Saturday, 31 March 2012


Ash before the oak and we shall have a soak.”
   And all the defeated days of summer
   Will turn the sky over in their hands like a stone.
   With a handful of earth and a handful of air
   You will look across the barley,
   Still small and damp in the afternoon gloom,
   And groan at the thunderheads on top of the Downs.
Ash before the oak and we shall have a soak.”

Oak before ash, we only have a splash.”
   And all the endless days of summer
   Will burn blue and brown in the searing sun.
   You will stand on the rise above the fields
   And just notice the rooftops
   Glinting above the massive barley.
   The wind will stroll back and forth like a farmer.
Oak before ash, we only have a splash.”

© October 1979

April Wind

The April wind was cold as spray,
It blew all night and it blew all day;
I met a ditcher on my way,
So it’s Spring.” “Yes!” “T’ain’t warm.” “No!”

I pushed on gaily through the blow,
The day was young, I had far to go;
I passed a gardener with his hoe,
Not warm.” “No!” “Still, it’s Spring.” “Yes!”

I think back now and gladly bless
The sun on the grass and the growing cress;
I rack my brains and try to guess,
Was it Spring? Yes! But not warm. No!

© April 1981

"What is the Use of Grinning..."

      What is the use of grinning,
      What is the use of a smile?
   The April rain like a minor pain
Makes the daffadowndillies weep all day
Refusing to listen to what they say,
   And all the clouds and birds agree
      That summer is far as a mile.

      What is the use of shouting,
      What is the use of a scream?
   The April blow has refused to go
And teases the apple trees trying to bud
Making them stand in the freezing mud,
   And all the flowers and weeds agree
      That spring is a curious dream.

© April 1980

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Before Spring

A very early effort; sub-D.H. Lawrence before I had read D.H. Lawrence. The poem is unfinished: I think I abandoned it because it threatened to go on for ever.


            Up on the Common the things hold back,
            Waiting, each daring the other for the first
            Bold plunge into Spring; everything watches
            The reckless stain as a few small plants
            Appear, but unconvinced they wait
            For a larger gesture, so that soon –
            It seems in a night – all will be here
            And we’ll look and exclaim, “Oh Spring!” Colours
            Will scintillate, the air will quaver with a fresh
            Sharp taste to the mouth – its cool chill
            Will be felt in our nostrils, thrilling them wide.

Yet who would think that life could come from this:
This dreary vacuum which stifles the mind into
A sleepy blank, from which as it wanders the Common
It wakes perfunctorily to details floating by...

Here, before you reach the trees and their undulating ground,
Feel the flat sandwich made of the levelled grass
And the low overcast of the sky – feel its gloomy
Weight. The grass and bushes spent, their dun
Dry humps cowered to the ground in mouldy pockmarks,
Sunk like a broken graveyard. The light is hidden;
The cloud like a thin wash of steel-black,
Faintly hued with a sun’s coating of powdered
Copper – a matt uniform dust, it seems
As brittle as the dust of the paths. The air is dry,
Unsatisfactory, flaccid – it leaves you feeling
Breathless, you need another gulp of the grey stuff.
When will anything come to relieve this expectancy?
So solemn, lost in a hopeless dream – perhaps
There is only dying here, no moment that will unloose a catch...                  

A few evergreens, disdainful, stand apart from the other trees:
Their huge black swelling self-sufficient, firm
On a broad central stalk. Dark, brooding into
Themselves, they repulse what’s outside. Dank and unmoving,       
They sleep like sullen hamlets in the deep of night.

The rest, the scorned poor neighbours, stand gaunt like a banked
Upsticking of brushwood. In amongst their sprawl see them lost
In nakedness, miserable with indignity, immobile whilst they suffer.
A dried scale, like milky-green emulsion, flakes
On their whitened bark; where it’s peeled the flesh shows nicotined
By the air. The ground is flecked with a rubbish of bramble,
Blackened nettle stubs, and crumbling white-grey
Shreds of straw.
                            Leaves bleakly fill the hollows
And dips, their tired dust colours merging in streaks.
Scuffed to the side of the path, munched under feet,
They limply twist and curl, broken into each other.

Something slips across the mind. Waking, it grasps for the sound.
There. And again. A scattered bird-song sharping
The air sporadically. The few birds are hidden, higher
Now where the spaces are open again, their calls
Questioning, as if to reassure themselves that others
Are there. The plaintive snatches quickly fade.

