Brian Patten is an English poet and author. He came to prominence in the 1960s as one of the Liverpool poets, and writes primarily lyrical poetry about human relationships.
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Famous Brian Patten Poems
When I think of her sparkling face
And of her body that rocked this way and that,
When I think of her laughter,
Her jubilance that filled me,
It’s a wonder I’m not gone mad.
She is away and I cannot do what I want.
Other faces pale when I get close.
She is away and I cannot breathe her in.
The space her leaving has created
I have attempted to fill
With bodies that numbed upon touching,
Among them I expected her opposite,
And found only forgeries.
Her wholeness I know to be a fiction of my making,
Still I cannot dismiss the longing for her;
It is a craving for sensation new flesh
Cannot wholly calm or cancel,
It is perhaps for more than her.
At night above the parks the stars are swarming.
The streets are thick with nostalgia;
I move through senseless routine and insensitive chatter
As if her going did not matter.
She is away and I cannot breathe her in.
I am ill simply through wanting her.
Sometimes It Happens
And sometimes it happens that you are friends and then
You are not friends,
And friendship has passed.
And whole days are lost and among them
A fountain empties itself.
And sometimes it happens that you are loved and then
You are not loved,
And love is past.
And whole days are lost and among them
A fountain empties itself into the grass.
And sometimes you want to speak to her and then
You do not want to speak,
Then the opportunity has passed.
Your dreams flare up, they suddenly vanish.
And also it happens that there is nowhere to go and then
There is somewhere to go,
Then you have bypassed.
And the years flare up and are gone,
Quicker than a minute.
So you have nothing.
You wonder if these things matter and then
As soon you begin to wonder if these things matter
They cease to matter,
And caring is past.
And a fountain empties itself into the grass.
In Tintagel Graveyard
Who brought flowers to this grave?
I, said the wren.
I brought them as seeds and then
Watched them grow.
No, said the wind. That’s not true.
I blew them across the moor and sea,
I blew them up to the grave’s door.
They were a gift from me.
They came of their own accord,
Said the celandine.
I know best. They’re brothers of mine.
I am Death’s friend,
Said the crow. I ought to know.
I dropped them into the shadow of the leaning stone.
I brought the flowers.
No, said Love,
It was I who brought them,
With the help of the wren’s wing,
With the help of the wind’s breath,
With the help of the celandine and the crow.
It was I who brought them
For the living and the dead to share,
I was the force that put those flowers there.
‘Let’s stay here
Now this place has emptied
And make gentle pornography with one another,
While the partygoers go out
And the dawn creeps in,
Like a stranger.
Let us not hesitate
Over what we know
Or over how cold this place has become,
But let’s unclip our minds
And let tumble free
The mad, mangled crocodile of love.’
So they did,
There among the woodbines and guinness stains,
And later he caught a bus and she a train
And all there was between them then
There’s something new in the river,’
The fish said as it swam.
‘It’s got no scales, no fins and no gills,
And ignores the impassable dam.’
‘There’s something new in the trees.’
I heard a bloated thrush sing.
‘It’s got no beak, no claws, and no feathers,
And not even the ghost of a wing.’
‘There’s something new in the warren,’
Said the rabbit to the doe.
‘It’s got no fur, no eyes and no paws,
Yet digs further than we dare go.’
‘There’s something new in the whiteness,’
Said the snow-bright polar bear.
‘I saw its shadow on a glacier,
But it left no pawmarks there.’
Through the animal kingdom
The news was spreading fast.
No beak, no claws, no feather,
No scales, no fur, no gills,
It lives in the trees and the water,
In the soil and the snow and the hills,
And it kills and it kills and it kills.
The Right Mask
One night a poem came up to a poet
From now on, it said, you must wear a mask.
What kind of mask? asked the poet.
A rose mask, said the poem.
I’ve used it already, said the poet,
I’ve exhausted it.
Then wear the mask that’s made out of
a nightingale’s song, use that mask.
Oh, it’s an old mask, said the poet,
it’s all used up.
Nonsense, said the poem, it’s the perfect mask,
still, try on the god mask,
now that mask illuminates heaven.
It’s a tight mask, said the poet,
and the stars crawl about in it like ants.
Then try on the troubador’s mask, or the singer’s mask,
try on all the popular masks.
I have, said the poet, but they fit so easily.
The poem was getting impatient,
it stamped its feet like a child,
it screamed. Then try on your own face,
try the one mask that terrifies,
the mask only you could possibly use,
the mask only you could wear out.
The poet tore at his face til it bled,
this mask? he yelled, this mask?
Yes, said the poem, yes.
But the poet was tired of masks,
he had lived too long with them,
he snatched at the poem and stuck it in his face.
Its screams were muffled, it wept, it tried to be lyrical,
it wriggled into his eyes and mouth.
Next day his friends were afraid of him,
he looked so distorted.
Now it’s the right mask, said the poem, the right mask.
It clung to him lovingly and never let go again.
Nor The Sun Its Selling Power
They say her words were like balloons
with strings I could not hold,
that her love was something in a shop
cheap and far too quickly sold;
but the tree does not price its apples
nor the sun its selling power
the rain does not gossip
or speak of where it goes.
