Posted by: John Looker | 26 June, 2016

Bottom Remembers Love


From Wikipedia. Titania adoring the Ass-headed Bottom. Oil on canvas by Henry Fuseli, c. 1790


All them years ago – but still each day
she’s flitting in and out of my dreams … her eyes
like pools at night full of the moon and stars,
her smile pure sunlight waking in the east.
She smelt of summer meadows, and when she spoke
her voice, soft and fierce, flew like an owl
hunting. I tell you I froze, while the hairs on my head
stood up, and they (you know what I mean?) weren’t all.
You’re right of course, they laughed and called me an ass.
Me and her, we come from different lives,
like trees that were stood on opposite banks of a river
leaning, weaving our branches, blossom, leaves.
       What could we be to each other? She were the rain
       falling on wheat … and me warm air lifting the lark.


© John Looker 2011

This is the last in a series of five poems which are my offering in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. This one was first published in 2011, posted at the time (as now) to mark the midsummer solstice.

Here in the UK there are currently several theatres staging A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For those who may be unfamiliar with the play, Bottom was one of the comic characters who, under enchantment, was given an ass’s head; Titania, Queen of the Fairies and herself under a spell, fell in love with him until released from the enchantment.

Posted by: John Looker | 15 June, 2016

Julius Caesar In The 21st Century

Julius Caesar In The 21st Century

(thoughts prompted by Shakespeare’s play)


In the Forum,
we stand among the crowd and lend our ears
to whosoever’s rhetoric is balm. 

Those men in togas! All so ambitious:
one’s greedy to bestride the little Earth
like a Colossus;

another has a lean and hungry look –
he thinks too much
and this we do not like. 

How hot it is! But some Mark Antony,
who always had our hearts, borrows our minds
and moulds them easily. 

We run headlong through the streets
the dust rising beneath our feet.


© John Looker 2016

This is the fourth of five personal reflections in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.


Posted by: John Looker | 5 June, 2016

From Shakespeare’s Notebook

From Shakespeare’s Notebook:
first thoughts towards his sonnet 73


Coming out of the theatre I find you here,
as promised,
in a doublet I have not seen before

       … I am evening now; autumn.
I am embers.
All this you perceive with your clear bright eyes

(your love must be more strong
than I had dared to hope, seeing me so
pallid, in this out-moded cape)

You raise your smile to me,
greeting me with a shared jest,
and I feel at once how fast my pulse is racing

(could it be your love is like the crowd
that gives its heart to the players with greater joy
knowing the play is fleeting?)

We walk on together towards the bridge,
you talking at length about your day and I lost
in the music of your voice

(do you sense, with me by your side,
how the scenes of your own half-written play
must pass?)

       … you are morning still; springtime. You
are a brightly lit fire from which I take such warmth
as I had thought would never shine on me.


© John Looker 2016

This is the third of five poems that are a personal commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Most of Shakespeare’s sonnets are now presumed to be addressed to his Young Man, and number 73 reads as follows:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Posted by: John Looker | 25 May, 2016

And To A Winter’s Day Also

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”
      (William Shakespeare, sonnet 18)


And To A Winter’s Day Also …

… for isn’t there beauty in a winter’s day?
Not just the frail sunlight sparkling on ice,
the clear skies, the dark holly with those dear
berries; nor even the breathtaking lace
of trees in the cold air. Give these their due
but there is more – for all is stillness; peace.
     Walking, you take my arm, and I am yours.


© John Looker 2016

(For Frances)

This is the second in a short series of poems commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. His 18th sonnet reads as follows:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Posted by: John Looker | 15 May, 2016

Malvolio Looks Back




How did it go so wrong? I started well,
securing employment in a great house.
I worked diligently, learning to quell
my spirits, my own views, finding the nous
to flatter without detection, to be
discreet, dependable, in every task.
I rose. How I rose! until it was me
(or do I mean I?) who bore the steward’s staff.
Then how I failed myself: that yellow hose
(cross-gartered!); the fancy that my lady
loved me; the smiles; the conceit to suppose
that she would thrust some greatness upon me!

