Tag Archive: poems


Ash Wednesday 2015

During Lent, I have decided to have a go at writing a Haiku on a general Lenten theme (not necessarily related to the lectionary or services in church) for my regular mid-week post. I cannot guarantee their uniqueness or quality but they will be original.

Here is today’s

Ash

To dust and to ash
Acknowledge mortality
Find humility

 

At Grantchester

This is a poem from one of the so-called “war poets” from the First World War. They are remembered for a variety of reasons. Some, like Sigfried Sassoon, are remembered for their critique of a war which saw considerable loss of life and limb. Given that another world war began some twenty years later, it seemed to many that the first “war to end all wars” was futile and tragic at best; a criminal shame at worst. Others, such as Edward Thomas (e.g. Adlestrop) and Rupert Brooke, are remembered because some of their poetry recalls a golden pre-war age. They may well have been using rose-tinted glasses, but given the turmoil of two world wars and the pervasive fear of the Cold War, I think it understandable.

At Grantchester

Ah God! to see the branches stir
Across the moon at Grantchester!
To smell the thrilling-sweet and rotten
Unforgettable, unforgotten
River-smell, and hear the breeze
Sobbing in the little trees.
Say, do the elm-clumps greatly stand
Still guardians of that holy land?
The chestnuts shade, in reverend dream,
The yet unacademic stream?
Is dawn a secret shy and cold
Anadyomene, silver-gold?
And sunset still a golden sea
From Haslingfield to Madingley?
And after, ere the night is born,
Do hares come out about the corn?
Oh, is the water sweet and cool,
Gentle and brown, above the pool?
And laughs the immortal river still
Under the mill, under the mill?
Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain? . . . oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

Rupert Brooke, 1887-1915

(excerpt from “The Old Vicarage, Grantchester”, 1912)

The Bright Field

The Bright Field  is also a title of an anthology of readings and meditations edited by Martyn Percy. When searching on the internet for it one of the results was this poem. A happy accident to have rediscovered this gem.

The Bright Field

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

by R. S. Thomas

 

Oh! how I love, on a fair summer’s eve,
When streams of light pour down the golden west,
And on the balmy zephyrs tranquil rest
The silver clouds, far — far away to leave
All meaner thoughts, and take a sweet reprieve
From little cares; to find, with easy quest,
A fragrant wild, with Nature’s beauty drest,
And there into delight my soul deceive.

John Keats, 1795-1821 from “Sonnet: Oh! How I love, on a fair summer’s eve”

Adlestrop

A while back we took a few days’ Spring break in Oxfordshire. We visited Oxford and explored a little of the surrounding Cotswolds. I don’t remember where we were driving to but on the way I saw a road sign indicating “Adlestrop”. The name seemed familiar so on the way back we stopped briefly at that tiny village. The poem which made Adlestrop “famous” is about a train stopping at a station. Well, the station is no longer there, most of the buildings long gone, and the station building itself is, apparently, a private house now.

Instead of a railway station one has to make do with a bus shelter.

no station exists but this bus stop commemorates the poem by Edward Thomas

It has the old station sign and a copy of Edward Thomas’ poem. Trains do still run on that line but no longer stop at Adlestrop.

Adlestrop

Yes, I remember Adlestrop —
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop — only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Edward Thomas (1878 -1917)

National poetry day 2011

It has not taken me much effort to resist the temptation to compose a few lines of poetry and then publish them on line. However, I do think that poetry is worth reading and spending some time over. Some poems are deeply moving, others inspiring, yet others are witty or even just fun. Some poems are cleverly written, some defy convention, and others need  our concentrated attention. Meanwhile there are badly written poems, lazy rhyming schemes, impenetrable lines; there are overlong sagas as well as pretentious prose set out on the page to give the impression of poetry. And I don’t think it is necessarily a matter of taste whether a piece of writing falls into one or the other category above – an element of personal preference, to be sure, but not the whole story methinks.

My humble contribution to this year’s National Poetry Day is to put online a poem I happen to like. I’m afraid it is not about this year’s subject, but this one made me smile the first time I heard it.

A Farmer’s Boy

They strolled down the
lane together,

The sky was studied with
stars,

They reached the gate
in silence,

And he lifted down the
bars.

She neither smiled nor
thanked him

Because she knew not
how;

For he was just a
farmer’s boy

And she a Jersey cow…

                                 (Anon)

Slithers of gold

When I first glanced at this I thought, “Oh no, not another impossibly optimistic song of praise!” Having trudged on in a hymn at the other dour extreme, a hymn in another book seemed to be unrealistic about the joys of morning. The first line began “Today I awake” and goes on to talk sentimentally about how God “patterns the morning”.

I must take care to avoid jumping to conclusions from such cursory glances. Although this hymn has been placed in the “morning and evening” category that is not the whole story. In fact, if I had bothered to read the whole poem through, I would have discovered that its main theme is God’s faithfulness in all kinds of situation both good and bad. “God never sleeps…Christ is beside me…The Spirit inspires…called me to life and call me their friend”. Not only is God present but he also is there to help us move on “to hope and to heal…from broken to blest”.

The tune accompanying it I found somewhat mournful – or perhaps I would have said ‘wistful’ had I been in a better mood when I played it. The only real criticism is a point about the language we use when talking about God the Trinity: the last verse talks about the three persons and so concludes “they called me…” which is grammatically correct. Unfortunately, it could also be a bit misleading because the Christian belief is that there is one God in Trinity.

It turns out that this hymn is hopeful, rather than wildly optimistic, as well as realistic. The morning may well be patterned with slithers of gold but God may also reveal “glory in grey”; and that almost throw-away phrase is the one I find the most encouraging and affirming line of all. God is in the stuff we do understand, as well in the miracles that we don’t; God is in the ordinary times as well as in the special ones.

