Sowing discord

27 September 2011 § 8 Comments

Seeds of change

One for the rook
One for the crow
One to wither
One to grow.

One for the deluge
One for the drought
One each for the pigeon
And mouse to dig out.

One for the subsidy
One for the crash.
One for the Government
Desperate for cash.

One for the trader
In futures, who bets
On prices, then pockets
The millions he gets.

One for the banks.
Make that two – make that ten.
No, make it a billion.
And then start again.

One for the climate,
Now warming, it seems.
One for our hopes.
One for our dreams.

One for our gluttony
One for our greed
None for the millions
We choose not to feed.

One for the rook,.
One for the crow.
One to wither.
One to grow.

The farmers are already busy drilling next year’s cereal crops, and I’ve had the old rhyme about seeds that bookends this poem going round in my head all day. Blame the Party Conference season for the rather downbeat tone of the stuff in between!

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Stormy weather

28 June 2011 § 8 Comments

Donner und Blitzen

All day
It’s been building up to this.
Now impatient Lightning,
Weary of waiting,
Runs on ahead
A million miles
While the lumbering laggard Thunder
Is still lacing up his boots.

You can try
To drown out the old tales
With talk of vapour, latent heat
Charged particles and ions;
Facts and equations all laid out
In quick, brilliant strokes
Across a blackboard sky.

But when the stuffed and swollen night
Bursts and splits
Zeus still rages round his realm;
Jupiter hurls the blazing bolts
That Vulcan forged for him;
Red-bearded Thor takes another ride
Swinging Mjöllnir in one mighty fist
Smiting the Jotun at Asgard’s gates and
Warming the earth
With sparks struck from the mountain-tops.
And God decides the sofa
Would look better over there.

Summer solstice

21 June 2011 § 10 Comments

Sol sistere

So. The sun stands still.

And for half a heartbeat
The year is balanced
Like a coin on its edge.

On the sarsen-studded hill
They watch the light
Flare round the hele stone
As white-robed priests
Chant Alban Hefin incantations
In a strange, forgotten tongue.

Then the clock ticks
And tips us over
To start the long slow roll
Down into darkness
Where Alban Arthan waits
Crowned with holly, bound in iron.

Soul music

15 April 2011 § 9 Comments

Hardy Perennials

Left pop-eyed by an hour’s hauling
Through worthy, densely-noted classics
We put the hallowed names aside,
Relaxed our reverential frowns
And turned to those prolific geniuses
Trad. Arr. and Anon.
‘The Soldier’s Joy’ and ‘Six-Hand Reel’
Sparked new quickness in my fingers;
Reinvigorated lungs
To send the trills and grace-notes swirling
Round the room like silver swifts;
Warmed me through like strong mulled cider.
Not holy writ with Koechel numbers,
Catechism in compound time,
But tunes that sprang from workfolk; fiddlers
Hardy and his fathers knew. The music
Of the Christmas party, country wedding, village dance
Dick Dewy and the Mellstock choir
Played beneath that greenwood tree.
A heritage all-but forgotten
In this downbeat, download age,
But mine to claim, preserve and play,
With or without the printed page.

Inspired by this week’s Community Orchestra rehearsal. Like most people who play orchestral instruments, I revere Beethoven, Bach and the other Great Masters; however, I generally prefer to listen to their better-known music, and certainly don’t have the technical skill or theoretical knowledge to play it properly myself. So it was a huge relief at the end of the rehearsal to be handed a set of fiddle tunes collected by Thomas Hardy. Like his father, grandfather and various uncles, Hardy was an excellent musician and played the violin in his local church band, or choir – the inspiration for  the Mellstock players in Under The Greenwood Tree.

Having spent most of my childhood in Dorset, I have a great love of the old folk tunes, which are our true musical heritage. If the classical canon is music’s great literature, folk tunes are its oral tradition; the tales handed down through generations that tell us something of ourselves. And while a Colossus like Beethoven can wring my heart, these humbler melodies speak to my soul in a language I truly understand.

Will and me

15 March 2011 § 5 Comments

An effort of Will

He watches me
With dark, half-laughing eyes
From the postcard pinned
Above my desk;
Gold earring gleaming
And, I like to think,
A wink of fellow-feeling
Crackling beneath the paint.

His presence there
Does not intimidate;
We’re confederates, co-conspirators,
Rattling off the long day’s paid-for pages head-and-hand
While the heart beats to the rhythm
Of words that will be written
When doors are closed, lights dimmed,
And the world looks the other way.

Two country lads:
One weaving his boyhood’s woodbine and eglantine
To make a bower for a fairy queen,
And placing a bouquet of well-remembered weeds
In poor Ophelia’s hands;
Winding his word-girdle round the world
Unknowingly; lines penned to play for pay tonight
That would stretch a thousand years.

The other
Labouring under the master’s gaze
With foolish tales of tractors, trees
Shepherds, birds and hunting-dogs
In his own daily comedy
Of errors. I look on Will
And know that his perfection’s out of reach.
But I would learn from all he has to teach.

Reading the road

13 October 2010 § 3 Comments

One of my regular rides takes me through the parish of Chiddingly (in accordance with local custom, the ‘-ly’ is pronounced ‘lie’, not ‘lee’) which, like Rome, encompasses seven hills. My route crosses three of them in succession, and I’ve always liked the historical logic of their names that allows me to track my progress. From north to south, they run as follows:

ROAD TO WAR

Ride over Pick Hill,
Whose sandstone sides
Were first cratered for their ore
To arm the legions,
Its quiet woods scabbing over
Long centuries of plunder.

To Gun Hill
Where the ironmasters cast
Culverins and cannon
For Device Forts and men o’ war;
Our stolid breed of Sussex men
The muscle in Good King Hal’s arms race.

Then Thunders Hill
These days disturbed by little more
Than tractors, Sunday motorbikes
And neglected car exhausts –
Still echoing to the martial roar
Of the past along the road.

An unequal match

8 October 2010 § 2 Comments

Another ploughing-match poem…

NO CONTEST

Inching forward, earthworm-slow,
Eyes front, rigid as a guardsman
He opens up the ground.

From this first furrow all others follow;
With coulter, mouldboard, share and landside
The battle line is drawn.

At once, the Sussex clay
With a night and day of rain in it
Fights back;

Clogs and butters churning tyres
Sets front wheels slickly sliding
Plucks at the plough; leaks, collapses.

But in our annual fixture with the fields
We lead the land three thousand-nil
And this year will not break our streak.

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