A Voice from an English Village

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Poems

Unsuspecting clouds of midges
hover round the river banks,
swarming in a mock fandango
on this sultry eventide;
unaware that just beneath them
lies the watching waiting trout.

Quick as lightning, shooting upwards,
leaps the wily predator,
takes a mouthful of the midges,
sinks beneath the satin surface
of the smooth green flowing water,
circling ripples spreading out.

(from "Water Games")

Betty's poems, lyrical, romantic and satirical, reveal poignant observations of nature, beauty and love. They describe memories from the war years, romance, loss, separation, and human relationships.  Some, like A Last Birthday, were written very late in life.

Her nature poems reflect both the Pembrokeshire and Wiltshire countryside, though the latter predominate. Her autobiograpical poems can be intensely personal (like Tea for One" in which the grief is palpable), while others like Disgrace, recall childhood memories with observation and humour.

Visiting Palestine in her late teens made a deep impression, fueling an interest in the area and a love for the people which lasted her lifetime, but that love was not uncritical as can be seen in a poem like The Mission.

The variety of her subjects and emotions brings home the realisation that an English village -- as Agatha Christie's Miss Marples famously observed -- is a microcosm of the world.

Betty published a collection of her poems in a booklet, "Landscapes," distributed mainly to family and friends. Most of these poems had already appeared in local literary and poetry journals, but after her death we found many more in her home, and the selection below includes some of these and also a few of those which were in "Landscapes."

________________

Nature and the countryside:

     

Gulls

The Swallows' Farewell

Salisbury Plain Heifers

The Farmyard

Hedging and Layering

The Killing Blackberry Picking

Winter Spectrum

Snow

Autumn February

War:

Embarkation Leave

An Old School Photograph Waverley Station 1942 September 1940

Churchill

The Prisoner of Spandau

The Bosnian Soldier

Autobiographical:

Footprints in the Sand

Disgrace

Idle Thoughts A Love Ago

The Parting

Tea for One

An Open Letter A Last Birthday

Palestine:

The Palestinians

The Road to Calvary 2000 A.D.

The Desert Gaza and the West Bank
The Mission
Uncategorised:
The Doctor Roger McGough - Poet The Sun God In the Dayroom
Triolets Echoes Exhibition Photograph Mrs Barraclough's Boarding House

 

 

 

 

The Parting

Death passed over while I slept that night
alone, and you not by my side to hold me
from that fear, of which I was as yet
- unaware.

Dawn, and a telephone call roused me
from sleep crackled the news of your death
- impersonally.

Then there was nothing but the air,
and the empty space that death had left,
not the rise and of your breath,
- and a cold dawn.

(Editor's note: On leaving home, reportedly for a routine checkup at a naval hospital in Devon, Betty's husband Malcolm omitted to tell his wife that he would have an operation,. He gave the wrong phone number to the hospital in  error and the Navy was unable to contact Betty until two days after his death.)


 

Tea for One

I shall not wait for your return tonight,
nor listen for your footsteps on the path,
nor shall I wince to hear the front door slam
and never feel again the warmth of your embrace,
or hear your male voice deep and comforting.
Tonight I hear the wind whine in the eaves
and rattle at the door, the rain drip from
the trees and spatter on the patio.
I listen to the ticking of the clock
and hear it chime its every weary hour.
So I shall put the kettle on and make
a cup of tea for one, and think of you,
and carry on as if you were still here.

 

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An Open Letter

Dear Death,
We aren't acquainted yet, personally,
Though you've taken many friends
And loved ones from me, - picked them
Off at random it would seem.
Some, early in their years, and some
So old that all the joy had gone out
From their living, and yet I grieved
Much at their passing. You have come
In many guises sometimes as an enemy
To be feared, and sometimes welcomed
As a friend gently releasing bodies
The pain of living. So far you've
Left me soldiering on, so I presume
Such life of mine that's left
Must be of use to someone,
Anyway, I hope so Death.

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A Love Ago

I think of another
life, a life ago
since we first met,
the past never passed.

There were no words
between us, as I recall,
to tell how right you were
for me or I for you.

We moved in circles
of our own being,
and couldn't see beyond
our seeing of each other.

It was the bond that kept
our life together.
It had to end of course,
and ended in your death.

But still I touch those
embers of a love
that never cooled.

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Memories

My thoughts are oceans
deep with memories,
and on them float away
life's tide,

and in their wake is left
that one blessing time can't take
the love that's left behind.

