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.

Snowy Beech and Snowy Garden

As usual, the snow has to wait for March (which, according to Wordsworth, and many other poets is supposed to be full of spring flowers) before it comes. But it is lovely when it does. It has been snowing all day here – and I’ve written a little description while watching it.

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The beach stands tall like a great white fountain with a net of snowy branches crossing each other – silver as the moon. The snowflakes whirl down around it – great and soft like feathers – falling, falling, falling. Gazing up into the great grey sky I see them twirling and dancing – the feeling is incredible – I am sucked into a mist of white.

The snow covers the tops of the bushes like custard – the rose hips look as red in the snow as the drop of blood from the finger of Snow-White’s mother must have done when it fell into the same substance. Far away, more silver branches net together – a cloudy mistiness seems to hide everything that’s at all in the distance. The grass is gracefully bent down under the wight of the snow; the roofs of the houses are white – every moment I expect the snow queen to come rushing out of one of those clusters of snowy trees, a silver cloak flapping behind her. 

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And now, I think I’ll copy in a bit of Arthurian Legend I tried to retell a while ago – a snowy scene about the meeting of Arthur and Guinevere.

She stopped and dismounted from the white steed, weary from long riding, and stood for a while in the cold, crisp snow, looking about her at the branches of the trees, ebony black against the cold white snow, and bare of leaves. The forest glimmered and glinted, alive with sparkle, and the air was crisp and cold and brilliant. Guinevere stood still, stunned by the icy beauty of it all. Beside her hung icicles, clear and sharp and dangerous; dripping water in little droplets from their sharp pointes onto the smooth white snow. She noted the glazed and shining sides, how the frost made rough white swirling patterns on the smooth clear glassiness of them. Then softly, very softly, the snow began to fall like large soft feathers onto the white ground. Those flakes were strange things; soft and gentle, yet dangerous, icy and able to freeze anything that Winter wished to add to Her riches. Guinevere shivered in a sudden cold.

Through the slivery trunks of a forest of birches, she saw the hart pursued by the hunt, leaping between the braches, agile, elegant, graceful, and yet pathetic, and suddenly she felt a pang of pity for the poor creature, hunted for its life. Why do they hunt it? What harm has it ever done them? Do they feel no pity, ever, when they catch the game? Do they never think, never stop to admire its courage, its bravery to run so far and so fast in terror? I were hunted, they would surely take pity on me

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Then she saw a steel-tipped arrow sail through the air between the trees and pierce the downy-smoothness of the deer’s fur, and a drop of reddest blood fell upon the crisp white snow. A tear fell from her clear blue eyes, and as it dropped noiselessly upon the white snow it melted the sparkling ice crystals. She idly broke of an icicle from the rock above her, and held it pointing towards her heart, though she did not know it was so, sharp pointed like a dagger in her small white hands. Water dripped from the sharp point and froze in the air, for it was so cold. There was something wrong today … And yet, in a strange sort of way, she felt joyful as well. It was all so beautiful; the snow fell, the crystals glinted, sunlight flashed on the icicles hanging from the trees. The day was so still, and so cold, and so magical.

Then through the trees she saw the deer, lying amongst the blood on the snow, and her tears fell again, till the icicle she was holding melted and fell – a trickle of water on her white silk gown. Snow fell softly on the trees, and on Guinevere.

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Arthur found himself separated from the hunt. The snowy trees looked almost identical, the paths twisted and wound, and the hart leaped through white trees and bushes and was hard to follow. His black charger was silhouetted against the softly falling snow as it reared and leaped. Arthur loosed another arrow blindly into the snow, not knowing whether it hit his quarry or not. He could no longer control his horse. It ran wild, as if sensing approaching danger. Somehow he too felt a sense of doom as he followed the winding paths, deeper and deeper into the wood. With every twist and bend and twirl of the path, the suspense seemed layered on his heart. He rounded one more bend and braced himself for whatever terrible thing lay ahead; for he was sure it was terrible. But it wasn’t terrible at all. 

