The Adjudication

“I weep for you,” the Walrus said:
__“I deeply sympathise.”
With sobs and tears he sorted out
__Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
__Before his streaming eyes.

—Lewis Carroll

This one’s bereaved; another is divorced:
One’s poem doesn’t scan; the other’s rhymes are forced.
And this one lost a child at sea
And sent five thousand words of therapy.

The purity of grief seldom survives
The treachery of words. It is their lives
They are submitting here—despair and hope
Sealed inside an A5 envelope.

Poetry they thought and took the plunge.
Words came too easily: the sponge
With which they swabbed their tears of grief and rage
Has dried to pumice on a thankless page.

We look for damning archaisms, scribble notes:
This pile is for the sheep, this for the goats—
While one by one, the anonymous faces sink
And are lost beneath the rising tide of ink.



The Bard of Babel

One eye blind with science,
The other blind with pain,
I saw the Bard of Babel stand
Out on the lonesome plain.

His fingers clawed a broken harp;
A burning song was wrung
From the vestiges of language
On the tatters of his tongue:

All you busy pimps of Progress,
Your scaffolding is rust;
Your fairy-lights are shattered
And your dreams have turned to dust;

Your breath has chased the petal
From the lens of your delight
And the flower of all your knowing
Is a flower of endless night.

And all around, the desert birds
Were screaming with desire,
As they watched ambitious carrion
Its own scaffold raising higher.

One eye blind with science,
The other blind with pain,
I heard the Bard of Babel sing
Out on the darksome plain:

Though your crippled tongues squawk lightning
As you climb towards the sun,
All your stairways end in rubble
And your race has not begun

And though I’m blind and choked with dust
And deafened by your din,
My spirit soars above your heads
And dances in the wind,

For I have been where I have seen
How all your toil is vain.
So sang the Bard of Babel,
Alone on Shinar’s plain.

All your stairways end in rubble;
All your scaffolding is rust;
All your fairy-lights are shattered;
All your dreams have turned to dust. . .

The music murdered on his lips,
The quicklime in his eyes,
As lightning snickered down the wall,
I saw the Bard of Babel fall
Beneath the Tower of Lies.



Anthony Watts has been writing ‘seriously’ for about 50 years.  He has won 26 First Prizes in poetry competitions and was longlisted for the National Poetry Competition 2014.  His poems have appeared in many magazines and anthologies, including A New Ulster, Acumen, Aesthetica Annual, Bananas, Cyphers, Envoi, Erbacce, Frogmore Papers, Ginosko Literary Journal, Impspired, Iron, Magma, Orbis, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Rialto and Riggwelter.  His fifth collection, ‘Stiles’, is published by Paekakariki Press.  A retired library assistant, his home is in rural Somerset (UK).

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12 Responses

  1. James Sale

    What a fabulous poet Tony Watts is: The Adjudication is so powerful – where the god of poetry, Apollo, is also the god of healing too, and we read those works necessary for healing the writer but which fall short of being real poetry ‘lost beneath the rising tide of ink.’ Very strong indeed. I am actually proud to say I know Tony Watts, published his first collection (via The KQBX Press), Strange Gold, in 1991 and have performed live with him more than once! More please!

  2. Gary Borck

    What a profound, haunting and wonderfully written poem you have written in the ‘Bard of Babel’, Anthony. You have invoked the style and mood of the past masters.

    Your poems are a joy to read, Anthony!

  3. Roy E. Peterson

    I particularly loved “The Bard of Babel,” since I find it so applicable to modern society. I have so many thoughts on the “rising tide of ink” as imagery from “The Adjudication.” Thank you for sharing both of them.

  4. Talbot Hook

    The Bard of Babel reads stupendously, and I am especially fond of the stanza:

    “Your breath has chased the petal
    From the lens of your delight
    And the flower of all your knowing
    Is a flower of endless night.”

    A job very well done indeed.

  5. Geoffrey Smagacz

    These are rich poems and bear rereading. The second manages to scare the bejesus out of me while reminding me that we’re right back where we started from–at the end of something and headed for a rude awakening. The first reminds me that my poems are usually in the goat stack.

  6. Cynthia Erlandson

    These are both so amazingly exquisite! I love so many of their profound phrases and concepts: “sent five thousand words of therapy”; “The purity of grief seldom survives the treachery of words”; the sponge used to swab tears “dried to pumice on a thankless page” — what amazingly creative imagery — Just Wow!! (I almost never use two exclamation marks.) and “the rising tide of ink.” And in “The Bard of Babel”, you manage to use the theme of language and its confusion to make images: “the vestiges of language on the tatters of his tongue.”; “crippled tongues squawk lightning”. I keep looking back and finding more things about these poems that are outlandishly good. All of the imagery of Babel’s fallen tower is exquisitely done; and just the idea of having a bard singing at the scene is ingenious.

  7. Margaret Coats

    Hmm . . . The Bard of Babel is alone with the wreckage of both tower and language. All the others have left, each speaking his own new tongue understood by his fellows, but by none of the other nations. They all comprehend the practical consequences of the catastrophe, and move ahead in their present limitations. The traditionalist blind Bard sees the reason for the disaster, but has only broken means to bewail it, and no audience. A well-developed concept!

  8. ABB

    A lot of memorable, quotable lines here. I can see why you have won 26 first prizes. You must have quite the trophy room. Hopefully you are parading your grandchildren through it to show them there are alternative routes to glory than team sports.

  9. Anthony Watts

    Thank you all for your kind and encouraging comments. I think poetry should, above all, communicate, so it means a lot to me to know when my poems are appreciated.

  10. Anthony Watts

    If you read ‘The Bard of Babel’ when it first appeared above, you may like to know that the last two stanzas were inadvertently omitted and have now been restored.

    • James Sale

      It’s strange but the ending on the ‘plain of Shinar’ seemed perfect as it was, but the now-supplied two missing verses are also great – this really is a poem with a kind of built-in depth to it! Great work – thank you, Tony.


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