And those deep oceans hold
in store my memories of the dead,
the loved and long remembered dead,
the inarticulate dead.

 


 

A Last Birthday

I wonder now which day will be my last,

The culmination of time present and time past.

I cannot change that Iím ninety-one today,

But with friends departed and children far away,

I wonder if I really want another year.

I forget much, though older memories are clear.

I remember childhood and school classes

But forget dates and where I left my glasses.

At the close of a long and testing race

I hope to do no more than end with grace.

 

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I Wished I Were a Bird

I sat down to write a poem.
Uninspired, I juggled with some words;
They made no sense.

My thoughts were drifting back
To other things 1 should be doing,
A room to clean, a dog to walk.

Why bother with a silly poem when
There's more important things to do?
And then I saw the bird.

Its wings outspread in flight,
Free as the wind it soared,
Until it disappeared from sight.

Then from the distance where it flew,
It sang in notes so pure and true
And uninhibited, I wished I were a bird.


 

 

The Swallows' Farewell

A rush of swallows
sweeps low and turns,
rising and falling
in a ritual of farewell.

Timeless instinct
draws them here
to pause atop
precarious perches.

I share their strange
excitement of anticipation
and fear for those frail arrows
that face a great unknown.

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Churchill
"Let us now praise famous men."

Ecclesiates

He wrote a chapter of our history;
Yet made no bid for power, and no false claim,
When, in our darkest hour he became
Unchallenged pilot of our destiny.
Resolved, undaunted, champion of the free,
He held the flag of Britain high. His
name will echo down the corridors of fame,
The spirit of a true democracy.
For he had seen his visions, dreamed his dreams,
Had won his spurs, and laid his aside.
But all the honours he had gained and power
Attained none Greater could there be, it seems
To me, than that which was his greatest pride,
He served his country in its finest hour.

 

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Disgrace

When I was a child I thought
I would be put in prison
For laughing in Church.

We used to sit in a pew behind
A large fat lady
With a haughty look.

She wore elegant furs in Winter
And large straw hats covered in flowers
In Summer.

One morning kneeling
To pray (my Mum did that
Very earnestly)

The large lady came in
And sat down
In front of her and swung

Her long feather boa constrictor
Back over her shoulder
And struck my Mum.

It pinned her kneeling
On her knees, and wrapped itself
About her head.

Prayers ceased. There was a pause.
I could not believe
The sound of my guffaws.

 

(Editor's note: Betty's ambivalent relationship with her mother, Grace, is expressed in her poem, "A daughter's thoughts on her dead mother.")

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The Farmyard.

Farms now turned to arable
leave their yards moribund.
Combine harvesters sweep
across the fields to reap
golden acres of ripe corn
to flood the ample granaries.

While sheep no longer graze
the downs. Sheds no longer
house the cattle. No hens
to scratch and peck the ground
No grunt of pigs. No clattering
of hoof on cobbled yard.

Only the distant roar of harvesters
And the lonely sound of the wind
that moans through the empty barn,
and the creak of swinging stable
doors. Like a long deserted township,
waiting for something to happen.

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Hedging and Layering

The mechanical hedge-cutter is at work;
It slices the tops of hedges as it goes.
Efficient quick The mauled limbs
of sapling elder, oak and ash
stick out like splintered bones.

The old hedgers took their time
wielding their billhooks with rythmic
grace to splice the branches
with swift clean strokes, then bend and layer
them, An artistry that's lost in time.

They might be glad they cannot see
the mutilated hedges now,
or hear their silent scream.

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Blackberry Picking

The best ones grow up high,
sun-warmed, out of reach.
Shiny black-purple fists
oozing sweet perfumed juice.

They put up a good defence
shielded by a tangled mesh
of thorns and whiplash boughs
that catch us unawares.

Our blood is up, the battle joined
a stick will pull the barbed
boughs down. They tear our clothes
and scratch our hands.

The ripened berries on the top tremble
and fall straight down into
the dark recesses of the undergrowth
of bracken nettle and bramble thorns.

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Gulls

They haunt the rugged coasts. Their white winged
purity commands the awesome altitudes of cliffs,
drifting effortless in flight down to where
the hurling seas break at their feet;

pitch and toss with the waves, follow the shoals
of fish with commotion of wings and lusty screams,
and when the tide recedes, leave
convict arrow footprints in the sand.

Inland they fly, their alien cries warning
of storm at sea. Trespassers of town and farm,
squatters on gate and fence, scavengers
behind. the plough spindrift in its wake.
 

