Caput Mortuum

An apple orchard, meadows and a river,
a raft at a mooring where children are swimming,
an ancient ash, the sawmill and the bridge,
and at the heart the home of all our colours –

tin pales of white lead paste, and silver mica
from China, and zinc oxide from Peru,
Carrara dust, pozzuoli, burnt sienna,
red ochre, aniline, Verona green,

dammar resin, madder lake, campeachy,
bone black, indigo and dragon’s blood,
Dutch pink and gallnuts, dried black mallow flowers,
kamala, berberis root and walnut shells,

and dark in the stillness a man with a mortar and pestle,
cracking the lapis lazuli apart,
grinding the purest in the pulverisette,
a second grinding, then a sifting,

binding the powder with turpentine resin
and heated beeswax, letting it draw for a day,
then straining it in a linen bag
in a bucket of lukewarm water,

colour coming in a tide,
filling fifty pales, returning
to the first to pour the water off
and dry the sediment and sift again –

this, I think as I gaze beyond the river where the children swim,
beyond to where the sky consoles
with old familiar colours of our physics and our souls,
this in our stillness is our purest blue.

by Michael Hulse

© Michael Hulse, 2009

Born in 1955, Michael Hulse grew up in England. After studying at St. Andrews, he lived for twenty-five years in Germany, working in universities, publishing and documentary television, before returning to England in 2002 to teach at the University of Warwick.

Hulse’s poetry has won him firsts in the UK’s National Poetry Competition and the Bridport Poetry Prize (twice), and Eric Gregory and Cholmondeley Awards from the Society of Authors. In the past he has co-edited the best-selling anthology The New Poetry, and in the Nineties was general editor of the Könemann literature classics series and of Arc international poets. He has also been the editor of the literary quarterlies Stand and Leviathan Quarterly, and currently edits The Warwick Review.

Hulse has translated more than sixty books from German, including works by Goethe, Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek, and the late W. G. Sebald.

His latest publications are a new book of poems, The Secret History (Arc), and a translation of Rilke’s novel, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (Penguin Classics). Learn more about Michael Hulse here.

‘Caput Mortuum’ is taken from The Secret History, and you can read a selection of other poems from the collection here.

Arc Publications publishes contemporary poetry from new and established writers from the UK and abroad, specialising in the work of international poets writing in English, and the work of overseas poets in translation. Arc also has a music imprint, Arc Music, for the publication of books about music and musicians. To learn more about Arc and to see its range of titles, click here.

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