Poems by Elizabeth Jennings
The diversity of websites that include extracts from, references to or full text of Jennings’ poems enforces how her audience stretches across the spectrum from academic to general reader. A good place to start is the Poetry Archive where you can hear her read. However, the prevalence of her anthology piece ‘One Flesh’ can skew a balanced acquaintance with the breadth and depth of her work. While, on the one hand, her preoccupations with human experience run across the 50 years of her writing, their treatment is sufficiently extensive to reward readers with new findings. The Selected Poems showcases her best while New Collected Poems covers more fully her collections until her death. Collected Works provides examples of prose as well as the poetry.
The two on friendship, featured in the 'Selected Poems' section above, indicate Jennings’ universal voice that both confides in the reader and allows them to engage personally. The first is sometimes used at weddings.
All citations are and should be used with permission of the literary executor, David Higham Associates.
Friendship (NCP p. 89)
Such love I cannot analyse;
It does not rest in lips or eyes,
Neither in kisses nor caress.
Partly, I know, it’s gentleness
And understanding in one word
Or in brief letters. It’s preserved
By trust and by respect and awe.
These are the words I’m feeling for.
Two people, yes, two lasting friends.
The giving comes, the taking ends.
There is no measure for such things.
For this all Nature slows and sings.
‘Friendship’ (Familiar Spirits, 1994)
You need not touch, you need not feel,
You scarcely need a sense at all
Since this love is a happy duel
Of minds, and it is always full
Of shared excitement. Argument
Never becomes a quarrel with
This kind of love. It is intent
On understanding, uses breath
To share good-will and chooses words
That will not hurt; it moves about
And only crosses nursery-swords.
It never knows a cause to doubt
Fidelity or trust. It gives
Unstintingly yet always keeps
Sharp eyes upon the other’s griefs.
It never rests. It dares all deeps,
It is the way the spirit lives.
Family Affairs (NCP p. 35) - Link
No longer here the blaze that we'd engender
Out of pure wrath. We pick at quarrels now
As fussy women stitch cotton, slow Now to forget and too far to surrender.
The anger stops, apologies also.
And in this end of summer, weighted calm
(Climate of mind, I mean), we are apart
Further than ever when we wished most harm.
Indifference lays a cold hand on the heart;
We need the violence to keep us warm.
Have we then learnt at last how to untie
The bonds of birth, umbilical long cord,
So that we live quite unconnected by
The blood we share? What monstrous kind of sword
Can sever veins and still we do not die?
Spring Love (from In the Meantime, 1996)
I must accept that love will never come
As it did once – quickly and unexpectedly
Casting a radiance on any room
That I worked in – I could be unprotected
Because surprise was the chief element
Of love like this only at me directed
And coming to me like a sacrament
Unearned and hard to credit. Part of this
Was that for years I thought that love was meant
For other people, that it would not bless
And cherish me. I was the second child,
Awkward, competitive and thinking less
Of everything would come to me. A wild
Creature I was, searching for meaning in
The Universe. I never would be mild
Or sure. I never guessed love would begin
Romantically. I was caught up in it,
Amazed, enthralled and wholly altered when
I was first kissed with passion. Now I sit
Watching Spring suggest itself. There’s pain
In thinking of dead loved ones yet O yet
I feel my blood rake in my veins again
And words unfolding with the leaves while birds
Call tentatively. Poems I knew sustain
Me as love did at first. There’s a refrain
Singing within me, finding me fresh words.
- 10 poems, such as ‘One Flesh’ and ‘Absence’ - Link
- Old Poetry.com - Includes poems in full text.
- Full text and discussion of ‘Moving House’ - Link
- Discussion and full text of ‘Curtains Undrawn’ - Link
- Full text and discussion of ‘Death’ - Link
- Full text of ‘Answers’ Link
- ‘Delay’, ‘One Flesh’, ‘A Performance of Henry V at Stratford’ - Link
- Poems with translations into other languages - Link
- ‘The Second World War’, ‘In Memory of Anyone unknown to me’, Voices Education project. - Link
- 8 Poems - Link
- ‘Bedsitters’ - Link