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Winter Spectrum

Windswept with sand,
the caravan site is deserted.
Cries of children have faded
and the Summer guests long departed,
bottles, cartons and paper bags
blown by the wind
and flushed by the ebbing tide.

The bay, a stark perspective
in solemn crystal light
broods in Winter silence,
its stillness undisturbed
by the measured thud of breakers
on the smoothly ravaged shore,
or the fretfull cry of seagulls
as they circle the tossing spray,
or the wind through the sand dunes,
sighing, sighing, sighing.

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The First Fall of Snow

From the silence of the night,
Faintly I can hear the light
Creak of snow

Soon the icy fingered dawn
Over the white surpliced lawn
Stealthily comes creeping

As the shadows fall away
In the stronger light of day
To my sight bringing

All the wonder of a land
Changed by Winter's spectral hand
Hill and sky blending.

 


 

Arvon Revisited

A place revisited appears the same,
yet not the same.

Time behind me I shall not see again
throws shadows forward.

Places remembered for shared experience
return in dreams,

remain in heart and mind and fill
the empty spaces of my life.

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The Old Man
(A translation of the poem Le Vieillard by Henri Regnier)

For this quiet vale I fled the restless seas.
Here it is fertile. Here I see just trees
Surrounding me, and, in their murmur hear,
Or so it seems to my uncertain ear,
The gentle sound of some far distant sea
Bring echoes of a sailor's past to me.
And in the moaning elm and trembling pince
I can believe that I still hear the whine
Of fretting lanyard and of creaking mast
Among the branches of their sea-green
And in the slanting furrow that I now
Trace as I slowly walk behind my plough
Across the field, it seems the rich brown loam
Is like a listless wave that has no foam,
Inert and motionless, and like the wake
It swells and lengthens, but it does not break.
Because I'm old, I now no longer face
The perils of the sea, but find my place
Among the peaceful tasks upon the farm;
And morning storm becomes the evening calm.
And my old nets remind me I have made
A sack, to hold not just dry leaves that fade
Within its mesh, but fruits of my own toil,
My earthly catch, the harvest of the soil.

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Roger McGough - Poet

The photo on the cover of the paperback
Is of a very young many in a black trilby hat.

The eyes stare sadly through steel framed glasses,
A half smile hovers round the mouth.

Beneath the hat, three wisps of hair
That give a noncholant air.

Inside the cover, the poems read like treatise
On the art of living, the funny and the sad.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet are all
Wrapped up in this one small paper back.
 


 

 

Echoes

The house stood silent, deserted many years,
But was it only the cry of rooks I heard?
I saw the staircase spiralling upwards
From the hall, and through the musty air
Seemed to hear the shrill, live sound
Of children's laughter ringing in the air.

I heard the noisy clatter of their feet
As up the staircase once a noisy band
chased, in playfulness, as children do,
A smaller child, who in a panic climbed
The rails and fell, and the laughter ceased
And a silence shocked by grief closed in.

 

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The Doctor

He looks straight at me.
"Where does it hurt?" he asks.
"Just there," I say.

"It could be tomatoes,Ē he says,
"You could be allergic.
Tomatoes can do that."

"I don't like tomatoes."
"Ah," he strokes his chin,
"Well, letís see."

He rises from behind his desk,
Approaches gingerly,
Places cold fingers there on me.

"Does that hurt?" he asks.
His light boned fingers prod,
Giving no sensation.

"Itís not that sort of hurt," I say.
He retires behind his desk,
Not wishing to probe further.

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The Road to Calvary 2000 A.D.

The stranger, tired with walking
in the heat of the mid-day sun,
sat down to rest awhile beneath
an olive tree. The land, as he
remembered it had changed, but that
was long ago. Then the roads
were rough and stony tracks over
the hills, now they were
four-lane highways, full of bright
coloured cars. He could see
the Holy City in the distance,
and that had changed too.

On the hills surrounding the City,
high apartment blocks had been built,
destroying the view. The stranger
sat and pondered on the many things
he had seen, and he hadn't liked what
he saw. Three women were approaching
dressed in black and weeping;
leading a donkey, laden, and five
small children following. They stopped
and stared at him, sucking their thumbs
shyly, as children do. The women
halted the donkey and said,
"Shalaam," a greeting of peace.

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The Palestinians

No one heeded the dead killed in the camps
of Chabra and Chatilla nor cared;
bulldozed away, shovelled into a pit.
No one had heeded them when they were living
in refugee camps, homeless, stateless,
pleading for justice.

