One

 

Would you retain me in our few letters,
Reduce me, laughing, to some purblind dream?
The paths in the sunlight are not the same.
Ours was a falling into headlong waters,
               A bewitchment further than the earth again.

Why reiterate how every chit of stone
Brimmed with a music that now is silent?
In the torrents of spring we yearn for attainment
For the yielding, the belonging, the outward turned in:
                How fast that epiphany is put away.

Say what you want to, exactly: I shall not care.
Enough were the words once to clothe the heart.
But now I am part of all the inanimate
Small and the suffering. Tell me: does the circling year
                Return now the scene where our own bird sang?

Pretend to yourself - why don't you? —   I shan't be long,
What with the sun up, the air soft, and the leaves warm.
There is no one to hear you. It will do no harm
To hold me awhile as though summers bring
                Tangible wonderment only once.

Why the incessant indulging of old regrets,
Playing the martyr? We have done our stint.
The fields have reseeded; the little that went
On from us soaring to a famed romance
                 Is burned out and sintered, the first child spilled.


No, that's not true. There is an inner weld
Where still I may find you and feel the stone
Warm with your touch, and the doorway creaking. Lean
Out of absence a moment and I will build
                Stairways to rapture from a patchwork song

That flumes in the telling as an underground spring
Irrigates later when the great storms are gone —
Inwardly always, and my hooded skin
Is smooth and persuasive as the lawyer's tongue.
                Smile, disbelief: yes, they are best.

What's it to me then, this all-conquering past?
These townships, these Downlands, while burning May
Holds parley in woodlands, at road stops, where cars skim by
Counting the road miles, the coupons, the crest on crest
               Of skyline warped into silent stones.

Here were the chieftains, the Romans, and rough Saxon thanes
Knitting to leaf-mould, where the Chalk-land breathes
Of fume in the Springtime, of the garnered lives
Heaped up in tumuli, enclosures, in the turreted bones
                Of the polecat, the otter, the rabbit's spoor

10.Blanching in hillside, tranchet, in air-brindled moor,
Or the high beeches sighing over ochred flints,
The potsherds and the frost on the implements —
Of all that is nothing in the tier on tier
                Of the long so encompassed, and now always here.

With these I have paced out our Maiden Castle where
We two went laughing through the night's advance;
I have held out my hands, and the inheritance
Fell far beyond me as the evening fire
                Glimmered and drew down to the friendly west.

A cottage with a garden, among folk who crossed
Briefly to speak to us in the rain-dressed streets. Not
Laggard nor kindly so much as that
Old way of customs, observances — at least
                So we then hoped, and so it was.

You do not know how your absences leave me. Is
This then the upshot, a thermometered heart?
To be wheeled up and down in this tremulous state?
Round me, delinquent and splendid, the past years progress,
                Dilatory on their antique spindle.

Dear man, you are changed. Your very hands tremble.
Come, let me hold you as you once held me
In the footpaths and tangles of past kissing places — I
Laughed as you lifted and on my own back thimble
                Set me to reach out for all I dare.


Where is it written that the years must grieve us? Are
There not runes in the wind-sifted trees?
Must I cast fortunes from my lot of tears?
No, do not preach to me: I cannot bear
                Even a breath of that upland place.

I am nothing but sunlight on the wet-cut grass —
Succulent for the instant, then a heavy listing
To darkness, to discharge, not even lasting
To reflections, excuses, the saying 'because
                Of this matter, that' — just the light wind idling.

A leaching to nothing, to the indolent sailing
Out in all weathers as the whistling jays
Burst from the hedgerows, and the cumulous trees
Soar and dissolve, and with the seasons are curling
                And colouring and ever diminishing daily.

What's the strange quandary that you wander so slowly
About these grey quarters in these solemn towns,
Long-sashed and elderly, where the ponderous stones
Are eye-holed with sockets and smugly lie
                Prebendary to the plain, always the dull

Flat of the brickwork, cobbles, cheap lavatory stall.
The small, the ungenerous, the never-kind.
Beneath, when I'm silent, comes the bricked-in sound
From corridors and basements, as though the pull
                Of earth on its kinsfolk returned again.


