Unseasonal

A sudden, fragile truce.
For an hour
Winter withdraws
And yields the field.

A shell-shocked sun
Emerges, cautious,
Blinking in bewilderment
In the spin of silver spokes;
As I ride out to greet and grasp it
With my bare hands.

Later, locked in the deep dark
With Spring’s brief kiss
Still warm upon on my skin.
A parting and a promise
That I will hold her to.

 

Doha II

Last day of winter. Could I be anywhere but here,
Marking the moment, feeling the great wheel turn?

One final skirmish in a war fought on long cold fronts
Against the North wind’s fists, clear nights with sharp knives.

Now its white wolves, cowed and muzzled, slink back to their lairs
Among the floes and treeless slopes shot with scree.

A westerly breeze sends dead leaves spinning before me
As, together, we run winter off the road.

 

 

I started this on 29 February but wrote the closing two lines today, when the weather finally realised that Spring officially began a week ago. The long months of filthy bikes and endless layers of thermal/windproof/waterproof cycling kit are at last coming to an end. And not a moment too soon. N.

 

Green shoots?

A run of bladed, jetstream-jagged days
Ends in a windless dusk. Bold blackbirds sing
Down in the wood; a pale rosewater haze
Makes paper cut-outs of the hills. Now spring
Has shown herself; a hope so long suppressed
By bitter blows and wicked weathers’ sting
Glows like the trembling sun that fires the west.
But do we dare set blossom, bud or flower
When still, at any time, the wind may turn
And rake us with its icy claws; an hour
Condemn a season’s patient growth to burn?
I’ll see the greenwood burst in leaf and then
Believe that winter will not bite again.

Winter reflects

White-haired, crooked as a cottage beam,
He shuffles through the quiet wood;
Runs crabbed fingers over the young hornbeams’
Cool, straight limbs, picks at their tight bark
With cracked grey nails
And sighs. For these last months
They have been his, stripped bare and helpless,
Bending to his will.
But now
He hears her singing far off,
Sees her first shoots spearing through the slop
And knows: she’s coming.
And beneath her softness she is strong –
Too strong for him, that’s certain –
And with her steely sweetness she will win back
All he’s called his own
Then fill it with her colour, drive away
All trace of him, send warming breezes where
His chill breath lingers, melt his footprints,
Send him to some strange and distant country
Where he’ll lie in iron chains
Until the trees wax fat and sleepy,
Eager for his touch.

Sonnet Cycle: The Field – Part 2

JD ploughing

 

SPRING

The first bite of the coulter wakens me;
Five mouldboards turn my face to greet the sun
That climbs above the wood. Work has begun.
Gulls flock my furrows; on the easterly
Crows ride like witches. Celandines appear
In my hedge-bottoms; harrow, roll and drill
Pass over me with steel and noise until
The seed lies warm and deep. Another year.
Then ancient war breaks out. In elder days
I gloried in my arsenal of flowers
And weeds: now men have new, undreamt-of powers
And subjugate me with their soundless sprays.
The urging in the warming earth grows strong;
My young shoots rise up with the skylark’s song.

Fieldwork

 

They’re here, at last. I’ve missed them. As the days
Grow longer, so, like migrants, back they come
To bare, long-empty fields; the heavy hum
Of diesels drifting with the dust they raise.

The clay will not endure them with the rain
Of winter in it; dried by wind and sun
It welcomes them. Now there’s work to be done;
With share and tine they wake the land again.

The skylarks’ song, birds nesting in the wood
The lambs and daffodils, the flush of green
As buds appear – conventionally seen
As certain signs that Winter’s gone for good.

Me? In the rumble of a big John Deere,
The sudden stink of hot hydraulic oil
And sweet, sharp scent of rippling, fresh-ploughed soil
I feel the first deep stirrings of the year.

The teams of Shires and Clydesdales are long gone
And I lament their passing; but these new
And great beasts of the field complete my view
As underneath their wheels, the world rolls on.

Ruba’i: Footprint

I found her footmark in the snow;
Though there were many, I would know
My lover’s imprint anywhere,
And where she wanders, I would go.

Beneath the birches winter-bare,
I walk alone. The clouding air
Is silent; birds are heard no more
Along the path we used to share.

And soon that single sign I saw
Will be erased; now comes the thaw.
That final trace will disappear
When Spring reclaims the forest floor.

But I will seek her, far and near
Through every season of the year.
For what is life when she’s not here?
It is no life when she’s not here.

Winter workout

Now, after days confined by snow,
I venture out of doors, at last,
To witness Winter’s overthrow.
But where the banks and hedges cast
Their shade, the lanes are smooth as glass,
Reminding me that time must pass
Before we’re free, and every tree
Is dressed in new Spring finery.

The fields, snow-covered inches deep
Gleam in the pale sun at noon;
The woods lie silent, still asleep,
No sign that they’ll awaken soon.
The redwing and the fieldfare
Still haunt the hedgerows; they don’t dare
Leave till we’re free, and every tree
Is dressed in new Spring finery.

The air is eager, nips at skin
On face and fingers as I ride.
This is no day for staying in:
Too long I’ve missed the world outside.
My mind is clear, my spirits soar;
The day will soon come when, once more,
The land is free, and every tree
Is dressed in new Spring finery.  

 

A workout in two senses: a physical one, in that I’ve finally got back on the road today for the first time since Saturday; and a poetical one, this time inspired by another great literary hero of mine, William Barnes. Born in 1801, Barnes wrote much of his verse in the dialect of his native Dorset, which is also where I spent my formative years. A true polymath – he was a schoolmaster, clergyman, composer, skilled engraver and linguist familiar with over 60 languages – Barnes is generally considered a ‘minor’ poet, though he was revered by Thomas Hardy and WH Auden, among others. Probably his best-known dialect poem, on which this vastly inferior effort of mine is based, is Linden Lea; the famous musical setting was the first composition ever published by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Ruba’i: Thaw

The snow and ice are in retreat;
Clear water sparkles in the street
And my mind turns once more to Spring
When Winter finally knows defeat.

Dank days and endless evenings bring
Bleak, melancholy thoughts that ring
Like curfew bells inside my head
And set the darkness echoing.

Long months the woods and fields lie dead
And, with them, joy. An aching dread
Of all the life I’ve left undone
Leaves me unsleeping in my bed.

But soon the battle will be won:
The ground will warm, the sap will run,
And hope will rise up with the sun.
And hope will rise up with the sun.

 

This is my first-ever attempt at the ruba’i, but I already know it won’t be my last (you have been warned!) It’s a very humble homage to one of my poet-heroes, Robert Frost, who adopted the same form for his incomparable ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’.

Florescence

The flowers of the field

Violet and Primrose
In their bright one-pieces
Lie in the sun
And nudge each other, pitying
Poor plain Windflower,
Who, for all her basking, stays
As white as writing paper all season long,
And giggle at tall green
Jack-by-the-Hedge
With his strong stems, thick leaves
And fair head of white flowers,
As shy ragged Robin
Blushes in his tattered coat.
May and Cherry
Braid themselves with blossoms
Bridal-white; and, trembling, wonder
If Winter will return
To ravish them
And steal their unborn fruits.
While at their feet
The gentle hand of Spring
Tailor-tacks a pair of orange tips
To a lady’s smock.

“No very great matter in the ditty”, as Touchstone said; it’s Friday, and far too lovely a day to be writing anything very serious.