phases
       of intimate conversation
is locked in endless
       dialogue and through
a series of discreet whispers
       conveys confidentially
the irreducible delicacies of love
       Tough love
with its wisdoms that will outlive
       the futility of day-to-day

Here is a honeyed kiss
       cast in bronze
here at the point
       where lip and face
and panting breath
       interlock tenderly
here where beauty lies in
       the arms of the beholder

John Lyons




A large blackbird perches
               on the chimney pot
of a house across the road
               I notice the clouds racing
in the turbulent grey sky

The bird is motionless
               perhaps in a trance
as it waits for the next
               gust of wind :
and then it comes
               I can hear the rush
of air blasting
               against the roof
shaking the rafters

The bird turns its head
               takes a leap and veers
180 degrees flying straight
               into the face of the wind
before turning back another
               180 degrees and mounting
the back of this swell
               surfing it
all the way down

               and out of sight

John Lyons

In the slow-dawning day

In the slow-dawning day

In the slow-dawning day
       I think of you lying there
in your dream-fast sleep
       I think of your hair spread
across the pillow
       the rise and fall of your breast
the innocence of your limbs
       that languish in rest
I think of love and the fortune
       it brings to our lives
the tender give and take
       the strokes of affection
in the words exchanged
       the muscles that we engage
to smile and visually
       embrace each other

A poem needs so little
       to grow on the page
or a virtual poem held
       in the mind and perhaps
forgotten in an instant
       but vital nevertheless
in that split second of existence

Are roses and rocks and stone
       the only reality ? I think not
In the darkness
       the mind has mountains
we stagger around
       arms outstretched
anxious not to stumble
       we cling to each other
whisper words of comfort
       reach for the nearest
available light
       that will bring us
back to our bodies
       back to ourselves

In the slow-dawning day
       a shadowless moon
seen through my window
       and countless homes
shrouded in darkness
       shrouded in dreams
Life that teems with life
       currently at rest
virtual life about
       to be called into action
and all in the name of love
       survival of the species
Listen and you may hear
       the dim-coned bells
filling the mid-winter air
       with the transparencies
of sound – make no mistake
       : time and love
go hand in glove
       are partners
and are of the essence
       and are inseparable

John Lyons


Why is the sun so beautiful?

Poetry has innumerable registers and as many audiences. Yesterday I wrote a poem for a class I give to an adolescent with special needs. My student faces a number of challenges, but he is very intelligent and is interested in everything. He also has a gift with words. We have been reading the poetry of Emily Dickinson, William Carlos Williams and Stevie Smith, and part of every class involves a short piece of writing, often in the form of poetry. The poem below was written to demonstrate how the simple repetition of a phrase can give form to a poem: each line was also intended to stimulate a response that would lead to a piece of writing by my student. Before settling down to work, however, he spontaneously spoke the line “Why is the sun so beautiful?” and he went on to describe what he felt about the sun. I told him that that first line in particular, with its combined exclamation and question mark, could easily be the first line of a poem by Emily Dickinson, and congratulated him. Poetry as an educational medium can help to unlock the emotions and liberate the powers of expression. It has this effect on school children and on adults alike. Poetry rules, okay!

Some things

Some things are important
Some things are not

Some things I remember
Some things I forgot

Some things make me happy
Some things make me sad

Some things really please me
Some things drive me mad

Some things are really boring
Some things are really fun

Some things are best in winter
Some things really need the sun

Some things are quite alarming
Some things are really cool

Some things I do at weekends
Some things I do at school

Some things are good for eating
Some things are good to drink

Some things are really easy
Some things they make you think

Some things are worth the trouble
Some things I couldn’t care

Some things I think of trying
Some things I wouldn’t dare

John Lyons

Love is no abstraction

Jessie May Smart

The poem below was written shortly after midnight. I had just returned home from an evening spent with my good friend, the writer, Molly Rosenberg, herself an occasional contributor to these pages. Molly and I met in Peter Jones and dined in the Brasserie there before heading off to the Cadogan Hall to see Steeleye Span in concert. And what a wonderful performance it was: beautiful songs, beautifully sung and the musicians totally in command of their instruments. Notable in the band was the young violinist, Jessie May Smart who played with outstanding verve and expression, adding a rich harmonic layer to the music. At the end of the show, Molly and I, together with Janet – Jessie’s mother – had the pleasure of meeting the members of the band for a glass of wine, and the young violinist proved to be as charming as she is beautiful and talented. 