A dull rumbling undertone – the distant sounds of traffic
On a major road; but faint, irrelevant, with no
Urgency, as if they too were awaiting a revelation.

Through meagre sounds, a deep silence. Through slight
Sullen movements, a deep stillness. Felt.
Pressing against you; intense as grieving. Everything
Is held within this bowl of silent waiting.

A few people stroll. Their faces empty they wander,
Hands behind backs, their heads aimlessly turning.
Dogs gambol, but leap through vacuums and sense it. They quieten.

Stillness. Stillness. A landscape devoid; waiting
Through aeons of time for its transmutation into different   
Life; lost in itself. Is there nothing which stirs?

© 1969-1972

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

False May

The crafty sun invades the year
Catching the snowdrop’s callow ear:
The fluid sun like scented honey
Coaxes the young in field and spinney.
In stumpy groups the crocus grows,
Forgetful of the winter snows;
Each glossy mouth is open wide
Like fledglings begging in their pride,
And orange tongues devour the air
For every mote which may be there.
The spaniel Spring is on the plain
Flapping its dusty paws again,
But March and April in their house
Are plotting wind and heavy souse.
The fast March skies will trail across
With massive clouds in pitch and toss;
And April with a million arrows
Will kill the shoots and soak the sparrows:
The thugs and yes-men drink their tea
And plan their killing jamboree.
Each year the gangling daffodil
Is led an innocent to the kill,
And the old sun who plays his part
Looks injured with his hand on heart,
And tries to make amends in May
For what the facts will not gainsay.

© March 1980


The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979; the Iranian Revolution erupted in February 1979.


When the Russians shook hands with the Afghans,
And the Persians debouched on the plain,
The bloodsoaked topsoil shivered
And cried, “Not again.”

When the torturers snapped all the lights off
But the one that glared in his eyes,
The bloodsoaked prisoner trembled
And stifled his cries.

When the Bacchae – those absolute tyrants –
Found Orpheus dead in his heart,
Their bloodsoaked fingers tightened
And they tore him apart.

When the soldiers diced for the clothing,
Loud at the foot of the tree,
The bloodsoaked sufferer muttered,
“Remember the Three.”

When the low-voiced callers fumbled
And pointed a righteous gun,
The bloodsoaked victim staggered
Before he could run.

When Cronos gorged on his children
And crouched in his cave alone,
His bloodsoaked tongue was puzzled –
But he swallowed the stone.

And I wish that all the killers
Could go home with an aching head,
Their bloodsoaked dreams abandoned,
To find their loved ones dead.

O, the way of the world is brutal,
As fierce as a desert land;
The bloodsoaked ogre comes and takes
The children by the hand.

© July 1980

Thursday, 1 March 2012

The Lilies of the Valley

How time flies. This ballad was written in response to the recession of the late 1970s. We've had two more since then.


“O where are you going, my dear young son,
   On a dark and stormy night?”
“I go to the house below the hill
   Where the people dance by laser light.”
                                    The lilies of the valley,
                                    The stony valley.

Demand and Consumption whirled on the floor
   Spilling the wine from a glass;
Avid and Puerile staggered outside,
   Bloody-Minded refused to let them pass.
                                    The lilies of the valley,
                                    The stony valley.

O he’s struggled across the high plateau
   And the wind has battered his temples;
He’s sung a slight song to the black of the night
   And comforted his greyhound simple.
                                    The lilies of the valley,
                                    The stony valley.

Priggish and Posture sat on the stairs,
   Contempt looked up at the wall;
The music grew louder, the feeding more frenzied,
   Self-Love caste a smile at them all.
                                    The lilies of the valley,
                                    The stony valley.

O he’s followed the winding, sinking path
   Through the oak and the beech in the dingle;
His greyhound has yelped at the fluttering light
   Of the house like a flare on the shingle.
                                    The lilies of the valley,
                                    The stony valley.

Demarcation and Rules in a corner
   Watched Conscience think on the starving;
A hundred mouths were packed with food,
   Were open and shrilly laughing.
                                    The lilies of the valley,
                                    The stony valley.

O his greyhound has stopped and whines so high,
   She has rushed back into the night;
O he struggles to find her in the furious dark
   With the house like a glorious heaven in sight.
                                    The lilies of the valley,
                                    The stony valley.

