Poem introduction

There's a poem by George Herbert, the metaphysical poet, that I've always really liked. It's called 'The Flower' and in the poem he uses the flower as a metaphor for his own spiritual death and recovery - the death of the flower in winter. And there are some wonderful lines in the poem: "And now in age I bud again,/After so many deaths I live and write;/I once more smell the dew and rain,/And relish versing:" And they seem extraordinary lines to me - because I like walking in the rain, because they seem so sensual for someone to have written in the 17th century. And because it was always a favourite poem, one day I was ironing - and all my life hated ironing - and suddenly I sort of smelt the scent coming off the cloth (of course very horrible cheap scents which are put into washing powder) but it was suddenly a wonderful feeling and it connected with a feeling for me that my life had got a lot better. And so I used the idea of the Herbert poem - this idea of a spiritual death and recovery - to write my own poem but using the metaphor of ironing.



I used to iron everything:
my iron flying over sheets and towels
like a sledge chased by wolves over snow;

the flex twisting and crinking
until the sheath frayed, exposing
wires like nerves. I stood like a horse

with a smoking hoof,
inviting anyone who dared
to lie on my silver padded board,

to be pressed to the thinness
of dolls cut from paper.
I'd have commandeered a crane

if I could, got the welders at Jarrow
to heat me an iron the size of a tug
to flatten the house.

Then for years I ironed nothing.
I put the iron in a high cupboard.
I converted to crumpledness.

And now I iron again: shaking
dark spots of water onto wrinkled
silk, nosing into sleeves, round

buttons, breathing the sweet heated smell
hot metal draws from newly-washed
cloth, until my blouse dries

to a shining, creaseless blue,
an airy shape with room to push
my arms, breasts, lungs, heart into.

from The Handless Maiden (Jonathan Cape 1994), copyright © Vicki Feaver 1994, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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1Slow Reader


3Beauty and the Beast

4Oi Yoi Yoi

5The River God


7The Handless Maiden

8Crab Apple Jelly


10Right Hand

11The Crack

12Lily Pond


14Lacrimae Hominis

15American Newsreel, Japan, 1945

16Li ho

17Girl in Red


19The Gift

20The Red Cupboard


22Bufo bufo

23Horned Poppy


25Hemingway's Hat




29The Man Who Ate Stones

30The Gun