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.

The Old Millstone

I’ve long believed that when the night

Its veil of blackest crepe has let to slip,

The oldest parts of the garden welcome first

The tiny tread of fairy-people in the shimmering dark.

Those little hollows underneath the beech’s roots

I know to be a favourite spot. But better still,

In the blackest shadow of the trees a millstone stands.

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And once it knew hard labour as it ground

The wheat, with endless movement of machinery

And likely thought that life would never end

But, with slow monotony of place and sound

Drag on. Yet now it stands, on a slow full slope

Of lawn, with nought to do but watch the change

Of seasons, and never a care for where, in ruin

And wreck the old mill stands alone. It too

Simply watches all day long with laziness

The roll of the countryside as it meets the sky.

In the blackest shadow of the trees the millstone stands,

With its hard gritstone sides caressed with moss

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And now the stars are gathering one by one

In the empty sky. And quicker still the fairies come

They pick the little lichen cups and from

Them drink the dew. Then they sit awhile, in a row

On the hart’s tongue fern, and in the starry moss-forests they dance.

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Spring Behind the Hedge

It may be some mistake of mine –

For people call it winter still

And Christmas is but lately passed away

With all the rest of the old year, to where

The bygone days all go – and yesterday

I looked out on the garden, and

It darkly glowered back, with a wet

Face under a furious sky. Though t’were

Midday, the light was cold and dim.

And yet I still believe that on

A day in January, not long ago

When some thin golden sunlight had made

Its quiet way out of the prison of

The clouds, I thought I heard the voice of spring

A-whispering in the sodden grass, and saw

Her face, as it peeped shyly through

The bare and dripping silvery hedge.

A Poem

The First Sun of the New Year

2o17

Not long ago the sun has risen

Late and unwilling from a dark bed,

All clothed in crimson cloud, to be wed

To the washed-out sky. And now, it is up.

First it touches the chimney, till it glows

Warm red against the pale, and now it’ll expose

By casting its slanting beams,

The grass that yet grows green

Beneath the stiff and silvery frost – and seen

And softly caressed by the sun is her child –

A lonely snowdrop bud, quite faint and mild

And the sun she thaws the frost and leaves her tears.

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,-‘

 

 

 

 

Ways to enjoy your garden/surrounding countryside

Five minute ways to relax in warm weather 

  1. Lie down upon a patch of warm moss, or dry grass if there is none, and shut your eyes, turning your face to the sun. Listen to the sound of the birds sining, and the trees rustling – even the swish of cars on a road can become a sweet sound while you lie in the sun. Then sniff – sniff in a huge draught of air, and see what it reminds you of. You may recall all the other Spring days, and sweeten and sober your mind with memories. It can be sad to remember, sometimes, but always sweet too. Doing it always reminds me of the  William Allingham ‘Four ducks on a pond, a grass bank beyond, a blue sky of Spring, white clouds on the wing; what a little thing to remember for years – to remember with tears.’
  2. Sit on a swing, close your eyes, and imagine you are a bird flitting through the blue sky, or a fish through the blue sea. Open your eyes and throw your head back, so that you see the world spin and turn below you. It is a wonderful feeling and vision.
  3. Make a daisy chain. It is a very simple thing to do, but it is a lovely spring or summer occupation. If you don’t know how, I will tell you – pick  daisy, and slit a loop in the stalk with your thumb nail. Then thread another through that slit, and slit the stem of the one thread through the slit in turn, and so on. Deck yourself out in daisies – make a daisy bracelet, a daisy necklace, a daisy crown, even daisy belt or hairband, or a little rings of daisies to hang round your ears.
  4. Climb a tree. It is so lovely to see the sunlight shining through the leaves like stain glass, and falling in golden splashes on the trunk. Try to reach the very top – it is such a wonderful feeling to emerge from the leafy canopy into empty air with the blue sky above, with the wind blowing in your face. The view is also always grand from the tops of trees.
  5. This is an occupation mostly for late Summer, or early if the weather has been especially warm. Go into the garden, and gather the petals of the over-blown roses as you hand them into the basket. You can also gather sweet smelling herbs,and throw in some tangerine peel, and them put the mixture in a pretty pot in your house to scent the room.
  6. Make a salad out of the herbs in your garden. I have written about this and will be posting it soon – after I have done so I will add a link on this post to that.

