Poetry in the Land of the Twelve Churches
THE POWER OF POETRY
CS Lewis certainly saw merit in being straightforward: 'No man who bothers about originality will ever be original. Whereas, if you simply try to tell the truth... you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.'
So come on, word-smiths, bang out some honest copy, but (of course) keep an eye on your publisher, for (as Oscar W said): 'A poet can survive everything except a misprint.'
And all that'll do pretty well to justify a page of poetry from 'The Land of The Twelve Churches'...
The poem 'On Westwell Downes' was written by William Stroud, who was born in Devon in c. 1602, and educated at Westminster and Christ Church, Oxford where he stayed for the rest of his life. Stroud was a well-known poet of his time, finding great favour with the vivid immediacy of his verse.
The photograph of Westwell Downs, above, comes from the striking website describing the Curtis Clan's new venture, which involves (very appositely) shepherds huts...
Find out all about it HERE
On Westwell Downes
When Westwell Downes I gan to tread,
Where cleanely wynds the greene did sweepe,
Methought a landskipp there was spread,
Here a bush and there a sheepe:
The pleated wrinkles of the face
Of wave-swolne earth did lend such grace,
As shadowings in Imag'ry
Which both deceive and please the eye.
The sheepe sometymes did tread the maze
By often wynding in and in,
And sometymes round about they trace
Which milkmayds call a Fairie ring:
Such semicircles have they runne,
Such lynes acrosse so trymly spunne
That sheppeards learne whenere they please
A new Geometry with ease.
The slender food upon the downe
Is allwayes even, allwayes bare,
Which neither spring nor winter's frowne
Can ought improve or ought impayre:
Such is the barren Eunuches chynne,
Which thus doth evermore begynne
With tender downe to be orecast
Which never comes to haire at last.
Here and there twoe hilly crests
Amiddst them hugg a pleasant greene,
And these are like twoe swelling breasts
That close a tender fall betweene.
Here would I sleepe, or read, or pray
From early morne till flight of day:
But harke! a sheepe-bell calls mee upp,
Like Oxford colledge bells, to supp.
The Philosopher's Lovesong
Existential theory states
You and I can be good mates,
Shaking hands or swapping juices
(depends how tight our bond, or loose, is),
And although we’re all related
In blood, or love, or friendship (sated
Simply by a friendly nod),
We are also on our tod.
Individual agents all
Invited to life’s Summer Ball
To follow through a battle plan
Or muddle through as best we can,
And whichever path I choose,
I am the artist and my muse.
I am the pilgrim and my saint...
... Half a mo though, no I ain’t!
I might be free to cock things up
(Or strive to win, and lift the cup)
This process needs a you and me
And where they touch, let's call it...
Me and My Cat
Me: I lost my husband suddenly,
It broke my heart.
Left me bereft,
You: A black, fluffy kitten.
Rescued by Cats Protection
And named Fluffy.
Me: Wanting another presence in the house.
Longing for something to love,
You: So nervous of the world,
Scared of the new.
You would not be held.
Me: I spent time with you.
Played endless games.
Cared for you and gave you love.
Allowed you time to feel at home.
You: Found safe places to hide.
Carefully explored the house.
Cautiously ventured into the garden.
And slowly came trust and affection.
We: Now you touch your nose to mine.
A cuddle brings a purr.
We snuggle on the bed,
My head against your side,
The soft brush of your fur against my cheek,
The warmth of your small body,
The rumble of your purr.
A moment out of time,
Of unconditional love.
Two broken souls healing together.
Perhaps if there is any benefit in this unhinging 'Time of Corona' it will be the coming to a better understanding of what is important to us all as one group, to us in our different groups, and to each of us as an individual...
... and the re-acceptance that, as ever...
“One man’s 'Mystery of The Sacred Water',
is simply the quenching of another man’s thirst.”
The stones are carved with snakes, and dragons’ tails,
The hood is silver-banded oak, and faced
With cedar shingles pierced with copper nails.
