DAPHNE


Sunlight fell

Softly through the trees.

Shadows from the leaves rested

On the light, built

Descending layers, translucent,

Shifting, trembling.

Moments

Worth the whole of life.


She woke and saw the sun stretch out

Her window on the wall; watched hard-edged shapes

Fall across the Grecian marble, forming

Blocks of shadow; strange and unearthly

Architecture; mystical; God’s own; gone

With the passing of a cloud.

But it had been.


She rose and washed, and barefoot walked across

The cool and solid floor. Time passed. Eternity

Was lost. The sun blazed in the southern sky,

Shadows shortened to nothing. Voices drifted

Upwards to her room, spoke

Of others living other lives; the living

Hastening towards the shadow

Of their death. What then the worth,

In the hours of suffering, the moment

Of beauty?

She watched the cloud as it crossed the sun.


They said, “she spurned all men”, and “what a fool

Not falling for Apollo”; and “for her silly prayer

Zeus turned her to a tree.” “ Just think of what

She could have done”, they said, “with her time.”

But time was no concern of hers as her fingers turned

To leaves. They thought her arm was raised in defence

Against her lover’s assault, or that it

Covered her face in modesty, as slowly

It curled over her head and became

Bark-bound. “What a waste of her life”,

Said the time-bound, as the light slanted,

And the dust danced, touching her gently.


So gently too

The sun slipped from the sky,

And darkness and silence fell

Softly through the trees.


EUROPA


Ah! Poor old Zeus, seduced

Europa on your back. You stamped and snorted

And showed your masculinity;

Then from Phoenicia bore her off

Across the sea to Crete, a feat

Extraordinary for a bull.


You would have thought she should have clung in fear.

Instead she sat astride your muscled spine

Lightly, her back arched and head held high

With pride

As if she had tamed you.

She was a princess, old Agenor’s daughter.


At first it therefore seems a little strange

That she was tending cattle;

Perhaps though, in those far off days, the king

Was just a tribal chief ; his stock a symbol

Of his wealth.

Perhaps again, she only played

Like Marie Antoinette.


That is all we know of Europe’s mother.

Zeus, however, continued

His adulterous affairs

In various forms

And aggravated Juno’s jealousy.


Fond beast

Our age no longer knows what fondness meant

Nor sees its own, as once again

The sunset makes espousal of the dawn

And gives away its sovereignty.


SNOWDROPS IN EDEN


The darkness of the first forbidden love

Hangs round us now, however pure we seem.

There is no thought, no smile, no touch, no move

That we can make, no action of esteem

Within the sight of men that ever can redeem

The time when man first fell away from God

To love. And yet we would remain a dream

Within the night if those two had not trod

The exile paths which led into the land of Nod.


In the beginning, the sculptor holds his powers

Confined. He stands before the block, half blind

An instant, and then cuts across the hours

That separate the image from the mind

Until the moment that he cannot bind

The self-assertion lying in the stone.

A weaker artist is a stronger kind

Of man, who in his strength has never known

The life-releasing force which God and sin have sown.


Freedom is the first creative gift

And final gift of love. The fruit that Eve

Gave Adam was that God declined to sift

The freedom out. Good God! Could you believe

That man, if he had made a fruit like that, would leave

It hanging there, and even leave the tree

Complete with artful serpent to deceive;

And leave them openly, for all to see,

Tempting others to think otherwise than he?


Not in our snowdrop Isle, which once was said

To hold within its shores a race who stood

For freedom as its right. That race is dead,

Drowned in a flood of pre-emptive laws that should

Never flow in a once fair land, nor could

Were we not fostered on mistrust and fear

Of that potential which for ill or good

A man must have, if he is left to bear

Responsibility. Put on your seat-belt, dear,


We have discovered God made a mistake

When he first let Creation slip his thought.

We must retrace his steps, until we make

The world once more conform to what it ought

To be. And then, when we at last have caught

Reality, and bound it in the realm above,

We will make sure that it is never brought

Again into the light, where it could fly, dove

Like. For freedom is the first forbidden love.



EDMUND

(an antiphon)


I walked across a darkening bridge which held

The shadows of my steps within its stones.

