Bertrand Russell Poetry
Paying The Captain
We get on a boat, never mind if it sinks, we pay
the captain by throwing him overboard. And when he
gets back onboard we say, captain, please don't be
angry. And he forgives us this time. And so we throw
him overboard again just to make sure we have fully
paid the price we have set upon our passage. When he
gets back onboard he is not anxious to forgive us,
and he would like it much better if we would get off
his boat. There is nothing left for us to do but to
repay him and hope that this time it will be enough.
And so we throw him overboard again. When he comes
aboard again we say, now this must be the last of
this, we will pay no more, we want the journey to
But it seems there will be no journey since we have
gotten the captain used to a good thing. And so we
must spend the rest of our days throwing the captain
On a day when weather stole every breeze,
Pablo told her he kept bits of his poems
tucked behind the band in his hat.
He opened the windows to nothing
but more heat, asked her to wander with him
down to the beach, see if their bodies
could become waves.
When they returned he placed his hat,
open to sky, in the center of the table.
She filled it with papaya, figs, searched
for scraps of poems beneath the lining.
By evening, the hat was empty
and his typewriter, full
with pages that began something about ocean,
something about fruit.
And they didn't notice the sky, full of tomorrow's
stars or the blue and white swallow
carrying paper in its beak.
They sat outside until the edge of daylight
stretched itself across a new band of morning,
the shadow of a hat washing onto the shore.
THE WARMTH of life is quenched with bitter frost;
Upon the lonely road a child limps by
Skirting the frozen pools: our way is lost:
Our hearts sink utterly.
But from the snow-patched moorland chill and drear,
Lifting our eyes beyond the spirëd height,
With white-fire lips apart the dawn breathes clear
Its soundless hymn of light.
Out of the vast the voice of one replies
Whose words are clouds and stars and night and day,
When for the light the anguished spirit cries
Deep in its house of clay.
WHILE the earth is dark and grey
How I laugh within. I know
In my breast what ardours gay
From the morning overflow.
Though the cheek be white and wet
In my heart no fear may fall:
There my chieftain leads and yet
Ancient battle trumpets call.
Bend on me no hasty frown
If my spirit slight your cares:
Sunlike still my joy looks down
Changing tears to beamy airs.
Think me not of fickle heart
If with joy my bosom swells
Though your ways from mine depart,
In the true are no farewells.
What I love in you I find
Everywhere. A friend I greet
In each flower and tree and wind—
Oh, but life is sweet, is sweet!
What to you are bolts and bars
Are to me the arms that guide
To the freedom of the stars,
Where my golden kinsmen bide.
From my mountain top I view:
Twilight’s purple flower is gone,
And I send my song to you
On the level light of dawn.
AS flow the rivers to the sea
Adown from rocky hill or plain,
A thousand ages toiled for thee
And gave thee harvest of their gain;
And weary myriads of yore
Dug out for thee earth’s buried ore.
The shadowy toilers for thee fought
In chaos of primeval day
Blind battles with they knew not what;
And each before he passed away
Gave clear articulate cries of woe:
Your pain is theirs of long ago.
And all the old heart sweetness sung,
The joyous life of man and maid
In forests when the earth was young,
In rumours round your childhood strayed:
The careless sweetness of your mind
Comes from the buried years behind.
And not alone unto your birth
Their gifts the weeping ages bore,
The old descents of God on earth
Have dowered thee with celestial lore:
So, wise, and filled with sad and gay
You pass unto the further day.
The Everlasting Battle
WHEN in my shadowy hours I pierce the hidden heart of hopes and fears,
They change into immortal joys or end in immemorial tears.
Moytura’s battle still endures and in this human heart of mine
The golden sun powers with the might of demon darkness intertwine.
I think that every teardrop shed still flows from Balor’s eye of doom,
And gazing on his ageless grief my heart is filled with ageless gloom:
I close my ever-weary eyes and in my bitter spirit brood
And am at one in vast despair with all the demon multitude.
But in the lightning flash of hope I feel the sungod’s fiery sling
Has smote the horror in the heart where clouds of demon glooms take wing,
I shake my heavy fears aside and seize the flaming sword of will,
I am of Dana’s race divine and know I am immortal still.