And, every day, a vessel-laden priest
Arrives, sets down his burden, genuflects,
Then, looking down, with certainty he’ll dream
The water’s surface far below reflects
All heav’nly goodness in its sluggish gleam.
He lovingly winds down a golden can
And revels in the splashing diamond shower.
He murmurs imprecations on the man
Who does not feel the sacred water’s power.
A thirsty traveller happens by anon
Scoops up a cup, drinks deep, and journeys on.
A Poem for 2020
Fog’s a damned malignant thing,
That drifts and slides, and grips, and hides
And makes a misery of all;
But keep a watch, greet every dawn…
And sure as eggs is eggs
The clear sky comes again.
Maybe it is dark.
Sad, black, grey
In this world of ours.
Struggling to survive.
Jobs lost, people hungry.
Suffering through hunger.
Hunger that’s worldwide,
Hunger for warmth,
Hunger for a hug,
Closeness to someone.
Is all lost?
Is it just because of Covid?
Maybe there is a glimmer,
A glimmer of hope.
A way out of the darkness,
A way out of the grey.
A ray of sunshine
Shining through the trees.
Shining from the good people.
Just a glimmer of hope
Like a dewdrop.
The wistful sound of the wind.
A shining light dimly in the darkness.
Maybe there is HOPE.
Something was wrong
The sheep would not settle.
They moved about in the thorn bushes,
Around the fire all were sleeping
But the dogs were watchful,
Not growling for the best place by the fire
Quiet, anxious they padded
Silently. Coming to me
I set off round the thorn enclosure
To check for a lion.
My eyes see well in the dark.
That night we had the comet to help,
Its tail pointing straight down at us.
The dogs all came with me.
Close to my feet, silently.
On other nights one dog might wait
Sleepily for my return.
This must be a pride of lions.
But the dogs looked to me, not away to the hills.
They looked to me.
Then I knew.
Something was about to happen.
Something huge was about to happen.
“Get up. Get up.” I shouted,
I ran to the fire
Drawing my knife.
I stared at the dark town below,
My heart beating its terror,
With the dogs at my feet, shivering
As the prophesies crystallised
And the sky exploded with angels.
The Veg Plot Christmas Bean Feast
On Christmas Eve as the moon shone down,
The Vegetables all gathered round.
Excited chatter could be heard,
Its time to party was the word.
The time had come for their Xmas do,
Their fun and games I’ll share with you.
Late summer and the wise Sage said,
If our Christmas bash is going ahead,
We must plan with some alacrity,
If we’re to avoid mediOkraty.
And so he sent a Runner round,
To see what help was to be found.
We need a committee said Hyssop,
If we’re planning a great piss-up.
They’ll need to know their Onions,
To be our party Champignons.
As fine words butter no Parsnip,
He undertook the chairmanship.
It can’t be Rocket science,
To work out our requirements.
We need aMaizements, games and fun,
Food and booze for everyone.
It was agreed they shouldn’t stint,
Even if it cost a Mint.
We’ll need to get a Christmas tree,
Chimed in excited Savory.
There must be holly and mistletoe,
We’ll Leaf that to you Oregano.
Stout Pumpkin is best qualified,
To play our Santa this Christmas-tide.
Oh and we’ll need some music,
Piped up excited Garlic.
Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Black Eyed Peas,
Either one of those would please.
What about Wheatus or Prefab Sprout,
They’d Salsify our needs no doubt.
Now party night is Fennely here,
Oh listen to those Veggies cheer.
As they put up the decorations,
For the festive Celerybrations.
And so the party has begun,
A Cornucopia of fun.
Because of the Brexit tussles,
We won’t be seeing the Brussels.
And the Melon-Cauli Swiss Chard,
Thinks the journey’s just too hard.
Guess who has a room at the Savoy?
That’s French Bean, he’s such a playboy!
Soon they were dancing to the Beet,
Basil and Rosemary light on their feet.
The Chervil and the Chive,
Well they liked to do a jive.
