Fragment of a Chinese Classic

For H.M.T. – A Birthday in Beijing

Catching the distinctive T’ang of old China
She chooses for herself the character of Punctual Autumn
Appropriate for a visit to the Middle Kingdom.
She has left the pounding woodblocks of her Cobby Street laundry
The imperious tinkle of telephonic obligations
Others must man the Great Wall protecting the Natural Order
Against the encroachment of heedless barbarians
For an invitation has arrived from son Du Wei Tz
To visit his pavilion at the world’s centre.
Parents accept without hesitation
Convinced that neither rasp of metal nor rasp of well-merited tongue
Will be further needed to ensure filial devotion.
They are not disappointed. The journey is celebration.
At Canton a banquet of gastronomic perfection
Mirrors, like moon on lake, the happy harvest
Fulfilment of fifty-year-old faithful friendship.
At Hangchou, lake and walking in scholarly gardens
At Shanghai, the sails of junks, a river doing exercises.
At Beijing, a citadel for the cultivation of stability,
Preparatory to launching on adventurous explorations.
Punctual Autumn, resilient enthusiasm, infinite variety
Her smiles are carrier pigeons flying over inarticulate walls
Winning response from strangers, big-nose and small-nose.
How active is the eye of her clicking camera
Yet different from the shameless wink of an immodest girl.

She savours the varied riches of timeless humanity
Spicing ancient tradition with four modernisations
And so we celebrate with supreme gratification
The birthday of one incapable of limited affection.
Should Heaven add to longevity and tranquillity
The further blessing of electronic writing
Undoubtedly the Birthday Book of Punctual Autumn
Will be asked to accommodate a thousand million more names.


  • Relativity

    “Boy killed on Bicycle”; smallest print, four lines
    Islanded in a tossing sea of type,

  • Surmise

    My little son, whose face I never saw,
    Who could not wait to bless your father ’s eyes

  • Coming into the Clyde

    Part of me for ever is the January morning
    Coming into the Clyde in the frosty moonlight

  • For Yarmuk, Elder of the Ulupna Tribe

    A worn-out body laid in quiet earth,
    Attendant trees, a wattle’s throb of gold,

  • For James Ralph Darling

    In that keen morning it was good to wake.
    The sun that roused the swans on the lagoon

  • Boris Pasternak

    This death of a man, this sudden stop of life,
    Such total end, or such a faring forth
    Into what regions?

  • Post-mortem

    When a man dies
    We find that suddenly there’s time to praise him.

  • A Message to my Grandson

    You chose a marvellous morning to be born,
    The orange edge of dawn, the stars paling,

  • Bamboo: A Portrait

    The bamboo cut to suit you from our garden
    Has become your favourite stick – dried and varnished

  • Fragment of a Chinese Classic

    Catching the distinctive T’ang of old China
    She chooses for herself the character of Punctual Autumn

  • The Honey Man

    Like liquid silk in golden eddies
    the honey laps into my tin.

  • For my brother: Ave atque Vale

    Brother fare well, journeying to that Kingdom
    Of faithful servants, and of work fulfilled

  • Farewell to Skye

    Little death of a little dog
    In a death-wish world of news by body-count

  • Ballad of Old Sox

    They’re burning Old Sox’s shack
    Just two weeks since he died.

  • A Lambeth Garland

    A garden gracious, serene and spacious at Lambeth –
    This is the dream, the vision that shall be its crown

  • Banquet

    ..You they found fallen, holding a garden hose,
    Where, year on year, you watered, weeded, nurtured things to grow.

  • Anna-versary

    Anna is one
    What fun, what fun

  • Taking Leave

    Ninety years youthful, questing through generations,
    historian of two hemispheres, quickener of other minds,

  • Fred Hollows

    Raged, raged against the death of others’ light,
    Toiled, fought, till sick and blind received their sight.

  • Yudina

    I praise a heroine of the Soviet Union,
    pianist Yudina, through Moscow’s gloom
    spelling a Mozart magical concerto.

  • Letter to Judith Wright

    ..apartness conquered by the power of love.
    Carry us with you as you journey on.

  • For Nkosi Johnson

    His question ranged the echoing galaxies
    of empty cold unanswering space, returning
    home to our earth.