Hope dawns

Day is not come.
Not quite yet:
Malignancy and malice linger still.

But this is now, at last,
The hour before the dawn
And somewhere in the dark

A throng of birds begins
To sing, full-throated; and soon their song
Will ring unchecked across the land.

Then light will flood the sky
And with it we’ll forget
The night we once believed would never end.


God bless America. The thoughts and hopes of the world are with you. Thank you. And Johnson? You’re next.

Equinox

A radiant rising
In readiness for a gilded mourning.

For a fraction of a fraction of a second
Night and day will stand

Precisely aligned
Perfectly opposed;

The season a bright gold penny
Balanced on its edge.

And in the fraction of a fraction that follows
We start the long drop into dark

From which we wonder
If we will ever emerge

And if we do
What kind of world we’ll find.

So I let our falling star
Copperplate my limbs and face

Breathe the newly sharpened air
Allow myself one more glance back;

The last day of a summer
That never truly was.

Droighneach: Defiance

For the first time in my life I am despairing.
Our worst fears realised: sickness, hatred, strife, corruption
Spreading through the land; our leaders gross, vile, uncaring
As we’re heading, deep in denial, for destruction.

When I was younger, stronger, I might have resisted.
But I no longer have the will to fight; defeated
By depths of greed and lies I never knew existed.
And deed by wicked deed the coup’s completed.

So to the wood, the field. In their quiet rehearsing
Of good, timeless tales, truth is revealed; no agenda.
I regain my voice and strength. The dark is dispersing.
My choice is stark but clear. I will not surrender.

The Celtic droighneach is probably the most challenging form I’ve encountered; although it looks simple enough, to my mind only the sestina comes close in terms of metrical constraints and complexity. It’s so taxing I can manage only about one a year, but it’s always fun to do (in hindsight, and following a stiff drink and a lie down in a darkened room). N.

Dog’s life

Me: So. What makes a good and worthy life?
My best friend just looks at me
With fond, pitying eyes that plainly say
What kind of question is that?
Please. I need to know.
OK. First, eat. Anything and everything put before you.
Plus whatever you can find. You may surprise yourself.
Then sleep. Dream. Find the warm spots.
Let others envy your repose, so instant and complete.
Yet always be ready to respond.
There is promise in every sound and movement. You just never know.
Ignore the stick, the ball, the bird:
Mere distractions, unworthy of your speed and skill.
Not so the cat, the rabbit:
Always engage with your true work. For you will have your day.

And those I meet?
Some will reach out, some recoil.
Learn when to press for friendship, and when to walk away.

What are my watchwords?
Loyalty without subservience.
Courage without recklessness.
Fierceness without savagery.

To sum up, then…
Live enormously.
Love immoderately.
Serve unfailingly.
Be adored, remarkable, irreplaceable.

And is that enough? I ask.
My best friend’s eyes are laughing now.
You tell me.

Their greatest fans, of which I’m one, would readily concede that whippets aren’t the brightest dogs in the world – they’re born to run, not to think – but like all canines, they know a thing or two about living. Even an example as irredeemably obtuse as our beloved Viggo is consistently in tune with what’s truly important in a way I never seem able to maintain. How I envy his simple outlook, uncomplicated moral code and serene, untroubled mind, especially in times like these. N.

Wise words

All voices mute. All books closed.
And so I took myself into the hills
Wandered among the woods and fields
To tap the wisdom of the world.

Seek my silence, said the land. Breathe my air.
Watch the shadows cross my face, the trees bend with the wind.
Understand my deeper workings
But never let your knowledge close the door on wonder.

Follow the roll of stars and seasons,
The great wheel turning in the earth.
Plough, sow and harvest; but guard the goodness in you.
The sin is not in lying fallow, but working gifted ground to dust.

Feel my bones beneath your feet. Be that bulwark for those you love.
And as time and fortune wear and shape you
Be shot through with truths as hard as flints
That strike sparks, blunt blades, outlast events and weather.

Pyre

Everything is burning.
I could sweep up
All the oceans of the world
In a bucket big as the moon
And still not douse the flames;

What will be left
But blistered brick, charred timbers
Glass puckered like a fairground mirror,
Ash and soot, reeking skies,
Survivors wandering the ruins like lost dogs.

And what will rise:
Golden cities, verdant acres – or dead grey wastes
Where blank-faced blocks like sarsen stones
Throw their sharp shadows
And chill all those who pass.

 
 

Not very cheerful for a sunny Friday, I’m afraid. But with everything that’s going on here in the UK, it’s pretty much all I’ve got today. I’m sorry. Take care of yourselves and those you love. N.

God’s acre

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As a man
Schooled in science
Raised on reason
And living in such times
I have my doubts.

So tell me
What impulse drives me
To seek solace here,
In God’s own acre,
Among his departed faithful;

What comfort can I hope to find
In ancient stones, knapped, dressed and chiselled
To the glory of one
Whose face seems turned away
And mighty arm withheld.

Habit, inculcation,
One last, frayed strand that will not break;
Something draws me to this place
And I find peace, out here, under heaven
If still not yet inside.

 
 

Plein air, St Peter’s Church, Firle, East Sussex

Cold sweat

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The fear follows me
Everywhere:

Even out here
To the edge of the stubble

Where bales are scattered like erratic boulders
Left behind by a vanished ice-sheet.

It wraps itself around me
Like a dark, heavy cloak

And even in this hot July
It chills me to the heart.

 

Plein air, near Ripe, East Sussex

A charm against wanton destruction

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I cannot stop you tearing up the land;
Turn back the clock or stay your heedless hand;
No word of mine can still your crushing wheels;
My flesh and bone no match for your cold steel.

But what I can, I’ll do. And so I lay
This charm upon you and your deeds this day.

From sullied soil, let briar and bramble spring –
Let thistle burn, thorn scratch and nettle sting;
And when the summer sun warms earth and sky,
Come, adders, sharp of fang and cold of eye.

In every vehicle that you blithely ride
Let spiders big as saucers now reside;
And in the cabin where you take your rest
Bid hordes of wicked hornets build their nest.

Then let it rain and churn the clay to mire
To grab and grip and clog each helpless tyre;
And when the cries of rook-bands fill the air
May you hear mocking laughter everywhere.

Now let this doom hang heavy round your necks;
A right reward for him who rips and wrecks
Without regard or care. My rhyme is done.
But not the charm. Its work has just begun.

Plein air

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A sin to stop
Just six miles short of home
And sit on a slab of weathered wood
In the sun and set
A few words down on paper;
But what’s another moment stolen
From a day already plundered;
My conscience is as a clear
As the blackbird’s song
In the cherry tree
And the June sky I’d have missed
If I’d taken the other road.