 

A little bit more ambitious

  1. If you don’t have a swing to use for  idea 2, try making one out of a straight stick and some ropes. They can often swing straighter than bought swings.
  2. Try keeping a nature diary. Get a blank exercise-book/notebook/clutch of paper or anything else of the sort, and keep a dairy of the garden wildlife and plants. Even ordinary things can be written down, like the sighting of a frog, interesting lady-bird, especially fat bumble-bee, or the first butterfly of the year. I put a few lines of poetry describing the day at the beginning of each entry.
  3. Have a little flower bed to yourself. Buy a packet of seeds, or transplant some flowers not wanted in the other beds of the garden into a little hidden away patch, and steal some soil from the compost or another bed, and plant them in it.
  4. Eat breakfast in the garden. See my post about it Here.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breakfasting in the company of Spring

While I am working on the present posts, I thought I would publish this one, written a while ago, which I forgot about.  

Here is another entry with raptures on the garden in it!

When I drew up the blinds yesterday morning, I looked out upon a garden bright with Spring and bathed in sunshine. It made the garden look glowing and green, and it shone upon the rough bare trunk of my friend the Copper Beech.

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Mum suggested that Tassy and I take some snacks out into the garden and breakfast outside. She made us some toast spread with peppery tasting cheese, some little packs of nuts, fruit, seeds and sweets, and a large jar of hot rooibos. To celebrate the warm wether, I wore one of two summer dresses made out of a thin, silky materiel covered with a flowery print, and very pretty, which I had got for christmas.

The morning air was cool and fresh. It smelt of deep, rich, damp soil, of fresh green things, of shade and sunlight, of the early morning – and of something else, too, something more difficult to describe – it smelt, almost, of memory. At least, it brought back memories; memories of a hundred other days, other springs. My dress fluttered in the wind as I ran down the path to the lawn, and sudden splash of golden sunlight would fall sometimes upon me, for the path was in dappled shade. There was a light and joyous feeling in me as I stepped off the half-shaded path into the bright light that shone upon the happy lawn – I feel I will remember that moment for ever after. Tassy came skipping along behind like a mischievous little pixie.

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I chose our picnic spot carefully, settling at last upon a dry, springy patch of moss in one corner of the lawn, in full view of some beautiful golden daffodils nodding their heads in the soft breeze, and backed by a rhododendron bush. There is a certain trick of the light that happens sometimes when you stand in the right place looking at a patch of moss in bright sun – it seems almost to glow. This had happened with the patch I chose, and I took it as a sign from Spring that is was there we should eat our breakfast. Tass thoroughly approved, though he did say he would rather it a little nearer the daffodils. I persuaded him we could see them very well from here, and we sat down and began the feast.

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We then scoured the garden for herbs, and laid out on the cheese a selection of hawthorn, salad burnet, garlic, sweet cicely, lovage, and sorrel.

When we were about half-way through, I suggested that we lay on our backs and just listened and dreamed, and enjoyed ourselves. So we lay down side-by-side and did just that, though Tassy was too restless to do it for long, and after a moment he was after some more dried fruit from the packs.

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As I lay upon the warm moss, I could hear the wind as it rustled in the branches of the great beech above me, and the songs of the birds about me. The sunlight flowed in through my half closed lids, giving the impression of a waterfall of shining light. It made me think of the lines from Margaret ‘What lit your eyes with tearful power, like moonlight on a falling shower?……. A tearful grace, as though you stood between the rainbow and the sun.’ And of another Tennyson line too,’The maiden spring upon the plain, came in a sunlit fall of rain’. The feeling of the sunlight rushing down onto my face, and the gentle wind sweeping past me, gave me such a feeling of unutterable delight, that I felt as if I might have been lying in the Elysian Fields. I could almost imagine the sweet singing of the birds turned to the playing of a harp – and I felt, at that moment, that this was the happiest moment of my life, for it was then, I felt, that I felt the touch of nature in all her loveliness. And I pity all those, who, sitting in a darkened room watching their televisions, while Spring calls to them in vain outside, may never feel that joy. And in this world of computers and cities, there are too many who will not.