And Cumin, cool as a Cucumber,
Asked lady Chamomile to Rumba.
As the dance floor’s quite a Squash,
Some go off to get some nosh.
A Mangetout buffet far from mean,
Agreed the well-stuffed Aubergine.
Thanks to generous Tarragon,
Who’d ordered it all on Amazon.
That Fungi Artichoke,
Sure did like to play a joke.
Picked on Cress-fallen Mustard,
Who proSeeded to get flustered.
Now don’t you cry and make a fuss,
Comforted kindly Asparagus.
Kohl Rabi said; come Lettuce pray,
But everyone else just wanted to play.
Some joined in pass the Parsley,
Others charades or Pictionary.
Meanwhile Calabrese and Cabbage,
Played a quiet game of cribbage.
It’s time to party ho, ho, ho,
Rejoiced the merry Potato.
She’d found her jacket did unhook,
Well there’s a Turnip for the book.
Just look at that hot Tater,
Shakin’ her Moneymaker!
Desiree looked Gourdgeous in red,
She’s Radishing her Sweet Heart said.
I don’t know where she gets her garb,
Mumbled the envious Rhubarb.
Oh come now don’t take umBorage,
Coaxed tender-hearted Lovage.
Said Pea I will not be obLeek,
I’m desperate to take a peek,
Into that Santa’s grotto,
Will you help me please Tomato?
Well I’ve Herb there’s not Mushroom,
But you are only a small Legume.
The saucy Coriander,
Who did like to philander.
Was out to find a Broad,
And would not be ignored.
Oh that’s so imMorel,
Remarked the prudish Sorrel.
Look at prim Miss Marjoram,
Acting like the big I Yam.
Whilst in the corner laid back Swede,
Confessed he’d had a little Weed.
While the Broccoli and the Kale,
Imbibed a little too much ale.
The roly-poly Marrow,
Nodded off in the wheelbarrow.
Celeriac he took a fall,
Saying I don’t Carrot all.
And as for Lemon Grass,
He fell flat upon his arse.
This party’s Bean the best one yet,
Don’t let it end bemoaned Courgette.
Oh yes, twenty-four Carrot gold,
A really Sweet Success all told.
Chicory, Spinach and Dill,
All agreed it had been brill.
Now the party’s winding down,
And the Veg are homeward bound.
Endive run out of Thyme,
I must end my little rhyme.
So here’s my parting shot;
Merry Christmas, that’s Shallot!
Chris Hanks, December 2018
Today, I had a bonfire
Today I had a bonfire.
A clear, sunny autumn day,
High white clouds drifting across the sky.
The breeze swirling the sweet smelling wood smoke
Out across the fields.
To the hiss, spit, crackle of the fire,
Watched the dancing flames.
Above, a solitary buzzard circled
Mobbed by one brave skylark.
Somewhere a wren
Issued its warning cries.
Peace and quiet.
No noise really
Just the bird song,
The breeze rustling the almost leafless branches.
Only the occasional car on the farm track,
A reminder that there is another world.
Beyond my garden.
The gentle labour of tending the fire,
The satisfaction of the task.
As the day headed towards sunset,
A cup of tea and a biscuit,
Watching the last embers of the fire wink out.
I am at peace with this world of mine,
This world of mine is at peace with me.
The unfamiliar juice
Running over her tongue,
And she glanced away into
The scale of the cruelty-
How much suffering,
And all unnecessary-
Her jaw fell open.
The apple bite fell to earth.
Found by ants
It taught them to make
Fantastic mushroom farms.
She threw the apple
Into a pond.
God quickly gave the fish
A fifteen second memory....
ISN’T POETRY MARVELLOUS?
One of Cat Sutherland's 'terrierific' portraits.
Look in any issue of Parish Pump for contact details.
In September 2020's issue of Parish Pump, we published a great poem from Anne Hichens
A billion tails slowed,
A billion noses twitched.
‘My master’ yelped an Alsatian.
Joyous rolling on the marble floor.
