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(And translations, bottom of page)


It only starts
With just a little art and form,
Scarcely surprising, but a rising structure,
Architecture born to keep you safe and warm,
The vehicle of love's intentions for your heart.

So reappears the chalice that your love lay in
Long from the start
A cup of heaven that has drawn you back within,
Once more inside,
Again to savor future memories of a bride.

Sip just a drop, and your ability to stop
Will melt away, abandoning all art
And find you being, all-receiving,
Yet another, long-awaited, willing victim of the heart.

String Quartet

Inside each man resides
A little girl who waits
The coming of that boy a woman hides,
Her natural playmate...
You reach me (every instant I'm with you),
You teach me (all those things I never knew),
You seduce me with your tender, smiling glance,
And then you trounce me, bounce me, kick me in the pants.
And when I run, you chase me, only to be caught
By one in hiding, who you never might have thought
Could be the self-same person that you thought you knew,
While all the time the very rhyme's inside of you.
Two boys, two girls go dashing, laughing at their play,
Then fall exhausted, safe at home, at end of day:
A perfect set, four playmates rendered from above,
A string quartet, playing a symphony of love.

New Moon

Support all flown, all cover blown,
Barely afloat, the sinking boat
Abandons you as you abandon her
To fortune cast away once more,
With stroke uncertain, striking for a shore
Whose voice unheard above the crashing swell
Admonishes an ending not too well
Performed by aging actors in a show
Too-well directed to come from below
The salt that rages silent in the wounds
Of means deprived, of ends without a sound   
Of meaning just a seeming random tune's      
Finale come expectedly too soon:
New Moon.


I am the sacrifice,
I am the Lamb
Do what you will with me,
Do what you can

When you are done with me
Throw me away
I will come back to you
Day after day
Morning and evening
Never away
Ever reentering
Into the play so
Unmisbegotten yet
Misunderstood but
Never forgotten I
Always remain
The very material
Born to sustain
The form of the forfeit
Written in blood:

I am the sacrifice,
I am the Lamb
Do what you will with me,
Do what you can

My Heart Collapsed

My heart collapsed today, just after four,
When with the brief slam of your taxi door,
A door within flashed open wide,
A crimson tide
Of sorrow, ashen tears, and woe
Is me, who cannot plug the hole
So quickly drilled into my heart,
A part
That cannot be replaced
So suddenly has raced
Back to another world,
While I am hurled into the afternoon,
Alone again more soon than I would like,
And no heroic child to place a finger in the dyke.


Who are you? the thought comes to my mind
That I might know you by some other name
Than what you told me or that I might find
Some other person not at all the same
Were I to name you just by what you see
Within your mirror when you wonder who
Looks back at you, or looking back at me
You ask the very question I ask you
Like who are we when we are what we claim
To be, or should the vagrant thought arise,
Is seeing you the same as seeing me,
And who is left there when we close our eyes
To thoughts that mirrors so succinctly show
Us nothing that we don't already know.

Spring In A Foreign Land

Spring in a foreign land,
Once so well-known to me,
I thought would take me by the hand
To lead me through eternity
Now hems me in with harsher, new-found walls
Where I within am beckoned from without
By calls (like syrens in Ulysses' ears
That promise less yet more the more he hears)
To come and come about,
Till this fell channel's put behind
And sailing on a fairer wind
Perhaps, withal,
Remember that the warming days of spring
Are yet a common, repetitious thing,
And as their light is shed upon the heart
Reveal but nature, all the rest is art.

St. Stephen's Out of Christmas Comes

St. Stephen's out of Christmas comes
The Lamb of God unshod in all but
Slippers that in dead of winter run
The gamut of the oft-repeated song
Only the strong recall
The fall of lesser leanings
History's gleanings to a single thread
A final shred unfolds the thought
That aught can know impelled into the only note
The instrument is trained to play
And to this day
The sacrifice is bought
By trades once taught
Before exchanges still resounding
Made accounting far beyond our ken
The choice of men is still mankind
But now and then upon the wind
Remains an echo of that first repast
When Christmas and St. Stephen's
In an evening
By the Lamb were cast.

