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(Selection. See  for further details on other titles.)

Rückblick II

Rückblick II: (ISBN 978-14259-7449-7)


A selection of my poems entitled Rückblick was first published for private distribution in March 2001. At that time I had produced a number of collections of poems for private circulation.

In 2004 it was suggested I might extend Rückblick to include work written since 2001. I had the idea of a selection to contain only those works written since Rückblick and which I was to call The Old Voices.

The possibility of offering these poems to a wider readership caused me to reconsider the original plan. Accordingly,  I have put together a selection from all the poems written up to May 2005. Since this book retains most of Rückblick intact, I have decided to name the present work

John Vetterlein
June 2005


Rückblick - looking back (Brahms used the word for the fourth movement of his Sonata in F minor, Opus 5) - contains poems already published. It is my alternative title for the somewhat hackneyed “Selected Poems”. They are the most satisfactory things I have done from my perspective. This is not to imply they are the “best”, whatever that might mean.

With over a thousand poems from which to choose, the task has not been an easy one. (Reading poetry simply reinforces for me what fickle creatures we are.) It has all been carefully thought through (that much is to be hoped for at least). There is no saying, however, that I won’t have a different mind of the matter tomorrow.

John Vetterlein
(From the original, dated March 21, 2001.)

From page 34:

What has to be, has already been 

I was here from the start, alone;
the calendar on the wall, the picture
a Christmas scene, the re-created Mr Scrooge
patting a little child gently upon the head,
and me a mere child staring at the picture
and seeing myself both in the child
and in the aged man;
and me an ageing man,
and seeing myself both in the aged man
and in the child.

From page 78:

Edging closer to hell

There’s a subdued feel to the sky this morning.

Jupiter, in Cancer, struggling
against the advancing light of dawn,
a veil of diffuse cloud, high
spread by an east wind
advancing from the continent of Europe.

The islands huddle together,
grey blobs on a silver shield,
the sea audible, ripple and shudder
against a continuous wash
breaking over the slanting sandstone.

Saturn, its rings opening to the full,
sits at the heel of Pollux,
Castor looks heavenwards.

We, down below, edge
perceptibly closer to hell.

From page 90:


A blackbird swallows a worm,
A cat devours a blackbird,
A fox catches a cat,
A hound savages a fox,
And I survey my breakfast table
And pretend to be immaculate.

Cobbett's Field

Cobbett's Field:( ISBN 978-14343-5286-6)


Cobbett's Field was first published for private circulation in 1997. Since then it has been through four revisions.

With the present edition (for general sale) five poems have been omitted since they are now available in Rückblick II. However, there is some duplication in the case of four poems which also appear in War (2007). Moreover, a handful of poems with a war theme appear here that are not included in War.

Ten poems have been added to the original content. There has also been some readjustment to the order of presentation.

August 2007

Introduction to the First Edition

Reading poetry simply reinforces for me what fickle creatures we are.

I have had my way with the presentation as with the words themselves. It has all been carefully thought through (that much is to be hoped for at least). There is no saying, however, that I won’t have a different mind of the matter tomorrow.

I had wanted this selection to be representative, but then nothing can be that without exposing the entire corpus - an unthinkable act.

August 1997

From page 54:

The accident

Sharpening the scythe,
releasing the steel from the rusted blade,
the honing stone passing back and forth, mesmeric,
the cutting edge thinning to infinity,
the hand slipping out of true alignment,
slicing deep into the guiltless finger,
meeting prophecy in a gush of blood.

Portrait of the author: oils on board - London 1956, Gordon Stuart*.

With the kind consent of the artitst.



North Window (ISBN: 978 –1-4520-8935-5)


My small band of devoted followers sometimes ask me to publish a comprehensive edition of the poems. I am unable to do that; instead, I offer another mixed bag.

I have produced several collections of poems, mostly for private distribution. In 2007 both WAR and Ruckblick II were published for general sale by AuthorHouse. My very first set of published poems—Cobbett's Field (1997)—was re-issued for general sale in 2007. Ruckblick II (2006) contained a selection drawn from some one thousand poems written over the past fifty years or so.

North Window (the title taken from a single poem hitherto published privately) contains a selection from poems written up to 2009 (but excluding anything from Cobbett’s Field, Ruckblick II or War).

The two photographs are from a period when, as a young man, I held out some hope for a kinder world. My occupation then was as pharmacy porter in the London Chest Hospital, Bethnal Green, a post I held for twenty-eight months in part as an alternative to military National Service, and at the direction of a tribunal set up to investigate conscientious objectors. Since then greed and vanity have propelled us all into an even more precarious position.

At the time of the first photograph, I was residing close by at 84 Guildford Street (the house since demolished); the second (from a few months later) at 37 Lloyd Baker Street, with Mr & Mrs Bunyan. The photographs were taken by my life-long friend, the writer Alan Denson.

I look back on those times with considerable affection.

John Vetterlein
Orkney, 2009

North Window

I imagine the North Window at night
standing alone, looking out and looking in,
when the moonlight glances broadside
lighting the delicate, glass lattice.

