Some Recent Poems

I have been reading The Ode Less Travelled, a book about writing poetry by Stephen Fry. It is really good. Some day, I might do a post about it, but today I am just publishing some of my recent poems.

I have been experimenting with some different forms. The poem below in written in a pastoral Italian form he talks about in the Ode Less Travelled – a ‘villanelle’.

The Sea 

Changing as the seconds fly

Ever dappling rippling light

Steady while the years go by

 

Ever the wave’s retreating sigh

And the fair-foam frothing white

Changing as the seconds fly

 

Ever the pale-sand blanching dry

And the pale-winged sea birds’ flight

Steady while the years go by

 

Ever the cawing sea-gulls’s cry

And the sunny wave-top bright

Changing as the seconds fly

 

Ever the silvery waters lie

At the dropping of the night

Steady while the years go by

 

Still they lie – close to the sky

In the softly fading light

Changing as the seconds fly

Steady while the years go by.

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Melted

Flakes and more flakes

Dropping – dropping

Softly – quickly

Carry on the air –

Dumb air of Winter

One little moment

Twirls them by – so

Large and soft

Indefinable

So many hundreds

Gathered in a sky!

How can it hold them?

Vast as it is!

Melted away now

Melted.

In this I tried to capture the endless, soft, unreal feeling of snow falling softly.

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The Woods in March

 The trees in silent sober beauty stood

Pale tree-trunks rising smooth from dead

And drying bracken – tawny gold – the wood

Half-bathed with moist sunshine. “See, tread

With softness lest the slightest stir you make

And all the golden sleeping woodland wake

Let not one fallen brown leaf rustle – break

No twig – be quiet and kick no stone.” Said she

So with most scrupulous care went we

And passed around a slender smooth-barked tree.

We saw two kinds of catkins lately out

The pussy willow, grey with her soft, soft touch

And hazel too before we turned about –

And they were cleanly yellow green. So much

Of beauty in that little wood

Wearing Springtime’s hood

Were she and I stood.

February Rain

Grey light – grey from a gray sky –

Cold as an empty hearth

Down the window crawl wet snakes

Joined by dashing drops.

Millions land in the blink of an eye – and

Have I thought for each?

Just the same as flitting fancies

Each insignificant speck

Joins five more, and grows into a

Drop. Through the pane

Febuary’s first pale crocuses lie flattened.

Full Moon

Smoother than a woman’s brow

With ghostly pearl perfection

Silvery was her gown of cloud – how

Silvery her complexion!

In the bleak and blasted sky

Of Winter – in that vast

Drifting waste of cloud – high

Over the blurred mountains – cast

In a perfect mould.

The lines in this fluctuate between four stressed beats (tetrameter) and only three. This is the way ballads are generally written.

The Eternal Yew 

The charms we wove about the trunk

Will stand the test of wearing time

They’re braded – mingled into the branches

And strung from leaf to leaf to leaf

The knots pulled tight the ends entwined

About the wandering shadows

 

The wavering trembling whispering shadows

That darkly dance about the trunk

Around the bow their ends entwined

Where they will linger through all time

Far longer than the words on the leaf

Of a book – or memory on the branches

 

Dark branches of your mind – dark branches

Of the tree last longer far. Where shadows

About the sagging dream-green leaf

So many leaves, so thin, and round the trunk

Lie dusky and timeless, their ends entwined.

While roll on time and time and time

 

And if it ever faltered, time –

Then live these darkly mighty branches

On through emptiness – their ends entwined –

Then live and endlessly live on through shadows.

Then live and endlessly live on that trunk

Hung round with ribbon-like green leaf

 

The torn green fragments of a secret – leaf

On leaf like deeply layered time

That dance around the ghostly trunk

Of memory, and the strong dark branches

Of the mind. The shadows are entwined.

The wavering trembling whispering shadows.

 

You mighty roots that grasp round shadows

Of earth – you mystic hanging leaf

You shadows, shadows – the ends entwined

Where you will linger through all time

You great time-wielding lasting branches

And you, the heart of all – the trunk!

