He rides high over the wood,
A black cross carved
On a flat, cold sky:
The wind and all the world
Turn with a twist
Of his curved flight feather;
His weapons ready –
Beak, eye, wing and talon
Sharp and clean.
What I would give
For his lone completeness,
Such unweighted, spare perfection;
While I am bound and grounded
By this jealous, grasping earth
And all its superfluities.
No warmth left in the cast-iron soil, or weak winter sun.
A cold, colourless world, emptied of all life.
Silence lies on the leafless woods and bare, frosted fields;
Ice lurks in shadows, a wicked, watchful eye.
Naked hedgerows, armed with thorns, frown over dank ditches;
Half-lost lanes languish, scabbed with old farmyard filth.
And in this desolation, your swirl of red and gold
Sparks hope of brighter days and tales to be told.
By this stage in an English winter, everywhere is looking a bit dead, grubby and neglected. But Nature has a way of redeeming herself, as she did yesterday with a charm of goldfinches, who burst out of a hedgerow as I rode past. At that moment, all was forgotten and forgiven. N.
Grey poplars hiss displeasure
At this out-of-sync dishwater sky,
Mercury sliding, clouds on the ground.
Draggled wheat fields darken,
The shocked land losing hard-won riches
Laid down and laboured for.
And in the leaves’ wind-silvered sibilance
I hear the slow escape of summer:
A punctured season
And a long, slow road ahead.
Last little nature poem before I head off on holiday. And given the current state of Britain’s weather (awful) politics (shameful) and economic outlook (dreadful) I can safely, though sadly, say I have never been more ready to leave this shambolic, benighted country behind. All we can do is hope that things will improve come the autumn. A bientôt, mes amis. N.
I walked the woods, where Spring at last bestirred
Herself with bright abandon. All around
Bluebells and windflowers gleamed, and every bird
Rejoiced in lusty song. Then came the sound
Of angry scolding overhead: a coarse
And ragged band of brigands in full cry
As one by one, they swooped and swirled to force
The noble, broad-winged buzzard from their sky.
And thus when I, too, seek release in flight
Or silent solitude, the world’s dark woes
Rise up in loud pursuit, grant no respite
And crowd in, mobbing me like churlish crows.
How many years and miles before I find
A place to rest to my weary heart and mind?
Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary last Saturday has led to this sudden outbreak of sonnets; old and familiar ground, I know, but it’s still my favourite form to work with, and just feels right at this time of year. That said, spring is showing recidivist tendencies this week, with a bitter northerly pegging temperatures in single digits (C) and leaving the flowers wondering if they’ve accidentally skipped a few pages in their diaries. N.
Warm and drowsy
As blackberry wine.
Walking through fields
I’ve known for thirty years.
Doormat stubble, shining grass,
A whiff of windfall crab-apples.
Dog nosing ahead,
My daughter at my side
Chattering like a magpie;
Still too young
To have her tongue
Tied by time and chemistry.
What strange chance
Made me glance
At the ground
And from the crowds around it
Light on that
Of Trifolium repens
Ignoring its own bill matter
And getting its double helix
In a twist
Two extra tokens
Of pure dumb luck.
Just what I held then
And what to do next
With my million-to-one shot:
Line up my seven numbers,
Put my shirt on some long-odds nag,
Back the Texans all the way to Arizona,
Book my ticket to The Strip
I already had
All the luck
Any one man needs.
More free verse. That universal talisman of good fortune, the four-leafed clover, is a genetic mutation that pops up roughly once for every 10,000 of its common-or-garden trifoliate brethren. Five-leafed specimens like the one I found at the weekend are held to be luckier still, since the odds of finding them are, literally, a million to one. Even so, that’s still roughly 14 times more likely than winning the lottery! N.
The train bursts from the city, racing down
Towards the warm coast. Every mile that flies
By, blurred in grimy glass, helps exorcise
The weary ghosts that stalk me in that town:
Of lives I might have lived; what could have been
Were I a different man, or had not seen
The blood and filth that stain the golden crown.
