Dorothy's early influences and favourites

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Break, Break, Break

Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.

O, well for the fisherman's boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay!

And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanished hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break,
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.

John Keats

Original version of La Belle Dame Sans Merci, 1819

Oh what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Oh what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel's granary is full,
And the harvest's done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever-dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful - a faery's child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery's song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna-dew,
And sure in language strange she said -
'I love thee true'.

She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.

And there she lulled me asleep
And there I dreamed - Ah! woe betide! -
The latest dream I ever dreamt
On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried - 'La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!'

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill's side.

And this is why I sojourn here
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Dorothy Porter

A selection of poems

The Bee Hut

for Robert Colvin

There is a dark place
on my friend Robert’s farm
that thrums
with the nectar smell
of danger.

A swarm of bees
has taken over
a dozing old shed
and no one
has the means
or guts
to move them.

I think of slaughtered
Mycenean kings
entombed in their brick
glittering as they lie
golder than honey
in the old blood

my bare hand
wants to plunge
through a hole —
now a buzzing lethal
highway —
in the shed wall.

I love the bee hut
on my friend Robert’s farm.

I love the invisible mystery
of its delicious industry.

But do I love the lesson
of my thralldom
to the sweet dark things
that can do me harm?

Ode to Agatha Christie

Is this the crucial clue?
The bug-like trilobite
I bought from a slippery gypsy
in Prague,
still staring through its crystalline eyes
from the floor of an extinct sea.

I am spooked
by the abysmal depths
of my own life’s mystery.
Like a belly-up Christie village
I’m nipped by the red herrings
of every pyrrhic victory.

Can I pocket and know this sunset
flaring over the rollers
of the cold Bass Sea?
No photograph, no poem
will make it anything
but a still-born cliché.

Is murdering time
the most true and convincing
perfect crime?

I tangle in the plot
chasing the hit and run driver
of my careless past tense.
Why does my childhood swimming pool
now stagnate darkly
behind a high wire fence?

I rub my clever egg head
and show off my waxed
O Agatha, what fun playing
to douse my fear in farce!

But how can I make
my solution ship arrive?
To what shimmering port
will it take me?
Or is it just an easy exile
from blind faith and wishful talk?

Death Comes As The End —
Agatha, you threw out cosy
when you served up dread.

As surely as my trilobite
with the right time, place
and gritty clout,
may I be preserved
as insoluble enigma
when a killer comet snuffs me out.

The Hampstead Heath Toad

for Roger Deakin

It was one of those
English summer nights.

The lilac shimmer of silent
The whisper of ghost fox
through your heartbeat.

But the toad in the hand
stank real.

Stank through his palpitating
Stank of fear.

Is the fabled hallucinogenic
touch of toads
just as Macbeth
a hypnotising snare
of toxic apparition?

What thrilling doors of perception
to the musky ooze
of panting paralysed

Of course
intoxicated on moonshine
you wanted
and will always want
the toad
to calm down
smell sweet
and give up his phantasmagorical

But the toad in the hand
protected himself.

The toad in the hand
stank real.

The Ninth Hour

The ninth hour
is here

The ninth hour
makes no sense

The ninth hour
rises up wearily
in a freezing mist.

I have come to a river
of blood and vinegar

I have come to a river
where only pain
keeps its feet

I have come to a bridge
of dissolving bone

I have come to a place
of burning cold

I am trapped in a space
by my own
leprous fear

have I the strength
to pay suffering its due?


There is a calm
that is no cousin
to courage

There is a calm
that sits
like a quivering ape
under the python’s
hypnotising eye.

Everything makes you

The hot wind. The rank river.
The poisonous euphoria.

But it’s your shriveling
that has the whip hand

Your flesh
has its own tumorous

You may think
you have been here

You may think
your quicksilver spirit
has your furtive flesh

But darkness
is stronger
than light

The flesh knows best
who’ll win line honours
in this fight.


The ninth hour
is here

The ninth hour
makes no sense

Don’t pray
for a flash flood
delivering miracle
or clarity

During the ninth hour
reason dies of thirst
Your blood stagnates
as a base metal
in your mouth

You dangle
in a cacophony
of retching noise
with no grandiose riffs
of heroism

You will never forget
the foul sound
of the ninth hour.


I have come to a river
of blood and vinegar

I am here,
ninth hour,
I am here
stripped and shivering.

But listen, ninth hour,
and pay heed
to a new sound
in me

I am not here
silent and alone

Do you hear
the fighting hiss
of this geyser
in me?

I stand my ground
in the undaunted spray
and company
of my own words.


All these poems were originally published in a collection called Poems January–August 2004 (Vagabond Press 2004) Other credits: ‘Ode to Agatha Christie’ (Heat, Agenda magazines), ‘The Ninth Hour’ (Best Australian Poems 2004 Black Ink), ‘The Bee Hut’ (Arquitrave — Spanish translation — Bogota).

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