 

Keep living, dream-green leaf and branches

Live all through time, your ends entwined

And live the spell about the trunk of shadows.

That was a Sentina – a really complicated form which repeats the ‘hero words’ (the words at the end of the lines) in a special pattern. My hero words (repeated all through the piece) are branches, shadows, leaf, trunk, entwined, time.

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Let Me Have It

A short essay on yearning

‘Bring me the sunset in a cup,
Reckon the morning’s flagons up
And say how many Dew,
Tell me how far the morning leaps—
Tell me what time the weaver sleeps
Who spun the breadth of blue!
… Who built this little Alban House
And shut the windows down so close
My spirit cannot see?
Who’ll let me out some gala day
With implements to fly away,
Passing Pomposity?’
Problems, Emily Dickinson.

 

There are many things in life that it seems we can never quite reach – that excite an unexplained yearning for something – and we cannot quite decide what it is that we want. Usually, it is small things that make us feel this way – at least, things that are small in our life, but outside our life, immensely large. Dawns, limestone rivers, very tall trees, moss, huge leaves, summer skies, Christmas lights, frozen lakes,  Monet’s waterlilies, the sea. All these things give me a feeling of something I want – like an urge to be in them – not just looking at them, but in them, part of them. The feeling is perfectly captured in the first line of the poem above – ‘Bring me the sunset in a cup!’. It is a major part of our lives, this subtle feeling – above all, a major part of beauty. Whatever is really beautiful, really great and powerful, is like subtle torture to a human mind. We cannot get enough of it, we cannot grasp it properly and hold it forever. We are used to things, objects we can hold and keep – pretty plates, clothes, money – we cannot bear the elusiveness, the powerful vagueness, of nature.

But it is when one of these yearnings is unexpectedly fulfilled that a magical moment of our lives is created – a moment we will always remember. Like the time I went moonlight bathing – the time I climbed a young beech to the very top and swayed with it in the wind –  and the time I wrote this poem about:

My Memory

2017

I saw the river, waiting for me,

And every mossed-rock with a smiling face,

And all and everything under a spell

The golden spell of the sun’s last rays,

Like the yellow resin from out of a tree

That catches the bugs that into it fly

And keeps them safe for all the years

Thus it catches my soul as my soul flies by

With its airy wings newly sprouted from joy

And holds that joy in its memory

And mine.

The river it holds the memory also,

Let it flow with that memory, on forever,

With a rush and a sparkle over the pebbles,

And the silken weeds like mermaids hair,

And the moss-cushioned rocks, and mingle,

Its sound with the sound of the wind passing by

High over the mountains from whence it came

And on to the sea, that endless sea;

And there let it crash with the waves on the beach

And foam on the rocks as the tide draws out –

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And finally, here’s another poem, about the same concept as my essay:

Let me have it

Let me have it, that something I never can reach –

Let me dance in those poppies that scatter the sky!

Let me drift on those wisps of velvety peach!

Let me slide down those beams of dusty sunshine!

Let me sit on that pale arching curve of a moon!

Let me gather those stars, behind prickling pine –

And wear them on a necklace that forever I’ll keep.

And, for a pendant, what most I should like,

Is one of those bright embers, when the fire falls asleep.

 

Why always so high, so far out of reach –

You taunting great velvety dome of a sky?

If closer you came, I might crawl through that breach,

That fiery crack in the pearly enamel

When the hot sun sinks over a silvery sea.

And what should I find, pass’d through that red channel?

Might I slip out of the atmosphere, and down

The cold milky-way go soaring at ease?

Let me go with the wind to rustle the tree’s green gown.

 

Why, Nature, so allusive, so flitting and shy,

Like the soft butterfly, who flees as I near?

On some big water-lily pad let me lie

And down the quiet stream go a-floating far.

Make the clouds my kingdom, hedge, tree and all,

With a palace, all shimmering with light from the stars.

