The Midnight Choker

The website of Dan Erdman

“Hornpipe” – C. Day Lewis


Aside from having read a few poems here and there – I found “Hornpipe” in Kingsley Amis’s The Amis Anthology: A Personal Choice of English Verse – I know very little about Cecil Day Lewis himself, other than that he served as poet laureate of England near the end of his life. He is of course the father of Daniel Day-Lewis (who once claimed to have seen Cecil’s ghost on stage during a 1989 production of Hamlet, prompting him to abandon the play mid-act), and, just to keep this somewhat topical, he can be said to have a tangential connection to Orson Welles. After having had his proposal for an adaptation of Heart of Darkness decisively rejected by RKO, Welles, reasoning that a more commercial property would be likelier to earn him a green light from the studio, pitched a version of the novel The Smiler With the Knife. This was one of a series of books following the adventures of detective Nigel Strangeways, written by Day Lewis under the pseudonym Nicholas Blake. Welles supposedly completed a script, but this too failed to impress the studio, and in the end he had to resort to making Citizen Kane.

Day Lewis’s “Jig” is also included in the above-mentioned anthology; Amis referred to these as “a couple of poems by a licensed modern poet that I could take pleasure in,” suggesting that that was a rare circumstance. I deliberately squashed the “ah” in “esplanade” into an “ay” to emphasize the rhymes in the next line, but neglected to do something similar with “lover,” “clover” and “over” two stanzas down; it just seemed right. Readings of other Day Lewis poems, by his widow Jill Balcon, may be found here. For a thorough biography and explanation of much of his work, consult his page at The Poetry Foundation.


Now the peak of summer’s past, the sky is overcast
And the love we swore would last for an age seems deceit:
Paler is the guelder since the day we first beheld her
In blush beside the elder drifting sweet, drifting sweet.

Oh quickly they fade – the sunny esplanade,
Speed-boats, wooden spades, and the dunes where we’ve lain:
Others will be lying amid the sea-pinks sighing
For love to be undying, and they’ll sigh in vain.

It’s hurrah for each night we have spent our love so lightly
And never dreamed there might be no more to spend at all.
It’s goodbye to every lover who thinks he’ll live in clover
All his life, for noon is over soon and night-dews fall.

If I could keep you there with the berries in your hair
And your lacy fingers fair as the may, sweet may,
I’d have no heart to do it, for to stay love is to rue it
And the harder we pursue it, the faster it’s away.


This entry was posted on May 5, 2015 by in Readings.
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