Which I took to mean that even God enjoys the love of his dog. A excellent thought, especially if God was choosing a dog (’next’), and in fact the Alsatian chose him!
And then Anne emailed to say that she had left out a line, and the poem should have read:
A billion tails slowed,
A billion noses twitched.
A man appeared.
‘My master’ yelped an Alsatian.
Joyous rolling on the marble floor.
So, it’s the dogs that are judging the men... An equally felicitous thought. Two poems for the price of a missing line!
Dan Denby lives a double life...
By day a jobbing builder,
But home at five, and scrubbed till pink,
He sashays forth as Hilda.
In Sunley Cross we know the score:
When buildings face disaster,
Our Dan's the man to hammer nails,
and no one lays bricks faster.
But equally, when evening sees
The back-bar at The Compass,
Our comely Hilda whoops it up:
The 'Mistress of the Rumpus'.
We love our Dan throughout the day
In dusty, half-mast trousers,
And then again, when Hilda’s out,
Her scarlet satin wows us.
We seek our solace where we may,
Some bowl, and others garden.
But who’s to say, of all of us,
The Gods of Life blow hard on?
WHAT (OR WHO) IS IN A NAME?
Why are our villages called what they are? A bit of nonsense saluting the founders of thirteen villages in the Shill & Broadshire Benefice.
Can you identify each village?
(This first appeared in Parish Pump 15 years ago.)
‘Tis well-known that Broughton Poggs
Is named for Pogeys (as in Stoke),
But what of ‘Phil’ who lived next door?
He sounds a family-minded bloke.
Further down the road there’s Ken
Who looks to to be a lie-a-bed
And nearby throve a comely wench,
All hale and hearty? Enough said!
Two more chaps seem in the pink
Although it’s tricky, I’ll allow...
For one looks to be a goner
and t’other’s en vacances for now.
Three Jocks next: tall Mr Ford,
A blind Scot oddly named (to tease?)
for Turkish carpets, and a third...
A semi-’illsman, if you please!
Here’s a curious eponym...
Reservoir dog or coal-mine pig?
Either way he’s a deepish man
But wet or dry we can’t now twig.
A fit American-looking guy,
(but maybe tacky, none the less)
Insists we know he’s not a town
and wears his label proudly, bless!
A pocket gypsy Spanish gent
Planted his village down the lane.
And lastly a casino stooge,
a hundred pounds did sharply gain.
What a harum-scarum crew!
But sans these village founders we
Would have no place to call Our Home,
So to them all we bend our knee.
Not a lure on the water by Dee or by Don.
A mere ripple of wind moves the surface upon
The cool calm eddies that turn the trout over,
Already confirm that these fish are in clover.
Jockey Fife, Upper Fontie, Stobbs and the Lawn:
These pools left in peace from the hook and the prawn.
I wonder just when will the fishers return…
Until then all is rested, the Loch and the Burn.
THINGS WERE, THINGS ARE... THINGS WILL BE
It is easy at the moment to see the world closing in, everything getting smaller and tighter. Here is Anne Hichens (churchwarden in Langford) reminding us that there are bigger things... In our memories, our imaginations, and to come:
ON LEAVING SOUTH AFRICA
I'll stare at the mountains
And burn them into the back of my eyes
So that I can plant them firmly
Into the cold mists
Of the Thames valley.
Devil's Peak, the Outeniqua,
Hottentots Holland, Franschoek.
Hot rocks will burn through
The cloud above Lechlade
And the white summit stones
Will fade into the pale sunlight.
My eyes will roam
As close there as here.
Hottentots Holland, SA
'I MAY BE OLDER, BUT...'
This is a poem that I wrote for my Mother, who has now reached the grand old age of 96 and is still living in the house she was born in. (As was I.)
When I awake I take a stock,
Of any aches and pain.
I really do not want to go,
Back to the Doc's again.
He might give me more tablets,
Or send me for a test.
I'm fed up with being poked around,
All I want to do is rest.
Taking all these tablets,
Is really quite a bore.