On the crest of a wave let me ride away!

Forever let me lie on a bed of rich moss,

Let me dress in the sky at the dawn of the day,

And at Nature’s bosom I ever will stay.

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Sunset

Brightest was the horizon, where the far-off winter trees blended their thin charcoal lines into a black mesh, through which the seared sky was a deep, hot red like the lights that move through the black heart of a fire, and higher up the colour changed – it can hardly be said paled, for the new colour was just as vibrant as ever – to a bright orange-pink, quite startling in its richness, spreading up and up behind the arms of the beech.

The hard clearness of the black silhouettes melted into insignificance as her breath clouded the cold pane, and only the colours blazed through the mist. She was comparing it in her mind to another sunset, one Midsummer’s eve. In Summer, the inclosing trees, now bare and brittle-looking as skeletons, blocked any view of the sunset, and she had to go up'” the lane outside the house to get any view of it. The sky was pale, washed out pearly-grey, the colour of Athena’s eyes, she remembered thinking at the time, and there was no rich fiery glow, as now – but near the horizon the clouds were soft angel pink, spreading out like silken scarves in the wind, though there was no wind, only a perfect stillness, pervaded by the wafting sent of the sweet-chestnuts. Did she long for that Midsummer eve?

Only as the wanderer in a garden where the warm, close smell of roses fills the air longs for the clean scent and the pale foliage of the lavender-garden. Or as the watcher of the great, bold stretch of the eagle’s wings and the curve of the mighty beak longs for the gentle hopping of a little wren upon the doorstep.

Farewell to Autumn

The temperature has dropped with November,  and it is winter air that I step out into in the chilliness of the morning.

A flock of birds, their white under-wings catching the light, cross the expanse of the sky above me. A sky of piercing frosty blue, clear as a cold blade, tempered by the licking flames of the beech branches. Above the glorious radiance of that blaze, life-filled and warm against the coolness of the blue, the ghost of half-moon glides like a tattered piece of delicate tissue paper carried high by the autumn breeze.

The faint silveriness of frost pales the lawn, melting in the long streaks of morning sunshine. A grey squirrel hurries here and there in the leaves, and up above, a little movement that might have been made by falling leaves show themselves, to a close observer, to be made by little tits, darting here and there in the frosty air, in between the golden foliage.

Closer to me, the autumn crocuses are flattened against the grass on which the frost has already melted into clear sparkling droplets, and to my left, the red berries are bright on the yet green foliage of yew and holly (our holly trees always have ripe berries early).All the leaves are gone from the little cherry, except for one or two of speckled yellow, that even now spiral down. In the flowerbeds the flowers and their green leaves have fallen back, leaving only their seed-heads, which stand erect and delicate. And the foliage that remains, the tall purple loosestrife and the ferny leaves of the incense rose on their rich brown stalks, is dappled red and yellow like the trees. In the big bushes of garden cranesbill, a deep blue bloom can yet be sometimes found, hiding under the withering leaves, with a spider’s web suspended from its stalk. Those flowers are some of the last to survive. But over the dried desolation spreads a new growths – some starry flowers, some like red flames and others with pale pink blooms, remembering their native home where it is always summer, spring up in bright clouds of colour.

‘Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?

Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,-‘

 

 

 

 

Autumn: Warm Sunlight, Cold Air

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?

Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—

While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day

 And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;

Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn

Among the river sallows, borne aloft

Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies

And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;

Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft

The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft

And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

From Keats,

To Autumn

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Out of our French-doors I can see the spread of the garden – the leaves of the little wild cherry in the foreground glowing powerfully golden-green in the fast dying magic of the late sunshine, and behind it, after the sweep of the green lawn, thinly spotted with the first fallen leaves, the same golden light kindles the branches of the huge Copper Beach, the glorious framing backdrop of our garden.

Only now and then, the light falls so that a string of spider’s web, streaming out in the gentle breeze, becomes visible, shining like a fairy-rope, and likewise the gauze wings of the flying insects that float, dreaming in the beams.

