A Celebration of Women Writers

And Other Poems

by "Jan Struther"
(Joyce Maxtone Graham, 1901-1953)
author of Mrs. Miniver

Copyright, the Estate of Jan Struther, 1940.
This authorised internet edition was published with the permission of the Maxtone Graham family, and the assistance of Joyce Maxtone Graham's son, Robert Maxtone Graham, in 2001.
It is illegal to reproduce this work without permission.

to the Internet Edition
by the author's son, Robert Maxtone Graham, 2001.

Nearly all these poems first appeared in The Spectator, The London Mercury, and other journals.

First edition in book form, Chatto & Windus, London, 1940.

First American edition, Harcourt Brace, New York, 1941.







LIKE rays once shed
   By a spent star
The words of a dead
   Poet are,
That through bleak space
   Unchecked fly on,
Though hand, heart, face,
   To dust are gone;
And you who read
   Shall only guess
What thorn-sharp need,
   What loneliness,
What love, lust, dream,
   Shudder or sigh
Lit the long beam
   That meets your eye:
Nor, guess you never
   So well, so true,
Shall comfort ever
   Reach from you
To me, an old
   Black shrivelled sphere,
Who has been cold
   This million year.


ON the first of spring, walking along the Embankment,
Light-footed, light-headed, eager in mind and heart,
I found my spirit keyed to a new pitch,
I felt a strange serenity and a strange excitement.

I saw a boy running, and felt the wind
Stream past his cheeks, his heart in ribs pounding;
I saw a nurse knitting, and my own fingers
Knew the coldness of the needles, warmth of the wool.

I saw, over the barges, gulls flying:
It was my own wings that tilted and soared,
With bone-deep skill gauging to a line's breadth
The unmapped hills of air, its unplumbed hollows.

I saw four men striking in magnificent canon
With long-hafted hammers on an iron spike:
And I, swinging with them, made no fifth
But was one with each, wielding a fourfold weapon.

I saw a woman with child: a second heart
Beat below mine. I saw two lovers kissing,
And felt her body dissolve, his harden
Under the irrational chemistry of desire.

And I, who had always said, in idle, friendly,
Fireside thrashings-out of enormous themes,
That anybody who liked could have my share
Of impersonal after-life, fusion with the infinite,
Suddenly thought–Here, perhaps, is a glimpse
Of the sages' vision, delight by me unimagined:
To feel without doing, to enjoy without possessing;
To bear no longer the burden of a separate self;
To live through others' senses; to be air, to be ether,
Soundlessly quivering with the music of a million lives.


NOT much longer now
Will the eye see
Bonework of bole and bough,
The beautiful, austere
Essentials of the tree.
Intricate tracery
Upward and outward growing
From strength to filigree;
Inverted river, flowing
Backward from sea to hills,
Back through a hundred streams, a thousand rills.

Already now the year
Has chimed a quarter;
Nights than days are shorter;
Leaf-time is almost here.
Soon an irrelevant folly,
Impetuous, unruly,
Will mask this fine
Sureness and grace of line;
Soon a green fever
Will rage unchecked, and cover
With quick confusion clarity,
With sweet lies, verity.

Nothing to do but wait,
Endure this wild invasion,
This blurring of the vision,
This tumult of the heart:
Knowing that, soon or late,
Autumn with pain, weeping and stormy splendour
Will bring once more
Mind's sanity,
Heart's candour;
And tree stand brave and bare,
Stripped of green vanity.


THROUGH space and time I range
   Seeking these two alone:
The savour of the strange,
   The solace of the known.

These must I still pursue
   Till body and brain grow cold:
The lustre of the new,
   The comfort of the old.

Fool! Shall midnight and noon
   Consent to fuse in one
The magic of the moon,
   The healing of the sun?


AUTHORITY, with white-gloved hand,
Holds up the traffic in the Strand.
Obediently each well-trained wheel
Rolls to a standstill. I can feel
The bus mark time in every part.
More slowly throbs that bloodless heart,
Though still, without delight or zest,
Those steely entrails must digest
The food their lord administers;
And still the passionless cylinders
Repel, yet never quite escape,
The pistons' smooth and sterile rape.

Then comes the clump of hoofs. We peer
With craning necks, to know what's here,
And see, on huge deliberate feet,
Two shire-horse stallions cross the street.
They walk caparisoned in pride:
Under that suppleness of hide
Like tensile ropes the muscles run;
Their rounded haunches catch the sun
Like new-husked chestnuts, and their eyes
Are dark and bright as star-pricked skies.

