Love’s complaint

Upon Troy’s battlements

I will not say
       that the cards dealt
were marked
       or that such were
the merciless stars
       that shone upon
those dark nights
       when I struggled
to find my path
       my soul

in the stillness
       in the morning silence
broken only
       by voice of thrush
and sparrow and
       cooing dove
I stand by my choices
       and the consequences
       and look to the future
my body yet to collapse
       into wrack and ruin
my desire to love
       and be loved intact

Today I hold
       my hand to the fire
hell has no mysteries
       it is heaven that eludes
or provokes with promises
       of rude passion to tempt
our tender flesh
       into submission
or beguiles us with
       crude images of beauties
that stalk the flaming
       battlements of Troy

John Lyons


Increments of awareness

Increments of awareness

What one poet steals
from another
feathers from another nest
tropes of the imagination
deep-mined from seams of thought
words feeling their way
through life
a sequencing of the unconscious
if that makes sense

love is indivisible
it simply cannot be stripped down
to constituent parts
as if to say night
as if to say day
or the sun and the moon
that mope in the heavens
while philosophers doodle
in the dark
and gnarled trees
bend to the will
of prevailing winds

poets steeled
against the inclemency
of indifference

One wonders was Homer
blind from birth
and if not so
whether he ever left home
and sailed to sea

John Lyons

Sailing the ungodly seas

Sailing the ungodly seas

Put aside the ice and snow
           the cold northerly winds
these incidentals are
           of no consequence
there is a hardness to love
           that will always triumph
over sentimentality
           after all love has its values
and they are unshakeable
           and they can be read
all around us
           and in all our literatures

Love is neither a means
           nor an end
it just is :
           all of us drifters
through this universe
           but love the sole fixed point
it is there in all eloquence
           and in all beauty
it is the truest form of expression
           and never flinches
in the face of adversity
           In a world full of devices
and subterfuge
           love is bare-faced honesty
and it is what makes
           cowards cower

Look to the fractious gods
           who defied Ulysses
but failed to bring him down
           Look to Penelope
her unswerving heart
           a tapestry for all to see
It is the betrayal of love
           that stains the soul
and makes hogs of all
           who fall by the wayside

John Lyons

The death of history

The death of history

We need to know our day
           feel our way through it
until we come to the night
           there is no passion in the moon
it is what we bring with us
           or fail to bring
the precision of love
           that knows its season
and the order of its duties
            We could stare at the moon
forever and accomplish nothing
           it’s in the decanted hours
of the day that our fortunes
           will be made
our bodies dispersed
           through field and city
chasing the arc
           of our ambition
but life is not repetition
           it is advancement
through cobalt blue
           and copper residues
to each his or her north star
           Love composes us
it’s what we’re made of
           and what we chiefly make
busied as we are in the hive
           of our affections

Aphrodite gone to ground
           Venus alone in her bed
night of wind and rain
           and the soil of secret growth
in which a rose suddenly unfolds
           an assertion of beauty
on a scale that taunts the planets
           what Homer saw in his blindness
that drove him to sing of love
           as being above all things
and the only symmetry
           worth fighting for
love synonymous —after all—
            with the death of history

John Lyons


THE ODYSSEY OF HOMER translated by Alexander Pope




The poem opens within forty eight days of the arrival of Ulysses
in his dominions. He had now remained seven years in the Island of
Calypso, when the gods assembled in council, proposed the method
of his departure from thence and his return to his native country.
For this purpose it is concluded to send Mercury to Calypso, and
Pallas immediately descends to Ithaca. She holds a conference with
Telemachus, in the shape of Mantes, king of Taphians; in which she
advises him to take a journey in quest of his father Ulysses, to
Pylos and Sparta, where Nestor and Menelaus yet reigned; then,
after having visibly displayed her divinity, disappears. The
suitors of Penelope make great entertainments, and riot in her
palace till night. Phemius sings to them the return of the
Grecians, till Penelope puts a stop to the song. Some words arise
between the suitors and Telemachus, who summons the council to
meet the day following.

The man for wisdom’s various arts renown’d,
Long exercised in woes, O Muse! resound;
Who, when his arms had wrought the destined fall
Of sacred Troy, and razed her heaven-built wall,
Wandering from clime to clime, observant stray’d,
Their manners noted, and their states survey’d,
On stormy seas unnumber’d toils he bore,
Safe with his friends to gain his natal shore:
Vain toils! their impious folly dared to prey
On herds devoted to the god of day;
The god vindictive doom’d them never more
(Ah, men unbless’d!) to touch that natal shore.
Oh, snatch some portion of these acts from fate,
Celestial Muse! and to our world relate.