They had never asked anything more
than a quiet life in the land where
they were born; to farm and fish and trade,
as they had always done before,
in the land we once called Holy,
where the Prince of Peace was born Ė
and died. He too was crucified.

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Gaza and the West Bank

Revisiting the Holy land
where once I lived in happier times,
I saw how much that land had changed.
The gentle land that I had known
now torn by bitter strife.

Jerusalem still stands as it has stood
a thousand years or more. But now armed
soldiers stand on every street to watch
the passers by, and meet the sullen
glance of hatred in their eyes.

In Gaza live the dispossessed in crowded
camps and dream of home. Somewhere a scattered
pile of sun‑bleached stones protrude
like broken bones among the prickly pear
to show where once their village stood.

(It is said that in Israel wherever the prickly pear grows, there once stood a Palestinian village.)

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A Daughter's thoughts on her dead Mother

We were not close,

we stood apart,

surveyed each other

half a century across.

Advancing years

that should have closed

the gulf, instead

had broadened it.

But there was love,

I held my hand out

to reach hers,

somehow they never met.

But it is so,

that since her death

I see how like

she was to me.

 


  

 

Come Autumn

1 will gather in the fruits of yesterday,
And store them in my loft of memory,
And bring them out to savour one by one,
to warm my heart when Summer days are gone.

Among the haunting ghosts of time, those strange
And unexpected twists of fate that change
The course of Destiny, come to my mind,
And seem in retrospect not so unkind.

And in the broader spectrum I see how
The tender sapling roots were made to grow,
Firmer and deeper from that stony soil
To grapple with the sinews of life's toil.

Among my many yesterdays are those
I would forget, yet, from them I might choose
A moment in the apple orchard where,
Once my heart danced in the bird‑singing air.

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Great Achievements

God made man and fashioned him
In his own image body and limb.
He gave the sun for warmth and light,
The stars and moon to shine at night
Fruits of the earth and fertile soil,
Gave him the wherewithal to toil.

So God in his wisdom created man
And said, "Well, I've done the best I can.
I've given man all this to use,
For his survival, or abuse.
I've given him speech, and so much wit,
So now let him get on with it."

Over the years Mankind has turned
These bounties to his use, and earned
For some the affluent Society -
For others more meagre dietery -
By plundering the World's resources,
Polluting rivers and water courses.

Since man first conquered Outer Space
And put the Almighty in his place
The concept that the Lord created
Earth is scorned as quite outdated
For Man can boast a greater prize,
Since earth he now can atomize.

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The Sword

My love was like a sword
of tempered steel, that at your
touch obeyed your every will,
and from your sun would steal
a thousand glancing lights.
But you betrayed its trust
and thrust it with such wanton zeal,
that from its supine eagerness
you made it bend from hilt to point
and feel a strain so great
that it has snapped the blade.

 


 

Triolets

TENSIONS

Black panther, pacing out his hours
Pads softly round his small cramped cage,
Flexing his dormant muscled powers.
Black panther, pacing out his hours
With restless loping strides, he glowers
Through slanted eyes his passive rage.
Black panther, pacing out his hours
Pads softly round his small cramped cage.

ORBITING

It was in flames that Earth began,
This haven for the human race
In orbit round the solar span.
It was in flames that Earth began.
How strange that God should choose for man
This cooling clinker out in space.
It was in flames that Earth began,
This haven for the human race.

FINIS

Even before your letter came,
I knew that it was over then.
I knew you played a double game,
Even before your letter came.
I knew it was another dame,
I knew that I had lost, so when
Even before your letter came,
I knew that it was over then.

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Cuckoo Calling

When first I hear the cuckoo's distant call,
My heart is gladdened by the joyous sound.
The bird unseen, his voice is all around,
But soon those echoing notes begin to pall
And that first ecstasy I canít recall.
It sets in me a train of thought profound,
That all the highs and lows of life compound
To make the whole. There comes a time when all
The joys of life grow stale. The ecstasy
Of love, the wonder of a child, the dreams
Of youth, all are by nature transitory,
Fleeting as the moon's elusive beams.
So cuckoo, return in Spring, all is forgiven,
Your joyful calling brings me close to heaven.

 


 

 

The Sun God

The orb of Heaven's ruling star
That man once made his God,
And worshipped at the feet of Ra
Where Thebes temple stood

Long ruled over desert lands,
Where burning rays consume,
Where earth turns to sterile sands
And no flowers bloom.

