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.