Now at their native realms the Greeks arrived;
All who the wars of ten long years survived;
And ‘scaped the perils of the gulfy main.
Ulysses, sole of all the victor train,
An exile from his dear paternal coast,
Deplored his absent queen and empire lost.
Calypso in her caves constrain’d his stay,
With sweet, reluctant, amorous delay;
In vain-for now the circling years disclose
The day predestined to reward his woes.
At length his Ithaca is given by fate,
Where yet new labours his arrival wait;
At length their rage the hostile powers restrain,
All but the ruthless monarch of the main.
But now the god, remote, a heavenly guest,
In AEthiopia graced the genial feast
(A race divided, whom with sloping rays
The rising and descending sun surveys);
There on the world’s extremest verge revered
With hecatombs and prayer in pomp preferr’d,
Distant he lay: while in the bright abodes
Of high Olympus, Jove convened the gods:
The assembly thus the sire supreme address’d,
AEgysthus’ fate revolving in his breast,
Whom young Orestes to the dreary coast
Of Pluto sent, a blood-polluted ghost.

“Perverse mankind! whose wills, created free,
Charge all their woes on absolute degree;
All to the dooming gods their guilt translate,
And follies are miscall’d the crimes of fate.
When to his lust AEgysthus gave the rein,
Did fate, or we, the adulterous act constrain?
Did fate, or we, when great Atrides died,
Urge the bold traitor to the regicide?
Hermes I sent, while yet his soul remain’d
Sincere from royal blood, and faith profaned;
To warn the wretch, that young Orestes, grown
To manly years, should re-assert the throne.
Yet, impotent of mind, and uncontroll’d,
He plunged into the gulf which Heaven foretold.”

For the full text see

Aeolus – a first draft

Aeolus – a first draft

The winedark sea that Homer saw
         only in his imagination
the sea that Ulysses sailed
         en route to Troy
a man both mortal and immortal
         one inseparable from the other
a man and his destiny
         laurel leaves and the bitter taste
of unripe olives
         such a tale from the cocoon
of his blindness

Art is from the eyes
         it is perception and intuition
a hunger for human narrative
         for what will make sense
of a universe in which meaning
         is neither here nor there

Fate spins
         and everywhere is felt
the footfall of the gods
         Aeolus a draft
driven by a line from Pindar
         What is a man
but a dream of a shadow
         his splendour
but a gift of the heavens
         Say nothing of love

John Lyons

Is a mind a prison?

Is a mind a prison, by Bob Law (1970)

Is a Mind a Prison 1970 Bob Law 1934-2004 Purchased 2006
Is a Mind a Prison, Bob Law (1970)

One of the most curious artworks on display at Tate Britain, is a two-dimensional sculpture by Bob Law (1934–2004) entitled “Is a mind a prison”. This piece is an obelisk-shaped tablet of lead, upon which some seemingly incoherent lines of poetry have been etched. The title of the work is a question, which in itself is unusual in the world of art: despite the fact that one of the fundamental aspects of art is the asking of questions, most paintings and sculptures have simple affirmative titles. Bob Law’s obelisk is also simple in form: it could represent a chapel, or perhaps even a spaceship, one of the notions clearly indicated in the poetic text. If we examine the geometrical shape of the lead tablet it is basically a rectangle topped by two equilateral triangles which suggest a roof structure. The words on the tablet are imprisoned within the space, just as the words in our minds are locked in. Cell within cell.

We are all on a journey, all travelling through space aboard planet earth, and in the course of our journey we will all be confronted with a series of adventures, highs and lows, as though the gods have taken offence and set out to make our homecoming as difficult as possible, just as they did for Odysseus in Homer’s poem.

Bob Law’s reference to redshift is to the cosmological effect caused by the expansion of the universe whereby light sources moving away from the observer are red in contrast to light sources that approach the observer which are blue. Expansion is process. Expansion within the space of our minds within cosmic space. Would you like to be the daddy longlegs, the kingpin, the big daddy on this trip at the end of which we will all be judged for our actions? And so on. . . .

Bob Law was known as one of the founding fathers of minimalism. However, this piece demonstrates that a minimalist technique can be highly expressive. Minimum of resources for maximum effect, Samuel Beckett might have written. Here the combination of sculpture and poetry challenges the observer to stop and to think about structures, about cells contained within cells and questions contained within questions, one art form contained within another.

On the afternoon that this piece caught my eye as I strolled through the beautiful, spacious, well-lit galleries of Tate Britain, and perhaps because of its location by a doorway, it reminded me very much of one of the Stations of the Cross that can be seen in so many churches. This in turn made me think that art galleries do, in fact, have a strong spiritual dimension, not so much because their spaces can replicate churches, but rather that underpinning the work of all the artists on display is the common link of spirituality, albeit manifest in disparate forms. Their work makes contemplatives of us, urging us to meditate on the nature of the human condition. What is it to be human, what is beauty, what in the world around us is worthy of note, what values best define the essence of human goodness, what content and what colours and shapes should be used to celebrate life even as we question its purpose?

All of which explains why the appreciation of art is so liberating and uplifting and why it is so important to incorporate it in the educational process for our young children. But it also has to be appreciated, where possible, in situ. So get down to Tate Britain in Pimlico as soon as you can and when you’re there, take your time, it’s all you have.