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 driest winter ever – twice – brings drought:
The reservoirs half-empty, hosepipes banned,
Groundwater critical, dark talk about
The standpipes springing up across the land
Just like they did way back in ’76.
With twice the average rain we’ll be OK
They tell us (that is, if they ever fix
The countless leaks that let it slip away).
The story’s different if you walk or ride:
No water shortage here that I can see.
Seems I get soaked each time I step outside:
My boots protest; bikes glare accusingly.
And whether you believe that we’re to blame,
Ask me, it’s started. Things won’t be the same.

Off the grid

It’s been too long. I must go wandering
Again, be free of this, live off the grid
A while, and work the way the old ones did:
Sans phone, sans internet, sans everything.
With dog at heel I’ll stalk the woods and hills
In solitary communion with the land
And put my words on paper, pen in hand –
Sans Microsoft, sans formatting, sans frills.
And so I disappear, but do not doubt
That I’ll return – this is my life, my trade
As I have said – and bring new poems made
By means to trust when all the lights go out.
No broadband reaches where I’m heading to
Which lets me reconnect with what is true.


Last post till the weekend, folks, as we’re making a dawn run to deepest (and, if things run true to form, dampest) west Wales tomorrow for a few days’ R&R chez mother-in-law. As always, my heartfelt thanks to my treasured band of fellow WordPress poets for your support and encouragement: look forward to catching up with you all very soon. N.

[The sharp-eyed among you will notice that, although this is (yet another) sonnet, I’ve finally departed from my favourite Shakespearean variant. I don’t know whether this one has an official name – as far as I knew I was making it up – but I enjoyed playing with a new rhyme scheme (ABBA CDDC EFFE GG instead of the usual ABAB CDCD EFEF GG). And of course, there’s more than a slight nod to Will in lines 4 and 8. Credit where it’s due, I always say. N.]

Pantoum: Sighthound


No time to hide. Don’t try to run;
I’ve seen you, and my eye is death.
Say goodbye to earth and sun.
Draw your final, futile breath.

I’ve seen you, and my eye is death,
Seconds now remain to you.
Draw your final, futile breath
I’ll take you as I’m bred to do.

Seconds now remain to you;
I have all the time I need.
I’ll take you as I’m bred to do,
I hunt by sight, kill by speed.

I have all the time I need;
Say goodbye to earth and sun.
I hunt by sight, kill by speed.
No time to hide. Don’t try to run.



Mushroom magic


They stop us short
Like pennies on the pavement,
Unlooked-for, standing silent
Like the monstrous monuments
Of some strange, forgotten race.
Fleshy, flaking,
Still sparkling with this morning’s mist,
Big as plates
Balanced like circus tricks on slim stems
Each ringed with the ragged ruff
Of an Elizabethan rogue.
Fairy castles, flying saucers –
So alien, yet so at home
Here on Ashdown’s sheep-short turf.
More wait –
White, tight as golf-balls –
To swell and stretch in wild extravagance
While here and there
A tiny Ozymandias
Wind-tilted, toppled by a careless boot
(Or speeding whippet)
Crumples in its slow collapse
Into food for its own kind.


Sustainable transport


You talk about the old days;
You talk about the old ways:
My course has run unaltered
These five hundred years and more.
Great estates and families faltered:
I endured, enshrined in law.

Each generation knew me,
Their boots and habits drew me:
The traveller and teacher,
The journeyman for hire;
The ploughman and the preacher
The shepherd and the squire;

The heedless, hopeless lover,
The poacher back from covert,
All passed this way. I saw them
In all weathers, season-round
By bridge and stile I bore them
Safe wherever they were bound.

And when the oil stops flowing
And the world is clean at last,
I’ll still get you where you’re going
As I did in ages past.

En attendant l’hiver

The hardest 100 days

A warmth, not unwelcome,
But strange, unsettling,
Lingers in the land
Like a swallow
Uncertain of the way to Africa.

It will be gone

I felt it on today’s descents,
The air pooling in the dips
With a graveyard-at-midnight chill.

Then the real cold will fall
Unwelcome as the big gas bill
That surely follows it
Distant but devoted
As a stray dog.

And with it will begin
The hardest hundred days:
Of thick clay dinner-plates
Stuck to boot-soles,
Wet waxed cotton and whippet-coats
Hanging in the hallway,
Bicycles brought home
Muddied like hunters,
Old cracks and wounds in finger-ends
Split open like beech-bark.

And for all its wet and weariness
There’ll never be a minute
I’d rather sit inside and watch
Than be out living in it.

Leading questions

‘Only us dog-walkers out today!”
She says brightly as she passes.

The Downs are drowned
In a drizzle thick and grey
As battleship paint, and yet,
Yes, here we all are:

My new friend with her King Charles,
Shiny boots and pointless shades,
Two Gore-Texed women with five fizzing
Where-now-what-next-let’s-go Shelties
Gambolling round their legs like dolphins
Shadowing ships into a harbour, and a feisty papillon
With a heart and voice ten times his size.
A man, head down, hands deep in pockets,
Trudging the hard track round the field
Like a convict in an exercise yard
With a sofa-fat golden retriever
Wide-eyed, wheezing, at his heels.
Merv and Bailey, Ange and Leo.
Sid and Henry, Pete and Alfie,
And me, with the hunting-dog
In his red coat, smiling at the weather.
The familiar crowd of hardy souls,
All wondering as the rain redoubles
And Sunday yawns, goes back to sleep,
Just who is walking whom.

Virtual commute

Out of it

The dull, another-day-dawns groan
From the endless procession
Of gleaming, rat-racing cars reaches me
Across a quarter-mile of fields.

That was me
Out there, on the road, at about this time.
Not now. Nor ever again.
Not if I can help it.

Maybe I’m less
Than I might be, should be:
While I walk in these cold woods
The world runs on without me
And doesn’t seem
To feel the loss.
I can live with that.

I call the dog
Run up the hill,
Dry leaves cracking like early ice
Beneath my boots,
Through wedges of dusty sunlight
Driven between the fading hornbeams,

Loving every moment
Of my virtual commute
To what the world pretends
Is real work
But I know
To be simply an illusion.

From Brittany #2

Word hunting

The words I seek
Don’t live in my town

But out here,

Shining, sea-wet, in the sand
Flying in skeins

Resting on rocks
Or perched in trees

Half-seen out at sea
Or round sudden bends in the narrow cliff-path.

With the poacher’s patience
And fisherman’s finesse

I can catch them
Hold them for a moment

Before they wriggle free
Leaving only their warmth behind.

And a single juicy one in the bag
Is all it takes to feed me.