At least now with my dossette box,
I don't forget them anymore.
Little things that once seemed easy,
Nowadays seem such a chore.
But I've lots of helpful gadgets,
To make things easier than before.
There's a thing for taking lids off,
Grab rails help me get up.
I don't have to lift the kettle,
My machine makes just one cup.
No need to bother cooking,
Just microwave a ready meal.
And with my lovely stair lift
The stairs are no big deal.
I have a panic button,
To summon help if I feel queer.
My dentures fit me perfectly,
So of dentists I've no fear.
Now with my new glasses,
I can see both far and near.
And if use my hearing aids,
I can hear you loud and clear.
Though in my heart I am still young
My body's elderly.
My get up and go has got up and gone,
Replaced by lethargy.
Ironic, now I have the time,
I don't have the energy.
So I'll sit and have a biscuit,
And another cup of tea.
Sometimes if I'm a little sad,
Think the whole world's gone to pot.
I only need to look around,
And count the blessings that I've got.
Though I may not be wealthy,
I can recall past pleasures.
Family, friends, a happy life,
My memories are my treasures.
Now in my hair there's silver
And in my teeth there's gold.
So perhaps I'm worth more,
Now that I've grown old.
For there's titanium in my hip,
And metal in my knee.
If I was not a human,
They could recycle me!
A boy is chugging through the leaves.
Maybe a train, maybe a ship.
Or just the happy rarity of power
Of small over big on an autumn day.
The leaves weren’t there, and now they are…
Tomorrow? Who knows or cares.
For there’ll be stones to throw in the stream,
And a sandcastle to build in the sun.
Now, forward thirty years, and here’s the man.
Those leaves again. Covering his lawn.
And, as he rakes them to the compost heap,
He shivers at the sleep of winter coming on.
He stops to run though happy summers past,
And shrugs at maudlin autumn thoughts.
For his best summer’s still to come.
No need to note the falling glass quite yet.
An old man huddles on the bench,
Watching the leaves swirl roundabout.
He looks at the dryness of his hands.
He thinks on autumn, and feels his winter comes.
The year and his years are marching on,
Bound as single pages in a book:
Spring, summer, autumn, and the end.
He hears a sound and, looking up, he smiles.
The boy is chugging through the leaves.
Maybe a train, maybe a ship
Or just the happy rarity of power
Of small over big on an autumn day.
Looking for something
Like aging actors
With enormous stage presence
Stand the round straw bales.
I'm lying in bed
My fingers tapping, counting
I'm thinking haiku.
Anne Hichens, who inspired our first (and hopefully not the last) Poetry Stomp in St Matthew's Church in October 2018.
Bred in the bone
There’s been a church at Inglesham
A thousand years or more,
Since Saxons walked the Roman roads
And Alfred made the law.
Full forty generations,
Have marked their age in stone
And plastered walls. The very air
Seems now bred in the bone.
Accreted, careful layers,
Madonna carved with Saxon axe,
To pews from Cromwell’s time.
There’s not much gilt or silver,
Nor venerated saint.
No benefactor’s masterpiece,
Just timber, glass and paint.
So nothing special, nothing grand.
But I know to be the case,
That those who chance on Inglesham
Find comfort in this place.
Reach up high and touch the moon
Reach up high and touch the moon.
You'll fly there soon in the bowl of a spoon.
You'll slip and dip along the way
Until you reach the moonbeam highway.
So reach up high and touch the moon.
He'll be winking and blinking and singing a tune.
He'll flash you a smile and give you a grin,
Then wave you in to land on his chin.
Now reach up high and touch the moon.
Give us a blast of your spoon's va-va-voom.
It's time to drift down and show us your mettle.
Settle in the dust, but watch out for nettles!
Reach up high and touch the moon.
Where the lunar café serves cheese until noon.
Please don't dawdle cause the next stop is Mars.
Fire up your dreams on the way to the stars.
Archibald swung from tree to tree
(‘Tis natural for a chimpanzee)
But as he swung, Old Archie’s thoughts
Reflected he was out of sorts.
