A S J Tessimond (1902-1962)

I mentioned in a previous post a superb book I acquired recently from Bloodaxe Publishing… The Collected Poems of A S J Tessimond, published last year.

Tessimond was a somewhat tragic figure it seems, a lifelong bachelor who loved the wrong sort of girls, mostly unrequitedly. Towards the end, he struggled with mental illness and received electrotherapy. He died at the age of only 60, his body undiscovered at his flat for two days.

This book finally gathers together all his collected and uncollected poems, most of which have languished in relative obscurity since the 1950’s, a peculiar decade whose atmosphere he captures brilliantly. His most “famous” (using the term relativistically) poems were “The Man In The Bowler Hat” and “Cats“, both of which I should quote in a future blog entry, to explore their rich connotations. Together with his excellent translations from Jacques Prevert, this book makes for a fascinating read of crystal-clear poetry, accessible to the layman, made all the more poignant by the biographical background provided. The book also evokes marvellously the atmosphere of London, a city whose beauty I have come to savour lately as a wistful visitor. Here is an example of a buried Tessimond gem:


I am the city of two divided cities
Where the eyes of rich and poor collide and wonder;
Where the beggar’s voice is low and unexpectant,
And in clubs the feet of the servants are soft on the carpet
And the world’s wind scarcely stirs the leaves of The Times.

I am the reticent, the private city,
The city of lovers hiding wrapped in shadows,
The city of people sitting and talking quietly
Beyond shut doors and walls as thick as a century,
People who laugh too little and loudly,
Whose tears fall inward, flowing back to the heart.

I am the city whose fog will fall like a finger gently
Erasing the anger of angles, the strident indecorous gesture,
Whose dusk will come like tact, like a change in the conversation,
Violet and indigo, with strings of lemon streetlamps
Casting their pools into the pools of rain
As the notes of the piano are cast from the top-floor window
Into the square that is always Sunday afternoon.

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