JB: I wrote a book called the Identity of Man. I never saw the cover of the English edition until the book reached me in print. And yet the artist had understood exactly what was in my mind, by putting on the cover a drawing of the brain and the Mona Lisa, one on top of the other

For Wilhelmina, Queen of the Netherlands by Jacob Bronowski

'- a series of single new poems by young Cambridge poets edited by J. Bronowski and J.M. Reeves.'

You have done well by water

Mandrake and anemone are your seasons
princess, the scarlet wound is breaking
tapers of pain, that the wind takes
and the sharp rain

This was the last of a series of six slim volumes poetry under the general title Songs for Sixpence which were published in 1929 by Heffers, the Cambridge bookshop, and edited by Bronowski with James Reeves (qv.). This was No.6, the previous Songs having been written by, in order, William Empson, Julian Bell, T.H. White, John Davenport, and Michael Redgrave.

Iris betrayed us, fugitive, the month
budded and amazed, pointed in the throat
strangely. The pursed month
and broken and forgotten after rain.

We remember only thunder.
These were dark shaken over
waterflags, these wire tulips
furled in the beginning mayed intrigued
discovered silver and the slant
treble upon crocus buds during March.


You came among islands,
The wind stood in your sails
and the night but iris
grudging a coast.

We remember your coming
foretold with signs, stars, reason, with denial
(planned in a season of comets) abstinance.
The raw flesh, frayed at the nail,
shuddered on sea-lichens.

and much was granted; much was lost;
we remember,
nothing withheld, certainly,
only the hands fumbling in flower throats,

your slight hands fumbling
abandon, and cherished pain, princess
of stemmed burnt starflowers
set in the slope of knees
outward, for desire.

Were these once certain,
was the mouth secret?
What shall be denied you,

foetus and fallen iris are your tokens
and lipless, perhaps lillies;
broken these mouths that labour
with a wind in spirals, bear dust;
and menstrual throats aching for rain.


We remember only thunder, rain
and islands, princess
and you coming among islands;
stardust and fingered lust
answering desire; and the unreal illuminate pain.

of the air gaping in the thigh.

We remember nothing fruitful,
only your hands slightly
staunching where the womb leaps;
the wind's answer
bewildered upon iris;
and mandrake; and anemone your season.

Source: Songs for Sixpence, W. Heffer and Son's, Ltd. Cambridge, 1929.

The Ascent of Jacob Bronowski

Copyright © 2000 by Stephen Moss. All rights reserved.