(Indeed the swing he swung was slow,
Brought on by melancholio.)
Though Africa has lots to offer
For Archie, ‘twas an empty coffer.
He really did not like the heat:
Constant sun was not a treat.
‘Twas not a case of ‘not a lot’,
He did not like the sun one jot.
From early doors, to late at night
The searing heat, the burning light…
And what made dealing with it worse
The constant, nagging, hateful curse:
However hot it was today
Come tomorrow, come what may,
Another cloudless sky, more sun,
More prickly heat… ‘It is no fun’
Thought Archie, ‘I must find relief
Before I boil and come to grief.’
And so it was that Archie Ape
Set off across the parched landscape;
He headed North, and round the Med,
And further North again he fled.
And gradually the sun shone less
And less and less, and then, Oh Bless!
A pitter here, a patter there
Chilling rain was everywhere.
Archie laughed with bright-eyed glee,
And crossed, at last, the cold North Sea.
He’s ‘Happy Archie’ nowadays,
So when you hear that well-worn phrase
That talks about it being cold
Enough, if I may be so bold,
To freeze the sack-like under-part
Off a brass monkey, take to heart
(Though strictly I’d allow the claim
That apes and monkeys ain’t the same):
For Archibald this scrotal-tightening,
That comes with cold, and storm, and lightning,
Is something he would never swap…
But, at this point I’d better stop.
If there’s a moral of our tale
Remember, when life makes you wail:
One man’s rained off cricket match…
… is another man’s opportunity to go swimming.
WEATHER OR NOT!
What are country words worth?
“So, once again… You ‘wandered lonely as a cloud’?
And saw, what… Daffodils, you say? ‘On high’?
"Well, William, High’s the right word, sure, to shout out loud,
But not, I think, on daffs... But dope… Now, look me in the eye…
"Yeah, as I thought: romantic poet! Poppy-head, more like.
Just as your mate, Sam Coleridge, the Laudanum King.
"See this, now? ‘Twinkle on the milky way’. You’re all alike:
You lay a line, right? Roll a note, and hear the white stuff sing.
"Now, this bit here.… ‘A poet could not but be gay’,
Well, that line’s true: you are a friend of Dorothy for sure.
"But come: ‘I lie in vacant or in pensive mood’ you say.
That’s doper’s talk, I’ve heard enough... no need for more,
"Book him, Sergeant, take him down, and throw away the key.”
Inspector Tennyson picks up his poet’s pen, and thinks: ‘Now me.’
The Puzzled Fellow
Some years ago, I met a chap
Who stood with puzzled frown, and map
Outside the railway station bar.
He asked me: "Is it very far
To where the flying fishes leap
To why the wolves devour the sheep
To where giants stride across the land
To how elves dance upon the sand…"
The fellow’s list went on and on
Mermaids, reindeer, cheese, the sun
Princes, peanuts, football teams
Roses, music, sex, and dreams…
‘Who? How? Where? What? And more beside
“There is so much to learn” he cried.
“Show me your map” I said at last
“We’ll find a route, be not downcast.”
But when I looked, his sheet was blank
No road, no town, no church, no bank
No school, no pub, no anywhere
The page was absolutely bare.
He had the words, and questions too
But not a clue of what to do.
What could I say to help a man
Who has no path, no goal, no plan?
How could I help him on his way,
To make sense of life’s cabaret?
Then all at once I realised
The things above all else I prized
To help me populate my chart
With matters both of head and heart.
I took an object from my bag
And said “I do not like to brag
But this will help you understand
And lead you to your promised land.”
He took it, slightly mystified,
And asked me, as he looked inside:
“What if it doesn’t do the trick
And straightaway things still don’t click?”
“There’s plenty more to fill life’s gaps”
I said “One day you’ll find your maps
Unfold full-drawn, and plain to view,
Based squarely on my gift to you.”
At last, he asked, with grateful look,
“What is it called?”
I said: “A book!”