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A maiden dressed in smooth white silk stood ankle deep in snow. Snow was piled up around her in a thousand diamond glints, and icicles hung like daggers above her head. Sunlight shone behind her as it shines from the Madonna’s   halo in Renaissance paintings, and trees stood like silver fountains around her.  The maiden herself, white-faced and white-gowned amongst the white, white snow, with an embroidered silver cloak hanging behind her, was hardly visible but for her red lips, dark hair and shining eyes. Snow fell softly around her and onto her smooth, lovely dark hair, but the flaxes simply melted into drops of dewy water beading her hair like jewels, for she was a warm; warm of body and warm hearted, despite the icy cold snow that surrounded her. He saw that tears were running down her pale face, and her eyes were glazed and shining with wonder. One hand held her white silken skirts in graceful waves above the snow, and the other was held unconsciously touching her heart. Arthur blinked in the blinding light that it seemed to him had suddenly flooded the clearing. He stared into her beautiful eyes, ever-changing from indigo to violet like the shadows on the snow, her lips as red had been the drop of blood from the deer, her face so coldly perfect.

She did not seem to see Arthur; she kept on gazing straight ahead of her as though in a trance. Then her eyes flickered for a moment, and narrowed as they fell upon the handsome youth in hunting clothes in front of her, who stood and gazed at her, one hand controlling the coal black stallion at his side. She looked at him blankly, her face sad and cold and completely bare of feeling, as if to say: ‘Why are you staring at me? Go your way and leave me to my grieving.’ Aloud she said: ‘I see you found your prey,’ and her voice was like a mix of ice and fire. Arthur did not reply. Suddenly he felt dizzy, dazzled by his own emotion. ‘The deer lies yonder; do you not see the blood on the snow?’ There was coldness in her voice that made him feel as if his heart had been pierced by one of the sharp icicles that hung beside her. Why did it hurt him so? Why did he feel so strange and wonderful?

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He stood there, staring at the dazzling white snow, and the maiden’s dazzling beauty. A single burning flame seemed suddenly to light in his heart, and his eyes blurred with strange tears so he saw nothing but the glitter of snow. Then a shaft of sunlight burst through the trees and fell upon the snowy maiden, at it was as if she was made of ice, for she seemed to melt before Arthur’s very eyes, and when he saw her again she was riding far away from him, and from the snowy wood, side-saddle upon the gilded leather of her snow white stallion. Arthur stayed for some minutes staring at where the lady had stood, staring, staring after her, watching her till she was out of sight. A drop of snow fell from the sliver-fountain-branches of the snowy trees, and settled on Arthur’s hands. A little, white, snowflake. A tiny, trivial thing that did not seem to matter; we brush away snowflakes from our clothes all winter, without a thought. Yes, a tiny trivial thing; but beautiful. Very, very beautiful, and full of meaning.

He stared at that solitary snowflake for some time, and watched it melt on the warmness of his hands, and he had watched Guinevere melt into the snowy silence of the forest. His eyes stared blankly, seeing nothing, deep in thought. Then he jerked himself suddenly back into real life; like one awaking from a dream, and, looking about  him as if he saw the world clearly for the first time, turned his horse and rode away, and for the moment thought no more of it than that he had seen a pretty girl in forest.

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As for Guinevere, strange to say, she thought of him far more than he thought of her, but her thoughts were all of contempt. Perhaps things would have been different if they first met when King Leodegrance presented her formally as his daughter in the warm, crowded hall, when he knew who she was, and what she was. But that was not the way Arthur’s fate unwound. It is almost a contradiction when you say – ‘it was fate that they should meet by accident’- but it is true. There are some who say they should never have met each other, for Arthur was made of a solid, human thing, that people could trust and understand, whereas Guinevere was hollow. Not selfish or untruthful, exactly, but hollow. There is some truth in this, but not much. Both Arthur and Guinevere were solid, and what went on between them was perfectly truthful, but not the same as understandable, and not known. People have tried to find out many times, and have never succeeded. And they will keep on trying, but I do not think they will ever succeed. Mark my words; that does not mean it is a waste to try. It is not a waste at all. And that is why I myself am going to try, because the only way to find out, it to write about it.

 

Now, here are some snowy photos I have just taken.

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