Friday, 31 January 2014

Winter: the Life of Birds and the Love of God

Several years ago I bought a small book on the life cycle of birds but only got round to reading it in 2011. It was a revelation as to the harsh life of these creatures we tend to think of as cheery 'feathered songsters'. Most birds can live in captivity - fed, watered and warm - for ten to twenty years or more; in the wild nearly all are dead within two years. I have paid close attention to birds ever since and they often feature in my poems. The book also set me thinking on the true conditions of existence for all creatures - including man once he is beyond the protective bubble of industrial civilisation - and therefore the true nature of what we call the love of God. These are also themes which have concerned me in further poems.


An iron, fissured sky, laden and chill,
Crowds the frozen crowns of the beech trees, stark
With morning frost, whilst a knuckled tendril
Of ivy roots in the famished mulch, ice-dark.

Greenfinch, dazed by the harsh shove of the wind,        
Hunch among branches, greedily scanning
The ice-clutched ground for withered husks or rind,
Frantic to staunch their hunger until evening.

In the blanched, frosty leaf-trash among shrubs
A finch, puffed, big-eyed against the cold, falls;
In a single spasm it dies. Fox cubs
Under the moon will wolf it with spiteful calls.

The autochthonic bulk of the wind grips
The beech crowns, rocking them into wheezing
Arabesques. The finches plunge with the dips
And rise, clinging with bloodless claws to the freezing

Branches. It has been like this immeasurably:
The birds feeding and dying, breeding, drawn
To the high trees and inconsolably
Suffering. After long hours the wind’s brawn

Drove off the cloud and a perishing blue
Sky highlighted each pugnacious finch, discrete,
Unique, starving, the indomitable clue
Of being; this solidity which cannot cheat          

Itself, fulfilled in sorrow: the ice-stiff sod,
The wind, the birds – this is the love of God.

© February 2012

Saturday, 18 January 2014

A View of My Garden

I abandoned this poem in 1983, unable to work out how to finish it. Coming across the working papers for it in 2011/12 I thought it would be easy to use it as a basis for returning to writing poetry. How wrong I was. It cost me a further huge struggle to find the end of the poem and the 'join' is perhaps all too visible. Nevertheless, it reignited a fascination with the use of words in definite structures to express meaning and I haven't looked back since. Some might say I haven't looked forward...

The reference to Ireland and Iran reflects the prominence of the Irish 'Troubles' and the recent Iranian revolution at the time.


   A morning sadness fills the sky
   Gone grimly grey and full of rain;
   I write and rewrite as I try
   To drag old furies from my brain:
Running my thumb along the paper’s crease
I dream of Jason and the Golden Fleece.

   Outside, the automatic life
   Of plant and shrub is underway;              
   Already juicy for the knife
   Lettuce and plum attack the day.                     
A lively slug and golden-purposed bee 
Vibrate with much more energy than me.

   With hopeful look and loaded head
   I sought to write a classic line,                       
   To capture what the Muses said,
   To shape it and to call it mine;
But blunt intentions do not make an act,
The gods were present when old Troy was sacked.

   I looked out on the dampened earth              
   And thought of Ireland or Iran,
   How men must give their thinking birth
   Whilst under siege or on the run –
And instantly my Graeco-Roman whim
Was shrunk to nothing but a dream gone dim.

   For men are killed and leave undone
   The one thing that they had to do,
   To weep farewell beneath the sun
   And stare the wounds of darkness through:
The riddled corpses with their open eyes
Are unsolved puzzles in their frank surprise.

   But when the bodies have been burned,
   Or roughly bundled under stones,                          
   And when the earth is once more turned,
   Dispersing caches of the bones,                                 
Then wheat and vine will silently take hold,             
Their blood-fed harvest burgeoning three-fold.        

   Behind the warfare and alarms,                                 
   The plants about their busy life,                                 
   Behind the lies and snake-oil charms,            
   And internecine, pointless strife,                                
There stands a constant silence that might be                
An universal personality.                                              

   A silence that delights in quarks,
   And dances when the pulsars dance,
   That’s altered when a small dog barks
   Or when we caste an angry glance;                           
That is the context of our every act –                            
The unavoidable eternal fact.                                        
   That aches to feel the life of things
   Deflect so fiercely out of true,
   That knows the song that terror sings                         
   To captives in the hangman’s queue;                          
That is forever verging on the sad
But is forever tranquil and is glad.

   Despite the sullen, cloud-filled sky
   My garden spirals into bloom;
   The cosmic weaver silently
   Has flung off beauty from his loom,
Assuaging grief, defusing lust, that bliss 
Might blot out sorrow, pregnant as a kiss.        

© Abandoned 1983; completed January 2012

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Cool Moon

This is the last poem I plan to save from my poetry writing period of the early 1970s to 1985 or so. I started writing poetry again in January 2012 at the age of 62 - it was quite a struggle! - so, since a suitable time has passed to allow for second thoughts, I intend to begin posting these new works as and when the motivation takes me. As ever, I make no claims for their value; they are simply an old man's fascinated wrestling with words.


Cool moon when I was young you sailed
Like a speck of magic through the skies:
The first light of your rising paled
I’d hurry hunched against surprise
Across a lawn – Holmes was out to see
His suspect at the ballroom dance.
Or when my small boat leapt the sea
You laughed and flung a liquid lance
Which threaded the crests; the waves, piled
By wind, played with the golden vein.
I knew you then, a grinning child,
Your face smudged with a boyish stain.

Later you went to the attic,
Banished by the brash scuttle for
Love and a job, a chance to pick
At life – Romance must beg at the door.
But leases and relationships
Can sour, and then your acned face
Taught me that the cup at the lips
Is jagged in the manifold race.
Problems would settle, and the old
Certainties would flicker wanly,
Soothing the wound beneath a cold
Light like a psalm which bathed on me.

The fiction cannot last; the point
Of reference has become a chill
Accuser, and a creaking joint
In culture has ruptured: the thrill
Of the heavens now drips night-mould,
A blue and icy light from the high
Sky, where a footprint’s push has rolled
The tomb’s lid leaving us to die.
The thing of book and film has become
A spot of knowledge, a sad rune:
Imagination can’t go home
Again; cool moon, cold moon, dead moon.

© circa 1973-76