Three poems and a translation by Susan Watson

SUSAN WATSON’s work has appeared in The Rialto, The Frogmore Papers, Brittle Star, The North and Long Poem Magazine.  She has also contributed to anthologies, including A Room to Live In: A Kettle’s Yard Anthology (Salt Publishing), Herrings (Blue Door Press) and The Best New British and Irish Poets 2018 (Eyewear)

Reading The Rainbow

Fourteen, and my mother’s old Penguin edition

plucked from the crammed shelf like an apple,

not Sons and Lovers because I needed a heroine,

then the narrative surge drew me onwards and in,

and the hunger of needing to know.

what they lived through and what they lived by

aspiring      grappling      beyond    unslaked

through the cramping repeating design of lace

and the shouting        drilling       the rigid lines of desks

yearning after the substance of churches and cathedrals

and emotional weather

It was not a dirty book.

Those wonderful stretches of time in the barn

while the cattle browsed hay and the crying stilled;

the harvest field in the moonlight,

binding the sheaves,

the lovers racing to meet one another.

Later on, it was different.

Floating more slowly through paragraphs of declamation,

struggling with their tensions.

It was like dipping a knotted thread

into a hot drench of copper sulphate

causing irritations and disruptions in the blue liquid

so that structures formed.

These Are the Things that Should Remain Unsaid

I saw her pale, cold form glide silent by me, dead to shame as to pity.

William Hazlitt :  Liber Amoris

            I read his Life, and too much light spills over and echoes off buildings

and here she comes gliding like a snake across High Holborn

past all the lawyers and accountants and hard edges.

The ghost of Hazlitt’s Sarah. She doesn’t know he watched her,

his lost thing. She never saw him. Male anger gorges.

They say she wasn’t beautiful.

            And Nina Simone’s voice seeps in from the next room.

It’s late at night. She sings out from a place that’s high above a city,

notes like old rags and kitchen scourers soaked in bourbon.

Deep winter and dead cigarettes infuse the air.

The words are wide and shivering.

Far too much light.

            I put the book down. But still the ghost is gliding like a snake

through that contemporary crowd, past all the black and tailored sharpness,

a vague pale object with blurred edges. The only possible road

is this one that he’s heavily retracing. I’ve read the ongoing bruise,

the way life carries on, past the end of the story. She died young.

This hurt will last for over two hundred years.

It will never wear down.


‘Ce Que Dit la Bouche d’Ombre’ an extract from a much longer poem, Les Contemplations by Victor Hugo. It is recited by one of the characters in the Eric Rohmer film Conte D’Hiver. The English translation is my own. The following poem, ‘By Heart’, is in the voice of another character, the film’s main protagonist, as she listens.

From: Ce Que Dit la Bouche d’Ombre

Donc, une bête va, vient, rugit, hurle, mord;

Un arbre est là, dressant ses branches hérissées,

Une dalle s’effondre au milieu des chaussées

Que la charrette écrase et que l’hiver détruit,

Et, sous ces épaisseurs de matière et de nuit,

Arbre, bête, pavé, poids que rien ne soulève,

Dans cette profondeur terrible, une âme rêve!

Que fait-elle? Elle songe à Dieu!


In the Mouth of the Shadow

So, a beast prowls, pads, howls, bawls, bites;

A tree is there, tensing its bristling branches,

A slab of stone subsides into the pathway

That the cart breaks down and that the winter erodes,

And, beneath the thicknesses of matter and of night

Tree, beast, stone, dead weight that nothing uplifts,

In that terrible deep darkness, a soul dreams!

What is it doing? It dreams of God!

By Heart

In memory of Eric Rohmer (1920-2010)

Your room is full of books I haven’t read,

and here are unexpected guests who won’t stop talking,

talking, of superstitions, reincarnation, the Catholic faith

and miracles. I want a miracle.

If I say I love you,

you’ll curve over your shelves, leafing and leafing

through Shakespeare, Pascal, some marble figure,

to see if it’s written there. I blurt out something,

say I’m ignorant, the words uncultured and uncouth

crouch, coiled, inside that other one.

I want a miracle.

I know my tongue is raw.

Wanting is not enough. I need another word,

not need. The word I’m scrambling after

enfolds a dream within it, but overflows those banks,

my longing for and yearning never get there.


I came to say it’s over, with you and me

and then among the dregs of wine,

the plates I stack, you make a music

or a magic, tell out (not read)

some lines you’ve learned.

A distant place.

A padding pelted thing,

stones that abrade and shrug, hunger, despair.

Darkness so thick, you could not breathe.

And then. A tree asserts itself, a giant beech,

it bristles and arranges like a cat,

cracking the caul of iron frost along each twig.

The sky is clear, jet black.

High up, one star.