The feeling of the evening is warm and drowsy, so much so that, lulled with the golden light, I am startled by the feeling of the air as I step out onto the warm-coloured stone, patterned with the long shadows of grasses.

For me, the first sign of autumn is the change in the air. Many times, when officially it is still summer, and the leaves cling still to the branch, and look still fresh and green, I only have known that beneath the blanket Autumn stirs.

Because the pastel-soft warmth of the air has changed to a clean-cut, earthy crispness, a well recognized, but yet, I think, under-expressed smell, a smell that, like so many smells, brings back a rush of memories.

Today I have smelt it.

Today I salute Autumn.

How can I wait? How can I wait for Halloween and leaf-fall and the Autumn magic?

Home Again

 

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Me and my brother at the pillars

Hello Everybody,

I am so sorry for the terrible lack of posting during the last few months. I have some excuse – I have been on holiday in Sardinia for a couple of weeks – though that does not really excuse my not posting for a month or so before that.

It does mean, however, that my posts about the holiday – the white sand, rich turquoise water beaches where we spent most of our time, the dry pine forests and green romantic crags, the flapping palms, views of a silver sea, and my being stung by a Mauve Stinger jellyfish! – will now be coming thick and fast.

Today, I am posting about a twilight swim I went on on a beach  next to a roman granite quarry. As the ancient romans loaded the pillars and things they’d carved out of the quarry onto the ship to be taken to Rome, they’d sort them through, and if they found one they’d got wrong they’d just dump it on the beach, so there’s loads of Roman columns just hanging about on the beach!

 

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Those tremendous blocks will never stand on end, tall, tall, as the pillars of heaven, as they were meant to do, never watch the sacrificial service, or hear the bleating cry of the goat killed on the altar, their fate determined by one slip of the sculpture’s hand. Now the years pass by and by, and Rome no longer needs their service, no longer wants their strength, to uphold the great and gilded roof.

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Now, themselves half sunken into waters still and glassy as a temple’s polished floor, rings round them, echoing off again and again from the granite, not hymns to Neptune, but Neptune’s own music, lapping, lapping, forever lapping. No priestess’s skirt shall swish against their hardness, only water, water, ever water.

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It was that hour of evening that goes on from just before sundown, and then from between sundown and dark-fall, when laughter and wind and noise all melt down into a hush.

As the fiery blaze of radiance, seared by the setting sun, subsides to a tender pink in the sky, the elements fall silent, as we fall silent just after something glorious has passed before us.

Whatever the cause, there is a gentleness, subtle but firm, in the air at twilight, and we mortals feel it, and cease our laughter and play in awe. Certainly, I do.

This evening, the sea had fallen still as lake-water about the great blocks of white solidity, so that their reflections are clear as crystal; fallen still over the granite sea-bottom, changing now to fine sand as I come out of the rocks and pillars onto the main beach, smooth and reflective almost as the water where the waves had dampened it, but ruffled beyond by the tracks of the people, nearly all gone now, leaving the beach. Though they were in dry sand and would have been easily smoothed into nothing by one gust of wind, they looked strangely permanent in the stillness of the hour. Yet nothing made by man is permanent – not even those great, forgotten granite pillars. Already the sea is ever wearing them away. Only the awe that they inspire in our hearts is permanent.

As I walked by the last pillar, I broke the mirror-reflection into ripples, rising to catch colour from the pink glow in the sky. There was no sound but the slow, calm liquid noise of my wading. Then, instead of walking along the beach, I began to walk out to see, and, eyes of the last of the pillars, plunged softly into the water, and swam away, the pillars fading into the haze of evening calm.