20. What am I doing in this lace-doily scene
With a waitress beguiling in your pride of moving?
Why am I seated like an old man perceiving
How the past unravels, that the tea leaves spin
                For him as for others, that I appear

But aged and spent, with the odd coin to spare
For someone to humour this white-haired creature,
Smiling and shambling while the inward rapture
Rises, and shakes him, a recusant fire
                That laughs as I go, and am vacant under

A tumult of cumulous, which is water vapour —
That and no more - without length of purpose.
Days pass, the rain. Will nothing posses
The past as it was, and will no one keep her
                Alive in the lift that the soft wind has?

Who can be sure that the years don't deceive us?
Who can shake tears from the prescient air?
I can, and I do, and around me are
The emboldened and ever more certain as
                The sunlight turns golden through this Hardy land.

Here you are standing, were standing: where does it end?
At times I still see you and I hurry on
Fast to the car park, the café, small country inn,
But no, it's not you, someone different, and
                I do not know if you are far or near.

I've toured our two counties but find nothing there
But banks and small businesses, a fast food chain.
How can it be they do not rise again
The sturdy, the undeserving, the resentful poor
                Opposed to the bailiff, and the enclosure acts?

Throughout these long Downlands, though it may vex
Me, still I come back to in these rain-scooped acres,
To trees half in mist as though they might lead us
On with that journey when with shovels and picks
                They cut their way to the frontier castles.

A strange business then. Where the heathland jostles,
And the birch is sfumato in the evening light,
There was haze, thick presence, no end of it,
Impenetrable dead furze, and stiff stands of thistles.
                Bristling to the sea's edge, wind-shaven, sheer,

It dropped like a bird to the sheeted roar
Of the sea out in harness, the continual spill
Up the shingle of pebbles, the weltering fall
In beacon after beacon to the dwindling weir
                Of a far land, rain-misted, that is the west.

Hardy, he knew them a little — that at their last
Meetings with frock coats and with getting on.
They were brazen, curmudgeonly, taken in
By nothing and no one, and never on trust
                Took word of gentry or the new addresses.

30.How can it be that this countryside raises
Such abundance of giving and such deepening eyes?
Velvet in appearance, but then they pass
To the cottage, the pay-cheque, what the cheque addresses:
                What they must live on, the hopes and whys.

So to the purpose that their warmth endows,
That seasoning fragrance of their sunlit natures.
From grange, hill and croft the enticing creatures
May wanton but look to the inclement days —
                Ageing, with child, and without a name.

They are bivouacked out in the wintertime
And sometimes I can find them when the grass is thin.
'Late of this parish', the lettering plain,
Their last port of call on the long drift home
                From tramping the roads to the hiring fair.

Made up at last to a twelfth-month year,
An adjunct to the weather that made the skin
Potatoed and leathery, their whole lives run
From alehouse to spinny for a fourpenny hire,
                For somewhere and someone to take them in.

So I still see them leaving coppice or barn,
Waiting, child-burdened, on unmetalled roads,
Wandering indifferent as the unkempt weeds —
Sturdy, ever present, and bereft again
                Of the law, its protection, abiding care.

I make no mistake: this was a surly poor.
Would strip you promptly as take your pulse,
And leave not a tale but the wayside grass
Flattened, blood-speckled - nothing there
                But the spoil of the fox, and the wind's dissensions.

Yet these are my people, not the long generations
Tall in their topiary or in flowered stone.
No halls, no portraits, no quartered line
Of embassies, statesmen or of invitations
                In coronets crowding the mantelpiece.

Yet there can be memory in the vales of trees
In the brooks, in the Downlands, in the bare, ploughed fields,
Where the sun at first rising still lingers and folds
On the green hill its gladness and, glittering, lays
                The elixir of morning on the brilliant lake.

In rain that is spendrift in the long-raked Chalk,
Then summer returning to the warm dry slopes,
To corn with its burnishings, to soft grey oats,
Where appear and continually the simple folk
                Who come in the evening when the light is thin.

Their call is in undertones. 'Countryman,
Attend to the gate as the cattle gather
Adrift to the wind and to the rainy weather,
To what is known and apportioned in a faraway heaven:
                Whatever the bailiff, whatever allowed.'

 

Now rewritten and published as a free ebook by Ocaso Press.

 

part one     part two    part three    part four