Now the package tourists fly
Jetting to a far off coast,
Beneath a sun stretched sky
Half naked on a beach to roast

Stripped beneath those blistering rays
Tourists find new gaiety
Spending all their holidays
Worshipping an old sun deity.

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Mrs Barraclough's Boarding House

The front window bears a notice
in bold black type, VACANCIES.
Lace curtains discreetly shield
the inside from the out.
Behind them Mrs Barraclough
keeps watch on the busy street.

The rain incessant, and the sky
a murky grey. Tourists wander
aimlessly in shiny plastic macs.
It's been a poor season, Mrs Barraclough
reflects, perhaps next year. She's had
her ups and downs, and hopeful yet,

she sees a car draw up outside.
A young man alights, and rings the bell.
Inside, the young man and his bride
stand shyly in the hall, and note
the musty fustiness of stale food;
while Mrs Barraclough explains the rules.

She shows them to their room upstairs,
with sea views. A picture on one wall
depicts a stag at bay, another smaller one
above the bed, of Christ with a crown
of thorns upon his head. Later, in the bed
of creaking springs, new life begins.

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The Killing

A VILLANELLE

It was too easy; the blackbird never saw,
As he was busy pecking at a snail,
The lightning swift movement of the paw.
It caught him unawares. The deadly claw
Impaled the bird as firmly as a nail.
It was too easy; the blackbird never saw
The crouching cat that lay in wait before
She sprang to strike a blow that could not fail
The lightning swift movement of the paw,
And deftly caught the startled bird and tore
Him limb from limb, feather, wing and tail.
It was too easy; the blackbird never saw
That death lurked near. Clasped in the cat's firm jaw
He lay inert, no struggle would avail
The lightning swift movement of the paw
That dealt a blow that followed jungle law
To strike unwary prey when on its trail.
It was too easy; the blackbird never saw
The lightning swift movement of the paw.

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The Desert

There are no horizons in the desert,
Where burnished sands and vaulted heavens merge
Like past and present in those timeless wastes,
And no escape from the relentless eye
Of heaven that blazes from a cloudless sky
And drives the eyeballs back into the brain.
The hot breath of the Khamsin burns the cheek,
And sand becomes a furnace to the feet.

While from that unforgiving tract of land
There comes awareness of the transience
Of man, all things corruptible, the vision
Of a world that time has turned to dust.
And yet the pulse of life still stirs within
That unloved wilderness of rock and sand,
Where scuttling lizards and the planing kite,
And multitudes of unseen life survive.

The brown‑skinned Bedouin squat and chat beneath
Their rough black tents, discuss known desert ways,
As they have done since time began. Until
The velvet cloak of evening falls to close
That burning eye. It sinks amid a blaze
Of amber glory in the sky. Chill breezes
Cool the air, and silence echoes that vast
Emptiness of space, where, light years away
the glorious galaxy of heaven shines.

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Footprints in the Sand

I had to come
to see again the place
where we had picnicked
long ago among the dunes,
and shaped in memory.
I find so little changed.

I stand and watch
the sea's eternal, motion,
and feel the sting of sand
against my face, and hear
the wind's soft sibilance
among the reeds.

Here, in this familiar place,
all is as I knew before;
yet strange, I have no sense of deja vue.
Nature plays a different tune
in another age.

Here is a power of place
that drowns the senses,
and I feel at peace.
The tide recedes and leaves
my fading footprints
in the sand.

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Exhibition Photograph

The photographer knew his business when he took
Pictures of his village in black and white to give
A sharper contrast. The shepherd shearing sheep
Holds a ram against his knees. The head is cradled
In one hand, the other holds the metal shears
Sunk deep into the woolly fleece behind the ears.
His head is bent in concentration. It takes
Some expertise to clip away the thick wool pile
From tender skin with heavy shears. It takes
Some special strength to hold a ram in quiet
Submission to the task. One imagines it
A painful operation for the ram, yet
There is no force, no heavy hand, the ram
Is held with gentleness, the strength is shown
In muscled arms. The camera reveals more
Than a moment held in captive time,
The trust between the shepherd and the ram.

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Thoughts on Take‑off

This lumbering albatross,
full throttle
trundles down the runway
gaining speed
lifts uncertainly
and soars up through
the broken clouds.

I unclasp clenched hands,
release my seat‑belt,
look down and see,
between the gaps
of drifting cloud
the world
in true perspective.

