I am posting some of my own poems here rather than leave them in obscurity among my papers. That way it is possible that someone may read them. The first poem I have kept is dated 1970 and the last 2010.
A WINTER’S TALE
The cold queen of Narnia Lies in her cold bed River ice her coverlet Snow beneath her head
White hands open Dark eyes wide Seeing through the window The white hillside
Watching in the moonlight Waiting for a sound Hard hoofs tapping On the frozen ground
Shield arms blazing Burnished bright his mail Brave knight errant Seeks the Holy Grail
His eyes are blue sky Glowing gold his hair Warm young wanderer Surely thou art fair
Mailed feet ringing In the silent hall Pale tapers leaping Shadows on the wall
Silver is her girdle Milk white her breast Come lie with me I will give you rest
Sapphire silver chalice Purple poppy wine Staining his cold lips Now you are mine
In a high white tower Where no-one wakes Ice blue his stare His stone heart breaks
Soft snowflakes fall Slow dream of years Where streams run free Sweet Lion’s tears
Where sunbeams break Dark trance of death Warm breezes blow Sweet Lion’s breath
The cold queen of Narnia Lies down alone Blind are her dark eyes Empty her throne
A SUMMER’S TALE
Alone in her spotless Council house Mavis cleaned all day While Bert worked up the factory yard To earn their meagre pay
“Give over, luv,” he sometimes said, “There’s more to life than soap.” But Mavis only smiled at him Perfection was her hope
She saw from her kitchen window Across the narrow street The smoke-black brick of the chapel Where sober people meet
And far beyond the slate-grey roofs A glimpse of sapling green Where hills began beyond the town A country wide and clean
Remembering a lovers’ lane She closed her eyes and saw The lovers that they might have been So many years before
Bert took her hand with a courteous bow Rough with toil and grime And kissed her hand like a noble prince In a tale of a courteous time
And she smiled at him with the love of the years That had taken their youth and looks And touched his lips with her own worn lips Like a maid in the story books
And arm in arm they walked in the lane Where the creamy umbels sway And nightingales in hidden dells Tell of an older way
And through the wood of the waxing moon As the magic stars flared out Came the capering court of the horned god Aglee in bibulous rout
They sang a ravishing pagan song With flute and tambourine Youths and girls with blossom girt And leaves of living green
And as they danced among the trees Or fell to fierce embrace She felt the coursing of her blood That urged her to the chase
The glades burned bright with the Beltane fires Turning night to day And Bert was King of the wild green wood And she was Queen of the May
The sun shone on the chapel roof Turning grey to gold Bert was trudging up the street The rest is quickly told
“Come, my dear,” she gladly said, “Our life begins today For we must learn to love the world Who have so short a stay.”
And hand in hand they walked in the lane Where the shining grasses play And heard the nightingales rejoice In the greenwood far away
He sang a plaintive threnody A melancholy melody Such a mournful symphony Of minstrelsy and psalmody
Of mountains grim in Bolgary Of forests dark in Muscovy Of deserts drear in Tartary Of Araby, of Arcady
Of cruel plans of tyranny Of ruthless plots of treachery Of callous schemes of trickery Of falsity, of perfidy
Of witty mimes of mimicry Of merry jests of jollity Of joyful masques of mummery Of drollery, of raillery
Of mystic tales of wizardry Of magic lays of sorcery Of legends fell of devilry Of witchery, of knavery
Of golden dreams of errantry Of courtly deeds of chivalry Of daring feats of gallantry Of rivalry, of bravery
In ballads old in Gramarye Beside the singing sea
In memory of a much loved Lancashire heeler
Always welcoming name disk jingling pattering toenails furtive quivering plump little body bouncing fatly
Ears alert for walkies lunging sideways smells irresistible running by the river a heeler who never walked to heel
Jealous of the budgie anxious to be cuddled embarrassingly amorous clasping trouser legs shamelessly soliciting mealtime scraps
Bright eyes begging mercy from the merciful accusing the kindly threatening the postman watching the biscuits
Her few years fled away leaving a memory of gentleness to warm this winter night
NO SUN OVER NARNIA
“There is no God,” the foolish say. “There is no sun, there is no day.” Away, away. I’ve seen the spider spin a web, A shining silver wheel of light, Of gossamer where dewdrops bright Hang still beside the way.