Amongst the Leaves

This is some writing describing what happened yesterday – Mum and Dad made a rope bridge from one tree to the next on the large earthy place with a wide gravel path running round it which we call ‘the island’. What I will write is perfectly accurate, excepting that the sunset described was actually seen later as I was eating tea, not on the rope bridge. But I did see it start up there, and have blended the two parts of sunset together to help along the story. Also, the tree is not quite as leafy as it appears to be in the first few sentence.

From amongst the dark foliage, a red hardcover book, clearly old, and with thin pages, drops down and lands with a thud and a little flurry of soil upon the springy turf. It is quickly followed by a foot, clothed in a high brown boot in the style which was worn in the victorian period, and laced all the way up, which sets itself upon a rough nub in the bark. Another foot and the bottom of a pink cotton skirt, patterned with lily-of-the-valley, red daises and other flowers, soon emerge.

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Then, the whole figure jumps lightly down with the help of a rope-ladder and the rough bark which has in it many footholds. She is clothed in a dress the bottom of which has been already described, and also an olive green cord jacket with a modest frill along the line of buttons, and a little motif that matched her skirts upon the right arm. Her hair is chin-length, glossy and dark, and somewhat wild after her long repose in the tree. She picks up the red book, and skips merrily away toward the house that stands nearby. 

She is gone; let us approach and view the spot that she had left. Around eight feet from the ground – nine in some places – a bridge of ropes hung across two forking evergreens. It was simply constructed, with two ropes for hand rails, and two more below, lashed together with another rope which also made some large triangles along the sides, forming sort of walls.  

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On one side of the first tree hung a rope ladder – on the other a knotted rope, and some little wooden steps which had clearly also played a part in the accent were lying about, half fallen over, at the foot of the tree.

It had been Mother’s idea – and once thought of it was soon carried out – as soon, that is, as was possible in a house inhabited by two young boys. The convenient forks in the trees made it an easy task to preform, and soon, the little girl whom we just saw, had ascended up by means of the knotted rope. 

It was lovely – truly lovely – to sit upon the swaying ropes, feeling the at some moments awful, but in all incredible, feeling of being there, actually in the air so far above the heads of the adults who waited, looking up, at the bottom of the trees. After looking her fill at the ground and the faces below, she glanced upward then, and there was a certain shock in doing so. A moment ago she had been triumphantly looking down, thinking how wonderful it was she that was up there, where only birds had been destined to go; now, she was reminded by the dizzying stretch of branches above, of how small and insignificant she yet remained compared with these great things of nature – that however wonderful a thing you might think you had done, Gia had endless wonders and great things still left to humble you with. 

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The many trunks shooting upwards made the same mighty and serene impression  upon you as the great pillars of temple might, and the layers of branches all fanned out from the trunk like a peacock’s tail. The evening sun shone upon the bark of the trees, which was painted green with lichen, and made patterns with shade and light upon the ground far below.

As she rocked there, upon the ropes, the evening drew on, closer, and softly, night dropped a grey veil over the sunny garden. In the west, streaks of soft Tiepolo pink floated across the soft blue sky like veils, till the whole sky was streaked with pink, blue, and in some places even a little yellowish green. The ‘blue isles of heaven’ were a burst of gentle colour, and in what, had the sky been a dome, would have been the highest point, was a graceful, fragile moon, looking down with a serene grace upon the world, and upon that little girl, perched there among the trees. No doubt it favoured her – for the moon’s personification was Artemis – and she favours all climbers, all who value nature, especially trees. 

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