One Another’s Light
I do not know what brought me here
Away from where I’ve hardly ever been and now
Am never likely to go again.
Faces are lost, and places passed
At which I could have stopped,
And stopping, been glad enough.
Some faces left a mark,
And I on them might have wrought
Some kind of charm or spell
To make their futures work,
But it’s hard to guess
How one person on another
Works an influence.
We pass, and lit briefly by one another’s light
Hope the way we go is right.
Our teacher told us one day he would leave
And sail across a warm blue sea
To places he had only known from maps,
And all his life had longed to be.
The house he lived in was narrow and grey
But in his mind’s eye he could see
Sweet-scented jasmine clinging to the walls,
And green leaves burning on an orange tree.
He spoke of the lands he longed to visit,
Where it was never drab or cold.
I couldn’t understand why he never left,
And shook off the school’s stranglehold.
Then halfway through his final term
He took ill and never returned,
And he never got to that place on the map
Where the green leaves of the orange trees burned.
The maps were redrawn on the classroom wall;
His name was forgotten, it faded away.
But a lesson he never knew he taught
Is with me to this day.
I travel to where the green leaves burn
To where the ocean’s glass-clear and blue,
To all those places my teacher taught me to love
But which he never knew.
Mr Ifonly sat down and he sighed,
I could have done more if only I had tried
If only I had followed my true intent
If only I had done the things that I meant
If only I had done the things that I could
And not simply done the things that I should
If only a day had lasted a year
And I had not lived in constant fear
Mr Ifonly sat down and he cried:
I could really have lived if only I had tried!
Now life has past me by and its such a crime,
Said Mr Ifonly who had run out of time
So Many Different Lengths Of Time
How long does a man live after all?
A thousand days or only one?
One week or a few centuries?
How long does a man spend living or dying
and what do we mean when we say gone forever?
Adrift in such preoccupations, we seek clarification.
We can go to the philosophers
but they will weary of our questions.
We can go to the priests and rabbis
but they might be busy with administrations.
So, how long does a man live after all?
And how much does he live while he lives?
We fret and ask so many questions –
then when it comes to us
the answer is so simple after all.
A man lives for as long as we carry him inside us,
for as long as we carry the harvest of his dreams,
for as long as we ourselves live,
holding memories in common, a man lives.
His lover will carry his man’s scent, his touch:
his children will carry the weight of his love.
One friend will carry his arguments,
another will hum his favourite tunes,
another will still share his terrors.
And the days will pass with baffled faces,
then the weeks, then the months,
then there will be a day when no question is asked,
and the knots of grief will loosen in the stomach
and the puffed faces will calm.
And on that day he will not have ceased
but will have ceased to be separated by death.
How long does a man live after all?
A man lives so many different lengths of time.
I did not sleep last night.
The falling snow was beautiful and white.
I dressed, sneaked down the stairs
And opened wide the door.
I had not seen such snow before.
Our grubby little street had gone;
The world was brand-new, and everywhere
There was a pureness in the air.
I felt such peace. Watching every flake
I felt more and more awake.
I thought I’d learned all there was to know
About the trillion million different kinds
Of swirling frosty falling flakes of snow.
But that was not so.
I had not known how vividly it lit
The world with such a peaceful glow.
Upstairs my mother slept.
I could not drag myself away from that sight
To call her down and have her share
That mute miracle of snow.
It seemed to fall for me alone.
How beautiful our grubby little street had grown!
There Is A Boat Down On The Quay
There is a boat down on the quay come home at last.
The paint’s chipped, the sails stained as if
Time’s pissed up against them.
I imagine the sea routes it’s followed,
Sailing through the world’s sunken veins
With its cargo of longings;
A little boat that’s nuzzled its way
Into the armpits of forests,
That’s sliced through the moon’s reflection,
Through the phosphate that clings to the lips of waves.
I knew its crew once,
Those boys manacled to freedom
Who set sail over half a century ago,
And were like giants to me.
A solitary child in awe of oceans
I saw them peel their shadows from the land
And watched as they departed.
What did they think when they peered
Over the rim of the world,
Where Time roared and bubbled
And angels swooped like swallows?
Reading an ancient Morse code of starlight,
Stranded by the longing to be elsewhere,
What secrets did they learn to forget?
I longed to be among them,
A passenger curled up in fate’s pocket,
I longed to be a part of them –
Those ghosts who set sail in my childhood,
Those phantoms who shaped me,
That marvellous crew for whom
I have stretched a simple goodbye
Out over a lifetime.
Falling in love was like falling down the stairs
Each stair had her name on it
And he went bouncing down each one like a tongue-tied
One day of loving her was an ordinary year
He transformed her into what he wanted
And the scent from her
Was the best scent in the world
Fifteen he was fifteen
Each night he dreamed of her
Each day he telephoned her
Each day was unfamiliar
And the fear of her going weighed on him like a stone
And when he could not see her for two nights running
It seemed a century had passed
And meeting her and staring at her face
He knew he would feel as he did forever
Hopelessly in love
Sick with it
And not even knowing her second name yet
It was the first time
The best time
A time that would last forever
Because it was new
Because he was ignorant it could ever end
It was endless