So, at their own unhurried pace,
With arrogant strength and cumbrous grace
They swagger by; and, as they pass
My man-made steed of steel and glass,
Each arching crest, each splairging hoof
Conveys contemptuous reproof.

"Stand back!" they say. "You boast indeed
A hardier frame, a swifter speed–
But when has bus been known to breed?
Your iron muscles may not tire–
But did those iron loins' desire
In lusty conquest ever yet
Another motor-bus beget?
Stand back, you eunuch slave!" they say.
"We are earth's great ones. Ho! Make way!"

With swinging gait, with tossing mane,
They breast the slope of Drury Lane:
Authority's impartial hand
Lets loose the traffic in the Strand.


BY the red furnace stands
   Apollo mute,
Holding in upraised hands
   His iron flute.
Slowly from back and brow
   The bright sweat drips;
He sets the clarion now
   Light to his lips,
And ever, as he blows,
   Without a sound
His molten music flows,
   Golden and round.

Never from herald's breath
   In brazen horn,
Telling of strife and death
   Or of peace new-born;
From silver clarinet
   By fingers small
To lips of ruby set
   In raftered hall;
From jilted shepherd's reed
   Plaintively proving
How he in very deed
   Must die of loving–
Never from all these came
   A music sweeter
Than this bright sphere of flame
With neither sound nor name,
   Cadence nor metre,
That steadily, as he blows
   On his iron flute,
Trembles and swells and glows,
Gold-amber, amber-rose,
   In melody mute.

R. I. P.

HERE lies a woman–known to me, and you–
Who tried to eat her cake and have it too;
Who saved her pence and threw away her pounds,
Ran with the hare and hunted with the hounds.
When torn between her country's laws, and love's,
She played with fire–but wore asbestos gloves.
Then, having sold her soul and cashed the cheque,
She fell between two stools, and broke her neck.


SILENCE falls on the room.
Outside the window-panes the exiled gloom
Of the summer night
Presses, hungry for light.
Stilled now are voices and glances,
Forgotten all fret, all fear;
A twofold spell entrances
Eye and ear.

Now music rears its stem,
Breaks into leaf, bud, flower,
Flutters its petals, scatters them
To an unseen wind in a twinkling shower.
Now peony's ruby, round,
Full, deep and sombre sound
Runs like a rich bass under
The tulips' livelier splendour;
Columbine's fluted frills
Shake out their turns and trills,
While into space the lupin throws
Her delicate long arpeggios.

Which cadence is, which bloom?
Are we by Proserpine
Bewitched, or do we tend Apollo's shrine?
Silence falls on the room.
The last chord drifts away:
But the flowers, singing, stay.


WHEN in chance talk they speak your name
   No common syllables I hear:
Rich with unuttered harmonies
   It falls upon my inward ear.

So a musician, hearing sung
   By idle lips some well-loved words,
Hears, too, beneath the naked tune,
   The richness of remembered chords.


   IN fifty years at most I shall be dead.
      These jaws, which now grind hard to scotch a yawn,
   Will gape unchecked; and in a clay-cold bed
      Clamped fast, I'll wait a problematical dawn.
   I have less than twenty thousand days to live–
      Six hundred months, a bare half-million hours;
   And each new breath, heedless and fugitive,
      Another mouthful of my life devours.
Then, Christ! what spendthrift folly brought me here,
To breathe stale smoke, and drink, talk, think, small beer?


ALL through the party she stood, saying nothing.
Talk fluttered around her; quick gay words
Like spring-enchanted birds
Darted, their wings flashing with the sheen of laughter.
She, a tall young ash-tree, stood there among them
As though she were alive with a different kind of life,
Slower, wiser, the sap rising surely.

Her stillness soothed my eyes;
Her silence rested my ears.
I could not leave her, I could not look away.
Wondering what lay–
What depth, hue, texture and cast of mind–
Concealed behind
That grave three-cornered face
Widening upwards from an abrupt and childish chin;
That sweet straight mouth, as yet not bracketed
(Though both, in twenty years, must have been guests there)
By the immutable, unerring
Marks of grief's burin
Or the tenderer impress of habitual joy;
Those lake-long, wood-ash-grey, thought-clouded eyes,
And the wide brow from which, beautifully growing,
(Like sculpture, still but flowing),
Swept back the scrolled,
Bracken-brown, barley-gold,
Curved and curling masses of her brindled hair.


