Wednesday, 10 October 2018

The Robin

Everything in this poem was observed by myself from the vantage point of my upstairs windows. The poem, in blank verse, is 256 lines long and, for those who make it to the end, finishes with an encomium to all the birds and a brief consideration of what their experience teaches human beings. (I have added a separate little couplet at the end which may be a bit of blarney and therefore ignorable.)

(Observed 15 May – 31 October 2014)

Mid-May a change was undeniable:
The robin which inhabited my view
Fell largely silent at his treetop post.
He still spent hours there, eyeing his domain,
Darting away to feed and soon returning,
But now his silence like a Trappist monk’s
Contrasted starkly with his past months’ song,
So liquid-graceful and unstoppable
Like a blithesome hillside brook leaping its way
From stone to stone and flinging flashings of      
The sun’s rich light back at its globe enstoned
In the cobalt gesso of the year’s young sky.
Through the long stretches of his sentry-spell,
As if in vows, his only song was but
A few brief notes, half-hearted, monochrome.
That understated mumble, an aside,
Held little beauty and was swallowed by
Apologetic silence like a sigh.
Most probably his young had now been reared
And if no second brood had been begun
He felt less anxious to assert control
Of feeding rights, but what a sea-change from
His sky-enthralling song of earlier months,
Irrupted by his body-seizing shout,
That geiger-counter tic repeated madly
Which clacked a warning to marauding males!
Be it his undersong or braggart “tac,”
He stood as clear atop the maple tree,  
Foregrounded by the May sky’s watered blue
And knocked by passing breezes like a guy,
As if he sat upon my hand and sang.
His bright red jumper like a woven flame
Flurried above his cream-down underdraws,
And even across the air-and-sunshine gulf
Which kept us separate I saw his throat
Like a little bellows pumping as he sang.
However, by month’s end he’d truanted
And all through June I wondered if he’d fought
His way into another robin’s ground
Or, bloodied, had been struck by the clawed club
Of a cat’s flailing paw. Then he’d reappear,
Most often morn and dusk, and briefly sing
His thin disjointed notes, then brace and dash
With stiffly rapid wings into the gloom
Before sunrise or that at sun’s repose.
And once at noon on a warm and shining day,
Pregnant with promise and the year’s lush hope,
I saw him on a cypress tree which crouched
Heavily lopped beneath my bedroom window.
He clung to the tree’s fronded fingers, busy
With song and fiery peering at his lands,
When foolishly dawdling in the soft-silk air
A fly nipped past. Pausing his bits of song,
The robin leapt and turned mid-air with push
Of toughly-working wings. His open beak
Homed and snapped, and working his wings again
He twisted, sinking to his initial perch,
Resuming song before his wings were stowed.
A mere five seconds, as it felt, had passed;
A stroller would not have noticed any hitch
In his discord musings, yet with fine control –
An acrobat enrapt with exploits far
From the trapeze’s safety-giving bar –
He’d trapped a morsel in the day’s non-end
Prospecting to unearth the flies and grubs
Which staunched the panging in his belly’s bag.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Autumn and Beyond

   Disconsolately dripping,
Autumn’s trees are full of mist;
   October’s dawn winds nipping,
By black-lipped blight their leaves are kist.

   Soon frost will come a’stripping
Leaves and fruits from frozen branches;
   Snow by gales sent tripping
Will pack the lime trees’ grey-barked haunches.

   Ice, the wood walks gripping,
Mud and mulch the murky day,
   December’s glooms are slipping
Through blackened trees and sleeting spray.

   Come April, rain squalls whipping
Blossom flakes to pink the sky
   Will slap the tough bees sipping
The willow flower’s brimmed nectary.

© October 2014


Friday, 21 September 2018

Wood Trek

On 13 April 2016 I posted a 296 line blank verse poem, 'The Woods at Night.' It recorded my observations made in a number of night walks through deep woods close to where I was then living.
The walks were made in September and October 2013. I made the walks in the dark of night with no torch or mobile. I avoided the forest paths and cut straight through the untouched woods. Not to be recommended unless you are happy with yourself in deep darkness. The poem extended itself into a meditation on existence and the Absolute. It is linked here. A year later I found myself wanting to make the walk again and write a shorter, tighter account. This poem is the result. It has 162 lines and the blank verse is smoother than that of the first poem, although still too rugged for my current taste.


