How Beautiful You Are

Art or a shared thought
        a certain fixed combination
of words or shapes
        or numbers in a mathematical
formula : a theorem or
        a theory

How when they are captured
        they transcend time and space —
the eternal curves of the lines
        presented on canvas
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
        that transport us to 1907
and beyond

They mixed pigments
        by the fireside
before daubing the walls : later
        panels or cloth stretched
on a frame that allowed
        the walls to be transported

Is it the heart
        or the mind that delights
in infinite things ?
        Let’s call them
death cheaters

        The music of the spheres
harmony abounds
        and our senses
soak it all up

How beautiful the nightingale
        How beautiful the Grecian Urn
Autumn fields heavy with dew
        The cold North
and the warm South
        The drowsy Mediterranean

How beautiful the body
        How beautiful life
How beautiful love
        How beautiful the air
we breathe    How beautiful
        you are

John Lyons

Highly recommended, The Cloud of Witness a retrospective of paintings by Keith Cunningham at the Newport Street Gallery till 21 August 2022. Free admission.


Ode to autumn

orange flowers

            Orange flowers, John Lyons (oil on wood)

Finally the fallen leaves

       are turning from copper
to pure gold
       This is the currency
that poets eagerly mine
       each autumn
It’s a subject that appeals
       to their inner Keats
the mellow sadness
       of a year on the way out

       Richardson’s Pamela
called herself
       a piece of painted dirt
and so it is
       the cycle in and out
of the earth
       the human comedy
one door closes
       another door opens
and while there is breath
       there is hope
and where there is life
       there is love

Whose hands are those
       painted on the cave walls
men women children
       the whole community ?
The caves are time capsules –
       behind the art is the perception
that creation goes the distance
       and that the thread of life
is eternal and breath alone powers
       the thread of love

John Lyons

Heard melodies are sweet

Keats_Grecian urn

Heard melodies are sweet

What are we dealing with here
           for example when Keats
studies the Grecian Urn
           —one sensibility seen
through another
           across the ages
the melodic silence
           of expectation
and the timeless anticipation
           of desire’s fulfilment

but also how the world
           is held in the mind
how it is turned over
           and examined
by a forensic poetry
           looking for evidence
and recording
           an affirmation of beauty
the collateral of which
           is truth
all in the warm teasing
           sensual pant of poetry

John Lyons

A note on John Keats

A note on John Keats

Only an apothecary poet
would write to a friend

and commend him
to the care of heaven

He who teetered on tiptoe
to gaze upon things from on high

who stood three years from
the abyss of death and yet wrote

of the nightingale’s unending song
to record the truth of its beauty 

In the silence of the dark night
who would dare to compare

the brilliance or the stature
of the brightest of eternal stars ?

John Lyons

Grecian Urn

Grecian Urn

It is the intensity
         of objects
that Keats captured
         in the Grecian Urn
an energy derived
         not merely
from the bridal narrative
         nor the implied music
piped down the centuries
         but from time manifest
shaped by the potter’s
         temporal hand
the craftsman
         who one day rose
from his bed
         and set about
his daily work

Art first and foremost
         a matter of shaping matter
whether it be air
         or stone or words or clay
or an arrangement
         of complex 
or simple movements
          A labour of love
it is a necessary confection
         of heart and soul

Form is creation
         the means by which
we raise our humanity
         above senseless nature
and form is relationship
         a structure shaped by content
an elemental marriage

Creation is that which
         adds and alters
despises the replica
         and scorns the dour dullness
of endless duplication
         Beauty is the animation
of truth — truth
         the animation of beauty
there is no silence
         there is no stasis
expression in all things :
         the status quo
is a lie

John Lyons

Particle and wave

Grecian urn

Particle and wave

the energy that binds
              one thing with another
the energy that moves
              in me and through me
and all around me
              the energy that I carry forward
into new enterprises
              new manifestations of myself
and my interaction
              with all the other energies
that surround me

The pulse in all things
              in Attic shapes
in the rose
              in her lips
and in my song

When was it
              Wallace asks
that the particles became
              the whole man ?

Whose hand shaped the clay
              into what became
the Grecian urn ?
               Clay working upon clay
Whose hand hardened it
              in the fire
so that it would be there
              for all time ?

A breathing human passion 
               The energy to create
and so direct those energies
              to a precise purpose
earth to earthenware
              clay to Keats
poet to poetry
              truth to beauty

John Lyons


Rosalía de Castro

Rosalía de Castro

Two poems for this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, written by the renowned Galician poet, Rosalía de Castro (1837-1885). Rosalía was born in Santiago de Compostela, in the Spanish province of Galicia and wrote both in Spanish and Galician. At the time the Galician language was considered to be inferior, a language to be used by the peasantry and not in polite, sophisticated society. However, the highly educated Rosalía de Castro, an advocate of women’s rights, was also a key figure in the Galician romantic movement, known today as the Rexurdimento, or renaissance.

The poetry is inevitably marked by the romantic mood of the day in which expressions of saudade (nostalgia) and melancholy were dominant. Nevertheless, it is for her great poetic gift in the Galician language that she is most remembered today and for that reason I have included the Galician text of the second poem translated below. Galician is a language in its own right, though closer to Portuguese than to Spanish, and the Galician people are as proud of their cultural and linguistic heritage as the Catalans of Catalonia are of theirs. Such is the enduring fame of Rosalía de Castro that a monument to her was erected in the Paseo de los poetas in a park in Buenos Aires in 1981.

Bust of Rosalía de Castro in the Parque 3 de febrero, Buenos Aires

I don’t know what I’m forever seeking

I don’t know what I’m forever seeking
On earth, in the air, or the heavens above;
I don’t know what I’m seeking;
But it’s something 
I’ve lost,
I don’t know when,
 and cannot find,
Although in dreams invisibly

It dwells within all I touch and see.
Happiness, I can never recapture you

On earth, in the air, or the heavens above

Although I know you are real
And no mere futile dream!


Cold Winter Months

Cold winter months 

That I love with all my heart;
Months of brim-full rivers

And the sweet love of the hearth
Months of storms,
Image of the pain
That afflicts young hearts
Cuts short the lives in bloom.
Comes after the autumn
That makes the leaves fall
Among them let me sleep
The sleep of not being.
And when the beautiful
April sun smiles once again
Let it shine upon my rest
No more upon my pain.

Meses do inverno fríos

Meses do inverno fríos,
Que eu amo a todo amar;

Meses dos fartos ríos

I o dóce amor do lar.

Meses das tempestades,

Imaxen da delor

Que afrixe as mocedades

I as vidas corta en frol.

Chegade e, tras do outono

Que as follas fai caer,

Nelas deixá que o sono

Eu durma do non ser.

E cando o sol fermoso

De abril torne a sorrir,

Que alume o meu reposo,

Xa non o meu sofrir.

Translations by John Lyons