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.

Owlet and Rose Photos

 

My mother saw it first. It must have been quite a shock; just glancing out of the window – my gosh! –

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There it was, a blinking, fuzzy old fluff ball, looking rather grumpy but so sweet! It was sitting less than a room’s length (be it not a very tiny room) from our french doors, on the raised part of the garden surrounded by a gravel drive-way that we call the island.

Perhaps I ought to explain a little more. For a long while, our garden has been inhabited by two great tawny owls – gifts of Athene, the protectress of those animals –  or so I have always thought.

Day after day, we would look up and see them, sitting side by side on the branch, looking down with their wide, burning, searching eyes gazing questingly into yours, and their great heads swivelling amazingly far round.

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Many times we have found what are almost defiantly the feathers of young owls about the garden; but we have never seen the babies before. It was a great excitement, then, as you may imagine, when we found a tawny owlet sitting on the island.

After the first shocks of delighted amazement, we began to consider what to do. We did not know at all whether the owlet was supposed to be on the ground – it looked considerably out of place there, almost like some incredible creature from another world suddenly set down in our garden. We are surrounded by different  neighbours, nearly all of whom have cats who not uncommonly venture into our garden – and we have even occasionally been know to have dogs enter from under the gate. We were therefore rather worried that some of these animals would prove predators to the baby owl.

I set to work googling, and found that

Hand rearing an owlet and releasing it later is not the best thing for it. Unless there is something definitely wrong with the bird, it is far better off remaining ‘in the wild’… It is important to note that young Tawny Owls usually leave the nest long before they are ready to fly and there is actually no point in placing such birds back in the nest. From approx. ½ to ¾ grown (around 120-220mm tall), Tawny owlets go through a phase called ‘branching’, when they walk, climb, jump and flutter around in the trees at night. The adults locate them by their contact calls and will feed them anywhere. It is not at all uncommon for owlets to spend time on the ground during this phase and they are surprisingly good at climbing back up again. It is very likely that the owlet you have is perfectly okay and if it is left where it is, or returned to the same spot, it will be fed by the adults and will be able to climb to safety.

and

“Tawny Owl babies are often seen on the ground in summer, where you should leave them alone! They are able to call their parents and even climb trees to safety. Adult Tawny Owls can attack and severely injure humans. Beware!”

We decided, then, to let it stay where it was; we could frighten away any cats that came if the parent did not. It was comforting to know that it was still under the parent’s guardianship, and had not been turned out of the nest. Incredible as it seemed that such an immobile looking fluff-ball could climb a tree, we trusted the websites, for all of them said the same.

So, everybody, that is what to do it you are lucky enough to ever see this amazing spectacle.

Note: This note is written a few days after I wrote the first part of this – I kept it un-posted as Jane Austen characters do with their letters so as to add more later. We have continued to see the owlet about the garden; sometimes it tries to fly, and makes a ridiculous spectacle, rather like a struggling bear with wings. It is clear that it can move about the garden much faster than you might have thought, and the parents regularly feed it. We are not as yet sure whether having seen the babies, as we have not done previous years, means that they are nesting in the garden, instead of in a nearby hollow chestnut as we before thought. 

Also, it was Thomas Hardy’s birthday on the 2nd of June.

And finally, here’s a slideshow of some pictures of the Incense Rose I took the other day:

And here’s a poem I wrote about it years ago:

I open with the sun –
The gentle sun of spring,
I overflow with joyous light
Oh, what the year may bring!
My dainty buds were forming
When the earth was bare and stark;
My ferny leaves made patterns
On my stems so rich and dark.
My leaves they are scented
Of incense do they smell,
Like a church as dark as winter
But of sweet spring sun as well.
I am no double rose,
Nor fit for any ball,
But I’m sure my simple beauty
Will please and charm you all.

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Sweet In Her Green Dell the Flower of Beauty Slumbers

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Song

‘Sweet in her green dell the flower of beauty slumbers,
   Lull’d by the faint breezes sighing through her hair;
Sleeps she and hears not the melancholy numbers
   Breathed to my sad lute ’mid the lonely air.
Down from the high cliffs the rivulet is teeming
   To wind round the willow banks that lure him from above:
O that in tears, from my rocky prison streaming,
   I too could glide to the bower of my love!
Ah! where the woodbines with sleepy arms have wound her,
   Opes she her eyelids at the dream of my lay,
Listening, like the dove, while the fountains echo round her,
   To her lost mate’s call in the forests far away.
Come then, my bird! For the peace thou ever bearest,
   Still Heaven’s messenger of comfort to me—
Come—this fond bosom, O faithfullest and fairest,
   Bleeds with its death-wound, its wound of love for thee!’ 

Darley

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I have, in my garden, a certain ‘green dell’ (though as to whether I am the ‘flower of beauty’ I don’t know). Down at the bottom of the lawn, the ground falls, leaving a wide ditch between the grass and the fence. This place we have transformed from a muddy nettle ditch edged with scrabby leylandii (I realise scrabby is not a real word and would not use it in any book, but it is the best I can think of to describe them), to a paradise of fruit trees and foliage.