NOT for the springing step, the cheek unlined,
The bright hair, the sinews undefeated,
The vigour unspent, the wealth of days remaining,
   I envy you, O Youth:
But for the innocent eye, the single mind,
The primary colours, the pattern not yet repeated;
And because, for you, there is still only one meaning
   To words like Love, and Truth.


MAID, would you keep your heart
Smooth as unprinted snow?
Are you afraid to know
The turmoil and the smart,
The shocks and hazards of
The long campaign of love?

Then loiter if you will
With Corin in the lane;
Dance with him on the green
Or picnic on the hill:
Such pranks need leave no less
Your spirit's singleness.

But share with him no toil,
Art, enterprise or trade;
Labour not by his side
At bench, loom, desk or soil:
For wit nor will can check
That aphrodisiac,
Nor true heart long withstand
Shared craft of brain or hand.


How strange a stuff is love, which has no worth
Unless it's paid for in identical coin;
Which, given and returned, enriches both
The lover and the loved; but, given alone,
Robs one and cheats the other: for his hand
Proffers a diamond, but hers receives
A pinch of dust, a handful of dead leaves.


ACROSS our universe of steady stars,
Of maypole planets tethered to the sun,
   Sometimes a wonder flies.
And this is dizzying–this is perfection:
Importunate body no more than a comet's tail
   Following behind
The strong swift golden rushing of heart and mind.


IF only one could read the score of a situation:
Take in with the heart the inevitabilities
Which the mind's eye foresees–
Its hopes, delights and pangs,
Its foredoomed pattern of theme and variation;
Hear the unbearable sweetness and swell of strings,
The halcyon clarinet, the flute's precision,
The lift-heart brass, the brusque emphatic drum,
Quietly within one, like a trained musician
Turning over intricate pages in a silent room:
If only one could read the score of a situation,
And not go to the concert, not have to live it through.


LOVE, to be sweetest, should keep pace with the year:
Be new in spring, wild, uncertain and tender,
Make soul sing, heart ache with wonder
And exquisite despair;
Grow hot and sure with summer, deepen and strengthen
To a fiercer beauty
As dews fall heavy
And days lengthen;
In autumn, ripen and mellow
To friendship's grain;
Die without pain,
And leave a richer heart, heart that lies fallow
All winter, till another love, another spring.


THE raw materials of love are yours–
Fond hearts, and lusty blood, and minds in tune;
And so, dear innocents! you think yourselves
Lovers full-blown.

Am I, because I own
Chisel, mallet and stone,
A sculptor? And must he
Who hears a skylark and can hold a pen
A poet be?
If neither's so, why then
You're not yet lovers. But in time to come
(If senses grow not dulled nor spirit dumb)
By constant exercise of skill and wit,
By patient toil and judgment exquisite
Of body, mind and heart,
You may, my innocents, fashion
This tenderness, this liking and this passion
Into a work of art.


YOU need not envy lovers who are never apart:
For not in the pin-point starry conflagration
Of touch or kiss
Deepest contentment is,
But in the memory of delight, and its anticipation–
The interstellar spaces of the heart.


YOU ask me, What is love? It is a craving
To spin the dawdling globe with a flicked finger
   Till meeting come, and then
   To slow it down again
To a snail's pace, with desperate hands cleaving
To its painted sides, that joy may last the longer.

It is to walk armoured, yet stripped: to welcome
A broken bone, if the loved one's eye be on you,
   And yet to shrink dismayed
   From an ungentle word.
It is to see as far, as clear as a falcon,
And stumble over a stone in the path before you.

It is to go all day with a lamp shining
In your heart; to which, when comes a pause from labour
   Or when the numbing crowd
   Drifts for a while aside,
You find yourself like a moth to candle turning
To warm your thoughts at its white and secret ardour.


WHOSE love's a broad highway
That stretches boldly on
Before them all the day,
White and smooth in the sun–
These, if they will, may run.
For them there is no need
To curb the hotfoot speed
Of their delight, which draws them
On over dale and hill
And from each summit shows them
A landscape lovelier still.

But those whose love's no more
Than a blind alley–
A cul-de-sac
Which can have no other end
Than turning back
Or beating with bare hands
At a wall without a door–
These must go slowly.
These at a measured pace
Must walk,
And linger in one place
Often, to gaze and talk;
Even retrace
A yard or two, perhaps,
Their careful steps,
And take them over again.

