I shall look no more in the looking glass, that tells no courteous lies,
I am sick of the face in the looking glass, I am sick of its bleary eyes,
I am sick of the nose in the looking glass, it is such an enormous size.
For the face I see in the looking glass is always the same old face,
Where the heavy hand of relentless time has left its relentless trace,
And every mark that the years have made stands still in the selfsame place.
I can see the dent in my upper lip that was made by a piece of ice,
I can see the bumps where they dropped me as a baby once or twice,
I can see the slowly receding hair that the years have gnawed like mice.
I know that face in the looking glass, what aspects it may wear,
From the watery gleam of wan delight to the grin of gay despair,
And half-shut eyes of doleful dawn and the morning-after stare.
I shall hang a curtain before my glass that is heavy and soft and thick,
I shall blindly fumble with awkward hands at hairbrush and shaving stick,
But I shall not look in the looking glass at the face that makes me sick.
I shall go on walking around the world, and the world may look at me,
And the hardened ones shall hold their ground, and the little children flee.
But I look no more in the looking glass, I am sick of what I see.
Published in the Atlantic Monthly, 1952
We watched the fiery particle go droning like a midge
Through smoky pearl of skies at evening, over Lambeth Bridge;
It fell to thoughtful silence, as it lost the driving spark,
And plunged to earth at Charing Cross, an angel of the dark.
The smoke-cloud marched down Whitehall, a dervish in disguise,
The gentle sky was blotted out, the grit blew in our eyes.
How many living laggard lay, how many lived no more,
How many sheets of shining glass shattered about the store,
We never knew, and never asked; for we must hear at night
A hundred angel-midges yet bear their impelling light
North-westward through the heavens, or fall about our ears
With great and strident music from strange unhappy spheres.
We did not ask how many maimed, how many living slain;
We put our threepence in the slot, and took the sunset train,
The shrouded, crowded Underground, crammed with the throng of war.
Swaying upon the swinging strap, we did not ask for more;
Thought was no good for thinking; sleep was more sweet than all.
We drifted through the tunnels like the smoke-cloud down Whitehall.
Published in PUNCH July 30th 1952
I’ll write you a song for a season
In a manner of something new;
Shall have neither rhyme nor reason,
The song I’ll sing to you,
Spring shall be past and dwindled
Before my song is done,
And summer’s fire be kindled
And fade in summer’s sun,
And autumn’s leaves be browning
And choking autumn’s weirs
And winter skies be frowning
With winter’s frozen tears,
And other years be bringing
The scent of something new,
Before I’ve done with singing
The song I’ll sing to you.
R P Lister kept a lot of his work in scrapbooks. This is the first post of many featuring some of these poems. Click on the image below to see it in full resolution.
Soap has a beauty wholly of its own,
Being compounded of most stinking fats
Boiled up with caustic soda in great vats.
Solid it is, the likeness of a stone,
Yet still the source of airy bubbles, blown
Through Christmas pipes by men in funny hats;
Which bubbles fly around the room like bats
Round evening mansions, desert and alone.
When they have travelled but a little way
These bubbles burst, leaving the blank wall signed
With fading soap. So man, blown up from clay,
Shimmers around and leaves small trace behind.
And that, I think, is all I have to say
Of soap, and bats, and bubbles, and mankind