Christmas sonnet

You know who you are…

What can I give to you this Christmas-tide?
My arm is not so long that I can bring
A gift to each of you, spread far and wide
Across the world. I cannot hope to sing
A carol that would reach (or please) your ears:
The turkey has not lived yet that could feed
Us all, and if I worked a thousand years
I’d not repay the time you take to read
My humble verse and leave your comments. So
I offer you, my friends, this year’s last post
With warmest Christmas wishes. You should know
Your work, your words and wisdom mean the most.
Long may we share this journey we’ve begun:
God bless us, WordPress poets, every one.

 

See you all in 2012.

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Sestina: Midwinter

Sestina: Midwinter

So. Winter’s chill attendants walk the earth
And starveling days die young in mist and fire.
Above the leafless trees black rook-bands wheel:
Their raucous evensong laments the sun
That sinks behind the sodden, shadowed wood
And night spreads like a sickness through the land.

How long it seems since Spring smiled on this land,
When wild flowers bloomed on banks, and long-cold earth
Stirred in its sleep, awakening the wood
Where bluebells, like smoke from some unseen fire
Swirled round the birches’ feet; the lusty sun
Bent cheerfully to turning heaven’s wheel.

For months to come the soil will know no wheel:
The rain has made a mire of this land
That, back in summer, cracked beneath a sun
That breathed its heat upon the gasping earth.
Did we once walk bare-limbed in fields of fire,
And crave the shelter of the drowsy wood?

Hard to recall how Autumn dressed the wood
In gaudy gold and copper as the wheel
Sent summer southwards. Then Orion’s fire
Blazed higher, and the warmth seeped from the land.
The birds felt mystic stirrings in the earth
And took their mapless pathways to the sun.

And now we stand our furthest from the sun:
The twilight settles quickly in the wood,
And in the tilt and aspect of the Earth
We reach the moment where the ancients’ wheel
Begins its long roll back. They blessed the land
And filled their twelve Yule nights with feast and fire.

And still we’re drawn to that ancestral fire;
Still counting down the days until the sun
Returns to drive the darkness from the land
And set the new leaves bursting in the wood.
Still following the slow spin of the wheel
That drives the deepest engines of the earth.

I’ll leave my fire to stand watch in the wood
Await another Sun, as night-birds wheel
Above the land, and Winter claims the earth.

 

I was inspired to tackle the sestina by that peerless craftsman John Stevens; with its strict pattern of repeating line endings, it seemed the right form for a solstice poem. I’ve tried writing a sestina before, but it’s always defeated me: I hope it’s ‘honours even’ this time. I probably made it more difficult for myself than was strictly necessary by writing it in iambic pentameter, but I love the rich feel of that most English of metres. And for the really keen-eyed among you, the ‘So.’ at the beginning of the first line is a respectful nod to Beowulf and the Anglo-Saxon tradition. (To see how a sestina should be done, please read John’s terrific The Watch)

A spectacular development

After the eye-test

Guess I should have
Seen it coming:

After all
I had no trouble reading,
Out of my window,
The ‘For Sale’ sign
In front of a house
Five doors up
On the other side of the street;
Found poetry easiest
When held
At a metre
And my music-stand wandering
Out of the woodwind
Into the Violin Twos.

My new world’s corrected,
Framed and glazed over,
My light bounced off prisms
And everything made
A subtle illusion.

And finally,
I can see clearly
Just what it means
To be older.

 

Yup, it’s happened at last – I need glasses for reading. I dodged the bullet at my last eye-test two years ago, but I’m now officially long-sighted and there’s no getting out of it this time. I like to think my new specs will make me look distinguished and erudite: at the very least, it’ll be fun peering sternly at The Girl over the top of them.

Sonnet: Letter of wishes

Letter of wishes

When I am gone, do not lay me to rest
In some town-council cemetery: my bones
Would ache for all eternity, distressed
By unfamiliar soil and serried stones.
Don’t bury me at sea: I’ve no desire
For an afterlife with Davy Jones’s crew;
Nor box me up and feed me to the fire:
The planet doesn’t need my CO2.
No – take me to the woods. The trees will keep
A vigil, that you need not lose your years
In watching me. On rainy days, they’ll weep
For me, that your sweet eyes may know no tears.
But now, the sky is clearing. No more thought
Of this: there’s much to do – and time is short.

 

This came to me while I was walking the dog this morning. It was cold and raining, and the woods were ankle-deep in the special mud we have around here that manages to be both treacherously slippery and unbelievably sticky at the same time. I knew I wanted to write a sonnet: it started out, perhaps understandably, as a rather melancholy piece, but happily, I think it’s turned out rather upbeat. I guess the poem knew how it wanted to be written: all I had to do was stay out of the way.

After the storm

Blown out

The woods are full
Of the concert hall’s
Sunday-morning silence.

Should have been here last night
When a great Beethoven gale
Made the whole world its instrument:

Only the soft southern fringe
Of the heavyweight hooley
Making trouble over the border

But still a thug,
Broad-shouldered, big-muscled,
Coming in hard with boots and fists:

Snapping off branches like a thoughtless child
And setting the chain-link fencing
Shrieking like a girl.

A proper wind that draws
Half a hemisphere into its lungs
Then rips the hat right off my head,

Shrink-wraps me in my coat,
Turns strolling around the field
To wading thigh-deep through the sea.

I walk among the dazed and breathless trees
Shocked at their shattered limbs
But smiling –

As any woodwind player should –
At seeing the world refashioned
By the moving of the air.

A night at the opera

A night at the opera

I’ve ridden, driven past these gates
A hundred times and more.
But tonight, we’re turning in:
Parking in the dark and distant corner
Where mere musicians’ old jalopies
Can be discreetly hidden from
The summer season’s picnickers.

We climb up to the circle
In cathedral-goers’ reverence
Enclosed in brick and polished stairs
Five-quid tickets in our unworthy hands
Then for the first – and, we imagine, only – time
We take our lord-knows-how-much seats
In that fabled wooden Oh-my-goodness

And there she is.
One cherished face, one treasured voice
In that bright chorus of three hundred
Raised in jaunty, joyous song.
No soprano’s aria could make
These sparks go crackling down my neck:
No opera at any price

Could summon up this surge of pride.
It is for her –
It is through her –
That we are sitting here tonight,
Transported into wondrous realms
We never would have known
And would not miss for worlds.

 

On Friday night, our 10-year-old daughter sang in the world-famous opera house at Glyndebourne along with her classmates and Year 6 children from half-a-dozen other local junior schools. The concert was organised by our wonderful East Sussex Music Service (for whom no praise is too high) as part of its annual Great Big Christmas Sing programme, which runs in schools across the county. The children sang a musical based (very loosely) on the Christmas story, specially composed for them by the Music Service’s Director, no less, which they’d been rehearsing in class all term.

Normally, Glyndebourne is a byword for glamour and gracious living. During the Summer Festival, many people arrive by helicopter or chauffeured car, and opera-goers’ picnics are the stuff of legend. On Friday, though, we the Great Unwashed took over. Egalitarianism ruled: everyone in the audience paid just £5 for their ticket. We managed to bag the front row of the Circle, and I wondered how much it would cost to sit in the same seat for a Summer Season opera production. What’s certain is I wouldn’t be able to afford it – and it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun, either. The Girl was beside herself with excitement beforehand and walking on air afterwards – it was a truly glorious evening. (What’s more, we got to sing at Glyndebourne, too: only a couple of verses of Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, but hey, that’ll do me.)