WE turned back mad from the mystic mountains,
All foamed with red and with elfin gold:
Up from the heart of the twilight’s fountains
The fires enchanted were starward rolled.
We turned back mad: we thought of the morrow,
The iron clang of the far-away town:
We could not weep in our bitter sorrow,
But joy as an Arctic sun went down.
WHO gave thee such a ruby flaming heart
And such a pure cold spirit? Side by side
I know these must eternally abide
In intimate war, and each to each impart
Life from its pain, in every joy a dart
To wound with grief or death the self allied.
Red life within the spirit crucified,
The eyes eternal pity thee: thou art
Fated with deathless powers at war to be,
Not less the martyr of the world than he
Whose thorn-crowned brow usurps the due of tears
We would pay to thee, ever ruddy life,
Whose passionate peace is still to be at strife,
O’erthrown but in the unconflicting spheres.
ALL the morn a spirit gay
Breathes within my heart a rhyme,
’Tis but hide and seek we play
In and out the courts of time.
Fairy lover, when my feet
Through the tangled woodland go,
’Tis thy sunny fingers fleet
Fleck the fire dews to and fro.
In the moonlight grows a smile
Mid its rays of dusty pearl—
’Tis but hide and seek the while,
As some frolic boy and girl.
When I fade into the deep
Some mysterious radiance showers
From the jewel-heart of sleep
Through the veil of darkened hours.
Where the ring of twilight gleams
Round the sanctuary wrought,
Whispers haunt me—in my dreams
We are one yet know it not.
Some for beauty follow long
Flying traces; some there be
Seek thee only for a song:
I to lose myself in thee.
WE air tired who follow after
Phantasy and truth that flies:
You with only look and laughter
Stain our hearts with richest dyes.
When you break upon our study
Vanish all our frosty cares;
As the diamond deep grows ruddy,
Filled with morning unawares.
With the stuff that dreams are made of
But an empty house we build:
Glooms we are ourselves afraid of,
By the ancient starlight chilled.
All unwise in thought or duty—
Still our wisdom envies you:
We who lack the living beauty
Half our secret knowledge rue.
Thought nor fear in you nor dreaming
Veil the light with mist about;
Joy, as through a crystal gleaming,
Flashes from the gay heart out.
Pain and penitence forsaking,
Hearts like cloisters dim and grey,
By your laughter lured, awaking
Join with you the dance of day.
The Virgin Mother
WHO is that goddess to whom men should pray,
But her from whom their hearts have turned away,
Out of whose virgin being they were born,
Whose mother nature they have named with scorn
Calling its holy substance common clay.
Yet from this so despised earth was made
The milky whiteness of those queens who swayed
Their generations with a light caress,
And from some image of whose loveliness
The heart built up high heaven when it prayed.
Lover, your heart, the heart on which it lies,
Your eyes that gaze and those alluring eyes,
Your lips, the lips they kiss, alike had birth
Within that dark divinity of earth,
Within that mother being you despise.
Ah, when I think this earth on which I tread
Hath borne these blossoms of the lovely dead,
And makes the living heart I love to beat,
I look with sudden awe beneath my feet
As you with erring reverence overhead.
A scientist has a test tube full of sheep. He
wonders if he should try to shrink a pasture
They are like grains of rice.
He wonders if it is possible to shrink something
out of existence.
He wonders if the sheep are aware of their tininess,
if they have any sense of scale. Perhaps they think
the test tube is a glass barn ...
He wonders what he should do with them; they
certainly have less meat and wool than ordinary
sheep. Has he reduced their commercial value?
He wonders if they could be used as a substitute
for rice, a sort of wolly rice . . .
He wonders if he shouldn't rub them into a red paste
between his fingers.
He wonders if they are breeding, or if any of them
He puts them under a microscope, and falls asleep
counting them . . .
THE SWEETEST song was ever sung
May soothe you but a little while:
The gayest music ever rung
Shall yield you but a fleeting smile.