 

 

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(Note: I just created a new page: My (winning) entry for the Alan Garner Writing Competition of 2016)

Invisible

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She walked, feeling the soothing touch of the smooth, silken waves as they slipped full and gently past her ankles – a blurred dusk-colour in the half-light of evening, dappled with soft shadows. She felt as though she would like to walk on and on and on and on for eternity, basking in the soft feeling; slipping her soul into the rhythm of the waves, until, maybe one day, she would reach the silver-blue tissue-paper layers of the mist-dream mountains, and live there.

And then thoughts began to flood into her mind that perplexed her.

“How wide and endless the sea is; it makes visible an invisible eternity – and the thought of it, stretching on, and on forever, is almost more than I can bear; it is so great a thought. How many millions and millions of people – as many as there are waves lapping past my legs, perhaps – in all of history, must have dipped their hands in the sea. And the water they dipped them in is still here, will always be here. Nelson’s ship has touched this water, and maybe, all those many, many, many years ago, Odysseus’s. Maybe, some time, another little girl will walk here, and will not know that I did the same, all those years ago. There must be one who did it before, and I know nothing of her.

I wonder who now – for in all the wide world there must be somebody – is walking out into the sea just in step with me? I wonder what she or he is like? Child or adult? I’m going to be an adult before too long. What an odd thought – and I’m not altogether sure I want to be.”

She murmured, softly; “Waves, will you keep my childhood? I know that you will always, always be here, and so then my childhood will always, always be here. And when I am an adult, and I come to the sea, I will remember. I will remember; I will. And I can come and find myself, as I am now – I will find myself dancing with you, waves.”

 Twenty years later, a lady walks out to the sea upon the same beach, and by her side a little girl with laughing eyes and glossy curls. Both lady and child look a little like the girl who, years ago, had felt the same waves and looked out upon the same beach – but neither look exactly like. The lady picks up the little girl and kisses her, and laughs. 

‘So, you are the little girl who I knew, sometime in the future, would walk out feeling the sea upon her as I did, once. I thought then that I would rather not grow up; but how can I say that now I have you? I am very, very happy being grown-up – and I think I will give you a gift – something very precious to me which I no longer need, for you have replaced it. Take it from the waves – my childhood. It was a very happy childhood, and I hope yours will be as happy.’

 

My stay in ‘Mona’

Hello!

Sorry I haven’t posted for a while – but luckily it means that there is a series of especially good posts to come – as the reason for it is that I have been on holiday to Anglesey with my parents for a few days, there collecting descriptions for my first proper novel, Speedwell, which is set on Anglesey. I hope soon to create a page on my blog where you can read it. This entry, though, is an account of something which happened on Anglesey.

Eased Heart 

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The untouched sand is dazzlingly smooth – whiter than the sand of the beach behind it, and shaped by the wind unto gentle ripples reflecting the waves of the sea. Somewhere, a sky-lark was singing – and the sound echoed gurgling round the smooth sandhills, seeming all-about and everywhere.

A figure, outlined delicately against the bright paleness of the sand was walking past, her bare feet leaving faint imprints on the light-smoothness. She felt as if, in that moment, she had passed into another unknown world, vast in it curiosities. She stoops to put on her shoes, in readiness for climbing the huge dune that rises ahead – and is not soft with sand, wind-swept, but now unearthly still, like the others, but all a’green with marram grass, and sheets of herb and weed. And the ground about it is green too, for some little space. And all amid the greenery there peeps out a clump of one, two, three little heartsease, smiling up with their little bright faces at the girl. She smiles back, delighted, and stoops to pick one of the heartsease. She then notices other clumps are scattered all about. Some of the laughing, smiling little flowers are of many different shades of yellow – others different shades of blue or of purple, some are of purple, blue and yellow together, arranged in a different way on each flower. There were some that were yellow with a dapple dark purple splash upon each petal. 

