The poems in The Haw Lantern have always had a special place in my heart because I studied them for A-level (all my English A-level texts have remained very dear to me, I suppose from that intense immersion in them and also because it was then that I started learning how to read critically and look at how texts work). For National Poetry Day I’ve typed out the titular poem (ignoring as best I can my 17-year-old self’s excruciating commentary on it):
The wintry haw is burning out of season,
crab of the thorn, a small light for small people,
wanting no more from them but that they keep
the wick of self-respect from dying out,
not having to blind them with illumination.
But sometimes when your breath plumes in the frost
it takes the roaming shape of Diogenes
with his lantern, seeking one just man;
so you end up scrutinized from behind the haw
he holds up at eye-level on its twig,
and you flinch before its bonded pith and stone,
its blood-prick that you wish would test and clear you,
its pecked-at ripeness that scans you, then moves on.
This was originally published by Faber & Faber in 1987 and remains beautiful and apposite. I’d like to email it to all our political representatives, for a start.