The Silent Bride

Upon my instrument one time I played
A single note that echoed through the void,
Till its return a symphony displayed
Before me like some serried host deployed.
A family of children from it sprung
Unrecognized, yet with familiar ring,
A universe by but one sound begun,
A winter's cry unfolded into spring.
I could but join, though what I joined I knew
Was not my own alone, but from a chance
Encounter with another, whereon grew
An host unnumbered:  in an endless dance -
Born of itself, inside itself it floats
Within its bride, the space between the notes.

Two Worlds

Another world so far yet near my own
Five straying fingers playing with a cat
While I am doing business on the phone
Betray next door dimensions only that
Unknown one to another still remain
Reflections of each other in their own
Perfection of a vision brought to gain
For each a separate realm that quite alone
Should be enough entirely to explain
The absence of the evidence whereby
It could appear that nothing else remain
But just a solo vision of the sky
Beneath which unbeknownst to me alone
A kitten purrs while I hang up the phone


All things come to those who sit and wait,
Things to love, things indifferent, things to hate,
The waiting of the calm before the storm,
Or struggling, while the guns are silent, with the form
Of fear itself, impending death a breath away,
When suddenly the bombs turn night to day,
Each to his station, scrambling to engage
A faceless foe, known only by his rage.
Then time stands still, all in slow motion so it seems,
Each action automatic, as in dreams,
Until it stops, as if it never were,
A silence falls, and nothing heard to stir.
No less in lesser things you find
So much anxiety just waiting in a line.

Ever-ending Exile
In ever-ending exile without end
Our hope is recollection of the joy
Of knowing the beginnings that we send
Out like some faithful soldiers who deploy
Their strategies of loving to unfold
From seed to leaf to flower and decay
Completion lost from sight and yet foretold
To live and live to fight that other day
Which beckons ever closer in retreat
The enemy we cannot bring to bay
The adversary sought from street to street
Who daily pulls the victory away.
So expectation's exile holds in chains
The end we ever seek but no one gains.

On The Dock

So here I light my pipe upon the dock,
Fresh summer breezes cool across my neck,
By friends forsworn, a solitary rock,
Eroded like an ancient schooner's deck,
Exposed thereby to find that inner core
Which lay there all along beneath the sleep
Of visions, vain illusions gone before
The promises I made I could not keep.
Accretions thus acquired now pass away
From that which yet remains, once locked within
The gathering of years, until this day
The water, harbor spray, and summer wind
Reveal beneath the flesh enduring bone:
The rocky core, untrammeled, stands alone.

The Pearl
A mermaid sits alone in silent grace
Which bears her up like ripples on the tide
Of memories that flicker on her face
Reflecting currents surfacing inside
A saddened smile which offers up again
The quiet echoes of those distant times
When hope triumphant conquered every pain
Of reasons taking second place to rhymes
Untrammeled in the very face of woe
That like the tide relentless in its reach
Returns again as if only to show
The stranded shell bereft upon the beach
Still holds the pearl that proud awaits the one
Who knows to bear it, shining, to the Sun.

It is...

...not for yourself or yet for you alone
Among your friends to wander as a ship
Unburdened by a cargo quite unknown
But well-imagined rolling in the grip
Of seas unseen except in others' eyes
Who spy you unbelieving that the glass
That you appear in does in fact disguise
A different vessel bound only to pass
Them by forsaking all they wish to have
Inside its hold once anchored in a port
It does not sail to and that all they crave
For their deliverance is but a sport
For longing eyes' imaginations' fare
To hail a ship that wasn't ever there.

Two Ships
Two ships at sea,
Not vessels passing in the night,
Hull down,
But yet their colors clear in sight,
So long they sail
Until the current brings them near,
And then upon the wind you hear
The bosun clear,
"What ship are you? Where are you bound?"
Seagulls surround the sudden sound
Of sailors who have shared the self-same crew
So many times aloft at sea,
So many harbors where to be
For so much sport,
When on their transoms then they see
They both come from the very self-same port.

