Lines from a Train Window by Bedford

By Bedford sheets of water blanket grooves –

The sillion silvered, overcome and smoothed.

Hedgerows prove ancestral farmers’ plans

But water came and drank up all the land.

A waste – lost value – blank diminished ground –

Or know that soil too needs rest and sleep.

A string of salmon-coloured floodlights from

A light industrial estate, those sheds

Near Wellingborough, parade a fan of rays

Across the fresh full mere like liquid stars.

Incoming Tide

Every pattern that’s made by the water

Where tides sculpt the ripples of low-slung sand levels

Is hidden, invisible, but for its traces,

The skeleton ridges and quartz-dancing revels.

 

Across the cold strand the sea is like silver,

Its lobes licking tenderly flattened out swells.

The sand barely rises, except when the water

Displays a true level and every tongue tells.

 

But even those waters are ebbing and rushing

And never the beach or the sea’s edge is smooth,

But climbing, high-rising, then falling, revealing,

It softens the crystals just like lullabies soothe.

Fallow Fields

Four months already stand these fields fallow

That thickly were sheaved,

That thickly were sheaved.

Cuts the share deeply and lie the stones shallow,

Turned up the treasures we mean time to hallow,

The trees all unleaved,

The trees all unleaved.

 

Coincident footsteps convinced us of meaning –

I saw and believed,

I saw and believed.

Your hand for my holding, my wounds for your cleaning,

Those words for our hopes and your shoulder for leaning

And what we achieved,

O what we achieved.

 

The ground is all spent and now little is growing

For I’ll not plant there,

No I’ll not plant there.

Why cover the ploughings with a new Year’s sowing

Where the bones of the land are still bare and showing

And I know I still care.

I know I still care.

Poignant to me – as it was after expressing this that I felt different: while I still felt affection and gratitude, I was no longer bound in love.

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 Memoriam CRNM

I went alone by old canals

And saw the gardens grown from waste

Coal-heap compost, newspaper paste

And smelt the raindrops’ funerals.

 

Around a reedy, autumn pond

A wary grasp of sycamores

And mortal ash trees marked with flaws

Where wire fences scarred their bond.

 

Upon the puddles ripples ring;

The sky begins to decorate

The garden with a water-weight

And smack the mud, and patterns bring.

 

It is a partial sanctuary;

Aided and abetted, rich,

Leafmould rotting in a ditch,

A very sullen place to be.

 

The lonely walk I’ve taken here

Has led past corners where we laughed

And where we drank a loving draught

And where we shared a pint of beer.

 

How could it not, when every street

Has been a place we’ve known and shared?

When every roadsign once declared

The city was our place to meet?

 

I cannot walk past cranes or trees,

Follow paths or railway lines

Without seeing speaking signs

Of what you sometime meant to me.

 

I had to go to somewhere new –

A place I never shared, and still

As up the tower I found my thrill

I wanted so to be with you.

 

The train fled through a concrete scar

Half across the garden fields,

Through the chalk your bone-land yields

Not long away – and yet too far.

 

I felt my trespass in a place

Reserved for our shared wanderings.

I cried to think of happy things –

Cold on the downs, your true embrace.

 

The beach is shingle and I read

That half the land is shingle too,

Five centuries worth of land born new

Where once the sea lay in its bed.

 

Each stone a flint plucked from the chalk

And rounded by the waves’ rough play

Until it found a place to stay

Where rustles are the stonefalls’ talk.

 

There is a castle on the marsh

Built by a famous, frantic King,

Now a ruin, crumbling

And eaten – rotten – broken – harsh.

 

Built there to stand upon the shore

But stranded by the passing tides

Each bringing stones, and wrack besides.

The sea is not there anymore.

 

Two miles inland – what a plain sign

For all those things we deem most firm.

The world will change, so ends the term

Of all possession – but chiefly mine.