Their eyes they must restrain
From seeking the far sky
And bend them to enjoy
The small delights which grow beneath their feet:
Veined, shining, curious pebbles
They must admire, and stoop
To finger the small cresses,
Stonecrops and cushioned mosses
That creep
Between the untrodden cobbles
Of that deserted street.

Gently, if they are wise,
From stage to stage progresses
The grave, time-honoured dance of their caresses.
Impetuous hands must bide
Their hour till hungry eyes
Be satisfied;
And from a finger's touch
They must distil as much
Sweetness and ravishment
As freer lovers find
In bodies intertwined.
They must eke out each kiss
With its own memory
And long foretasting of the next one's bliss:
For kisses treated so
Shall be less swift to grow
(Strange alchemy!) from butterfly to bee.

By such fond strategy,
Such passionate artifice,
They may a long while cheat
Themselves into content,
And not too deeply care
That Fate across the threshold of their street
Has scrawled "No Thoroughfare."


BODY and Heart, two horses driven in tandem,
   Draw love's precarious coach. The driver, Mind,
   Flicks his deft whip behind
And boasts, but for his skill, they'd run at random.

He cheats himself. They know that ardent high-road
   Better than he: and, hoof once set on it,
   They heed no rein or bit,
Swerve for no water's flash, stray for no by-road.

On this alone, on this alone turns safety:
   Whether Heart's leader or wheeler. For Heart's a steed
   That's bred and trained to lead;
He's steady and sure, he's quiet and sound and crafty.

But when lust leads, and liking runs behind him,
   Brace your feet, passenger. That fool on the box
   Is helpless. The coach rocks
And overtures, drawn by this perilous tandem.


KEENNESS of heart and brain,
Deftness of hand and lip–
All these are not enough
To weave a perfect stuff
Out of the difficult skein
Of this relationship.

A passionate patience we
Must also bring to bear:
Be tireless to smooth out
Coil, caffle, or knot
Before time's shuttles weave it
Into the stuff, and leave it,
A lasting blemish, there.

Thus only can we keep
Ice-clear, rock-fast, sea-deep,
Our love's integrity;
Thus only can we make
A fine and flawless cloak
To wrap us round, and cover
From wind and rain our linked lives for ever.


THIS knowledge at least is spared us: we cannot tell
When any given tide on the heart's shore
Comes to the full.
The crown-wave makes no signal, does not cry–
"This is the highest. Mark it with a bright shell.
It will be reached no more."

Few could endure
That knowledge, and not die.
It is better to be unsure.


HARD words will break no bones:
   But more than bones are broken
By the inescapable stones
   Of fond words left unspoken.


"Summer Time Ends."
You need but turn a leaf
In this small book, whose brief
Laconic notes make up
A skeleton map
Of the year's delight and grief,
To see in black and white
What bone has felt, heart known:
Summer Time Ends.

Leaves, which in spring were made
Marvellously of jade
And under summer's heat
Deepened to malachite,
Hang brittle now and brown:
One gale will bring all down.
Summer Time Ends.

Move back those cheating hands:
Time is not checked by lies.
Reclaim the hostage hour you gave in spring
To gain fool's paradise.
Come down again to earth.
Let clocks and hearts tell truth,
That brave, that bitter thing:
Summer Time Ends.


TO lay down at last the burden of a fruitless love
Is to know miraculous lightness, to ease chafed shoulder,
Relax strung sinews, straighten the long-bowed back.
But who, if he could, would not stoop again to hoist it
For the sake of the enchanted landscape, the cloud pavilions,
The fritillary fields, the hyacinth mountains, seen from
The road where without that burden he may not go?


THEY are wrong. It is not the knowing of good from evil,
Virtue from vice,
God from devil,
That drives us from paradise:

But the knowing of good from better
Of the gods from God,
Of the spirit of joy from the letter–
This is the flaming rod.


TWIST the milled knob, fingers. Send needle-antenna
From Hilversum to Rome, Rome to Vienna,
Groping for music. Any kind will do:
The Moonlight Sonata or The Rhapsody in Blue;
Highbrow or lowbrow; hot, sweet, or swing;
The Dream of Gerontius or The Rustle of Spring;
A symphony in D, a nocturne in F sharp,
An organ recital or a solo for jew's harp.
And when a programme ends, cut out the applause
And twist the knob, fingers. Leave no pause.
Make ether's formlessness
Take shape again, and stress,
In cool wood-wind, or the nostalgic far
Throb of a plucked guitar.
Try the insidious Tsiganes, facile wringers
Of hearts; and when they're done, the Slusham Singers
Mincing a folk-song, bogus-hearty;
And then the What-Nots Concert Party
From Blackpool Pier;
Der Rosenkavalier
From Munich; or a dance-band from Berlin.

