Tom Phillips detail flowers before the benche

Tom Phillips Benches 1970-1
Tom Phillips ‘Benches’ 1970-1

The Bench

  Edwin Morgan

Honey-brown varnish glistens: Easter hymn.
Even its WET PAINT sign signs out spring’s here.
It’s sturdy, foursquare, brown, abstract, and clear.
Nothing could make the backdrop tree buds dim
or undo wonder from the sharp fresh green
of daffodil strikes but this silent thing
that sits and shouts, a throne to kid a king,

and when he rises, nakedness is seen.
But nothing sticks except a twig, dropped there
by frenziedly building crows. The March wind
tugs at it, but it will not stir, or mar
perfection less by letting the air bare
its print. No caws, no nest, no brood is thinned.
The first to brush the twig off sees the scar.

One thing is certain, it is not abstract.
Who can see the wooden slats for five, six
people, a dog (seven!) , pigeons, a mix
of life as warm in its midsummer fact
and midday pause as ever hit a park
with one moment withdrawn from every pain?
Crackle of crisps lost in hot blue space, brain
at a drowsy crossword, crumbs in an ark
of fingers held out (holy that too!) as
treasures for motley wings an scavengers,
mingled with ‘I don’t know, that’s what he said –’
and ‘- wants one of those instant cameras’
and ‘- nice bit of ham –’; those passengers
race in their happiness towards the dead.

Leaves die, but not the tree, not yet, not soon.
Red, yellow, crinkled, papery, they scrape
along the bench, collect at the slumped shape
of a tramp; they’ve nothing to say; forenoon,
afternoon he sleeps, stirs, shifts, mutters, feels
October probing sluggish arteries,
clutches his coat like a cloak. Batteries
of sleet wait to be loosed, not yet. With squeals
cut by rising gusts, children chase and dart.
There is a thud of chestnuts, and one breaks.
What a soft sheeny tender eye looks out
in wonder from its shattered shell! Take heart
it says. The older man stares at it. The rakes
rattle in sheds, there is a far-off shout –

never heard in the whiteness over all
and the seat quite filled with high-drifted snow
like a dust-sheeted hurdy-gurdy. Go
by it still, goo winter walkers! The fall
of silent feet dislodges a few grains.
whistle and breath might melt a dozen more.
But suddenly all flakes are in uproar:
a great floundering setter coughs and strains
and leaves his lead, flounces onto the bench
through wet white flying sprays and veils, and skids
wild claws along the wood at last, shakes, barks,
a snowdog breaking bonds, his boisterous wrench
shows sage winter callow. With white eyelids
he grins; his master laughs. they see lambs, larks.

Tom Phillips The Flower Before the Bench

Tom Phillips ‘The Flower Before the Bench’

Edwin Morgan was born in Glasgow in 1920 and served with the Royal Army Medical Corps from 1940 to 1946. Until 1980 he was Professor if English at Glasgow Univerity. Books of poetry include The Second Life (1968), From Glasgow to Saturn (1973), The New Divan (1977), Colour Poems (1978), Poems of Thirty Years (1982), Sonnets from Scotland (1984), Selected Poems (1985), Themes on a Variation (1988), Collected Poems (1990), Hold Hands Among the Atoms (1991)

Tom Phillips detail flowers before the benche
Tom Phillips ‘Flowers before the benche’ detail