 

I loved you till it creased my soul;

I changed my mind to want your shape

And feel the lack when you’d escape:

You did.  I let the pebbles roll.

 

So starts an avalanche again –

The smallest stones move rocks.

The freest hearts are bound with locks

That rust like links in anchor-chain.

A View of Trees

The curtains and the curtain poles are down,

The grips that held them plaster over, pale

But just discernible.  Another leave

Now taken from a room and sight I need –

The branches, budding, of the roadside trees.

I’m realising this is my default –

To choose a room, then place the bed to look

Direct into the branches of a tree.

First ash, in my childhood home, then holly

In an arch, then sycamore, now common lime

And weeping horse-chestnut, struggling to leaf.

And it is not coincidence – my taste?

That next I’ve found a place that looks onto

A stately park with planes that wobble up,

Those hesitant trees that ponder problems

Then peer down to find they’ve out-grown their place!

So tall – they can’t be native!  Oddly-hued

By a passing decorator using up

His tins of remaindered household colours.

From Spain, half-bred Greek and American,

His disparate parents lend him several strengths,

But he hasn’t yet won my heart.  Ah, let

The morning tell him to me as I rise

And every day see buds a-breaking out,

Little moleskin fruits achieve their sphere.

Still remain a novelty – I know you’ll

Begin where someone sets you, wary tree,

Too quickly noticed growing in a waste

All spindly-shooting with those palmy spreads.

I’m growing generous in spending love

Now all my natural children are bound close

And coppiced into useful poles, ideas

And metaphors that show me how we are,

So now come time to welcome even planes –

A tree I had no feelings for before.

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.

Gold

To think of burying gold

When it hangs for free in the air

Just beyond the lover’s reach,

Just above her hair.

There beyond the snouts of dogs,

The winter-fingered trees

But bright and strong and in my eyes

The shining coin of spring’s surprise

It hangs to tempt and tease.

The crocus tips are up

And the night has returned to its hours

And all the city folk are glad

To tell seasons by the flowers.

Past the sour smell of square white bread

Put out to feed the birds

I route my return in time to pray

And gently finish the first spring day

With a gentler ring of words.

View from a Train Window in Autumn

A litter of yellow apples lie by

An access trackway, unregarded and

Ignored, for all the hundred pounds yet spent

On fruit from other garden fields, these fall

And tumble, bruise, sleep rotten by a path

That once in several months a gang tramp down

To mend, rewire, or tense the straightening cords

That rig steel pylons down the western line.

If only I had time and way to climb that fence

Or scale that wall and gather them – or you

Could ever give that hopeful seedling, now

A giving, breathing creature in our world

Appreciation’s gratitude of use,

To taste the fruit just once before it falls!

See all along the callous iron line –

Permanent way – the rails have taken part,

Assumed autumnal motley, blood and brown,

And ballast beds a thousand dry-stemmed weeds,

But heaps of darling brambles, glowing brass

Gloss-tip bold hips are all by-passed.

The jungles of sloes, elder, buddleia,

Are thick and scrawny, generous and gay.

Each waiting on a season – while the train

Diesels past, cold or wet or damp or dry –

And never can we tap those running rivers,

Wine-fountains.  Realm of black cat and magpie,

Occasionally trespassed by working gangs

Of hi-vis lads with flasks and sandwiches

And itineraries by which time those briars

Must be cut back – until next year again

They show their open palms in generous glee,

Unregarding the sudden slash and hack,

Intrusive but impermanent and weak.

The oak still juts out limbs, regardless, hard,

The rowans stretch and slip down th’ embankment.

The brambles claw and catch, proliferate,

And everywhere in autumn you saw hips

In spring is but a net of green thorned twigs

And early summer, clouds of fragrant scent

Unrivalled by the essences, in glass,

Sold in a full room by the door of a

Large department store.  Clear out such memory!

Rather see those nebulous banquets

Ubiquitous and unique, that colour

Our paths and commutes when we least expect.