The sprawl of London suburbs,
shrunk to miniature.
Suspended in this tiny cone
between the earth
and heaven, I feel
adrift, unfettered
by the bonds of time.

A space through which
to see myself
in true perspective,
a tiny link within
the framework
of a structure planned
by an unseen hand.


 

The Bosnian Soldier

He is young, good‑looking, decent.
Friend and foe alike,
there is no difference.

The lad from the village,
the citizen from town, all speak
the same language, lived side by side,
shared the same pubs.

Does he regret his lost innocence
or reflect on what he has become?
Does he see war as a game to be played
to the last bullet, and never won?

The young, the old and the maimed
are all that is left in his village,
and the earthmounds of the graves.


 

 

The Prisoner of Spandau

Not life, but death of living,
Not death, but life deprived.
Hess, a prisoner in his cell
might have considered, not just
the lonely vigil of unending
nights, but how the nations
sermonise on Human Rights.

Or how some politicians patronise
those whose crimes are
equal in essence to his own;
bulldozing homes, uprooting
human lives, imprisoning those
whose claims to nationhood
are in conflict with their own.

He might have wondered if the
bombing raids on refugees were a
more accepted form of genocide
than extermination in a concentration
camp. And perhaps reflected that
it is in the nature of mankind to seize
upon a scapegoat for its crimes.

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Embarkation Leave

That nondescript Hotel we chose
for our liaison, would seem
in retrospect a benefactor.
How else could we, in all the
fervour of our youthful passion,
otherwise have come together?

We were too shy to admit
to one another the lack of our
experience in such things.
But at the time, as I remember,
we had such a need of one another,
it didn't really matter.

The room was stark and bare.
A wardrobe, bed and chair. The window
faced the red brick wall of another
cheap Hotel. But we could giggle
as we crept between chill sheets
to hide our nakedness.

For nothing mattered then except
to be together, for time was short
and life was cheap, and love the only
thing worthwhile to keep in memory's store.
And when we said goodbye, we left
unsaid those things most deeply felt.

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Waverley Station 1942

Dawn on Waverley station,
on a cold winter morning,
we stood waiting, scarcely
 awakened from sleep, and half
dreaming. We blew on frosty
fingers and stamped our feet.

Ghostlike figures moved
about us, tin hats slung
on bulky rucksacks; the
grey dawn mist enveloping.
A whistle blew, steam hissed,
doors opened and shut.

A hug, a kiss and then goodbye.
From the carriage window he was waving. The
train moved off, gathering
speed, and in the distance,
his hand still waving.


 

September 1940

September never comes, but I
See once again the vapour trails
Of battle spun across the sky,
And hear imagined siren wails.

My thoughts return again to Kent,
And Britain's battle just begun.

The hedgerows sweet with Summer's scent,
Drowse in the warm September sun.

From West Malling and Biggin Hill
The Hurricanes and Spitfires rise
Against the blinding sun until|
They look like silver butterflies.

I see again those battles fought
High in the clear September sky;
How dearly was our freedom bought,
We truly know who saw them die.

The years of peace that come and go,
Detract not from my memory,
Rather the passing years bestow
The crown of Immortality.

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An Old School Photograph

Among old papers I was turning out,
I came across an old school photograph.
Those half‑remembered faces from the past
Stared out with all the eager expectancy
Of youth, and all those long forgotten years
Of school came flooding back, and memories
Of friends once close returned to me. That day
I now remember well. It was the summer term.
The photograph was taken on the lawn,
Pink candles on the chestnut trees in bloom.

And that held moment from the past evoked
A sense of unity of time, past, present,
Future all combined. Those lives now shaped
By Destiny unknown. For some it was
To end before it had begun: their sun
Was not to rise, their hopes and dreams
Unrealised. Already from afar Jackbooted
Feet of war were marching across time,
And over Europe clouds were gathering.
Soon, soon, the storm that threatened broke.

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In the Dayroom

Among the aged,
 nodding half asleep,
she just sits, mutters to herself
words incomprehensible,

rocks back and forth in her chair,
stares with unseeing eyes
at the world about her
to which she is lost.

The mind, stripped of all
but functional desires,
while life moves around her
in eddies of sound.

Footsteps, crackle of newspaper,
a banging door, the spoken word,
only obliquely aware
of gentle hands caring,

a momentary glimpse
of life beyond reach,
before she relapses again
in her prison of mind.

