Homage to George Stubbs
I claim no kinship with this Cheshire man:
My forebears were of Staffordshire, at least
Since Charles the Martyr’s time. But Stubbs
Is a good north west midlands name, and if you traced
The bloodstreams further back, it’s like enough
You’d find they would converge. But may I hazard
A fellowship of spirit with him, son of a groom,
Who hung up from the rafters the lifeless body of a horse –
Such as his father had fondled, currycombed, and cosseted
With hot bran mash, and children brought their gifts to –
Apples and sugar-lumps? Scalpel, knife, and saw,
Scraped, carved, and bit, slicing the mighty sinews.
The convolutions of the bowels unwound;
The heart displayed its secret chambers, and the brain
Was lifted from its citadel, the skull, until at length
Only the white and chalky bones remained. Commitment thus
Behoves, to stinking fact, if we would enter
That clearing in the forest of the mind
Where animal energies, equine and leonine,
Engage each other with great uncleft hoof,
With gleaming tooth, and ripping, savage talon.
John Heath-Stubbs was born in London in 1918 and read English at Queen’s, Oxford. He was held visiting professorships in Alexandria, Egypt and Ann Arbor, Michigan, lectured in English at St Mark & St John, Chelsea, 1962 – 72. He received the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1973. He has published numerous books of verse, translations, plays and criticism and his most recent volume, The Collected Poems was published by Caracanet in 1988. He received the OBE in 1989.