I found myself a little clearing, edged on one side with an arch of raspberries, and placing a chair therein, sat down to read some poetry.

A blossom fell from a bough above and alighted on my book, pure white with with a gentle cheek-pink leaking into it, and fluff-pollen yellow in the centre.

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The Smell of Woodbine

She reclined, conscious of nothing but the springy turf under her, the golden sunlight as it streamed through the glowing green foliage and fell dappled about – the molten gold joy of the fairies. She had watched them arise each morning, clad in the pale skirts of the dew b’pearled primrose, with wings like the Chrysopa perla and scatter it, the happiness, the content.

She could smell – or at least she knew the smell was there, and was conscious of it as much as she was conscious of anything – the heavy, dream scent of the woodbine, and feel how its sleepy arms had wound her, wrapping her round with the feel and the smell of it like a blanket round a child. And she lay, lull’d by the sound of the faint breezes sighing through her hair. 

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And then she thought something came to her, breaking through the soft muffle of scents and sounds; pulling it aside, as the blanket might, when morning came, be pulled off the child, so that it lay exposed to the chill air of morning; a sound, or a feeling, she could not quite tell, for in this place two were as mingled as sunlight and shade, and blurry as dusk sky. And she remembered something, something which she ought not to have remembered; it was coming back to her, as a dream comes back to a waker, though here dream and waking were reversed, flashes of memory appearing for a minute in her lulled mind, and disappearing before she could identify them.

But she was dimly conscious, through the woodbine smell, that she was not so happy as she had thought she had been; that Life lay behind her, like a forgotten path through the wood newly uncovered; that there was one walking down it who longed for her to turn and re-trace her steps to join him. Would she? Could she?

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That which I just wrote made me feel rather odd. I am happy I can enjoy sitting under the arching boughs without ‘Life’ behind me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry and Photographs

Today I’m posting a poem I’ve written about this time of year, with some photos of the garden to go with it. Here it is:

The air is crisp and frosty, with sharp edge,

The sunlight shines full golden on the ground,

It melts the frost, and bares a greener hue.

The atmosphere is bright and brilliant blue;

Nestling among the grass, a million water drops,

Like little diamonds glisten, shine, and flash.

And not one snowy cloud does blot the sun,

By bite of cold the day is not undone.

 

 Spring comes, she melts a path though ice and sleet,

Upon the ground she scatters flowers and light,

Though through the trees the harsh cold wind does blow,  

Still, up from stark bare ground, the snowdrops grow

So pure, so fair, with silver needle leaves.

Then straight stand daffodils, with yellow dresses bright,

And crocus-cups, filled up with slanting sunlight show,

And in the breeze they wave, they dance; they blow.

Now  for the photos:

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‘And crocus cups, filled up with slanting sunlight show’

IMG_7885Still, up from stark bare ground, the snowdrops grow

So pure, so fair, with silver needle leaves.

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‘Then straight stand daffodils, with yellow dresses bright’

 

 

Nestling among the grass, a million water drops,

Like little diamonds glisten, shine, and flash.

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‘Upon the ground she scatters flowers and light’

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These dew drops are not on grass, so are not actually related to the poem, but they are so pretty I decided to put them in anyway

 

 

 

Aphrodite

IMG_3660This is a fairly random post about the greek goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite. She is generally depicted with golden hair, blue eyes and red lips, and her symbol is a dove and a heart. I once wrote a description of her in one of my stories – “beautiful Aphrodite, with her golden locks, blood red lips, sea blue eyes, and white dove”. Some more things I have written about her are below.

I did a thing like this about each god and goddess at the beginning of a book of greek myths I wrote:

Aphrodite 

Goddess of: Love and beauty

Married to: Hephaestus

 Daughter of: Born from the blood of Coronus  falling in the waves, or in other versions, simply the sea.

Represented with: A dove, a heart, a rose

Appearance: very beautiful, long golden hair, pink cheeks, pale skin, and red lips.

Character: Gentle, but very jealous, and sometimes angry

 I also wrote a piece of poetry about her birth; it’s not really proper poetry because though it does rhyme and sound pretty it doesn’t pay hardly any attention to syllables. I’m not really any Tennyson!

‘When morning sun rise up above the waves,

And paint the white sea-froth pink and red-gold,

And sea-nymphs fair-of-face  sing in their caves,

Soft gentle voices rising, luring mermen bold,

Gentle blue waves unto her pearly limbs themselved did mould.

 

Round her soft white milk throat a necklace hung

Of reddest coral beaded with clear water drops

Like jewels, sparkling, shining, glistening among

The coral, red and smooth. How sweetly then she sung!

 

Her hair like a golden mantle round her floated;

And soft lapping waves gentled her white feet,

That with the frothy white sea foam blended,

And she in a shining white shell made her seat

While on the shore the maidens waited, her to greet

 

Sea-blue and rose-pink silk was in their hands,

So fine a colour, fine a silk, so intricately patterned,

Flowers, seashells, pearls embroidered, golden bands,

Sweeping, trailing on the ground in soft golden sands”

 

And now,  this is a story I wrote about her birth:

 

Who saw Aphrodite’s birth? The rocks did, and roaring tide. Who saw the golden-haired goddess rise from the waves? I did. The rocks did. The sea did. And Botticelli did, for if he had did not how could he have painted such an accurate picture? Well, whether he did or not, whether the tide saw it or not, whether the rocks saw it or not, I did. I did, and I am going to tell you about what I saw.