“God is dead,” the foolish cry. “The desert blooms, the sea is dry.” Deny, deny. I’ve heard the skylark praise the sun In soaring ecstasy of song In trembling crucifixion hung Upon the summer sky.
“We are bereft,” the foolish weep. “The mountain stoops, the plain is steep.” Such counsel keep. I’ve tasted of the autumn’s fruit And drunk the blood of the dying vine And with this sacrificial wine Have bought the balm of sleep.
“All ends in night,” the foolish know. “Light is dark and to is fro.” It is not so. I’ve felt the purifying touch Of lonely winter’s bitter wind When rime the shivering waters rimmed And kissed the silent snow.
“We are alone, nor woe nor bliss,” The foolish know, but I know this: The truth they miss. I’ve smelled the fragrance of the rose Whose fainting flower in rapture sings When spring to all the woodland brings The breath of Artemis.
The children are playing in Inkerman Street, Step on a crack and the world will explode, Skipping and hopping on impudent feet; The dust cart is grinding along the grey road.
Mary, my darling, O Mary, my love, The tree by the railings is haggard and black. The race is beginning, they give her a shove, She staggers and stumbles and falls on a crack.
Tumultuous braying of horns in the park Like the brass ballyhooing of Saturday bands; The roaring of voices that bellow and bark, And there on the pavement a unicorn stands.
With a terrible beauty ablaze in his eye, Stamping and tossing and rearing he flings Defiance of fury, refusal to die, Then lifting his head he incredibly sings.
His theme is wild magic, of marvels untold; His song is pure silver, the voice of the moon; On the tree that was withered white lilies unfold; Silent and still is the grey afternoon.
He comes to the maid at a delicate trot, And yields him to Mary before her bright face, Accepting, adoring, all troubles forgot, Lovely with wonder and light of his grace.
The enchantment is broken; the yammering pack Race from the park to rend and to slay. The ravening hunters all pity they lack; They beat him and chain him and drag him away.
Mary is kneeling beneath the black tree. “Crybaby! Clumsy!” the boys jeer and call. “Pathetic! She’s blubbing. It’s just a grazed knee. “But Mary is weeping for more than the fall.
The children are playing in Inkerman Street, But Mary alone by the gate of the park Watches and waits for the sound of his feet, For a glimmer of white in the gathering dark.
The dry sand rustles like satin curtains closing. Listen, fishermen; it is the whisper of time. The pine trees say it and the old one has heard it.
The emperor is dying, falling away down To the emerald sea, the soundless rush of it, Absorbed in the formless green, the womb of the world.
A hoard of living silver will buy your voices, Your brown feet stamping the wet sand, the hard rhythm Of chanting, the ceremonial of dying.
When dusk dims the almond blossom by the window The nightingale will pour her cataract of prayer Into the star-strewn ocean of her master’s dreams.
The blue jade sundials among the porcelain roses In the peacock garden have numbered his heart beats Each silken slipperfall, each breath of sandalwood.
Sages and saints, framed in the golden tapestry By the waters of paradise, watch their good lord Drink his last cup from the fathomless well of days.
Fishermen, do you hear the copper bells beating In the forest shrine where your fading sea-gifts lie, The harsh lamentation of eagles on the shore?
Before the moon washes the bright picture away The nightingale will cast her graceful threnody From the black branches drawn on the pale salmon sky.
The long wind hissing over the dunes has heaped up A burial mound, a mountain of memories; The last grain of sand has fallen in the hour glass.
Incense of aloes, the sweet smoke of sacrifice, Rises like sea mist from the altar of heaven, From the dark temple where desolate consorts weep.
The fishing boats sail down the rivers of the moon To seek the lost islands of immortality, Hidden pearls beyond price in the uttermost east.
When dawn draws back the gentle curtain of the night The nightingale will soar to the celestial realm And sing to her master of true love for ever.
WAS THERE WINTER IN EDEN?
Was there winter in Eden? Did daffodils fade? Were there tares in the wheat? Were the field mice afraid?
Did dragonflies hunt On the blossom above? Were there galls on the leaves In the garden of love?