“What is that noise like an underground train?
   O what is that noise like a fury?
The lake in the hills is strongly dammed
   And slumbers like a god in a story.”
                                    The lilies of the valley,
                                    The stony valley.

The Titanic was sunk by an iceberg,
   The Golden Gate flung from the air;
The house threw up its hands and extinguished its lights
   And after the landslide was not there.
                                    The lilies of the valley,
                                    The stony valley.

O he’s run away back to his mother,
   His greyhound close at his heels:
“O mother, the bright lights and good times are done,
   The dust in the air is like unpaid bills.”
                                    The lilies of the valley,
                                    The stony valley.

The liquid mud has long settled,
   Two figures pick over the wreck;
Recrimination grabs Self-Blame by the shoulders
   And deliberately breaks his neck.
                                    The lilies of the valley,
                                    The stony valley.

© November 1979

A Tale

The churlish prince to his guide said
   At the breaking of the day,
“You shall lead me to the pot of gold,”
   As they went their way.

The churlish prince to his guide said
   In the morning of the day,
“Why do we climb so steep a path?”
   As they went their way.

The churlish prince to his guide said
   In the noontide of the day,
“O I am tired of this high defile,”
   As they went their way.

The churlish prince to his guide said
   In the afternoon of the day,
“Fool, you have brought me among the rocks,”
   As they went their way.

The churlish prince to his guide said
   In the even of the day,
“I shall have you thrown from the highest cliff,”
   As they went their way.

The guide said to his churlish prince
   In the dark of the day,
“Rest you here with steel in your back.”
   And he went his way.

© December 1979

The Constant Companion

Stoner Hill is in Edward Thomas country, close to Petersfield, Hants.


I climbed to the top of Stoner Hill
   To wash my head in the sky,
And passed a blackbird shaking its bill
   As the two of them went by:
Young Georgie Fellows rushed down the path
   As if he had seen the dead;
The constant companion stifled a laugh
   And slowly turned her head.

   Is it true what they say, on a misty day
   She glides like a phantom in search of her prey?
   The quarry moistened its rubbery lip
   And calmly awaited the final slip.

I went to the market early one day
   For joy of the muttering crowd,
And stood by the churchyard out of the way
   Where the noise was not so loud;
But praising her wares in a genteel voice
   Behind her makeshift stall,
The constant companion offered her choice
   Dark cooking apples to all.

   Is it true what they say, on a misty day
   She glides like a phantom in search of her prey?
   Two old people bought her fruit,
   Confusingly shaped like mandrake root.

I walked by the river to bask in the sun
   And raise my hat to the girls;
The craneflies danced like smoke from a gun
   And the water plaited its curls:
But drifting down on the eddying tide
   In a boat with a nameless rower,
The constant companion offered a ride
   To a girl as fresh as a flower.

   Is it true what they say, on a misty day
   She glides like a phantom in search of her prey?
   And Jenny Mulholland in the best of cheer
   Accepted the offer to row to the weir.

 Came autumn-time and terrible pains
   Afflicted the people around,
They put it down to the cold and the rains
   And the curious mist from the ground;
But in sickrooms with plasters and cups of tea,
   And a strangely woven shawl,
The constant companion devotedly
   Gave close attention to all.

   Is it true what they say, on a misty day
   She glides like a phantom in search of her prey?
   And people smile at her, “How are we now?”
   And her bony fingers soothing their brow.

In the depths of winter the clergyman
   Shivered and said to his wife,
“She seems half-saint, half-harridan,
   And scares me out of my life.”
“Nonsense, my dear,” she giggled and said –
   That day at Evensong
The constant companion lifted her head,
   Stared steadily, and stared long.

   Is it true what they say, on a misty day
   She glides like a phantom in search of her prey?
   And over the year as weak as a wave,
   The parson coughed his way to his grave.

In May when the glorious vernal weather
   Made Stoner throw off its hood,
Like a joyful dog released from its tether
   I rushed and sniffed through the wood;
I danced in last year’s bracken before
   I saw through the speckled gloom
The constant companion, dabbing a sore,
   Advance from her forest room.

   Is it true what they say, on a misty day
   She glides like a phantom in search of her prey?
   I do not know for, frail as a breath,
   I am fixed in the eternal study of death.

© July 1980