Sonnet: Folk memory

“Summer is a-coming in,” they sang,
“Groweth mead and bloweth seed, and spring
The woods anew.” How sweet their voices rang;
The ancient round still with the power to bring
The scent of flowers and new-mown hay to mind,
And conjure skylarks in a sapphire sky,
While for a moment, Winter’s wicked wind
Was turned aside. Long centuries roll by
But cannot touch the melodies and rhymes
Our fathers made to lighten scythe or plough.
What music of our own impatient times
Will children sing eight hundred years from now?
What legacy will we be handing on
For them to marvel at when we are gone?

 

At my daughter’s violin class yesterday, teachers Miss B and Miss Y had them playing, then singing, ‘Summer is a-Coming In’, a round dating from the 13th Century. Slightly incongruous in February, and with snow imminent, but a wonderful treat for us parents – and for the children too, I think. They certainly seemed to enjoy it, especially when they divided into six different parts, with the melodies and harmonies repeating and interweaving in a single swell of sound. Glorious. I believe it’s really important that these old songs are handed on, generation to generation, as reminders of who we are (or were) and where we come from. As a nation, we’ve been very careless with our folk history and memories; other countries seem to do these things much better.
I’ve said it many times before, I know, but Miss B, Miss Y and the other East Sussex Music Service staff are beyond praise, and do brilliant work with literally thousands of kids all over the county. Which is why I’m so incensed that the Service faces a 10% cut in its budget this year, and will eventually lose HALF its funding to government cuts. I fail to see what possible impact these savings could have on the overall deficit – meanwhile, we risk losing some thing truly worthwhile and inspirational that our kids will remember (and possibly even thank us for!) all their lives. Some legacy, huh?

Riddle II

Riddle II

I have no voice. Yet I sing sweet and high
As any summer lark. I draw no breath
But must have air; without it, I will lie
Inert, in rigid silence, cold as death.
I have no heart. But press me to your lips
And I’ll requite thee instantly; you’ll feel
My racing pulse beneath your fingertips.
I’m delicate, refined, yet with a steel
That runs right through: scratch me, I will not bleed.
My joints are straight and true: I do not bend.
I’ll do your bidding: all my strength and speed
Are in your hands. But here’s the trick, my friend:
I’m always on your right side, always near.
But when you pick me up, I disappear.

 

Another Anglo-Saxon-inspired brain-teaser for a chilly winter’s morning. I had such fun writing this.

Heroic verse: Hour of need

Hour of need

We have no heroes now. The ones who claim
To lead us will not win a lasting fame
For mighty deeds or wisdom. Such small men,
So weak and venal, are forgotten when
The history books are written. So we ask
Why there is no knight equal to the task –
No Galahad or Tristram who can ride
For truth and honour through the country wide;
No Lancelot to lift us, raise our eyes
To higher, greater things. We made our prize
The transient and tawdry, made our goal
Possession of the world, and lost our soul.
And now, the wind we sowed grows swift and strong,
Rips out our shallow roots, blows us along
And all the treasures that we thought we’d won
Are vanished, lost like frost-flowers in the sun.
We need a hero, one who has the power
To stir new hope in this unhappy hour –
A champion who’ll come to take the field
For us, the common folk, and never yield
To avarice, succumb to lust for gold,
Whose honour shines unstained. It was foretold
That when our island stood in dire need
One long lost would awaken and take heed
Of our distress, come to our aid. Maybe
That time has come and, far across the sea,
In Avalon, bright trumpets stir the ghost
Of Arthur and the whole Round Table host
To take up arms, come forth with ringing cries:
Rex quondam rexque futurus, arise.”

 

After reading The Death of King Arthur, Peter Ackroyd’s masterly retelling of Sir Thomas Mallory’s classic tale, I wanted to write something with an Arthurian theme, and it seemed the ideal opportunity to have a crack at the Heroic Verse form. I’ve enjoyed myself enormously, as you can probably tell. By pure coincidence, I’d just finished the poem when I heard the news that the infamous former RBS chief executive Sir Fred Goodwin had been stripped of his honour. Knights really ain’t what they used to be.