View from the window

I was bound to return to this subject sooner or later if only to mention one of my favourite poems. “The View from The Window” by R. S. Thomas. We sometimes hear friends complain, “I had to do  Shakespeare/[insert name of writer or poet here] at school and that just ruined it for me, I’m afraid.” Well, in this instance, here is a poem from a poet whom “we did at school” which actually caught my teenage imagination and has stayed with me ever since.

In part it is the sparing use of language which yet manages to conjure up a picture in the mind’s eye. OK, so much of what we get out of a poem is what we put into it – either through conscious effort in reading it or through memories, emotions, recollections and knowledge mulling around in our subconscious. This poem reflects something of the author’s Christian faith and the landscape of the parish in which he served. However, it also contains, for me at least, a revolutionary idea that a thing may be constantly changing but at the same time be finished, complete. The change we see outside this window is not because improvement is needed – it does not need to be made better – but because, change, movement (“the dynamic”) is a characteristic of what it is. If the view did not change it would be still, i.e. lifeless. In a way this is a truth that is obvious once you get it and yet profound – do we not instinctively resist change? Yet change is all around us – in nature, in society, in politics, in our bodies growing up/old and so on. We might sometimes complain that change seems to be for change’s sake, but sometimes change happens because it is the nature of the beast, so to speak. Change works on different time scales from the ephemeral world of fashion at one end to the epochal pace of geology at the other. It takes a certain amount of discernment to know which changes to let go and which ones we should try to shape. Mostly we can’t stop change but we can sometimes change change so to speak.

I wonder how many days of gazing out at the clouds and busy skies of Wales if took for Revd R. S. Thomas reach his conclusions about the created world? And, as is sometimes the way when writing poetry, perhaps he did not realise it until after he had written his poem.

Bugs don’t write poems…

… is a line from “The Bug and the Butterfly”, a story in English and Spanish for all the family. Or, as the brochure puts it, “Dance and music fuse with Spanish and English text in this exciting new show for adults and children alike”. We were in the crypt, so to speak, of the theatre and we were invited to sit on the leaf-shaped carpet pieces on the floor. I bottled out and sat on one of the handful of chairs assigned to grown ups who couldn’t cope with the floor. (My family may testify to my propensity for pins and needles if I sit on the floor for any length of time.)

I’m afraid for all its merits it was not quite what it said on the tin. For example, there were maybe a dozen or so Spanish words, none of which were crucial to the plot. This was a bit of a pity because one of the selling points for us was the Spanish which we are beginning to learn. The plot itself was essentially:

  • Bug starts to write poem
  • no on wants to listen
  • Bug meets Butterfly who listens to work in progress
  • Butterfly breaks wing
  • Wing gets better and Butterfly departs
  • Bug finishes her poem

To its credit this did hold the attention of the under fives in the audience for over half an hour – but not mine, I’m afraid. For me the best bit was when the bug character wafted the poppy leaf a bit too vigorously and knocked off some of her glittery make up. The sparkling motes dancing and flashing in the stage light were pleasing to watch and that helped to pass the time while the plot ambled on.

The two supporting actors played a number of characters and can be commended for their versatility. And I can hardly criticise any of the three for their lithe dance and movement as any such dancing I attempt resembles a blue whale with a moderate sense of timing rather more than ballet. (I can remember 5th position but I’m not so sure about 3rd and 4th).

I did not attend the family workshop which followed immediately afterwards but the reports I got afterwards were somewhat faint praise.

As none of our party were under five we didn’t enjoy The Bug and the Butterfly as much as we would have wanted. But I reckon a four-year-old would easily give 8 or more out of ten.

A Northamptonshire Peasant

Condescending at best and derogatory at worst but that is how he was described as a marketing ploy. No wonder John Clare did not fit in with “society” in the 19th century. I mention him because I like some of his poetry. I’m glad to say that I made up my mind about the poems I read before finding out about him – I was able to judge them on their merits and on their personal appeal without being clouded by my opinion of their author. It turns out that I don’t have much in common with him. Two centuries separate us, he was a country lad and I’m very much the townie. He loved the countryside, its wonder, its beauty, and the freedom to roam its fields. For myself, I don’t mind the countryside, understand its importance somewhat, respect it even, but I would hardly claim to love it in the way that others do.

And it came as a bit of a surprise to discover that much of John Clare’s poetry was written while he was a patient in an asylum. However, that is not what I wanted to tell you about. In one of his poems, Song 4, he uses the phrase “the mirrors change and flye”. I like that metaphor of time passing rapidly. Perhaps you have seen the 1960’s film of H G Wells “The Time Machine”? In it the hero watches a shop window as the display changes from season to season in rapid succession.  The faster his machine goes, the more the display becomes a blur while the shop and its surroundings shimmer as the light changes with the speeded up weather and the passing of days and nights in seconds rather than hours. That scene conveys an air of melancholy and alludes to the peril that is to come later on in the story. Or perhaps you have seen a scene in some TV programme where the character is looking at a bathroom mirror and sees his or her face as it changes in quick succession from their younger to their present face. The mirror and the person stay the same but the reflection shimmers as the years pass.

That shimmering effect from the rapid succession of small changes is reminiscent of ripples on the surface of a pool of water stirred by the wind. It might remind you of that phrase of looking “through a glass darkly” (which can also be translated as “puzzling reflections in a mirror”). I wonder weather John Clare had heard the apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians which is what where that phrase came from.

John Clare’s poem caught my imagination many years ago: the idea that time passing was like looking at your reflection in a clear pool of water and then a breath of wind stirs that water ever so slightly causing it to ripple gently and shimmer your reflection through time.

“As the wind the waters stir, the mirrors change and flye”.

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