I imagine the North Window on winter nights,
when the frost paints every blade of grass in silver,
touches and encrusts the bare trees with ice.

I imagine the North Window in summer’s full heat
filtering out the glare, imbuing the interior
with its own brand of daylight.

I imagine it inside that cold, damp building
in fixed and silent standing with the heat cut off,
the North Window in all its glory,
fragile, by itself and vulnerable,
yet somehow stoical.

A deckchair experience

The demand for housing
always outstrips supply—
a fundamental principle
in nature, I guess.

The confines of my narrow bed
(an ex-service standard job
two feet in width)
has been the symbol
of my personal expectations. 

On leaving the parental nest
I had no illusions as to what was required,
to feather your own
you have to compete,
and as history has shown,
I am an ineffectual competitor.

And so it has been narrow beds 
all the way with me, narrow beds
and improvised armchairs (without arms),
my life has been a sort of deckchair experience.

Living Hell

This is where I once lived
as a child throughout the war.

I see it today by way of Google Maps
street view—front gardens
concreted over right up to the bay windows.
cars parked nose to glass—a vision of a living hell.


John Vetterlein, London 1958: Photo: Alan Denson


Dedicatred to the Memory of Millicent Ivy Vetterlein (1905 - 1993) 

Evening in December

Out yonder suspended over the Peedie Hill
the sky is a riot of orange and greys;

evening in December here is mid-afternoon,
and as the dusk settles into night
the crows come winging by
first appearing as specks
precipitated out of the sky; 

their passing overhead is silent and purposeful:

there is something profound in it,
something outside human ability,
something inevitable and apart from us.

Full moon

A full moon in Gemini
hangs like a pallid dish
suspended in a vaporous waste;

today the military spewed by
in their winged killing machines:
roar and din, mess a muck;

they talk of dogfights over the sea
to protect the homeland—from what?
(and if all else fails, there’s always
the nuclear bomb to fall back upon).

The moon looked sad to me,
the sky exuding a sort of hopelessness;

they talk of countering global warming
by tipping billions of iron filings into the oceans,
or sending millions of balloons into space
to reflect the sunlight away;

all we really do is to behave collectively
like imbeciles.

I wonder what tomorrow’s moon
will have to look down upon?


Noise, noise, noise and yet more noise,
we appear to thrive on bloody noise:

noise from traffic,
noise from aircraft
noise from machinery.

the noise of war,
the noise from our brash entertainments,
noise, noise, noise—nothing but noise . . .


Whatever the newscasters choose to offer—it’s news.

Miss Cable Carr swinging from Mount Pleasant,
a celebrity jamboree, powder-fashioned tarts,
up-skirt scandals, pleasure seekers in paradisium,
million-dollar ball players rolling around in public places;
money comes cheap in the form of flash-boy grimaces,
all against a backdrop of shootings, bombings and killings;

that’s news—O! what a wonderful world.

What universe?

What shape is the universe? (they ask).

What shape destiny or the price of wisdom?

Whatever else we may care to call ourselves,
wisdom appears to be in short supply.

What shape the universe? When?

What time?

What universe?


Damp, measureless days,
the wet stone oozing history,
spring gently evaporating out of dark winter’s light,
night turning into day,
bird sounds across the moor.

Monuments to the present

Up they go, strung up
by the aid of monster cranes,
one-legged storks
towering into the sky
white pillars with their
slow rotating blades;

the island’s flat bellies
host to giant dynamos
visible for miles
at every point in the compass,
monuments to the present;
our obsession with electric power
and all the trivia it makes possible.

Drunken orgy

Here young kids roam the streets
mobiles pressed to their ear lobes;
elsewhere kids die like flies from malnutrition.

Here kids, young and old,
play computer war games;
elsewhere kids get blown to pieces
by the weapons we export
in order to create the “wealth”
that provide for such excesses.

Here we plan and carry out so-called “wars”
against the infidel, the infidel
spread chaos and carnage . . .        

fifty years ago I set a different course for myself,
today I wander pitiably over this ocean of futility. 

Corners of sanctuary

Where lies that sanctuary
where we may find the truth of self?

There is something contrary in the question,
and yet . . .

We are by nature gregarious
(if only for the purpose of argument);
we are by inclination interdependent
(no man is an island and all that),
and yet . . .

Where is that corner of sanctuary
in which the voice of truth sounds clear?

Nowhere, at no time,
not in a million years,
and yet . . .

Lone messenger at dawn

Standing in the dawn silence, Mercury’s light
singularly and enduringly beautiful in the natural sky,
almost painful in his isolation;
coming upon him thus, through diligence,
I feel a welcome intruder.


They may destroy the material fabric of my past—
pull down buildings (the Imperial Institute for example),
cover fields in concrete, brick and tarmac;
smother meadows and country lanes,
drown entire villages, cut down forests;
sprinkle the hills with wind turbines—

yet music lives on through the ether,
grows stronger in my affections with every passing day,
that they cannot take from me
as I approach my physical end.

 (All cover designs etc. are by the author.)



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