It was a dark, stormy night, with sea as black as the sky above, and I, Artemis, virgin goddess of the moon and hunting, was driving my silver chariot across the dark sky; for it is my duty to give the poor mortals a beam of shimmering light on a dark night as this was.

All night I drove the chariot, and those who saw me said my dark hair was lost, camouflaged in the dark of the night, my white, silvery skin shimmered in the light of my own moon, and my beautiful, strange, wild dark eyes filled with the terrors of the forest glimmered with moon light.

It was true too, especially the part about my eyes. They were my pride and joy, and before Aphrodite came along, I was the most beautiful of all the gods.

Yes, I was there all night, driving my chariot back and forth, to light the way of a poor old couple I saw on earth. But it was when I was driving it back to Olympus, to make way for the sun god to rule the sky, that I saw her. The waters had calmed now, but they were still the colour of the sky, though now both sky and water had changed to a beautiful shimmering pale blue. White foam was dotted in the water, and the waves rolled on the sand, whispering, whispering, whispering; whispering words, and if only mortals would have listened, they could have learnt much from the waves.

It was then that it happened. A drop of reddest blood from Cronus, Zeus’s murdered father fell and polluted the water, turning it an ugly purplish red. But it soon cleared again, and was back to normal – except the one spot where the blood had fallen. That, though it was a pretty colour again, had started to fizz and buzz and cough up foam, and all of a sudden the waters parted, and there rose out of the water a naked lady. A lady so divine that the gods turned to gaze at her, and love her. Her skin was as pale as the foam of the sea she had come out of, her lips as red as the drop of blood that had caused her birth, and her hair was simmering and golden, and the very end of it was blue, so that you could not tell which was her hair and which was the water, so combined were the two. Then she stepped into a beautiful pinkish shell, and twelve beautiful dark-haired maidens dressed her in a pale pink robe with a gold pattern of waves around the edges. And Hera, wife of Zeus saw her, and brought her up to mount Olympus, saying that as she was as beautiful as a goddess, and was born from Cronus’s blood, she could share Mount Olympus with them.

Comparing two lovely pieces of spring poetry

My two favourite spring poems are, I believe, ‘To my sister’ by Wordsworth, and ‘Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere’ by Alfred Tennyson. My favourite parts of both are the first few verses;

 

‘It is the first mild day of March:

Each minute sweeter than before

The redbreast sings from the tall larch

That stands beside our door.

There is a blessing in the air,

Which seems a sense of joy to yield

To the bare trees, and mountains bare,

And grass in the green field.’

 

 

And,

 

Like souls that balance joy and pain,

With tears and smiles from heaven again

The maiden Spring upon the plain

Came in a sunlit fall of rain.

In crystal vapor everywhere

Blue isles of heaven laugh’d between,

And far, in forest-deeps unseen,

The topmost elm-tree gather’d green

From draughts of balmy air.

 

Sometimes the linnet piped his song;

Sometimes the throstle whistled strong;

Sometimes the sparhawk, wheel’d along,

Hush’d all the groves from fear of wrong;

By grassy capes with fuller sound

In curves the yellowing river ran,

And drooping chestnut-buds began

To spread into the perfect fan,

Above the teeming ground.’

 

There is, however a great different between these two lovely poems. Take the first few lines of each, for instance. Compare

 

‘It is the first mild day of March:

Each minute sweeter than before

The redbreast sings from the tall larch

That stands beside our door. ‘

 

 

With

 

‘Like souls that balance joy and pain,

With tears and smiles from heaven again

The maiden Spring upon the plain

Came in a sunlit fall of rain.’

 

The first has a simple, natural sound, it depicts the plain, unsophisticated charm of nature. It sounds fresh, pure, and real. The second is full of similes, metaphors, and sophisticated language, difficult to read and to understand, but intricate as carving in the gold of a palace wall, or as silken embroidered hangings. It has not nearly so fresh and pure a sound, therefore it is perhaps less suited to describing spring, which is naturally a pure and unsophisticated season. However, there is a charm also in the more sophisticated and difficult language of Tennyson; he finds a lovely description for everything, especially in the beautiful lines

 

‘In crystal vapor everywhere

Blue isles of heaven laugh’d between’

 

To Wordsworth it would seem that there was enough beauty in the sky as it really was without having to depict it as ‘blue isles of heaven’. He would probably think it gilding the lily to describe it in that manner. I think however that it is a lovely description, in a different way. Yet to single out another lovely line of spring poetry, Wordsworth this time,

‘To the bare trees, and mountains bare,

And grass in the green field.’

it does seem that the joyful simplicity of ‘To my sister,’ suits the season better.

 

Somebody comment and tell me which they prefer.