Was it my curse or cure to realise
My own way ran through woods, beneath wide skies
In open fields, by winding lanes? I’ve thrown
That switch now, taken my own track: I’ll stay
True to it, follow it to come what may.
He parks the truck, then takes her by the hand.
They walk together round the field. The bright
March sun strikes silver from the sward; his white
Lambs, soft as new-baked loaves, awake the land
And hope within them. He shares all his grand
Schemes for the flock: she leans on him, the light
Of love strong in her eyes, and holds him tight,
Mind filled with home and children she’s got planned.
Does it occur to them that they may see
Their cloudless heaven ripped by sudden storm
Their high ideals hurled down and smashed like glass?
No thought of this. Not here, not now. They’re free
To dream. The sky is clear, the sun is warm
And smiling on the lover and his lass.
Tom Davis challenged me to write an Italian sonnet, so I have! This is a very ancient form, ‘invented’ by the Italian poet Petrarch: indeed, it’s often called the Petrarchan sonnet in his honour. I’ve never written one before, and now I know why. The rhyme scheme is complex: the first eight lines (the octave) are a non-negotiable ABBAABBA; the last six lines (the sestet) can be one of several patterns (I’ve gone with a traditional CDECDE) the only proviso being that (unlike the more familiar Shakespearian and Spenserian forms) it mustn’t end with a rhyming couplet. Sheesh.
Even here, though, I can’t let Shakespeare go entirely, having stolen my title from Much Ado About Nothing. I spotted the lover and lass in question while out on my bike this morning: I couldn’t actually hear what they were talking about, but that’s what artistic licence is for. N.
No drowsy dusk, no scent of elderflower
Or honeysuckle, dog-rose, eglantine
And all the garlands of Titania’s bower
As we poor, foolish mortals now incline
Our closest to the sun. Come solstice night,
I should walk, knee-deep, on the feathered edge
Of moth-soft fields suffused in amber light
While Oberon, enthroned beneath the hedge,
Holds court and toasts the world in golden ale.
Instead, I shiver in the house as rain
Smacks on the glass like grape-shot, and a gale
Roars in from the Atlantic once again.
The weathermen despair: all hope depends
On honest Puck, who shall restore amends.
I posted this sonnet on 21 June last year: as you’ll gather, honest Puck has been falling down on the job, and it’s distinctly un-Midsummer-ish here in Sussex this year, too! And to think the nights start drawing in again tomorrow…have a splendid weekend, one and all. N.
Catch their sound:
A long-drawn snarl
From beyond the woods.
I track them
Across glistening fields
Bouldered with cows;
Through a gate
Kinked by years of heavy carelessness,
Over a stile in the wayward hedge,
A hundred yards up a concrete road;
Another gate, bent like an old coat-hanger,
And over the brow.
There: the big machines
Peeling dark swaths from the shocked hillside;
Gaudy jewels on pale skin.
As another turncoat June
Hurls wind and rain like insults
The breathless work goes on:
The famished clamps gape like fledglings
And so the trailers fly
To feed them
While I stand here,
Powerless to help,
Taking a first cut of my own.
Silage-making is under way at last in our corner of Sussex. Better late than never. N.
If I’d only gone straight on after Tanyard Green
I’d have made it home much sooner
But I never would have seen
That John Deere and silage trailer running flat-out on the road
To the hungry forage harvester for one more load.
If I’d turned to the left when I chose to go right
I’d have dodged that one-in-seven
But I would have missed the sight
Of a big New Holland crawling with the throttle thrown wide
As it hauled a power harrow up a steep hillside.
If I’d thought to take the shortcut, not the long way round,
I’d have saved myself some miles
But instead I caught the sound
Of three magpies’ loud alarums in an oak, while down below
The dog-fox paused, then vanished in the deep hedgerow.
Yes, it’s easy to regret the many roads I never took –
All those straighter, smoother highways –
But I must not overlook
All the unexpected magic that’s waylaid me on this track;
I’ll forsake the map and compass, ride my road – and not look back.