Beneath, echoing a memory,

A few late punts carrying quiet laughter

Stole into their moorings for the night.

Posters pasted on the lamp-posts

Not quite concealed the tattered remains

Of the past which once proclaimed

My present.

But mine was not the present

As I walked along the streets I knew so well.

Faces turned and smiled, but not at me.

I had become a ghost.

And that was many years ago.


I am lean from days of fasting,

Weary from wakeful nights of hardship.

I mortified my flesh

For the sake of my Lord,

Praying, crying in pity of

His suffering.

Yet now you look upon my love

And smile knowingly,

Whispering

Of masochism and sexual abnormality.

Fashions have changed;

Fashions which also exist in thought.


Life has returned

As you take form within my hands;

A strange experience

In which I

Am a spectator.

The face that ignores me, staring

At those long forgotten words,

Is it at all like you?

The points of reference are few

Between generations parted

Even by a little time.

We see the glistening surface of the past

Above deep waters whose darkness

Contains only a guess.

I have tried to build again

Flesh on bones long dead,

Knowing only that you had a beard, were gaunt

From fasting; that you bent

Beneath mother, man and God

But were strong enough to stand

Against the barons and your king;

That your words drove men to kill

In the Crusades and take the vows

That would withdraw them from this world.

And imagination plays

With that little part of reality.


And of that little part a little part

Looms large within my memory now.

When I withdrew to France the final time

It was not to escape

The fury of the king, as Becket did,

But to place before the Pope

My problems with the monks of Canterbury;

Infuriating men

With all their worldly, peevish sins

Clinging to them like the devil’s claws.

Why did I persuade others to follow

Their path? To what did they

Withdraw? What was the worth of it all?

But what is the worth of worth

Where the way of Christ

Is the way of the cross,

And all our work

Lies within its narrow shade.


The embassy from Canterbury arrived

And offered you the see, and you

Sent your servant to tell them to leave

And let you read.

There was your greatest happiness, your life

Which you forsook to take frustration’s path

When they persisted with their pleas.


What matters happiness

When Christ is on the cross?

You say

“It is your life”. It is not.

It is not even, as I once thought

A gift. It is a loan

And it will be recalled.


For three years now you have lived

Within my mind. I have chosen the moment

Of peace; the longed for,

The denied,

And pushed back your duty and your love

With the cross. Rest on it, on them,

But sit and read

As I am sure you wanted to;

As once you did,

Before the chapel which you built.


My wants are an irrelevance

Unseen by you.

We are separated by too many centuries.

Yet we are like two birds in a cage,

Unable to escape

Each other’s presence.

Together we must watch the changing whims

Of passing times, as we endure

Uncertain future.

Let us pray that beneath it all

There is a common ground

Which lies in the embrace of God.


Both of us have known

This ancient churchyard in our younger days.

Here, surrounded by the living and the dead,

The birds will sing their song of old

Which is unchanged

Across all the expanse of years.

Why are our voices different?

Why should intelligence alter

Eternity?

The sparrow still flies

Through the hall. In the surrounding dark

Memories do not matter any more.

We are born out of unconsciousness

And slowly we become aware,

Until awareness stifles us.

And then it drifts away as we move back

Towards our origins, and lose self

Consciousness.

The future envelopes us.

I sit at your side,

A ghost; an unseen presence

In a place where footprints which we weave

In youth, walk across the fabric of our later years

And into other lives.


LE TROU FRANCAIS


The cat sat

On the mat

At the top of the spiral stairs.

A temporary tabby striped

By shadows from the steel

Bannisters. Slowly it rose and uncoiled

Its way down the steps;

Crossed the floor of the incongruous

French bar with its large timbers and log fire

And lilac plastic and metal chairs

Horrid against the lime green walls.


Only France could join such opposites

Without a second thought. Strange

Land of stylish decadence;

Home to so many painters, yet

Penetrated by a vast aesthetic hole,

The true Francais.


The cat sprang

Onto a chair and watched

The man upon the bar-stool next to it.

As it did yesterday

And the day before

And all the days before the day

When I first watched the scene.


Underneath a cowboy hat

Dark eyes lay sunk within a wrinkled face

Fringed by long and shaggy grizzled hair and beard

Which fell upon a black and red checked shirt.

Waist up, he might have been a trapper

Recently emerged from some dark mountain woods.

But like a merman or a centaur strange

Discord divided him in two.

Below his belt, neat grey flannels fell

On fashionable grey shoes

Thin and soft.


The cat stared

At the man who also stared, intently

At an electronic bar-top fruit machine

As he had stared each time

I saw him. What intelligence

Was held behind the eyes absorbed

So long within the screen?

In the constant repetition of the months,

Perhaps the years, had he defeated

Mutability, and found the answer

To dissatisfaction? Or had he just

Decided the useful part of life

Was done?

Or did the interesting wrinkles

Of his face write so many wasted years?


The cat yawned

And dropped from the seat.

I drank my coffee and left

The man still staring at the screen.



THE DRUNKENNESS OF NOAH


Noah the just, who walked with God, is dead

Drunk. In the darkness of the cloak his sons

Threw over him, his naked body lies

Sprawling where he fell. His mouth hangs open

And vomit rattles round his throat like death.

It bubbles on his lips and congeals

In his beard, sickening the surrounding air.

A dark dream swims through the drunken slumbers

Of his head, throbs in the blood prophetic

Nightmare. Beats at his brain until he wakes

And waking curses from the sleep in which

The sins of coming times have worked and built

The cities in the plain of Ashtaroth.


What shall we do with the drunken sailor

Whose ark has slipped its moorings in his mind

And is replaced by viticulture?


The man who sailed the earth and saved the world,

The only righteous, wobbles to his feet.

Blear eyed, weak-legged, with aching head he slurs

A curse on Canaan for the crime of Ham

Who saw him lying naked in the dirt.


What shall we do with the drunken sailor

Whose condition, if sailorly, is not

Seemly, and whose curse would appear to be

Misdirected?


We shall make excuses according to the times.

We will discuss what Ham

Did, and whether he did more

Than see. We will contend

That under certain conditions Canaan

Is Ham, and under others that the story

Is confused, rather than Noah.

We will say drunkenness

Is the true flower of the vine and its fruit

Is prophecy, or else that as the first

Home-brewer, the old man didn’t know

The effect of fermentation till he’d tried it.

Lastly, we will say that the drunk

Is not the sailor, speak of muddled myths

Cry “Symbolism” and say that who is cursed is

Irrelevant. We will pickle poor

Old Noah in his wine and leave him a

Curious specimen.

This is as well,

For though we do not mind drunkenness or

Nakedness today, we cannot abide

Curses.

They tend to be intolerant.


But what is the value of tolerance?

Let us ask

God. He drowned the earth, struck

Sodom and Gomorrah for their sins. His

Son took a whip to traders in the temple,

Blasted the fig-tree, told his men to cast

The dust off their feet from the towns

Which did not receive them, saying

Those places would fare worse than

Sodom and Gomorrah for their sins.


In view of this

What shall we do with the drunken sailor

Whom God saved?


Why did you save him, God,

When you wished you had not

Made the world?

Why start again?

Where was your omniscience?

Was it not time to give up

Your creation? It has cost you

And us a great deal from the first, when you slipped up

With those trees. Where was

Your omniscience? Or did you mean

To give men free-will and pass the buck

To them? To them. To us, for I

Cannot exclude me from it all.


And then, Christ! Look at the Christians.


I was in hospital, waiting

(One is always waiting, in hospital)

For an operation, in considerable

Pain. But first there were forms to be filled

As usual in this fallen failure.

“What religion are you?”

“Christian.”

“What religion?” “Christian.”

“What religion?” throbbing with the pain.

“Christian.”

“No, what

RELIGION?”

Throb

“C of E?” in desperation

“Yes” Oh Christ

The inquisition over.


Christ, pluck up your cross.

Carry it on your back to some better

Made planet. Why hang here?

Is it defeatism to admit

You didn’t make us well

Enough? Must you suffer

For your sins? Look close.

We are C of E. We are R.C.

We have Faith and Hope

If not Charity. We love God

Because we can’t see him, and our brother

We can, we hate. And why not?

For seeing him, we know what he is like.


Don’t you? Are you

Blinder than we? Don’t you

Care? If the nails don’t

Hurt, don’t the thorns?

Won’t you give up, God? Won’t

You leave us alone? We carry out

Atrocities enough in your name.

To dissociate yourself from it

Would be wise. You have failed,

Lord, admit it. What have you got to gain?

What is there left to love?


What shall we do with the drunken sailor?


In the beginning

Our faith is the faith of the flood.

Alone

We float on the waters above the earth

In communion with God.

But the waters subside, and we find ourselves

In a peopled and still fallen world.

We are a part of it after the flood.

We are not exempt. We grow

Grapes in good faith and get drunk

In ignorance.

We bear the mark of sin and suffering

And death as much after the flood

As before it, for it is the old world

That the departing waters have disclosed.

We pray.

But our prayers are not the same

As when we floated in the ark.

They are not the only prayers in the world.

Others pray too. They have as much right.

Often, more reason.

And we see their prayers

Which are not answered.


The faith of the flood will not endure

Experience.


So,

What shall we do with the drunken sailor?


Noah lived nine hundred and fifty years

Which is a long time.

But not long enough to reach us.

In the gap between him and us

He has lost his reality.

What do we care if he got drunk or not?

Even his curse falls far short.

What do we care about the Canaanites?

Hiroshima and Nagasaki are our past

Not Sodom and Gomorrah

And even they are losing their reality.

Time is a deeper drunkenness than Noah’s.

Its prophetic dreams watch their own fulfilment

And are forgotten. It is a deeper flood

Which covers the earth with ever rising waters.

And then we sink. There is no Ararat

For us. We are the sediment

Of the ocean floor.


What shall we do with the drunken sailor

Who is dead? We will bury him at sea

And let him slip to the deep sediment.

It will rise round his disturbing corpse

And cover it, and both will then lie still

As his uneventful last three hundred years.


Noah the just, who walked with God, is dead

And we, who live, must drink

As in the garden of Gethsemane

Praying prayers that are not answered

Because they are not asked.

Noah is dead, and faith must embrace

Even its own loss for redemption

Is the flower of the true vine and its fruit

Is the will of God.



POPPIES

Poppies snow scarlet

Memorials in a monument

To the dead. The life

Is gone, tread

Them underfoot in the evening

And in the morning, forget them.

They were not heroes while they were alive.


See them standing in the rain,

The soldiers old and new,

The politicians, the people

Laying wreaths before the Senapod,

Emetic for nationalistic feelings.


But we know.

We have lost

Our naivete.

We know

Wheeling, double-dealing lies

Behind the battle-front.

We know

Corpses grow money, build

Prestige, pave power-paths.

We know

Politicians and generals grow

Where soldiers die.

We know

What was the worth

Of all those lost lives

To keep the Falklands

For a few farmers

Freedom, the money lost to ourselves.

Just as we knew the cost of

Jews in thousands lost

Of pounds and people.


We have lost

Our naivete.

We know

We have lost

Honour, pride, a sense of

Right and self

Respect, know

Quantity can be counted

And quality is no good

To the dead.

We know

It is better to be

Only half alive.



SUMMERTIME

Summertime

And the cattle (you think you know this song?)

Are not lowing because they are not there.


Only a lone bull

Dozer grazes the field in front of the barn

Which gleams with glazed affrontery where once,

Old and heavy with the weight of years, hung

Doors that swung to the throb of tractors charged

With grain;

Opened for the gentler grating of iron

Tyres turning slowly round the axletree,

And the echo of metalled hooves;

Revealed the threshing floor where now

Silk carpets lie.


A boy, I lay amongst the sheaves

In the tumbrel cart

Like children down the years.

A man, I watched the wheels turn

From wood to steel. Rode

On a change so fast yet unperceived.

I formed a bridge across the centuries

And I have watched it fall.


There, in the barn, where flails

Once raised the dust, I worked and itched

As generations itched, from barley beard

Stuck in the creases of my skin.

Ails, we called the horrid spikes,

A word lost to the present, living still;

Passed from age to age across a thousand years

To me. “Egl unheorru” whispered the dust.


Now even the dust has gone,

And the beams, sand-blasted beyond

The polish of the adze

Reveal a coarser grain as we erase

Our history.


In my early teens

I would, at the rising of the sun,

Take gun and book, and find

A comfortable seat hidden beneath trees

And wait for the dark shadow

Of a slowly floating rook

Or flutter of pigeons.

And the light would flow through translucent leaves

Shedding shadows in its fall, till all around

Was dappled by a faery brush;

And the sweet scent of vegetation and of earth,

Of book-must and nitre and gun-oil

(You think this funny?) formed

Within my soul a memory

Before the beginning of my time.

The echo of a gun across the mist

Of early morning, as the landscape spreads

And widens across the valley is a sound

That haunts me still

But annoys the newcomers who seem deaf

When traffic roars.


The old dry ditch

Where I would lie in wait for rabbits, runs

Now with a stream

Of concrete; overflows across the meadow

Where Chaucer might have risen early

To watch daisies, white and red, unfold.

Houses grow there now, out of scale, barn-big;

The old farmhouse shrunk and relegated to a

Corner and used as a pub (while the village

Coaching Inn is turned to flats) and that’s

That. You cannot live from farming now

(Perhaps not even from agribusiness);

Nor can you fight money.

One of the few things that does not change

Is trial by combat; the biggest bugger

Wins.


I am mindful of the slaughter

Of the past. Where have the tractors gone?

Where have the horses gone? Where are my kin?

All my past has passed away,

Vanished in the mists that rise

Under the shadow of night.

Everything thins and pales

As if it had never been.


The echo of a gun

Across the early morning;

The sweetness no longer there to taste, nor

Sorrow to feel.

The hand will not stir; there are no thoughts

To think.

While the summer sun flares

From the white concrete and melts

The tarmac under which the fields lie,

The light falls

Still through the trees that were,

And the scent of the gentle earth holds me

With its memory.



TOWARDS THE END OF THE YEAR


It is late November, but the feel of it

Is early spring.

The singing of a few birds

In the cool refreshing sunlight

Seem to presage a new awakening, not

The ending of the year.


As I walk across the fields, they too

In the fresh green of winter wheat

Seem more like spring, and I feel the joy

I used to feel; the desire to load the cart

With seed or climb upon an open tractor

And spray the risen crop, watching

The veiled wraiths drifting from the booms

Glistening in the sunlight. Crop spraying

Had its own beauty. But now I have lost

My “grandfather rights.” After all those years

Of experience I have to pass tests

To spray again. I hate a student

Teacher, Milton said; and I

Have no time for the infringements

Of bureaucracy, the loss

Of liberty, of trust, in a community

To which I no longer belong.


Kick the clods in anger,

I thought the fields were mine; but they are not.

So society steals our birthright and appropriates

Our being. We will lose

But we must fight. At the end of the year

We must fight for the spring

We will not see.



ESSAY ON SANITY


Hail! Muse of lawyers and of government,

And all the heavenly bodies who are sent

To set in stone or ratify in ink

The rules by which we live our lives, and think,

Or rather do not think (I hear the Heavenly chorus)

For they, dear souls, will kindly do it for us.

And Hail to these new Moses, who have brought off

So many more laws than old Moses thought of.

Perhaps it shows (though this at first seems odd)

That Man is more inventive than his God.

The thing itself is worth more than its praise

As victory is worth more than victor’s bays;

So rather than extol our wondrous laws

And all our wondrous law-givers, I’ll pause

To let a very few Commandments show

How we’ve replicated Heaven here below.


“Thou shalt not till thy sixteenth year buy glue”

To make the things which children used to do.

At sixteen years however, you can carry

All the sticky stuff you want; and marry,

And have “gay” affairs (a word as much abused

As any body, however badly used).

“Thou shalt not sharpen pencils with a knife

If thou’st not eighteen years of age” (that’s life

These days); “nor have an alcoholic drink”.

At eighteen on the dot, though, you can sink

All that you missed in youthful years, and bear

The knife which boy scouts once were told to wear.

Responsibility, it then was thought

Was something that a youngster should be taught;

An old fashioned view; the government did doubt it

And thought a child better off without it.

If we cannot trust the innocence of youth

We surely should not trust the long in tooth:

Set in their ways, invariably wrong,

They cling to their views, and always hold them long.

The only answer is the rule of law,

Or rather laws, and we need more and more

To curb the excesses that we tend to find

Wherever we allow an individual mind.

So

“Thou shalt not hunt the cunning, wily fox

Like old John Peel, across the northern rocks

On foot; nor over southern fields of corn.

Thou shalt not follow hounds, nor hear the horn”.

You can, however, shoot him with a gun

Providing you can show that it’s less fun;

And if he dies more slowly of gangrene,

His death’s more seemly, since it can’t be seen.

But, “thou shalt not have a gun without a licence”

And soon, because we think it makes more sense,

And no-one really has the need of one,

“thou shalt not have a licence for a gun.”

So that, when only criminals are armed,

No-one at all will need to be alarmed.

“Thou shalt not make fun of a coloured man

Nor any woman, of whatever tan”

You can though make your sport of quite a lot,

As French or English, Irish, Welsh or Scot.

“Thou shalt not blaspheme Muslim or Hindu,

Nor Buddhist, Zoroastrian, or Jew;

Nor Christian” (though insults to the latter

Are not the same, and really do not matter).

Religious tolerance remains a hope

Once well expressed by Alexander Pope,

Shall each blasphemer quite escape the rod

Because the insult's not on Man but God


“The rod! My God!” I hear the cry, “by law

It’s banned, and we’ll ban God before

We bring it back. The eighteenth century

Lacked something of our modern sanity.”

“Thou shalt not buy thy aspirins by the score”

(Or rather “packs of twenty”) any more,

For sixteen is the number we decide

Is just below the risk for suicide.

Though if you have the wit to flout the law

You can buy two packs – even three or four.

And Gran, “Thou shalt not take upon a plane

Thy nail scissors”, in case you go insane

And hijack it – a thing that’s often done

By grey haired invalids of ninety one.

“Thou shalt always wear a seat-belt in thy car”

And always have some speed bumps where you are.

Soon, hopefully, we’ll hear, “Thou shalt not drink,

Thou shalt not smoke, and in no other way shalt think.”

For what’s the purpose of education

If we don’t think alike across the nation?

The only way to have an Age of Gold

Is for everyone to come from the same mould.


So, though we’ve mimicked God, we’ve also done

Those things He ought, but which he left undone.

This is our faith, and this the path we trod.

We’ve justified the ways of Man to God.



EVE

The ancient serpent slipped into the ear

Of Eve, and with an evil whisper spat

His venom there. Why should that ripe fruit bear

Wisdom not for her? Within her head he sat

In jealous coils, twisted round her mind.

If all the trees in Paradise were felled

She would be happy, and she could be kind,

Providing the tree of power was not withheld.

God angered, cursed her body and its seed,

Saying that they would suffer, age and die.

The soul he did not curse. There was no need.

In agonied self-torture it would lie,

Until another tree would fruit and so atone

For her, and dispossess the devil of his own.



THE LORD UPON THE SHORE

Time casts his net across the stars

To trap them in eternity,

And all who pass beneath are held

Within its arch.


Under its folds, two thousand years ago

A fisher threw his net upon the sea

While Christ looked on, waiting

For the time to call to him to fish again

For men.


And now, once more, he casts his net to catch

All those who pass beneath.

The resurrected town and church are linked

Beneath its frozen curve,

And in this ancient place, where bombs bequeathed

A modern heritage, old and new are joined

While Christ looks on.


The future and the past are fused

Within the present, which we bind

In things we make, creating lines

That cross infinity.

Their value is our charge and goes beyond

Our age to other times. What those will hold

We cannot know, perhaps not understand.


Beliefs and values change and shift like sand

Beneath the moon-drawn waves.

But always there is the pattern; always

That which determines; always, within

And beyond the arch of stars and time,

The Lord upon the shore.


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