By the Forge

John Keats in Winchester

Say you had been for a walk by the river
among fields of dry yellow and brown whose smell
was baking, as if the earth were their oven,
but the afternoon was warm and cold at once
and you had noticed a numbness in the sky,
a shiver in the water, that made you yearn
for things with sun in them, apples, corn, honey.

And say the air had been fidgety today
so the gnats couldn't keep still, and overhead
it was crowded with excitable swallows.
This was your season, the time of departure.
You could feel that edge in your lungs, like the tang
of unlit bonfires or a foretaste of snow
in the last of the sunshine, as you turned back.

And you had nowhere to go now but a room
that stared at the blank side of a house, a street
you could listen to all night and hear only
the punctuation of footsteps and a cane,
so you walked through the city, where the people
had the look of those you see on holiday
as if only pretending to be themselves.

And London was waiting for you, a poem
you were almost ready to try again with.
There was another room, a woman, a book,
and a cold blur like rain you couldn't make out
from this far away. You had to be inside
writing the words before you could find their shape.
Say you were thinking of all this and standing

all of a sudden, in front of an open shop
where a basket of coals was seething orange
and a man came and stabbed it into yellow,
a cornfield of sparks. Say you watched him hammer
and thought he was beating light into a bar,
making the street dark. That's when you'd hug yourself
and say, I should like a bit of fire tonight


from Dragons (Faber, 2001), © Matthew Francis 2001, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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1Beestorm in West Middlesex

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2Poem Without Words

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3From Occupied City: The Cathedral

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4from Blizzard: 1, 2, 7, 10, 13, 16, 17, 29

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5Dragons

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6from Ocean: Slope

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7Autumn Noir

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8What the Cuttlefish Do

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9By The Forge

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10Of Travelling by Land

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11Of Inns

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12Of Foreign Tongues

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13Of the Market

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14Of the Phoenix

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15Of the Vegetable Lamb

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16Of a Manner of Disposing of the Dead

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17Mandeville’s Farewell

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18Lunar Passage

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19Familiar Spirit

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20The Description of Muscovy

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21Things that Make the Heart Beat...

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Books by Matthew Francis