The Talisman
A silver cross, suspended on a chain,
A simple piece with no intrinsic worth,
Except the threads of fortune it entrains,
Entangling separate souls around the earth
Whose separation singleness denies
Through gathered vision, further to impart
The radiance from ever-circling skies
Into a light that sways above the heart,
A pendulum, whose steady presence stays
The tossing and the turning of the mind,
That silently, continually prays,
The voice of those that love you daily shines
Right there, upon your breast, and as you roam,
Like a candle in the window calls you home.


And here are three song translations, just for copyright purposes, first two done in the summer of 2004, first publicly performed at the Chicago Maritime Music Festival, March 2005, the third done in 2009 and first performed at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art in June 2010:


(Maori song,  composed in about 1914
and arranged by
P. H. Tomoana in 1917, translated by John Townley)

The waters are in motion,
Round the bay of Waiapu,
While the calm is on the ocean,
May they bring me back to you.
Here in my heart (oh hear my heart)
Across the sea (come home to me)
Soft breezes that part us (soft breezes that start, to)
Bring you home to me.
I have written you my letter,
I have given you my ring,
Only time will tell us better
Of what the tide will bring.
Torn and tattered is my paper,
And shattered is my pen,
But my love is ever growing,
Ever knowing you again.
The sun will never dry, no
The love that you and I know
Forever in my eyes grow
These tears of Waiapu.

Here's a performance by yours truly from 2011...at the fall FSSGW Getaway...and a simple, better-recorded ukelele version by Dylan Noel October 2012. An extensive history of the song, original lyrics, other translation attempts here...

The England Song 

German Lyrics by Hermann Löns, 1866-1914, poem from collection Der Kleine Rosengarten (1911)

Music by Herms Niel, 1939

translated/adapted by John Townley

I. Gather round, come on, bring out the glasses,
Tap the keg, me boys, and chill the wine,
Here’s toast to you, my bonnie lass,
As you hold your loving hand in mine.

Put your hand in mine, your precious hand in mine,
Live well my love, live well my love,
Be true, love, be true
For we’re sailing, ah we’re sailing,
Yes we sail, farewell, my love, adieu.

II. Our country's flag’s unfurled, our masthead warning
Waves above, our colors proud and true
Know the foe awaits us in the morning,
Wish us health till we return to you!


III. But comes the news, perhaps, that we have perished,
That we sleep beneath the ocean wave,
Do not weep, my love, all that we cherish
Still remains in this moment that we say


Or, refrain in original German with “so my love, farewell” or "auf wiedersehen, farewell" substituted at end.

Here's a rough performance in English by yours truly from the Chicago Maritime Music Festival, March 2005.
And, of course, the original 1939 recording in German with the original German lyrics below it.

(19th century German sailor song, trans. by John Townley, tune reset with 1932 German lyrics became "Panzerlied")
Far over the cliffsides and down cross the sea,
As the waves break to windward, the ship rolls to lee,
The skipper at the tiller sees no haven land in sight (no land in sight)
And storms crowd the sky, turning black as the night.
Back home at the seaside all drenched with the spray,
There stands a lone figure, her arms raised to pray,
Ah yes, it is Luiska, and her heart is lost at sea (yes, lost at sea),
Like her captain, adrift past the isles of Araby.
For there went her sailor, for years unreturned,
Leaving her hapless to pine and to yearn,
Forsaking wife and lover, his children and his kin (oh yes, his kin),
A prisoner for life of the sea and the wind.
“Come rescue me soon in your life-saving arms,”
Implores poor Luiska, her voice on the storm,
And far away her skipper cries, “Oh, hear me if you can (oh, if you can),
“Your captain, your lover, your husband, your man!”
But like a bird on the ocean, her captain is lost,
Luiska o’er the cliffside her frail life has toss’d,
And the tempest’s tender orphans weep in sorrow through the night (all through the night),
Till the sun calms the sea as the dawn brings the light.
All grief is forgotten, their sorrow is o’er,
Though the storm drives the waves crashing down on the shore,
Unknown and still unknowing, they finally are free (oh, yes they’re free),
United they lie in the arms of the sea.

Original German lyrics here, and here's the tune with the later German tank corps words that made it famous, Panzerlied.

  Copyright © John Townley 2005-15. All rights reserved.