Night charm

And so it is and so it goes and so
The day goes down and down now goes the day.
And when the day goes down where does it go
To watch and wait, and will I find the way?
And this is this and that is that and there
The night comes in and in now comes the night;
And who is who and what is what and where
Are we in all of this? No sound, no sight.
But step by step and by and by it brings
A dream of then and now and yet to be;
And in that moment, suddenly all things
Are seen and comprehended perfectly.
And thus it ends and ends now thus my rhyme
Upon the brink of sleep, and edge of time.

Another night watch

when streetlights slice pale parallelograms
through the three-thirty mist.
The streets belong
to foxes and folk between shifts:
a world emptied
dead to itself.

I am
one small speck of wakeful life
in the starless, windless void.

The peril of the moment
holds me wide-eyed and wired
my heart and breath two bolting horses
straining for the front.

Long knives gleam.
Hot blood runs.
Old enmities flare.
The kingdom shudders to its roots.

The fool who clasps the empty crown
in sweaty, greedy hands
has murdered sleep
more surely and more finally
than the tyrant ever did.

Rictameters

IMG_0363

Dusk

The day
Grows weary now,
Decides to call it quits
So draws the clouds across the sun
And shuffles into twilight. Blackbirds call
From treetops but it does not turn;
Just fades away and leaves
A lonely world
To night.

 

Hounded

Your race
Is not against
The clock; no pack or prize
Impels you. All you have to beat
Is deep pain, your own doubt, the wasted days.
Recharge the lightning in your limbs,
Relight your inner fire:
I long to see
You win.

 

Revisiting rictameter. The second poem is for my beloved but somewhat banged-up whippet, who’s three weeks into a month-long convalescence from surgery to secure his left shoulder, which he dislocated in a fall at the beginning of April. He should make a full recovery given rest and time, but it’s going to be a long, slow job. Thank goodness for pet insurance…N.

Night light

We sit and watch the candle burning down,
Its fleeting flame unsteady as the white
Wax turns to water, lapping at the light.

How long before we see it gasp and drown,
Abandoning us to the circling night?
We sit and watch the candle burning down.

And slowly, too, our dreams are overthrown;
Consumed by all that made them burn so bright.
Long miles from sleep, and yet too tired to fight,
We sit and watch the candle burning down.

 

Another Chaucerian rondel. My daughter (unwittingly) gave me the refrain line a few evenings ago, but it’s taken me until now to find the time to do something with it. N.

Night watch

Alone behind his ancient walls, he waits.
The candles burn low; in the roof-vaults, vast
Foreboding shadows grow. The die is cast:

He made his choice. Now his and others’ fates
Hang by a thread, and hope is fading fast.
Alone behind his ancient walls, he waits.

No welcome hail or hoofbeats at his gates;
Word will not come, for night is almost past.
This scarlet dawn, he knows, will be his last.
Alone behind his ancient walls, he waits.

 

Another Chaucerian rondel, with (I hope) a suitably medieval feel. N.

Nocturne

And so, the time for sleep rolls round at last:
The day done, all complete. Come, friendly Night –
Let hearts find rest, and day-bound dreams take flight.

It’s late. The midnight hour’s already passed.
Lay books and pen aside, put out the light.
And so, the time for sleep rolls round at last.

Days seem unending, yet they fly too fast.
In silent stillness we may find respite.
No more to say now, no words left to write.
And so, the time for sleep rolls round at last.

 

Yet another venerable and hitherto-untried form – the Chaucerian rondel (I kid you not): just the two rhymes, plus a refrain line (A), giving a rhyme scheme Abb abA abbA. Simple, but fun. N.

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.

The dark side


 

The sun’s long gone; the summer evening makes
The first down-payment on the winter night
To come. Long shadows creep out from the woods
And over hilltops, driving colours deep
Into the still-warm soil to sleep till dawn.
But in the mothy dark, new sets of eyes
Are opening; the bright, all-seeing stare
Of sleepless beasts whose labours will not cease
Until cold dews come down upon the crops,
Or diesel tanks are hollow, drained to fumes.
They sweep the stubbles, flood the fields and gaze
With halogen intensity on plough,
Ring-roll and tillage-train; while in the lanes
Red pairs blink bright on bends, then settle to
A ruby glow that dwindles on the straight
Run in to barn or silo. They will haunt
The land a little longer, then be gone
Like swallows. All their mighty works complete,
They’ll drowse the dreary winter months away
Snug in their sheds, while night is handed back
To fox and owl and badger, who will reap
Their harvest from our acres as we sleep.

 

Photo credit: CLAAS GmbH & Co KGaA
http://www.claas.com

Insomnia

By day, I do not see them. No; they wait
Till midnight’s passed and silence lies like snow
Then come for me, on black, slow-beating wings
Like hunting birds. Yet there’s no bird that sings
Out in the wood with their look in his eye,
Or power to snatch me from my dreams to lie
In this suspended, caught-between-worlds state.

What thoughts are these that haunt the bounds between
Sweet rest and wakefulness? For even though
I run to distant hills or silver shore
They always track me down. No bolted door
Can keep them out, no wine or whiskey keep
Their calls from creeping through the veils of sleep
With warning tales of things unknown, unseen.

The work I’ve left undone, have yet to do;
How much I’ve earned and spent, how much I owe,
The threat of great events in distant lands,
The sense that time is running through my hands,
My rattling car. The aching in my knee.
My tiny pension pot. And suddenly
The night birds are assembling, right on cue.

Too long they’ve had their way. Their time is done.
I will rise up, rebel and overthrow
This tyranny. They feed upon my fears –
And I have fed them richly down the years –
But they will get no more from me. I’ll fight,
For action is the cure – take back the night,
And sleep till gently shaken by the sun.

Star attraction

The Hunter’s Return

Long months he was gone,
Whole horizons away.

All summer unseen,
He appeared in the east,

With his belt and his sword,
Winter slung on his back.

He has struck down the sun,
Chased the warmth from the earth,

Now the night will be his,
Ruled with iron and ice,

Till the roll of the world
Sends him roving again.

Out with the whippet last night, I saw that Orion was back after his summer break in the Southern Hemisphere. For me, the return of this magnificent constellation to our northern latitudes is the first sign that winter is truly on its way. But I was born under this sky, and I’m always happy to see those seven stars, like bright nails hammered into heaven, blazing overhead once more. This poem comes from the gonecycling back catalogue; it’s actually one of the first I ever wrote, way back in 2004.