All this by way of explanation: having arrived home late, but not wishing to fail in my commitment to my daily blog, before turning in to my bed, I decided to write and post a new poem using an idea that I had been mulling over recently and no connection with the evening’s performance. Upon waking this morning, somewhat bleary-eyed and a little later than usual, I reread the poem and made a number of alterations. These impromptu poems I post are a work in progress, that’s all.


Love is no abstraction

Who is to say that the stars
             are abstractions because
they seem to be so far away ?
              Yet they are no more distant
than the light in your eyes
             they are there
in the effervescence of your smile

             there in every ginger step you take
along with every gasp of breath

We are pervaded by starlight
             we consume it night and day
in every possible shape and form
             and it is there
in the ardours of our love
             in the sparks of ignition
that fire our bodies
             and precipitate our kisses
There’s simply no escape from starlight
             simply nowhere to go
in the cosmos

              to get away from it

And so too to tender love !
             You talk of love
but love that’s not total
             is not love at all :
love is binary  – yes or no
              but never partial nor ever maybe
nor ever open to negotiation
              Love cannot lose an eye
or a limb and still be love –
             it is indivisible
it is whole
             or it is nothing at all
it is absolute or it is meaningless
              and it is what drives life forward
it is the human expression
             of sunlight
and in its absence
             lives wither and die
It certainly is no abstraction
             : look around



The sun dragging its heels
             a reluctant lover
loath to leave the bed
             on this cool December day
stillness in the house
             reality at bay
a lone bird somewhere faraway
             tuning its pipes
warming up its vocals
              The silhouette of trees
seen through the window
             motionless bare branches
Foxes have called in the night
              and neighbourhood cats
have frisked each other
             under a lacklustre moon

There was a girl in my dream
             her soft supple
fragrant body
             stretched out
on the cool white sheet
             beside me
and in my dream
             I reached out
to touch her
             and now she lurks
on the edge of every shadow
             a pool of innocence
in her warm hazel eyes
             insatiable longing in mine

John Lyons

The Flesh

The Flesh

The flesh is never as naked
                  as the mind that revels
in the truth of its dear dreams
                  The breasts the lips
the bashful face
                  the snowy cheeks
the hollow of her back
                  her thighs her feet
and all the secret places
                  I have kissed
will one day mingle
                  in the dust of all our dust
but the honesties of love
                  braver than the dying rose
will outlive our wasted lives

The flesh that every bone
                  does hide will be revealed
as barren ash that all too quick
                  is turned back into soil
as time delights in turning
                  all that moves and breathes
and feels into its spoil

But the flesh is never as naked
                  as the soul
the matter that will
                  outlast the form :
so gather while you may
                  rich parcels of affection
shore up your heart
                  against the vagaries of mood
and foul distemper
                  celebrate the warmth of words
that bring joy and comfort
                  to your wintry days
The blossom that soon falls
                  should not take pride of place
over the thorny bush
                  that will rise again
when spring returns

John Lyons


Wild Swans at Windsor

Wild Swans at Windsor

The stark beauty of early December
                  down by the river at Windsor
nature all but in disarray
                  confounded by the mild air
the barren trees barely moving
                  in this gentle twilight breeze
and upon the brimming water
                  the brilliance of these creatures
gliding past me close to the bank
                  their elongated necks thrust forward
lowly as they scan the dark waters
                  for what lies beneath

There is no clamour nor fuss
                  as they go about their business
foraging for what might see them
                  through the long night
and gently they sway their heads
                  from side to side missing nothing
as they drift homeward

There is a time for majesty
                  but this is a time
when such decorum
                  is no longer required
they have touched the hearts
                  of all who saw them earlier
in their full regalia
                  when they beat their wings
to demonstrate their
                  power over all that
took to the river

Lovers strolling hand in hand
                  by the water’s edge
take delight in the candescent purity
                  of their unruffled plumage
and the quiet dignity
                  in their mysterious eyes
lovers who would soon
                  be home to their bed
dreams nourished by this scene
                  in the fading light

John Lyons