She climbs on, panting, up the green slopes of the dune, till she comes to the top, and looks down at a world of dryness, dappled with greenness and patches of sand, marvelling at the whole. The marram grass gave way a little here, baring a crumbling, winding precipice of loose sand on the other side. She flung herself down it, rolling and tumbling amongst the sand, came to a stop at the bottom, and lay looking at the sky, in which floated by, soft and pure white as swan’s down. She felt bright and cheerful – but not as bright and cheerful as the smiling heartsease.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faded Silk

She rose up, and walked, with a tear-stained face toward the cabinet. She lent against it, closing her eyes and letting out long, quavering breaths. Then she ceased to lean, and stood, trembling, while she pulled out a drawer of the cabinet. She reached in, and drew it out, springs of thyme and other herbs falling away as she did so. It was a dress – long and silken, of colours that had clearly once been bright and shimmering – changing in the different lights from green to turquoise to blue – but now it was very faded. She smoothed the folds of silk and felt the gown, reverently, against her cheek. Then she took off her white nightgown, and, as though indulging in a great pleasure, slipped into the faded gown. It was of a soft silk balmy on the skin, and it fitted her perfectly – or almost perfectly – it was perhaps a shade small. The sleeves made her slender arms and waist seem slenderer still, and it hung down in graceful waves from the latter.

She took the band off her soft dark hair so it fell about her, and stepped out into the light of the early morning. The air was cool and dewy, and balmy as the silk of the gown, and her misery was soothed a little by its calmness.

The dew was still upon the shrubs – and she shook some drops onto her hand – dipped a finger in it and spread it, sparingly, upon her face as though it was some rich perfume. She thought of the countless mornings when, as a child, she had risen at about this time or earlier, and come into the garden to bathe her face in the dew and gain beauty for the coming year. She considered how little beauty would do for her now – and thought her child-self foolish in wanting to attain it. Beauty was a poisonous thing – she knew that now. Again she sighed – and little stronger than she had done earlier. Perhaps she would not do what she had come out to do – or not yet.

 

This entry was inspired by the Tennyson poem, Enid – especially the lines;

‘Then she bethought her of a faded silk,

A faded mantle and a faded veil,

And moving toward cedarn cabinet,

Wherein she kept them folded reverently,

With springs of Summer laid between the folds,

She took them, and array’d herself therein,

Remembering when first he came on her,

Dress in that dress, and how he loved her in it … ‘

 

– and also a detail of a picture in my copy of the book.

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Breaking Sorrow 

 

She sat, her legs tucked under her, wrapping her cream-coloured cashmere blanket tightly about her. The trees branched over her, dark in the shadows, but glinting white with frost when a beam of moonlight fell from behind the many enclosing clouds. Tears, inside which seemed to lie worlds – worlds of silver and dark reflected from the real world, but looking different when they lay in those tiny shining drops, fell from behind her closed eye-lids, pale as the frost. Her hair fell in soft waves of shadow about her shoulders and trailed down her back. She sobbed – quietly, but audibly because of the softness all about. She idly picked up a pebble from the ground, and threw it, bitterly, into the pond or small lake the banks of which she was sitting upon. The surface of the water was stilled by shining ice, cold and brittle as the girl’s heart – it cracked into pieces, with a sharp sound that echoed round the clearing and came back to her again. ‘Good, you are broken.’ said the girl ‘Like me.’ she added, softly, lying her head upon the ground with the shivers running through her and looking up at the sky. Clouds hid the moon, and most of the stars likewise – the sky was an abyss of darkness – rarely broken up by any beam of light. She closed her eyes once more, and once more, cried.

The girl awoke to a peculiar yet familiar feeling of – happiness. She opened her eyes – the sunlight was dancing on a surface of  water rippled by a gentle breeze. The air was chill and bracing, but clear. A swan, with soft, pure plumage of a far happier white than the night’s silver frost, by now all gone from the trees, glowed in the brightness. Brightness. Brightness was all around, it filled her soul, her heart – nature’s beauty, nature’s joy – it can put happiness into those most forlorn, most forgotten. She looked about her at the dancing sunlight, at the few pale green leaves that had come on the bare branches of the trees, through which the light shined like stain glass. She had sensed it was the right thing to do, to go out on that night, and to stay there till morning. She was proved right.