1950s

“The Silent Piano (For E. B.)”

Strings, tremble not! That touch,
Those hands are laid to rest
That loves your keys too much
To leave them uncaressed.

Bless your beloved voice
That kindles house to Home:
How sharp above our noise
The silence from her tomb!

How meekly Music goes
With none to tell her nay!
How fades, unmarked, the rose
Of evening to gray!

Note: Written for Barfield’s mother Elizabeth who died in 1940, this poem was first published in Nine: A Magazine of Poetry and Criticism (1950). This version is from A Barfield Sampler.

“The Milkmaid and the Unicorn”

She was striding a-milking, with the cows before her
Strangling and bunching, swaying in a row—
Phoebe, Paradise, Melanie and Jennifer—
Early in the morning. The sun gleamed low

On Melanie the elderly, mugwump Jennifer,
Amiable Paradise. She loved most
Phoebe, the skewbald Guernsey. Phoebe
Shied at the unicorn, the daytime ghost.

Snorting he collected himself from the horizon
And galloped to the zinc pail’s cream-white O:
Jennifer and Melanie pretended not to notice:
Milk of Paradise itched to flow.

Moonblind, the milkmaid saw not the unicorn—
Later, by the buttermilk, she heard him speak,
When he shot into the diary, whinnied What about Philosophy?
And vanished in the distances a bright, white streak.

Come up Paradise! I’m tired of being!
Farewell, Phoebe—for a girl must know!
She’s kilted her skirts for the flounder through bewilderment—
She’s off to the place where unicorns grow!

Note: First published in Time and Tide (1952), this version is from A Barfield Sampler.

“In the Reference Room”

Silence! No Talking Please!—and the usual row
Of Weeklies lying on the long oak table
Unopened . . . cock your ear a little: so:
You hear the thin din now? the ghostly Babel?

Standards, loves, hates, doubts, premises poles apart,
All against all vociferate, sneer, teach:
All Japhet’s family screams!
Come on, my heart!
I know a jolly tavern, out of reach

Of men’s slum tenement of brawling minds,
Where pullulating, tattered spirit thinks
Its sharp, discordant thoughts. Through what bright blinds
The snug bar-parlour of the Coterie winks!

There will I take mine ease—our glasses brimmed,
I and my book companions, douce as moles
Where all those jarring cries, shut out or dimmed,
Are matter meet for jokes to warm our souls.

Note: This poem was possibly written in the 1950s and is transcribed from the typescript at the Bodleian Library (Barfield Papers, Dep. c. 1108).
Copyright © 1997 — Owen Barfield Literary Estate.       Return to Top.