The hours would pass so sluggishly these days,
but for the new tobacco … sonnets … plays …

© John Looker 2016

© John Stevens 2011

I’m planning to post 2 or 3 poems as my own contribution to the  commemoration of Shakespeare’s death 400 years ago last month. This one first appeared here in 2011.

The illustration is taken from Wikipedia at


Added on 24 May 2016:

I’ve learnt that some readers do not know who Malvolio is, although Wikipedia has helped. So:

Malvolio was the pompous steward in a great house in Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night. He was tricked into thinking that the Lady was in love with him and especially fancied him in yellow stockings with cross garters. He fell for it and made a complete ass of himself in front of her. And that was only the start of his troubles.

Posted by: John Looker | 22 March, 2016

Unholy Fools

they hope to build the walls of heaven
with skulls;
they think by filling the halls of paradise
with screaming
they will be pleasing the ears of God;
in slaughtering others
they grant themselves the title ‘martyr’.

And if they hear the laughter
they would not know
how it ascends
from far,
far be-

© John Looker 2016

I have published this before under the title ‘Again’ but, with the murderous attacks at the airport and metro in Brussels today, I’ve chosen a less dispassionate title.

Posted by: John Looker | 4 March, 2016

Strange Creatures

Moments before, the sea was breathlessly calm.
Suddenly the surface ruptured and a head arose,
dripping, dark. Then onto our beach it came,
lumbering heavily, tossing its head with a roar.

Somewhere in the depths of the mind a memory stirred,
something primeval: wasn’t this how we emerged?
Sea lion. We.       Why you? Why me?


© John Looker 2016

Posted by: John Looker | 7 February, 2016

Committee Room Seven, Heaven


Present were: Copernicus, Curie, Darwin, Einstein …
… the Archangel Gabriel in the chair. 

Reporting on progress on Item Nine
(A New Revolution In Human Understanding)
the Chair said there had been none.

He acknowledged evidence of major regression
to primitive theologies in recent times (which broke 
his heart) but this, he remarked, had been foreseen
in the original scheme of creation.

He invited the meeting to consider the annex
bearing the title Hope.

© John Looker 2016


Posted by: John Looker | 27 November, 2015

Peace And Tranquillity

A host of daffodils dancing beside a lake –
but this is a calendar, curling on the office wall.
Festivals, yes, but no matter how closely you look

it will tell you nothing about this miniature world.
No mention of the morning Miss Jones appeared
improbably late, resigned and left in a whirl

of cigarette smoke. Nor the day young Murphy applied
grinning for a sizeable advance to order a suit.
“Oh, the style – Mr J was appalled!”

And that may be true, but this much is certain:
that the Head of Accounts didn’t mind in the least
and that Daphne soon shortened her skirt.

These were events unmarked in a lengthening list
of significant days,
although at the time their significance mostly was lost.

In stationery, old Mr T continued to doze
in the afternoons; the cleaner left mops in the hall;
and pens scratched, or were still, behind closed doors.


© John Looker 2015

Here it is: the last in a suite of eight complementary poems. Together they present the lives of a group of people at work. The first was published at:

My book, The Human Hive, found seven other takes on work as a way of looking at humanity. You can find samples of the book’s poems on this site under the category “Looking At Life Through Work” or you can see how my publisher, Bennison Books, introduced the book at:

It seems to me that there is a no end to the ways in which poetry can use work as a way of looking at humanity. I don’t know whether others would agree.

Posted by: John Looker | 26 November, 2015

Éminence Grise

“Not this door, unless you’re feeling brave.
That’s the cave of the yeti, the Head of Accounts.
No-one goes in there unless they are summoned
and no-one knows when they’ll get out.
Even the big chief
comes when he’s called for –
he comes down the corridor
almost out of breath.
The person to charm him is poor Miss Jones.
She seems to come out unharmed,
and Deidre-by-the-window swears
that he took her to lunch on her birthday.”

© John Looker 2015

This is number seven in a suite of eight poems that tell us about a group of people who work together. I have been posting one a day. What will the last one bring, tomorrow? The first was posted at:

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