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The Bats

On a warm summer evening,
in a quiet country lane,
in the magical light
between dusk and the night;
from their dark habitats,
 like a cloud of grey dust,
swept a swirling of bats.
Ghostlike, mysterious,
their fluttering wings,
soft as kid leather,
and silent as moths.

 



February

February brings
those first stirrings
of Spring. Hard
on the heels of Winter
it still chills
with biting winds
and remnants of snow left on the hills.

The cold corpse of Winter stirs.
I hear it as I walk
huddled against the wind.
I hear it in
the rustling undergrowth
and in the sharp
clear call of a bird.

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Fulfilment

PABLO'S PICTURE

When he had finished,
he stood back to survey his work.
Was this the picture
he had meant to paint,
or was it just a joke?

That eye, had he really
meant it to be there?
and did he think that
any woman would wear
a fish upon her head?

Oh yes, I think he smiled,
not at the puzzlement;
he knew he had a talent rare,
and that whatever happened,
he had something to smile about.

 


 

Fox into Night

Driving one night
down a quiet country lane,
the beam of the headlights
flung darkness aside.
lit up the hedges, the banks
and the trees. the branches
tossed shadows back
patterned the tarmac.

Quick as a flash
the dark form of a fox
broke from the shadows
in front of the car.
I stamped on the brakes.
The headlights picked out
his tawny red coat, and
the line of his brush.

Transfixed by the glare
of the lights, for a second
he wavered; two pinpoint
reflectors glowed in the dark.

Cunning and fearful
I saw in his stare,
the fear of the hunted

his terror of man.
Remembered how once
it was fashions whim
to carelessly fling
round the shoulders
a tawny red fox fur.
Black beads for its eyes,
the loose‑hanging brush
fiercely clenched in its jaws,
and dangling limply
its poor lifeless paws.

Into the shadows crept
fox into night.

 


 

Heifers

Heifers stare squarefaced
as I pass by. ď
They stand knee‑high
in long wet grass,

follow me enquiringly
with rheumy eyes,
see me off across the gate,

and looking back I feel compassion
for their bovine innocence
munching their way through time.

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Salisbury Plain

This bleak and open space,
unfettered by the bonds of time
where winds blow free and wild,
and clouds throw shadows down
in warp and weft of light and shade
across the patchwork fields.

Kestrels perch on gate and post,
and crows, those vagabonds of birds
flock hungrily behind the plough.
Skylarks flaunt in summer skies,
and sunlight catches the white
undersides of peewits wings in flight.

A place of solitude and ancient rites,
where man's identity is stamped upon
the course of time, in rutted tracks that
follow Roman roads, hill forts
and burial mounds, and in the silent
circles of the standing stones.

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Ghosts

There's a derelict house that stands quite alone
On a hill, where nobody comes and nobody goes,
And over its walls thick brambles have grown,
And its soul is possessed by the black‑winged crows
That nest in the crumbling chimney stacks
That poke like fingers through the roofs wide cracks.

If you ask in the village you will only be told
That no one has lived there for many a year,
And the house is too ruined now to be sold,
And its not very wise to venture too near.
If pressed they will add with a shake of the head,
ďThere's evil things happen there, so it be said.Ē

But I took the rough track that led up the hill
To the house, pushed open the door and was met
By the flapping wings of the startled birds, and their shrill
Angry cries; and I paused for a moment to let
Them subside, and I stood quite still in the gathering gloom,
Then cautiously wandered from room to room.

When out of the silence there came a strange sound
Like the baying of wolves on the breath of the wind,
And unseen presences seemed all around.
Was somebody there, or a trick of the mind? I waited
and peered in the darkness to see
If there was anyone following me.

What were those shadows I saw passing by
And were they just brambles that caught at my coat
And was it mere panic that stifled my cry
Like cold bony fingers that clutched at my throat?
For the sound 1 now heard that filled me with fear
Was the thud of stampeding feet drawing near.

I was chased by some evil, I couldn't tell what,
And I ran like the wind down the rutted track
And swore that I'd never return to that spot.
The running feet ceased. I stopped and looked back.
To see fresh footprints in the deep muddy grooves
Of the track, not of man, but of beasts' cloven hooves.


 

Cattle Crossing

Definitely it was not a day
to be hanging around, that hot
summer Sunday. The traffic bumper
to bumper, and the crowds!

We had stopped for a herd of cows
crossing, lurching from side
to side of the road, as though
they had all the time in the world.

