Miss Manning rules us middle-class children
Whose fathers can't afford the better schools
With blue, small, crow-tracked, cruel eyes.
Philomel with melody-a refrain
Summoning the nightingale, the brown bird
Which bruits the Northern Hemisphere with bells -
It could not live a summer in this heat.
Queen Titania, unaware of Oberon,
Is sleeping on a bank. Her fairy watch
Sings over her a lullaby,
The warm snakes hatch out in her dream.
Miss Manning is too fat for love,
We cannot imagine her like Miss Holden
Booking for weekends at the seaside
With officers on leave. This is not Athens
Or the woods of Warwickshire,
Lordly the democratic sun
Rides the gross and southerly glass.
Miss Manning sets the homework. Thirty boys
Leave the bard to tire on his morning wing;
Out on their asphalt the teams for Saturday
Wait, annunciations in purple ink,
Torments in locker rooms, nothing to hope for
But sleep, the reasonable view of magic.
We do not understand Shakespearean objects
Who must work and play: that gold stems from the sky:
It poisons 1944. To be young is to be in Hell,
Miss Manning will insulate us from this genius,
Rock the ground whereon these sleepers be.
Elsewhere there is war, here
It is early in an old morning, there is pollen
In the air, eucalyptus slipping past
The chalk and dusters - new feelings
In the oldest continent, a northern race
living in the south. It is late indeed:
Jack shall have Jill, all shall be well,
Long past long standing eternity,
Eastern Standard Time.
from Collected Poems Vol 1, 1961-1981 (Oxford University Press, 1999), copyright © Peter Porter 1999, used by permission of the author