Rothko unmasked

Rothko unmasked

 Behind every mask
         there is a portrait
behind every portrait
         there is a mask
sometimes the light
         blinds us to the darkness
sometimes the darkness
         reveals the light
Rembrandt knew this
         Rothko felt this
we can see this
         in Vienna’s great
         if we want

John Lyons

See The shape of Time, Vienna

The shape of time

Art of Painting
The Art of Painting, Vermeer

The shape of time

 Pockets of time
         caught in art
trapped under pigment
         line and colour
from a different age :
         after the cave came canvas
but it’s the same process
         time dedicated
to capturing time
         a succession of moments
or of perceptions
         or of intuitions
or simply of actions
         but all shaped
thoughts feelings
and there’s
         a single narrative
running through it all
         this is what it is
to be human
         to be alive
or at least
         an aspect of it

John Lyons

The big question

The big question

Nerve bone
      flesh blood
all from
a universe
      that suddenly
comes alive
      the building blocks
hydrogen and carbon
      and the question is
what ignites it all ?
      fission and reproduction
the energy devoted
      to constant reinvention
quantum life
      in which the mind
makes all the difference
      timeless waves of love

John Lyons

The art of translation

The art of translation

In 1936 Samuel Beckett was a contributing translator to Thorns of Thunder, a brief selection of the poems of Paul Eluard. 

Later that year Beckett wrote to his friend and fellow translator, Tom McGreevy:

“My copy of Eluard came, duly signed by author & all available translators. He does come through after a fashion, the frailty & nervousness. But no attempt seems to have been made to translate the pauses. Like Beethoven played strictly to time.”


The hand of blood and bone

The hand of blood and bone

The hand of blood and bone
           picks roses of dear perfection
things of time
           that pass simply away

The back and forth
           of banter on all
lovers’ lips
           bonded bodies
that slip effortlessly
           into sleep

Sometimes I speak
           for the sake of speaking
and then listen
           to how silence closes in
around my words


John Lyons



Apollinaire, by Picasso


Anemone and columbine
Have grown in the garden
Where sadness sleeps
Between love and disdain

Here our shadows come too
That the night will dissipate
The sun that deepens them
With them will disappear

The deities of breathing waters
Let their hair run free
Go on you should pursue
That beautiful shadow you desire

Guillaume Apollinaire (from Alcools)

Translation by John Lyons

* * *
French original


L’anémone et l’ancolie
Ont poussé dans le jardin
Où dort la mélancolie
Entre l’amour et le dédain

Il y vient aussi nos ombres
Que la nuit dissipera
Le soleil qui les rend sombres
Avec elles disparaîtra

Les déités des eaux vives
Laissent couler leurs cheveux
Passe il faut que tu poursuives
Cette belle ombre que tu veux

Night invention

Thorns 2

Night invention

The darkness is ours
in which I hand to you
you hand me back
all the love

water spreads
through the earth
reaches into
the root of being

in the darkness
as mirrors rest
your secret voice
is revealed

through the blinds
a moon laced with cloud
on white linen
the thorns are removed

one by one
there is no blood
to stain

no tears to dry
your mouth

is an abyss
into which
I willingly fall
and sleep comes

John Lyons

When you’re old – Paul Eluard


Paul Eluard, by Picasso

           I can’t do a thing, I can’t see a thing.

When you’re old, you shouldn’t go out
You should stay indoors by the fire,
With warm clothes and the day tempered
Each evening by the night and the lamplight.

When you’re old, you shouldn’t read anymore.
Words are bad and meant for other lives.
You should stay in, your eyes glazed, resigned
Motionless, in a corner.

When you’re old, you shouldn’t talk anymore
You mustn’t sleep anymore. . . You must remember
That others are constantly thinking:
“When you’ve seen it all, you’re miserable
And when you’re old, you’ve seen it all!”

Paul Eluard (1895-1952)

Translation by John Lyons

French text :

         Je ne peux rien faire, je ne peux rien voir.

Quand on est vieux, il ne faut plus sortir
Il faut rester dans la chambre avec le feu,
Avec de chauds vêtements et le jour adouci
Chaque soir par la nuit et la clarté des lampes.

Quand on est vieux, il ne faut plus lire.
Les mots sont mauvais et pour d’autres vies.
Il faut rester, les yeux perdus, l’air résigné
Dans un coin, sans bouger.

Quand on est vieux, il ne faut plus parler
Il ne faut plus dormir. . . Il faut se souvenir
Que les autres pensent sans cesse:
« Quand on a tout vu, on est misérable
Et quand on est vieux c’est qu’on a tout vu! »

Paul Eluard (from Le devoir et l’inquiétude, 1916-1917)


Eight thorny lines


Eight thorny lines

How soon the petals fall
how soon dawn turns to dusk

how soon this life is over
and all things turn to dust

and memories are piecemeal
and time consumes them all

till love is all that’s left us
that love in which we trust

John Lyons

Nothing at all

Nothing at all

For those who care
and care enough
so as never to pay
lip service to love

to care from the heart
poetry from the heart
not ideas but things
as real as a red rose

things filtered
through feelings
the heart tells us
there’s nothing
like love

John Lyons