Twist the milled knob, fingers; needle, spin:
For here at least is rhythm, pattern, order, and the ultimate reward
Of the tonic chord.
Midnight will bring too soon
Silence, and the jangling of a heart that's out of tune.


BANKRUPT of joy, who once was rich in it,
Must drop pretence at last, no longer hide
Behind drawn blinds rooms ravished by distraint;
Swallow his pride,
And openly admit
His fortune spent.

That over, what remains? Only to sit
By a cold hearth, staring at a stripped wall,
And with humility make
His statement of account;
The past's transactions; rack the brain, and wonder
What accident, extravagance, or blunder
Frittered his pounds to pence
And brought so rich a heart to indigence.

Wonder in vain. It is too late to take
Remorseful vows.
This was a gracious and a lovely house:
But now its floors are bare,
And there are heavy footsteps on the stair.


I HATE to watch them reaping the Five Acre,
The field at the hill's foot, steeply sloping.
One sees the pattern too clearly, with a God's-eye view:
Sees how Time, with soothing quotidian clatter,
Cuts his broad swathes, works inward from the edge;
Sees how the earliest rings–youth's endless summers–
Are leisurely and long; how they grow shorter
As the sun climbs. At noon
(One's children grown and flown)
There comes a lull, a respite: Time's trundling
Pauses; he eats his dinner under the hedge.
But soon, restored and eager
To race the sun, eye cocked to sky,
He's off again: and now the uncut square
Shrinks quickly to a patch; and Soul, wild hare,
Cowers in the heart of the corn, its shelter dwindling:
And I, watching, sicken and turn away.


TO grow older is this:
To feel on the first rose
The breath malign and fell
Of the first icicle,
And in the earliest kiss
The handshake of farewell.

To turn at length heart-craven:
Deliberately to close
Your senses to the spring
Because her wiles must bring
December round again;
To shun love's foothills even,
Fearing to reach the crest
Of joy, and see beyond
No choice but to descend
Those slopes of less-than-best
Which are most kin to pain.

And in the end to find
Sole refuge in the mind–
That princely solitude
Where the meek seasons spin
Swift, slow, to suit your will,
Or whirl a-widdershin
From rose to daffodil;
Where love no sequence keeps,
But at your bidding leaps
–Bold, gentle, sweet, or hot–
From mood to mood,
Yet wanes not, withers not.


THE past is never dumb. There's no foretelling
On what fine night, years after, carelessly twisting
The fluted knob of memory, ranging the ether
For random music to while an hour away,
You'll chance upon its wave-length, hair's-breadth trembling
Between the powerful signals of the near-at-hand.

It comes through faintly at first. The ear, straining,
Hears only the stressed beats; but soon, accustomed
To delicate vibrations, catches the flow of the tune.
And then eyes close, limbs slacken: but the spirit dances,
Weaving into long-lost patterns old steps recaptured,
Harvesting with wonder and delight this windfall joy.


YOU think yourselves the adventurous ones, you young ones,
And us becalmed, torpid, our days uneventful,
Our blood stagnant, our minds' antennae blunted:
But I, who was young and now am old, can tell you
There is no adventure like the adventure of age.

No speed that you, steel-nerved, hazard your lives for
Can touch our terrible speed. Faster and faster
Night's poles flash by us, day's wires dip between them;
While we, breathless, dizzy, strung, precarious,
(To your eyes tranquil, rug-wrapped) stare from the window.

No zest of pioneer in a new country,
No quiver and shock of beauty first-time-tasted
Can match our sharpened zest, our quickened perception,
Who, at each day's encounter with familiar beauty,
Ask ourselves: "Is this for the last time?"

You are lusty in love, but you never held woman dearer
Than we hold life, our slim one, our slender darling,
Our sweet, fleet, fickle and false tormentor,
Who stands always on tiptoe, poised to leave us,
Bound to us only by the strength of our will to keep her.

And what's your joy of battle, your pride of conquest
To ours, forlorn defenders of a doomed salient,
Who stave off day by day, grotesquely accoutred
With sword-umbrella, cuirass of antiphlogistine,
The trained, bloody and invincible troops of death?

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom