Softly through the trees.
Shadows from the leaves rested
On the light, built
Descending layers, translucent,
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
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
through the trees.
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
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.
Our age no longer knows what fondness meant
Nor sees its own, as once again
The sunset makes espousal of the dawn
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.
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
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
Yet now you look upon my love
And smile knowingly,
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;
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?
“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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
This is as well,
For though we do not mind drunkenness or
Nakedness today, we cannot abide
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?”
“What religion?” “Christian.”
“What religion?” throbbing with the pain.
“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.
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
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.
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
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 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
Wheeling, double-dealing lies
Behind the battle-front.
Corpses grow money, build
Prestige, pave power-paths.
Politicians and generals grow
Where soldiers die.
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
We have lost
Honour, pride, a sense of
Right and self
Quantity can be counted
And quality is no good
To the dead.
It is better to be
Only half alive.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
“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
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.
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
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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