Did the sparrowhawk stoop On the quivering lark? Did the eyes of the vixen Glow green in the dark?
Did the honey bear suffer The sting of the bee? Were there worms in the apples That hung on the tree?
Was the namer of beasts The bringer of grief? Was the lady who ruled him A sage or a thief?
I know a garden fair, my love Where sings the nightingale And every song of every bird Recites a lovers’ tale
And there the lilies blow, my love The wild white lilies blow And there the petals snow, my love The pure white petals snow
And in that garden fair, my love Beneath an apple tree Ten thousand blossoms lay, my love A couch for you and me
And there the roses call, my love The red, red roses call And there the petals fall, my love The crimson petals fall
The lilies white and roses red Shall bless our love alway And mingle with our kisses three Upon our wedding day
In quietly sleeping winter gardens now Where fog-dewed ivy covers her cold bed The snowdrop bulb beneath the snow-dipped bough Awakes and shyly lifts her maiden head
And like a nun with reverential eyes Looks down with modest gaze on all below And holds herself in perfect pristine poise As though herself was made of virgin snow
She feels the earth beneath, the sky above And hears the dove her matins softly sing And holds aloft her offerings of love Her green-tipped petals promising the spring
TREE AND LEAF
In after years when others pass this way Beneath the branches in the singing wood – The conkering boys about their heedless play Or those who see and know the world is good – Then one may think of those who went before And say a quiet thank you in her mind For those who planted trees with love and for The legacy of leaves they left behind. The oak and ash in this small place of earth Will live in Him who died upon a tree For trees and leaves may gain eternal worth And all I love may be redeemed through me. God save my soul and grant me, Lord, this grace: To know because I lived the world’s a leafier place.
(The Orthodox theology is no longer my belief but I include the poem because it records my life-long interest in planting trees.)
In the winter darkness When Santa is a clown Is there any meaning In the roar of tinseltown?
Seek and you will find him The secret fire within The lord of life and laughter Who made the game begin
The dancing of the dragonfly The music of the streams The melody of autumn The gift of golden dreams
In a stable you may find him The meaning of the earth And joy is all his meaning The wisdom of his birth
And you may watch his waking With the spider and the wren And laugh with the Beloved In the light of Bethlehem
Newborn the leaves in springtime green Glad voices raise in song Of greener hills and meadows fair The wandering way along
Full grown the summer flower her head Lifts up in beauty bright Beside the path and loves the sun The traveller’s delight
Full ripe the autumn fruit her sweet Refreshment freely gives To all that walk the roving road To all that freely lives
Grown old in winter white the land The hearth of home will keep And journeys long beneath the sun Shall end in quiet sleep
He walked one winter morning on the beach The restless sea was grey, the seagulls white Like snowflakes flung into the angry wind To bluster round the barren headland height
His boots trod down the hard unyielding sand The rime-encrusted sea-wrack on the shore With downcast eyes and shoulders hunched he thought Of woes to come and sorrows gone before
He heard the coarse grass rasping on the dunes And remote on the gale the seagull’s lonely cries He watched them quarrel round a fishing boat And thought ‘None lives except another dies’
Then slipping down the wind on outspread wings One came and hovered hanging in the air He had no bread, was empty as the sky And helplessly could only stand and stare
He watched the bird, the yellow gaze intent The steady wings uplifting strong and sure Each pristine feather molded to the wind He stared and stared and suddenly he saw
Then like a captive singing bird set free His soul rose up and praised the world aflame With love for all things here and everywhere For all was changed yet all was still the same
He was the sea, the ripples round his feet Flowed in his veins, the seagrass was his hair And from his mouth poured forth the glorious gale He was the world and laughed without a care
No more conundrums, choosing this or that No thought, no need to ask for why and how But only Being bright beyond compare And freedom in the everlasting Now
He knew no right, no wrong, no law, no loss And understood that nothing made can die The veil was drawn again, the seagulls cried And on his knees he wept; he knew not why
THE WILD SWAN
Wild white swan West wind bringing Under the dark sky Singing, singing
Your spirit calls White swan winging Under the night star Singing, singing
Follow, follow Round world ringing Under the high heaven Singing, singing