(Thursday 2 October 2014, 7.15 pm – 8.10 pm)

A half moon, golden-bronze, threw silver light.
Awkwardly stumbling through the woods, unpathed,
I rued that light for in the chasms of
The thinning oak and maple crowns its glare
Was dazzling, swamping night sight like a wave
Collapsing saltily and forcing me
To duck my eyes; to no avail; two steps
And once more under cover, my sight was gone
And blackness like a squeezing hand stopped dead
My track until by grope I could gauge a way
Ahead. The wood was silent, frigid-still,
Except with timefelt slowness like a surd,
A stick or acorn or a green-pursed chestnut
Fell through the branches with a bouncing rustle
Till gruffly thudding in the forest mould.
Just once that night I heard a rabbit with
A panicked scuttle dash through undergrowth,
And once a rat or vole discreetly nipped
Through holly, disdaining my marauding feet.
A streamlet rattled thinly, trickling over
Poultices piled by rotting chestnut leaves,
Blackly wadded and sour like sodden dishcloths.
But no owls called, despite the moon’s halloo
To go a’hunting; and the wind stood still,
This October night of summer’s final warmth.
Working by toe-touch through the wood’s incline
The year’s leaf-fall eddied about my feet,
Faintly fawn in the scattered shards of light.
Taut as shavings and dank as mildewed rope
There were dried-flesh oak leaves, clawed like witches’ hands,
Yellowing black-blotched lime, as flat as skin,
And tubelike paper scrolls of chestnut leaves,
Copper-orange and crushing underfoot
Like soda crisps. In screes they banked about
Old branches, tumbled on the ground like limbs
And rotten as stale bread, crunching queasily
When trodden like a snapping of dead men’s ribs.
Draped between boles and blank-dark holly bushes,
Spiders’ weavings enswirled my face and neck
With leaf-hung web, clinging to lips and tongue
And launching fast-legged spiders to dash through hair
Or over cheeks, chased by my slapping hand.
Wind-fallen aspen trunks debarred my way,
Mere bars of blackness in the clinging dark;
Bestriding them cost legs and ankles dear
As unseen brambles clawed at bone and nettles
Invaded leggings with their stinging stab.
Vague at my shoulder was a musty stand
Of dust-strewn, cobwebbed rusty-brittle ferns,
Now dying back but still I knew from dire
Experience a haunt of skin-drawn gnats;
Always, on these nocturnal treks, I bore
The black-blood blisters itching like a goad
From previous hikes. At the woods’ steepest plane
I slowed to an ill-footed indecision,
The unmoving dark as thick as Hades’ fog;
The forest slope was chocked with fallen birch,
The ground was grubbed as if prospectors had
Left the earth pitted, treacherous to the foot.
So, wincingly, toe-tapping like some dancer,
I nudged my way by touch and guess across
The boles and through the holly stands and brambles,
An arm extended with an upright stave,
Like Orpheus lurching in the underworld,
To ward off creepers, hanging web and branches.

Friday, 17 August 2018

Old Age and Innocence

The incident of the tiny grave is true. It remained decorated and cared for over the space of two years or more. I never saw the children, or indeed adult, concerned. The forceful quote in the ninth stanza is taken from my much-missed friend, Barrington Milson, whose death I elegized in a poem posted on 9 December 2016 and linked here.
   The stanzas are linked by the third line of each stanza providing the main rhyme for the following stanza. This would have left the third line of the last stanza unlinked but fortunately I was able to give it an end word the same as the main rhyme in the first stanza, so linking the end of the poem back to its beginning.


Walking the heath in autumn, sunk in a green lane,
   Its hawthorn wallings woven with a chain
      Of clay-red berries, bright as beads,
   The noonday sky was like a grey-washed stain.

My thoughts were doleful, dreary as a widow’s weeds,
   Of aging bodies and their dribbling needs,
      But worse were furies in my mind
   Denouncing decades of self-centred deeds.

And then beneath the hedge and halfway hid behind
   Its prick-thorned branches, all with bindweed twined,
      I saw a mound of earth laid out
   With pomp as if young children had enshrined

A kitten’s bones or else the stiff and muddied clout
   Of some torn stock dove savaged by the snout
      Of fox or cat but put to rest
   By feeling hands within its last redoubt.

The grave with feathers and the woodland’s fruits was dressed,
   With bilberries and crimson haws entressed,
      Red clover heads and polished stones –
   All marking out the dead scrap’s burial chest.

What innocence, what showing forth of youngsters’ groans,
   Who took such effort over bits of bones!
      October’s gloom was lit by grace
   As if those young ones knelt and warbled nones.

Such hope! Such trust remembrance has a smiling face!
   I who am old, who walk with ragged pace,
      With chest pains and a weight of sins,
   Reluctantly must ponder time’s disgrace:

The loss of energy, the wan and trembling chins,
   Mist eyes, unhealing sores and painful shins,
      Belly and bowels always loose,
   Poor memory and limbs gone stark as pins.

And “every orifice stinks.” There dangles from a noose
   The corpse of life’s misdeeds which rots to juice,
      Accusing with its hollow glare
   My braggart three-card ways and each excuse:

Work colleagues sacrificed for triumphs thin as air;
   Home warfare wrecking trust like a smashed chair,
      Children bewailing in their rooms,
   The front door shattered as if I should care.

And always, faint, but sharper now dismissal looms,
   The scent of Presence like narcissus blooms
      Beckons the fearful to an Edge
   Then snatches them to judgement and their dooms.

There’s One who died to disinfect dank death and dredge
   A channel through its skull-infested sedge,
      Though I, mistrustful as a gull,
   Screamed in disdain and hid in sortilege.

Now, lacking leeway like a sea-thrown dismast hull
   I wallow shoreward where I’ll join that cull
      Made hallowed by that hedgerow grave
   Of bodies palsied in their final lull.

