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Lay for the Day 18th May

The English prima ballerina, Dame Margot Fonteyn, was born on this day in 1919, in Surrey. The poem also appears on 17th March, to mark the birthday of Rudolf Nureyev. It was inspired by a film of them dancing together.

Pas de Deux

We’ve come by bad adventure to this bay of peace:
harbour yourself with me.

The weight of bonds’ remembrance doesn’t cease
as soon as the cuffed hands are free,
and redeemers have proved captors before,
so let me range.

Until the sun and moon exchange
their mansions, there’s no door
I would not unlock, nor key I’d not throw away,
if just an eyebrow raised
a finger crooked, your head’s light sway
showed you so pleased.

Your servitude’s a mortgage my poor will must meet
with express desires then?
Be free of me and our freedom’s complete.

I’m free to be as other men,
untied from you: restricted by the lack
of actual shape
to my joys, and with no escape
from searching’s circling track.
A world is in the cell that holds us both; a jail
is the world where you’re not.

Once I had none – now hope, newborn frail,
is all I’ve got.
Can I stake my slender means on your well meaning?
The odds on love are long.

At last the long-wintered heart is greening
and the birds taking up their song.

But what if ice, returning suddenly,
should shear these shoots
and freeze the slow sap from the roots?
Who then would revive me?

The earth would never get round to changing seasons
if she wove metaphors
from as rich a stock of reason’s
silk yarn as yours…
But dropping thaw undoes the frost of friendlessness
in new-found fire; eyes melt
away the fear of proffered tenderness.

Having loved and been betrayed, felt
and met unfeeling, I know that danger
waits in the trust
of arms, and that when, as we must,
we will love a stranger,
we put ourselves in the way of the harms that crouch
in the crooks of twined limbs,
and the moment that two fires touch,
wariness dims,
leap out to sever and leave us clutching the dark.

I have no spells to fend,
no charm to bend the arrow from its mark
no armour against time. But, send
what assaults it can, till breath is gone, I’ll
not breathe, not say,
not kiss goodbye.

Only death may
aspire to part us; while
we live, let tyrants watch what it means to be brave,
how hope won’t bow to chance,
and all our steps towards the grave
become a dance.

This world has never, whatever its songs may dream,
been friendly to lovers.

But the Virgin’s stars from the sky’s extreme
stream above us.

John Gibbens
from Zeus’s Camera

The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar

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