Tag Archives: poetry

Lift up your eyes to the hills …

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There are hills and hills of course. Saint Thomas’s Hill is on the rim of the dish that cradles the city. Most cyclists seem to dismount to climb up it, but coming down is another matter; I think that qualifies as a hill. For the last fifty years it has housed the University of Kent, not visible in this winter’s picture.

Indeed I’ve deliberately shown this ‘temporary’ car park in all its glory to stress the point brought home to me as I turned this corner the other day – without my phone of course, so I could not recapture that careless rapture. Here the panel of parking regulations, the hastily spread asphalt  and the scrubby edges of the car park impel the walker to pass by on the other side as quickly as possible.

 

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I walk this way nearly every day,  eyes averted.

Between where we stand and those whitewashed cottages a footpath takes a short tunnel under the railway; then to the left of the cottages and to the playing field behind the tall trees; a not unpleasant walk. From there the hilltop is covered in university buildings; from here neither they nor the post-war houses across the field make much impact.

There’s no way you could imagine yourself in the Kentish countryside, but look up! There is a hill, there are trees, there is hope. Even if the developers would happily sacrifice the trees on the altar of Mammon. This car park has never been built upon. It used to be an allotment garden, gone wild before we came, but good for raspberries, brambles, lizards and slow-worms. A sustained effort was made to rescue the reptiles, now safely rehoused on reclaimed land elsewhere. But this land will be built on. People need homes too.

look up hills

But what struck me the other day as I walked home?

A hint of sun on the hill, made the grass, and the young stems of the trees – there are plenty of willow in yellow and red – shine against the black of their trunks and branches. It was a Psalm 121 moment – I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

A spring in my step, though nothing material had changed. The car park, graffiti and the intrusive buildings were still there, but look beyond!

The window looks out onto real hills, the Black Mountains of South Wales.

 

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27 October: Dylan Thomas’s Birthday.

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Mrs Turnstone and I find ourselves at the water’s edge in Wales. We should mark Dylan’s Birthday! These are the last three stanza’s of his birthday ‘Poem in October.’

And down the other air and the blue altered sky
        Streamed again a wonder of summer
                With apples
             Pears and red currants
     And I saw in the turning so clearly a child's
     Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
             Through the parables
                Of sunlight
        And the legends of the green chapels

        And the twice told fields of infancy
     That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
        These were the woods the river and the sea
                Where a boy
             In the listening
     Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
     To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
             And the mystery
                Sang alive
        Still in the water and singing birds.

        And there could I marvel my birthday
     Away but the weather turned around. And the true
        Joy of the long dead child sang burning
                In the sun.
             It was my thirtieth
        Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
        Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
             O may my heart's truth
                Still be sung
        On this high hill in a year's turning.


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May each one of us find the child’s key to heaven that opened the gate for Dylan that day when he whispered the truth of his joy.

Views of Laugharne, where Dylan walked.

I hope you can listen to Dylan reading the poem here:

Silence in the City?

 

It’s a good question. Any time of the day or night, there will be cars, lorries, a train, aircraft; or humming machinery: the fridge, restaurant ventilation fans. Even listing them raises my blood pressure.

Today I had a couple of hours alone at the L’Arche Glebe garden: I can still feel a ‘noise’ in my finger tip which received more than its share of stings whilst I was weeding. But generally I could dismiss the traffic noise, the passers-by across the River Stour, and just be nearly silent in my own (nettled) skin.

One interruption I welcomed, a sound familiar from childhood when I lived near an RAF training ground: a Tiger Moth biplane, which turned an arc around the city centre before leaving me to my nettles. No harm in feeling six years old again, if only for thirty seconds.

Unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18:3.

I was already allowed my own patch of garden by the time I was six; now I am growing flowers for my daughter’s wedding!

But back to silence. We were at a concert last night and I enjoyed how a big kettle drum could be louder than all other instrument in the orchestra, yet two of them together suggested profound silence.

 

What is silence

but the pulse of the beloved,

caressing the ear.

WT

Tiger Moth by Towpilot

HOLY OF HOLIES

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The Holy of Holies refers of course to the innermost chamber of the Temple in Jerusalem – and before that in the tent that went through the desert with the Israelites. Blake reminded us that God is present in a grain of sand; here is Chesterton meeting him on a Spring morning. These cowslips are growing in pastureland, where sheep will safely graze later in the year. We were told that the farmer seeded the field with wild flowers. Thank you to him!

‘Elder father, though thine eyes
Shine with hoary mysteries,
Canst thou tell what in the heart
Of a cowslip blossom lies?’

 

‘Smaller than all lives that be,
Secret as the deepest sea,
Stands a little house of seeds,
Like an elfin’s granary,

‘Speller of the stones and weeds,
Skilled in Nature’s crafts and creeds,
Tell me what is in the heart
Of the smallest of the seeds.’

‘God Almighty, and with Him
Cherubim and Seraphim,
Filling all eternity—
Adonai Elohim.’

No time to stop and stare?

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I’d guess that WH Davies had a reason for calling his most familiar poem ‘Leisure’. Although it has been holiday time the days and evenings have been full, yet there have been moments, every day, to stop and stare: yesterday to marvel at a thrush singing each song twice over, and to hear how he had orchestrated a vehicle reversing alarm and a common telephone ring into his song. That fulfilled this verse:

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

And coming down Abbot’s Hill the other day, I saw a squirrel digging for nuts, which recalls:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

Bring Spring on! Here’s the poem:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Soon ragged robin will be in flower. Magdalene, Cambridge.

 

 

A tale of two birds – or rather three.

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The scattering of white feathers showed where a black-headed gull had been killed; the corpse lay a couple of feet away, the breast picked almost clean by the second bird, the sparrowhawk who has become quite familiar in this part of town. Satisfied with its meal, it had flown away already.

The third bird was totally unconcerned by this drama, and a real surprise on Abbot’s Hill. Sitting on a stump nearby: a smart, robin-like creature which was indeed a stonechat. I don’t recall seeing one locally before but he was singing as if he owned the place and had no intention of going west to the old brown hills. I feel sure he will though.

It’s a warm wind, the west wind, full of birds’ cries;
I never hear the west wind but tears are in my eyes.
For it comes from the west lands, the old brown hills.
And April’s in the west wind, and daffodils.

The West Wind, John Masefield.

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Can Spring be far behind?

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photo by Andreas Trepte

The question is Shelley’s and finds its answer in what has gone before in the Ode to the West Wind:

……..O thou,

Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low,

Each like a corpse within its grave, until

Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth … 

Spring is here already, waiting for moment to blow her trumpet to announce birth and rising.

For me Winter arrived today when I saw my first redwing of the year, come over from Scandinavia to spend the winter eating berries. My one was on a hawthorn bush. The next movement across my handlebars was a lesser spotted woodpecker. Two good sightings to celebrate winter.