Bless those children who raised their guileless architrave,
   That creature whose flesh the soil’s liquids lave;
      Pray for the dead who sleep en plein
   And me, sin-parcelled in my earthen cave.

© October 2014


Thursday, 9 August 2018

In the Dark of Night

In the dark of night a fox cried,
   Clattering like a doomsday book,
   In sleep-sunk fear I groaned and shook;
In the dark of night a fox cried.
      I died.

In the dark of night a fox cried,
   Yellow-eyed beneath a scrap of moon,
   All my sins on the sheets were strewn;
In the dark of night a fox cried.
      I died.

In the dark of night a fox cried,
   Scraping close on the half-up pane,
   I fell to judgement, stained as Cain;
In the dark of night a fox cried.
      I died.

© September 2014


Wednesday, 18 July 2018

In Dreams Reprising

There is more going on, technically, in this lyric than at first meets the eye. In all stanzas lines 1 and 3 have feminine endings, all others are masculine; lines 2 and 4 are trochaic, all others are iambic. In the first and last stanzas line 4 has four stresses, in the three intervening stanzas it has five. The first and last stanzas use the same rhyme sounds; all five stanzas use the same rhyme sounds in the last two lines. The first line of all stanzas ends with an 'r' word, the third line ends with an 's' word.


   In dreams reprising
Old and aching loves long lost,
   In sighs surprising
Faces fresh as morning’s frost;
Yet many years have blanched my skin
Since last I whispered chin to chin.

   There’s she reproving
Skirmishing to seize her waist
   And, huffed, surcharging
Later ploys to gain an arm emplaced;
Bright-haired and steely like a pin
She led my hand to cup her chin.

   And she reprieving
Fancy feints to win a kiss,
   Amused, surmounting
All such fumbles with a tender hiss;
Green-eyed above a lover’s grin
She flounced my hair and chafed my chin.
   And both repressing
Tears at love’s inconstancy
   And, hurts supplanting,
Willing to forgive my truancy;
But I enthralled with hearts to win
Upended sense and turned my chin.

   In dreams reprising
Loves so true and now long lost,
   In sighs surprising
Faces thinned as some poor ghost;
Grown old with neither kith nor kin
My heart erupts and quakes my chin.

© September 2014


Thursday, 12 July 2018

A Shop Doorway

The story of George the drinker was told to me by an acquaintance. It struck me immediately and linked up with some other themes I wanted to discuss to produce this poem. The stanza used is rhyme royal.


Bathed in moonlight, beyond the midnight hour,
The Weald outside the window wet with dew,
Sage Tennyson died at peace, his bed a bower
Of loved ones’ tears, the truths that Shakespeare knew
In a volume in his hand. Soon, folk would queue
At Poets’ Corner to praise his symbolled life:
Art, success, a good death, a grateful wife.                                           

In a shop door stinking with booze and faeces                          
George the drinker expires in his own filth;                                    
That day, his face a mess of sweating creases,                          
He sought quietus from a priest, a tilth
Of blessing to flee him to his death; his health
Reneged, alone, in pain, with anguished eyes,                           
He stiffened in a foetus-like demise.                                                      

Death teaches truths which shuffle-footed man
Begs not to hear. The Poet’s great-aged passing
In painless sleep, innocuous as a fan
Of breath, has brazened thoughtless folk now lazing
In glib autonomy, sans suffering,
To hold that health and years trump mourning bells
And death’s a dim if puzzling something else.

But man’s a creature of unstable clay
Who, laughing, crying, is a spawn of God;
His glands and ducts are destined to decay
And that’s a fearful tale of pain and blood;
Sarcoma’d man, exhaling on the rood,                                      
Must quarry in his own heart’s stony ground
To find the balm of Being in his wound.

And so, longevity and glam fulfilment
Are rags aflap in the bawling winds of time
And make for men, as creatures all, concealment                            
From flesh’s task – to suffer in a slime                                      
Of agony; St Paul says, Adam’s crime                                      
Effaced, and gravid made in woe, creation
Groans in child-pang like a woman in dilation.

From plankton to the snarling lion pack                                    
Things feed on things, razoring flesh from bone                         
And cold to screams. Big-brained, atop that stack                                
Of pain, amassing man, uneasy grown,
Surveys the glebe self-knowledge makes his own –                              
A universe in suffering aware                                                                
Of something hidden and its forceful stare.

In flesh-deep wounds your blood which wells is Christ’s:
Whose Body, twisted, leaking, spittle-splayed,
Was racked upon a Cross; nailed at the wrists
He hung like us, but our first fruits displayed
For, Rising, showed that suffering, if prayed,
A shop door swings unhung with any wreath,
And proves the way to truth and life, in death.

So George the drinker, sundered in his waste,
Found truths unguessed at by the coddled sage;
That being’s crown is pain, and life disgraced
A prize more fruitful than a rich man’s wage;                             
For disabused of creatures’ bleak-eyed rage                                        
Through death he grasped a Hand which, bruised and flayed,
The price of his eternal joy had paid.
© September 2014