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.

Filthy lucre

Rolling in it

I had a spring song
Surging like the sap in my pen.
Then
When I read the news
My celandines shrivelled
My primroses lowered their pale faces
And my skylarks croaked, twitched
And tumbled out of the air.
Well
I guess you’ve earned your name
If not the sum
– enough to pay two hundred teachers –
They say you’re taking home this time:
The light of scrutiny and opinion
Just bounces off you;
So brilliant and precious
The whole world wants you for its own;
So adamantine in your defence
Of every penny,
The Mohs scale can’t measure
The hardness of your heart.
And as your limo wafts you
Into work this morning
I’m betting you’ll be laughing all the way.

In response to the revelation that Bob Diamond, chief executive of Barclays Bank, received pay and bonuses of £9.0 million, plus a further £15.2 million in shares, in 2010. My only comfort as a Barclays customer is that, as a result of the recession, for the last two years he’s been banking with me.

You're through to voicemail

Off the hook

I’m sorry;
I’m not available
To take your call right now:

The air in there
Is sour and sick,
Thickened with work,
Tainted by worry
Like the gust of last night’s beer
From the pub door Sunday morning.

Now I’m out
Of reach of the bank, the Revenue’s men,
The trivial tyranny of whencanyougetitdoneby,
And the world falls away
Like the sheep-speckled hillside
Beneath the red kite’s wing.

Just a coat between me and the wind
That playfully snatches at collar and cap;
Boots pressed into the old, soft turf
Like the fifty-pence-piece in my Grandad’s palm;
The dog stops, turns, looks at me and laughs
And a lone crow tips me a knowing wink.

Can’t say
When I’ll get back to you.

This should give you some idea of the week I’ve had. Wish it was half-term again, and we were back in Wales.

Bonus culture

It’s bonus season at the banks, and the billions are flowing once more. My feelings on the egregious sums involved, and the people receiving them, are not suitable for publication. Instead, I’ve written about the payments-in-kind over and above my modest income I receive on a daily basis, courtesy of the Bank of Mother Nature.

FEATHERING MY NEST

Today, I got my bonus.
But I am no sacks-of-gold man;
My pockets are as shallow
As my wonderings are deep,
My profit margins narrow
As my wanderings are wide.
I took my reward
In the rosy blush of bullfinches,
A fieldfare blizzard,
The gallybird and magpie’s laugh,
The high keening of the buzzard
Black against a near-spring sky,
And my dog’s joyous circling
Of meadows lost last week to flood;
Free of tax, guilt and opprobrium,
Out of reach of moth and rust;
All mine to give away.