Impatient at the delay
we waited, knowing that certain
things cannot be hurried, till
a young lad with a stick

came running and shouting
and with a light tap
on their haunches, sent
the last laggards trotting.

Their bulging sacs swaying
beneath sweating flanks and the
air heavy with the rich
milky smell of wrecked pastures.

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Blackbird

How rough you are, you,
you bullying blackbird;
rummaging beneath my garden hedge
scattering the dead leaves,

snatching worms from their warm
earth beds, stabbing them with
your bright yellow beak, tapping
out snails from their shells.

Scaring off other birds that feed
off my crumbs. You, with your
bright bullet eye, head cocked

on one side, as if you resented
sharing this garden with me.
Yet that tin‑whistle note from your
garrulous throat as you chirp from
the apple bough seems to welcome me.

 And in the evening when you sing
such thrilling notes of ecstasy,
I can forgive your ravaging feasts.
Oh then, oh then, my blackbird you
can hold me spellbound by your song
that spills out on the summer air,
as if your joy were Heaven sent
for you and I to share.
 

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Cabbage Patches

Definitives of desolation;
silent factories ‑ idle mills,
rusting machinery ‑ abandoned tools,
railway sidings out of use,
docklands where no ships unload,
Highrise flats and broken homes,
deadend streets where vandals roam.

Among the empty spaces
cabbage patches grow ‑ unattended,
yellowing leaves on lanky stalks
honeycombed by caterpillars the weeds
entwine and slowly strangle.
Someone cared to plant them there,
and then despaired.

 


 

The Rooks

Rock, rock tall elms in the March winds,
hold high your bare brown branches,
the joyous cries of circling rooks
break the Winter's silence.

High up they build their nests of twig
 that hang like baskets swinging,
precarious on the swaying boughs,
no gust of wind can loose them.

The raucous caws of nesting rooks,
how they recall my childhood years,
when, deep from the subconscious mind
came first awareness of a sound.

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Water Games

Wind gust and water ripple,
speckled trout beneath the reeds,
rests serenely, swaying gently,
camouflaged in dappled light,
poised intently, waiting, watching,
seeming to be deep in sleep.

Unsuspecting clouds of midges
hover round the river banks,
swarming in a mock fandango
on this sultry eventide;
unaware that just beneath them
lies the watching waiting trout.

Quick as lightning, shooting upwards,|
leaps the wily predator,
takes a mouthful of the midges,
sinks beneath the satin surface
of the smooth green flowing water,
circling ripples spreading out.

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Idle Thoughts

My mind is wandering
across the landscape of the past,
and looking back I see
all those things I should have done
and all those things I should not.

I can't retrace my footsteps
over this bleak spectacle
nor waste my time in self reproach
for life is the sum of all its parts.
The bottom line is love.

 


 

I Wished I Were a Bird

I sat down to write a poem.
Uninspired, I juggled with some words;
They made no sense.

My thoughts were drifting back
To other things 1 should be doing,
A room to clean, a dog to walk.

Why bother with a silly poem when
There's more important things to do?
And then Isaw the bird.

Its wings outspread in flight,
Free as the wind it soared,
Until it disappeared from sight.

Then from the distance where it flew,
It sang in notes so pure and true
And uninhibited, I wished I were a bird.

 


 

Summer Evening

The air still breathes the heat of day,
though shadows lengthen on the lawn.
The sun has slipped beyond the hill
and tinged the sky with streaks of gold.
I stand bewitched this magic hour and watch
the darkening shadows merge, while distantly
an unseen bird sings out in rapturous
ecstasy, to end the closing hour of day.




The Mission

He never would be noticed in a crowd,
nor the suitcase he was carrying
so casually. His views were known of course,
vehemently expressed at times. His mother's
indulgent smile excused the bravado with
which he spoke, accepting his arguments
as most profound, proudly proclaiming that
"He always could express himself so well."

He placed the parcel carefully, chose
the right time too. The children just
out from school, the mothers shopping
 the precinct full. The blast stunned all
 to silence, all except the tinkle of shattered
glass that sprinkled over the dead. He never
saw the carnage he had left, and lacking
pity felt no shame. Proudly he proclaimed,
"The end has justified the means."

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Loss of a Loved One

I know the bitter tears of loss,
the emptiness of all worthwhile in life.
I've lain prostrate upon the bed
we shared, and held you in my arms,
as if you were still there,

But comes the time to step out
from my grieving self to face the
world alone. It's better thus than if
you left me of your own accord. For
love remained between us to the end.
 

 

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