Leo Aylen was born in KwaZulu, South Africa, the son of Charles Aylen, whom the
Zulus elected Bishop of Zululand. Leo is a poet, playwright,
actor, director and musician.
Letter to William
William Cookson, editor of Agenda, champion of the work of David Jones, died in
January 2003. Like his mentor, Ezra Pound, he was passionate about the poetry of
William, your death signals an era ending: —
Gentlemen-editors who, their taste unquestioned,
Shepherded eager, though uncomprehending,
Readers with quiet, but insistent, suggestion
Through the selva oscura of modernism.
Behind your charm you were sheer steel, a bastion
Against today’s illiterate barbarism.
You were our link with that past generation
Who, gathered round their Muse’s ample bosom
In the Fitzrovia George, drank inspiration
From her milk, and, sometimes, droplets of liquor
More Bacchic — Muse who, with Nazi invasion
Threatening Britain, pressed her poetic trigger,
And fired Macneice’s, Connolly’s, and Dylan’s,
Words at the Hun Hitler’s jack-booted wreckers.
You are our Connolly. Like his, your villains
Were those who imposed slavery on language
Rather than populations. But his talents
Served a more literate age. Our undistinguished
Babble of poetasters — will they notice
Your passing? Will there be shivers of anguish
To shake dust from their magazines, whose bloated
Blandness squashes us with boredom? But no quarrels
Here, no niggles. Simply praise for the undoubted
Triumphs of your long, debt-dogged, editorial
Career — and you had very, very, many.
May I choose just one personal victor laurel
To bind round your forehead, my special penny-
worth of tribute: you were the first to publish
David Jones’s The Sleeping Lord. If any
Work of today survives, that will, to establish
Your place among the elite perceptive critics
Who can tell obscure gems from obscure rubbish.
So, William, are you now strolling the city
With David, or, guided by Ezra, panting
In childlike anticipation — infinity
Notwithstanding — indeed now nearly frantic
With excitement, as you meet, face to face,
The master of the masters — himself, Dante,
Servant of Him in whose will is our peace?
from Sophocles’ Antigone, lines 781 — 802
Creon has sentenced his niece Antigone to death for disobeying his edict. His
son, Haemon, in love with Antigone, has been pleading with his father to spare
her. Creon obstinately refuses; it is clear Haemon will do something terrible.
This dance of love’s power follows, after which the guards enter, escorting
Antigone to her death by being walled up in a cave.
An isometric translation, preserving the musical pattern of the Greek, so that
it could be set to the same tune as the original.
Unconquered love, toppling estates,
Unconquered love, slackening armies.
As soft as a dream of kissing
The cheek of a virgin sleeping,
You stride across oceans, or strike
Shepherds in small, far, huts.
No power, even immortal, can escape you.
No man with his life of moments.
Love, you can crack your mansions.
You tempt the good, baffle the wise,
And drag the just down to injustice.
This quarrel of son with father
Is passion at war with kinship.
Who’ll fight a clear yes in the eyes
Opening a girl’s soft bed?
Love, sex, passion, what force, depths, elementals!
Love, sex, what a game, what battles!
Love, what a god unconquered!
buried beside her husband, Dylan, August 10th, 1994
Caitlin, Dylan Thomas’s wife, had been raped by Augustus John, while modelling
for him. When Dylan was dying, Caitlin flew to New York, rushed into the
Intensive Care Unit, ripped the various tubes out of her husband, and tore a
crucifix off the wall. She was so mad with grief, she was put in a straitjacket.
When she had flown his body back to Laugharne for burial, she almost jumped into
the grave, but was restrained by the composer Daniel Jones.
Today the maggot earth
Winds clammy its root fingers
Round her hagged body, which once gushed forth
Coal fires of milk and cleansing steam,
Scrubbing away his shame,
Flooding his hungers.
Once those bruised beauty lips,
Jabbed by the painter’s raping brush,
Met him, and opened,
His tongue, sneak-thief of sleeps,
Darted between her depths like silver fish,
And the surprised songs happened.
Then, while a bubbling tube
Bit out his breath,
She, hurling herself like shattered crucifixes,
Spun half-way round the globe,
And, landing on his death,
Diced with the doctor-devils, though they shook sixes.
Hollywod’s devotion to historical accuracy is well-known, and exhibited most
emphatically in movies about the Second World War such as the one where it is
Americans who capture Enigma, the German code machine, or in their version of
the Battle of Britain, won more or less single-handed by Tom Hanks, Spitfire
God bless America, land of the free,
Downing dictators, largessing liberty
Even to people who don’t appreciate
Uncle Sam’s rejig of their nation state.
Just as in Star Trek, when brave Captain Kirk
Beams down on planets, and Spock gets to work
With his computers, Yank technology
And Can-do solves all problems instantly.
Cowardly Japs caught Uncle Sam pants down
In Pearl Harbour, bombed warships, factories, town.
But Uncle Sam’s production-lines were speeded
Up till they spat out all the gear he needed —
Tanks, planes, guns, atom bombs, as the G.I.s
Spread out across the world zapping bad guys.
While Limey airmen slunk into air-raid shelters,
And Messerschmidts chased Spitfires helter-skelter,
The Battle of Britain was — hold your breath — won,
Against all odds, all on his own, by one
Pilot, the champion top-gun of the Yanks,
Luftwaffe’s scourge, Squadron Leader Tom Hanks.
With Europe still flattened by Nazi boots,
A West Point drop-out leading raw recruits —
Monty Montgomery, raised in Iowa —
A true son of mid-west America —
Saved Egypt from Rommel’s panzer campaign,
Winning the victory of Alamein.
On Yankee know-how you can put reliance.
Americans are the world-leaders in science.
Physicists like little Mike Faraday
From Ashland Wisconsin, daring to play
With magnets, wires — poof! — electricity!
Or Chuck Darwin, known for his eccentricity
In Elk, Kansas, who solved the human genome
Studying tortoises in his kiddy tree-home.
Zak Newton too, who kept an apple orchard
In Kellog, Idaho, and sometimes tortured
Wasps for wrecking his fruit, was once caught napping.
Apple falls on his head. Zak jumps up, clapping,
Shouts “Got it! Gravity! The universe
Powered by gravity!” His bent old nurse
Smiles at him. “Isaac, Isaac, you’re so funny.
Gravity, schmavity! Vill it make money?”
Bill Shakespeare, who used to work pumping gas
In Androscoggin, Maine, upped, hauled his ass
To Hollywood, started by writing gags
For sit-coms, then teams up with those bright fags,
And runs an all-guys company for some years,
Has hits on HBO, then disappears,
Leaves Hollywood, goes in for real estate
In Stratford, England, drinks, cokes, puts on weight,
While agents cheat him of his royalties,
So, though his ratings soar, his own life is
A proper mess. What about Magna Carta?
Without Americans — zilch. A non-starter.
Those Limey barons ass-licking King John.
Sir Mel de Gibson cries “Chaps, that’s not on,”
Frog-marches in the King, whips out a pen,
“Sign, Johnny,” till John signs the charter, then
Flees in a panic. His carriage goes splosh,
Turns over, drops his laundry in the Wash.
Handsome Sir Mel reformed the feudal system,
While peasant lasses greedily French-kissed him.
Thus Uncle Sams have, throughout history,
Worked for world progress, science, liberty,
Above all, movies, which convey the truth
And nothing but the truth, to the world’s youth,
Reminding us, that there are always yet
More facts to learn. By the way, don’t forget
How Chris Columbo, born in Omaha,
By missing his way discovered America.