The well I digged you soon shall pass:
You may but rest with me an hour:
Yet drink, I offer you the glass,
A moment of sustaining power,
And give to you, if it be gain,
Whether in pleasure or annoy,
To see one elemental pain,
One light of everlasting joy.
The floor is something we must fight against.
Whilst seemingly mere platform for the human
stance, it is that place that men fall to.
I am not dizzy. I stand as a tower, a lighthouse;
the pale ray of my sentiency flowing from my face.
But should I go dizzy I crash down into the floor;
my face into the floor, my attention bleeding into
the cracks of the floor.
Dear horizontal place, I do not wish to be a rug.
Do not pull at the difficult head, this teetering
bulb of dread and dream . . .
The Nuts of Knowledge
A CABIN on the mountain side hid in a grassy nook
Where door and windows open wide that friendly stars may look.
The rabbit shy can patter in, the winds may enter free,
Who throng around the mountain throne in living ecstasy.
And when the sun sets dimmed in eve and purple fills the air,
I think the sacred Hazel Tree is dropping berries there
From starry fruitage waved aloft where Connla’s Well o’erflows;
For sure the enchanted waters run through every wind that blows.
I think when night towers up aloft and shakes the trembling dew,
How every high and lonely thought that thrills my being through
Is but a ruddy berry dropped down through the purple air,
And from the magic tree of life the fruit falls everywhere.
I was a gulp of high air -
a bird breathing in,
a black dot on blue paper,
a privileged recipient
of finite sacrament
of souls of flying saints.
That all happened the moment
you taught me splendid roundness
as defined by the touch of your lips.
The other mysteries fell, one by one,
cities under siege,
watched by the terrible army of our love,
filling all the horizon, insatiable, made indomitable
by human frailty and sheer force.
WHEN twilight flutters the mountains over,
The faery lights from the earth unfold:
And over the caves enchanted hover
The giant heroes and gods of old.
The bird of ćther its flaming pinions
Waves over earth the whole night long:
The stars drop down in their blue dominions
To hymn together their choral song.
The child of earth in his heart grows burning,
Mad for the night and the deep unknown;
His alien flame in a dream returning
Seats itself on the ancient throne.
When twilight over the mountains fluttered,
And night with its starry millions came,
I too had dreams: the songs I have uttered
Come from this heart that was touched by the flame.
WE must pass like smoke or live within the spirit’s fire;
For we can no more than smoke unto the flame return
If our thought has changed to dream, our will unto desire,
As smoke we vanish though the fire may burn.
Lights of infinite pity star the grey dusk of our days:
Surely here is soul: with it we have eternal breath:
In the fire of love we live, or pass by many ways,
By unnumbered ways of dream to death.
Of a Forgetful Sea
Sometimes, I forget the sun
sinking into ocean.
Desert is only a handful of sand
held by my daughter.
In her palm,
she holds small creatures,
tracks an ant, a flea
moving over each grain.
She brings them to places
she thinks are safe:
an island of driftwood,
the knot of a blackberry bush,
a continent of grass.
Fire ants carried on sticks,
potato bugs scooped
into the crease of a newspaper.
She tries to help them
before the patterns of tides
reach their lives.
She knows about families
who fold together like hands,
a horizon of tanks moving forward.
Here war is only newsprint.
How easy it is not to think about it
as we sleep beneath our quiet sky,
slip ourselves into foam, neglectful
waves appearing endless.
WHO are exiles? As for me
Where beneath the diamond dome
Lies the light on hill or tree,
There my palace is and home.
Who are lonely lacking care?
Here the winds are living, press
Close on bosom, lips and hair—
Well I know their soft caress.
Sad or fain no more to live?
I have pressed the lips of pain;
With the kisses lovers give,
Ransomed ancient joys again.
Captive? See what stars give light
In the hidden heart of clay:
At their radiance dark and bright
Fades the dreamy king of day.
Night and day no more eclipse
Friendly eyes that on us shine,
Speech from old familiar lips
Playmates of a youth divine.
Come away, O, come away;
We will quench the heart’s desire
Past the gateways of the day
In the rapture of the fire.