A Sort of Magic in Tintagel

Dolphin clocks,
Magic rocks,
Buy them all in Tintagel.
Oe’r your hearth, a
Bust of Arthur
You can buy it here as well.
Cornish ice cream,
What a nice dream,
Can you feel the aura here?
Local bread,
Leave well fed
There’s even magic in the beer.
Someone, sometime cast a spell,
To empty brain and purse as well,
Beware th’enchantment, the gift-shop bell
Should you visit Tintagel.

I haven’t been to Tintagel since 2014, but I enjoyed it when I did.  Visited previously c. 2006 and I think that was when the first couplet of this silly little leonine verse got into my head.  Now I have used it and posted it in the wild – on googlemaps.  There’s not enough feral poetry out there, is there?

Skelwith Force

The torn polygonal scraps of slate that line

Brathay’s bed above the force

Are dull when plucked, laid out and dry, but shine

Under the crag-stream’s course.

The whole broad dale at Elter Water’s strewn

With spring’s flood-leavings

And the upturned ash and birch-tree ruin

Tell of unseen heavings.

Out of the hill came the water, stripping the stone,

And lushing up the dale,

Around the ice-old mounds, the under-bone

Of the sleeper of a forgotten tale.

The soft and hard are side by side and felt

By every walker strolling down to see

The water turn to steam,

The clear become opaque,

The straight begin to bend,

The sure become unsure,

At Skelwith Force, where glaciations melt

And obstacles sudden slip free.

This Morning’s Poem

This mist on the Woolwich reach
And the glowing smoke of the clipper’s exhaust
Lie on the silver-silted wildfowl beach
Where every cold-shanked creature
From the dipper to the gull to the unemployed teacher
Treads in the silence the morning has enforced.

Silence in the world, frosted, stilled
But a spirit cry of sorrow melts inward ice.
I forgot. Meeting needs has filled
My day and been the building
I’ve been both brick-laying and gilding.
A melody makes me think twice.

It was a new song with a very old thought:
How far did they travel to give their treasure?
How many times wondered, how far the rest they sought?
And continued, purposed, refreshed with a water
Convincing star-seekers the way was getting shorter
And at last, in making a present, take pleasure.

You changed the reason that I should live
From managing to celebrating, from ‘enough’
To so much that I must learn to give
More frequently, more deeply, just to deliver
Others’ blessings, then, with a shiver,
Discover a smooth way that was rough.

I don’t yet do justice to the purpose you bring:
The world changed when you showed us real aid.
Guaranteed that all we do in honour should sing
With inner music, joy appear surprise-springing
Difficult days be the ones bells keep ringing
And I grasp it for a moment, weep, then act unafraid.

I was teaching a GCSE English Literature student about different sorts of rhyme yesterday, thinking about Browning and the Victorians – wanted to push myself to something a little more challenging.

The subject wanders from my window to the music I was listening to last night, my typical preoccupations with provision and purpose, and a very poor attempt to capture some of the joy I felt this morning, remembering that it is all new, that the story of Christmas is definitive, powerful, and that Jesus is the the point. It was as though I had forgotten for a while. Sorry, Lord.

Wagamama Ramen Quatrain

​I visit Wagamamas for a bowl of ramen noodles,

Recuperate, read a book, sit and draw some doodles.

The portions are so generous, the broth full of umami,

That any other option for a ramen would be barmy.

Cindarella

The slipper hits the flagstones hard

Shatters, glass skids in a star of shards,

A gleam alights one greed-glazed eye

Another winks, and then is dry.

He stutters, sadness, sorry, worry,

Blames himself for hopeful hurry.

But from the dark beneath the stair

She lifts the other of the pair.

The crystal shoe fits on her foot

With apron, drabs and kitchen soot.

The Track

Go, turn behind the willows leaning down

And cross a broad, unmetalled, concrete bridge

Beside the throbbing relay station’s fence,

Behind the bold-brick houses, built, set, square

Upon the fertile valley’s bottom, where

A tiny talking brook provides the sea

For toddlers’ first wellie-splashes, and then

For boys from school to fall into and soak

And come home scolded, seek again to sneak

To tiny kingdoms of hedgeholes and mud,

And live in, in their dreaming, sleeping minds.

And if you find that stream, that bridge, those trees,

Begin to walk the track and to explore

A microcosm of all England’s lands

Expressed in half a mile, so few acres,

As shells express the whorl of hurricanes

Invisible in shape until an eye

Above the world can picture them all whole,

As rockpools mirror all the ocean’s depth

And as a garden mocks, with love, the wild

And wildernesses live behind a shed,

So know that this small span of well-loved land

Can teach entire the lessons of landscape –

Entire, at least, the principles on which

Every other sight, whether moor or mount

Or shore or fen or cliff or field or wood

Or lawn or park or scrub or shingle down

Or chalk-hill flank or tide-bared mud or sea –

The principles on which these worlds are seen

And loved, and held in balanced wonderment

With awe and joy each sharing parts of thought

That flicker from the buds of hawthorn hedge

To wave-tops, turning, crisping white, a-rush

To burst upon the land with such desire,

Enthusiasm to enact and give

And interact and change and be part of

The world that springs from those first wanderings, young

As a boy might be, so was I right there,

Turned from the street onto the brick-dust track,

The over-written history of space

And growing things that taught me how to grow –

Ah, go down beside the willows, then take

The slowly steeping walk up that hill,

Turn about, look around, see the world

That we have, this gift of childish heaven

That in it holds appreciation of

The living, growing land beyond the sky.

