A round of rondelets

In rides the rain;
All day the crow-black clouds have grown.
In rides the rain
To lash the sodden land again –
Soak wind-bent thorn, time-scattered stone
And high-hedged lanes I walk alone.
In rides the rain.

Up comes the gale
With teeth and fists and dark intent.
Up comes the gale
As power-lines and barbed wire wail
With twisted trees in shrill lament;
The world the wild wind’s instrument.
Up comes the gale.

Now falls the night;
A lean wolf stalking round the hill.
Now comes the night;
The twilight yields without a fight.
I turn my collar to the chill
But long miles lie before me still.
Now falls the night.

Approach the door:
Old oak, black iron, bolted fast.
Approach the door
Where my road ends; I’ll march no more.
Cast coat and hat aside at last,
Find rest until the storm has passed.
Approach the door.

Beside the fire
With four thick walls enfolding me;
Beside the fire
All journeymen like me desire
Is here: with wine and company,
The hard road’s just a memory
Beside the fire.

The sun appears –
And with it, hope for better things.
The sun appears
To banish night and all its fears,
Strike copper fire on kite’s broad wings
And warm me on my wanderings.
The sun appears.


More from our festive sojourn in west Wales, and another form I’d not tried before – the rondelet. Like the triolet, it has a refrain line (A), which in this case appears three times and is written in iambic dimeter; the rest is in iambic tetrameter. The rhyme scheme is AbAabbA.

Having played around with it a bit, I must say I like its straightforwardness and economy. It has a rather ‘naïve art’ feel to it, so I chose simple subjects, which ended up telling an equally uncomplicated story, partly inspired by some memorably weather-beaten walks in the country around my mother-in-law’s house.

As well as the red kite, the wolf, extinct in this islands for almost three centuries, emerged unlooked-for as a recurring theme (can’t quite bring myself to use the term ‘motif’) while we were away. It may have something to do with my reading over the last few weeks, which has consisted largely of the Norse legends and Icelandic sagas! He’ll be back again soon, I’m sure. N.

Winter solstice



No. Darkness shall not rule the earth.
Though woods and fields lie still and cold
This day brings promise of rebirth;
The great wheel turns, a gift foretold.

Though woods and fields lie still and cold
The road leads back to life and light.
The great wheel turns, a gift foretold;
Hope blazes in midwinter’s night.

The road leads back to life and light;
Raise fire and song – Yule has begun.
Hope blazes in midwinter’s night;
We greet the great, unconquered sun.

Raise fire and song – Yule has begun.
This day brings promise of rebirth;
We greet the great, unconquered sun.
No. Darkness shall not rule the earth.


Haven’t written a pantoum for ages; its measured, rather portentous pattern of repeating lines seemed just right for a poem about the rolling of the year, and the long walk back to Spring that starts at 11.11 GMT tomorrow. Can’t wait! The line that ends the third stanza, and comes second-to-last in the final one, is a reference to the Roman festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (‘Birthday of the Unconquered Sun’) which took place on 25 December: some claim our Christmas Day was chosen deliberately to coincide with, and thus suppplant, the old pagan rite. In much the same way, I’ve unashamedly borrowed the ancients’ lovely ringing words for my own purposes here. N.


These are the days that run and run
Into each other; merge and blend,
Amorphous, seamless, never done,
When even sleep can bring no end
To thought; wake in sick certainty
The world is lining up to send
Another damned delivery
Of Way Too Much for me to do.
Tight panic rises, choking me
Like smoke from burning tyres. Through
The weary hours I wish that I
Could stop the clock, escape into
A quieter world, beneath a sky
Of speedwell blue, and walk apart
From all the toil and tumult; try
To find a place to rest my heart
And mind. But this is not my fate.
With each new dawn, I’m doomed to start
Again: no time to contemplate,
To breathe clean air or feel the sun;
Though I protest they will not wait,
Just shake their heads, reload the gun.
These are the days that run and run.


A quick terza rima thrown together in the midst of what my good friend Tom Davis calls ‘a long work jag’. I guess I should be glad to be busy, really, when so many are losing their jobs, but it starts to feel like too much of a good thing sometimes. This one goes out to everyone stepping back onto the treadmill this rainy Monday morn. N.

Time thief

This is a moment I could steal:
The task that’s kept me caged in here
Complete; the next not yet begun.
The rain is gone; a pale sun
Returns, the blue-washed sky gleams clear
And branches wave in mute appeal.

No contract to compel me, no
Cruel clock to punch, no overseer
Or deadline to detain me. Still
I hesitate; the guilty thrill
Of truancy upon me – fear
Without foundation. I can go

And damn the consequences: I
Am no man’s man, at large, unbound.
This unwatched hour is mine to take:
My criminal impulses wake
And furtively, without a sound,
I’ll snatch this jewelled time, and fly.

Terza rima: One acquainted with the bike

I have been one acquainted with the bike.
I’ve ridden out in rain – and back in rain.
I’ve felt the snowflake sting, the hailstone strike
I’ve carved through screaming street and lonely lane.
I’ve laboured on the endless, airless climb
Rejoiced in conquering gravity and pain
Forgetful, free and falling out of time.
I’ve found myself on roads the Tour de France
Has passed along, cruised Paris’s sublime
And sacred boulevards; made others dance
To my tune all day long, and mine the wheel
To follow if they can. My years advance
But I’m kept young by carbon fibre, steel
And aluminium magic. All my ills
In mind and body slip away; I heal
Myself with massive dosages of hills
And saddle-time: the only cure I need –
Don’t give me platitudes, prescriptions, pills.
But I’m addicted; yes. I love the speed
And freedom of it – love the work and sweat,
The downhill fear, the knowing how to read
The road, the muscle memory, the wet
And dry, the heat and cold, that strange dreamlike
State on the double metric. I forget
Myself, can find myself, be who I like.
I am still one acquainted with the bike.


This piece was inspired by Robert Frost’s achingly beautiful I have been one acquainted with the night, which was the first terza rima I ever read, and is still my benchmark for this mesmerising form. Have a great weekend. N.