Tag Archives: poetry

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.

 

 

Good Morning Life!

 

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I probably should not take my mobile phone to church on a Sunday, though 90% of the time I remember to silence it – and then forget to turn the rings on again afterwards, so receive no messages.

However, the gadget serves to record, once in a while, the glories of what I might otherwise miss. This third-rate photo just gives the impression of scarlet pimpernel and purple grass heads taking over some bare soil at the top of the hill. Almost an abstract.

Lovely enough to say, ‘Good Morning Life, and all things glad and beautiful.’ (WH Davies).

Next day, somewhat dispiritedly riding home in the rain, I spotted maybe a hundred starlings, adults and juveniles, enjoying the downpour because it was bringing worms  and leatherjackets to the surface of the park. Would I have noticed them if they’d been quiet? Maybe not, but they are incapable of staying quiet! ‘Good Morning Life, and all things glad and beautiful.’

A Darkling Thrush

At dusk I took a walk to a neighbour’s house in a scrappy wind, but still could hear the thrush singing from a television antenna. Less romantic, perhaps, than Hardy’s, ushering out the XIX Century, but as welcome.

The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate
      When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
      The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
      Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
      Had sought their household fires.
The land’s sharp features seemed to be
      The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
      The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
      Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
      Seemed fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose among
      The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
      Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
      In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
      Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
      Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
      Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
      His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
      And I was unaware.

Channel Weather

lettuce.redlettuce.greenFrom high on the hill I could see the dark curtain of rain butting up the Channel. Would I reach the station in time to avoid a soaking?

I had just been reading in Wood Avenue Library how, in August 1917, an engine driver had ‘sagaciously’ reduced his speed when a formation of Gotha bombers flew over his train. Sagaciously indeed, since the railway was a target of this raid and the unexploded bomb that hit the track might well have been detonated by a passing train.

As for me – I escaped that squall but its sisters raced our train along the South and East Coasts. You can see them here behind the fields of red and green lettuce that have grown visibly in the last week.

I got my soaking a couple of hours later, when thunder and lightning, wind, rain and hail descended on my daughter’s back garden. Mrs Turnstone had hers yesterday, walking the White Cliffs, her breath taken away by the wind. Hold onto your hats!

That word ‘butting’, implying stubborn progress, comes from John Masefield’s Cargoes, verse 3:

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,

Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,

With a cargo of Tyne coal,Road-rails, pig-lead,

Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

World Dylan Day

Today is Dylan Day. Despite a swell of opinion that Dylan was not a religious writer, I find the evidence points to a deep spiritual awareness and yearning. Here is a taste of why I see many parallels between him and Augustine.

At the end of the fourth century Augustine of Hippo opens his masterpiece, the Confessions, with these words:

To praise you is the desire of man, a little piece of your creation. You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.’

1550 years later,  Dylan Thomas, would tell John Davenport that his poetry was written for the love of man and in praise of God; indeed the prologue of his Collected Poems tells how he sought to obey his calling and overcome his fears to:

‘… build my bellowing ark

To the best of my love

As the flood begins,

Out of the fountainhead

Of fear, rage, red, manalive.’

The poet Kathleen Raine affirms that however chaotic his lifestyle, Dylan’s poetry is ‘holy’, laid out ‘with as much love and care as the lock of hair of a first love’, and confessional, in the double meaning that Augustine intended: a recounting of experience entwined with praise of God: Dylan’s awareness of his work as prayer grew as he matured. His masterpiece, the radio play Under Milk Wood, also opens by invoking Creation, familiar from Genesis and John’s Gospel:

‘To begin at the Beginning:

It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black.’

Here are two books written by men in mid-life, although Under Milk Wood would be Dylan’s last work. This is the story of a community of people like him, saints who are sinners, a Welsh City of God, funnier and warmer than Augustine’s version. Sadly we mortals may not yet linger there.

Dylan had seen Llareggub builded here, in Wales, the Chosen Land. It is no mean city, although it is little, like Wales, and like Wales, or the Churches of John’s Revelation, it is on earth as it is in heaven. Dylan was nurtured at the same source as Augustiine; if philosophy opened the wells for the bishop, poetry released for the ‘spinning man’ a flood to float his cockleshell ark, and, we may hope that ‘the flood flowers now’ for him, beyond the ‘breakneck of rocks’ of his life.