Wordsworth never finished the poem we call ‘The Prelude’, but it was meant to be his autobiography in verse, or, as he put it grandly, the story of the ‘creation of a poetic mind’.  I actually think this is a fairly good subject for poetry – if only of interest to other poets – but possibly self-indulgent!  Nonetheless, even without Wordsworth’s age or position, I found it really pleasurable to revisit my childhood places in verse like this.  Does this mean I’ll expand it?  

In the British Museum II

On the third wide floor of the museum

You can travel between treasures gathered

In centuries’ collection of the past –

A past of narrow stories intertwined –

That’s what the glass says, and the little signs

Ruled on white Perspex, all best guesses,

Estimations – archaeological –

Risky historical reputations.

But looking in the glass I can still see

Fingerprints in a stoneware pot, once hid,

Then found, no framed and famous, full of wealth.

The massed carnelian lozenges with birds

And simple beaten snake-head bracelets, rings,

The taciturn quartz, hard and sworn silent,

Collected silver profiles destined soon

To soften, stick, unpiece and glue, adhere,

The swallow in themselves the featured fair,

Becoming blank, upon which expression

Can be new-shaped a decorated face.

All interrupted by a sudden threat

That prompted careful choosing of this vase

And surely careful memory’s searchings

For a place in the crook of an ash tree

By a bed in a brook by the long field

Where a treasure can lie in secrecy.

To try to put a glass between ourselves –

Me and this distant woman or man –

Is no more possible than to part

Two melted coins, two rust-fused swords or rings,

And all the people making all these toys

Are like the massy links in one colossal

Tunic of chainmail, which the earth unites

By giving up its moisture, making rust

That freezes pliable metal and dust.

Lines on Highbury Field

The pace of circling runners has now stopped,

Their anticlockwise ringing of the hill

Completed for another Saturday.

Instead the calls of coaches to their boys,

By name, by numbers printed bright

On neon jackets, home strips, away strips

And the thud of leather on leather, the thud

Of childish pleasure in the swinging foot,

The leaping leg, the spring, the catch, the cry,

And sliding tackles scuff the turf with scars,

The boyish shallow trenches of the wars

They live to fight.  For disappointment lasts

But fragments of a minute, not so long

To sour a day as it can do for men.

Instead, with every burst of rivalry,

Each charge up the touchline, each desperate chance,

The game stays living, changing, bright and sweet

Like May sun out from cloud and in again.

‘Come in now, please,’ he calls, the giant there,

A man and half a man to eight-year-olds,

The beauty of his giving as they shoot,

He crouches in the belly of the goal,

The little, four-foot goal, and bids them try

To pass him, knock it in the net and score,

And they begin to learn themselves and find

The pleasure of that leather-smacking thud,

The swinging foot, the leaping leg, the spring,

His catch and cry the affirmation of

Each boy’s good value, his name, his number.

Sometimes spoken – ‘Diego!’  Ringing out loud,

The passers-by and balconeers all share

The pleasure of a boy’s attempt on goal.

Sometimes unspoken – just that look or pat

As Mitchell sidesteps, taps it in the net,

Arry nutmegs coach and all the eight-year-olds

Cheer both.  The older group have finished now

And moved to dribbling, easing bright blue globes

Against the gentle slope of the park’s lie

Upon the hill, up to the cones, then down,

Stretching slightly to keep up with them.

Beyond, a trainer spars and kickboxes

With today’s customer, who wants to learn

For stage, or screen, or just simple fun

Of throwing punches in the morning air.

This richness, more than leisure, more than just

An occupation for the weekend hours,

How we enjoy it, but to tell the truth

It’s undervalued.  God gives peace to men

And all these boys not marching, trained to die,

Assume this is normality.  Not so,

In history, how rare this chance to play.

And I can see it as a prophecy

Of dwelling in the Kingdom without end.

The Painter’s Eye

It’s late December – day-long dusks and clouds

And lovely open structures of the dying trees,

And railside wastelands earn another grey,

The brambles purple, old-man’s beard delights

With feather baubles long uneven swathes

Of drear embankment.  All the puddles full,

All the ditches dark, reflective, cold,

The lives of poplars stark, the pointed pales

Of fences cold as printed tractor marks

Now filled with scraps of sky and dainty crows.

We pass a field of horses, straw strewn out,

And dirty stable-coats upon their backs.

What entertainment can December bring

A horse?  What festive cheer a hungry bird –

Related in a theoretic way

To robins on a watercolour card.

But can I say it?  These are all my paint –

The pigments that I choose when I return

To dreams, to hopes, to quiet peaceful dreams.

The subtlety of every tree which owns

A unique pattern, never copied twice,

The varied textures of the water’s flat –

Despite the stillness of the air, the grey –

By reading printed painted books, a child,

By walking on the paths of lonely tracks,

I’ve won a little of the painter’s eye,

And with it surety of English truths.

So – I want you now to now my purposing –

The motivation I cannot express

As policy, or aim, or goal.  I guess –

I love to try, to leap, to run the course –

Another soul desires to comprehend –

I only want to know.

Chalk at Broadstairs

When the tide, slow retreating from the beach north of Broadstairs,

Reveals all the liminal acres of shore,

A field of nobbly pinnacles rises

Slathered with purple, green-fingered, white-raw.

The chalk will feel greasy to fingertip gripping,

The seaweed is slippy beneath treading feet,

Yet the softest of stones is defeating the ocean

Absorbing the thunder where seas swell and meet.

The  cliffs, yes they tumble, they fall and they shout,

Collapse in the surf of the tide’s furthest rush,

But ten days in twelve the water drains backward

And the roar of the ocean will turn into hush.

The power of water is soon dissipated,

Rollers and breakers split into rills

And the cliffs, slowly crumbling, must face the ocean

But twice a day water retreats and then stills.