Winter shorelines of the north

The winter shore is a magical place partly because there are no trippers, in fact, there are few if any people at all. This opens up space for the birds, especially winter visitors fleeing here from fiercer conditions north.

‘Opened up’ it certainly is. There are wide expanses of shore, earth, sea and sky raked by wind, rain and a slanting sun. Dusk is even better. When I was much younger, I would go down regularly in the winter – a three mile walk from my home in Prestatyn in North Wales – when home from school or later after work. Even though I now live in soft Devon, a big part of me remains resolutely Northern.

These walks came back to me this winter in North Devon, I don’t know why apart from loving northerly places, and I wanted to crystallise the remembrance of those melancholic beautiful lonely walks with a poem Winter shorelines – it contains this stanza:

The winter beach was my escape from home.
Life-frayed decades have passed since there I’d roam.
Myself, birds and a lonely cold refrain
Would release my ‘little idiot brain’.
Where I could wander and be truly me;
Then came a Sibelius symphony.

Sibelius pastel

The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) was dying just as I was beginning to live; he has spoken directly to me ever since. A critic, Olin Downes, in 1913 said about his Fourth symphony, my favourite, “Sibelius speaks of grey skies and silent expanses of lakes and forests, of bristling crags and winds and supernatural sounds in a wild land.” And “[It] is the solitude of a man alone with nature, bitter against fate, cursing the heavens.”

Much later, in the year of my birth, he said Sibelius had “…gone too far and remotely into the fastnesses of his own spirit, following a path from which there would be no returning; that had lost touch with his fellow man.”

The doyen of Sibelius critics, David Hall, said of his “… grand, solitary … mood … its sombre but intense beauty, are still heavy upon us as we try vainly to communicate in words the quality of Sibelius’ Fourth.” It is an “evocation of the stark and the superstitious.”

David Hall is right. My poem does not try to do that; it is just a personal connection.

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The raven – Evermore!

The raven –
Evermore!

Then it was January already
And I see a raven atop its tree.
Very early in the year it’s come
With sparkling life so barely begun.
Here now the king and queen of crows
High in the pine with me far below
Wishing for certain I wasn’t here.
But, for my part, wish he had no fear.

Those centuries of persecution
Have caused this undeserved exclusion
And brought about such calamity
By those with sighted eyes that can’t see
The glory of its magnificence.
Despite all their poison, guns and sense-
lessness they’ve failed in their regicide,
For safe in London’s Tower Rex survives!

Scorning humdrum landscapes, the raven
In its vaulting poise will freely reign
Over tree, mountainside and cliff edge.
Tail fanned full free, they say like a wedge –
But not really, much more arcuate
For the soar and swoop of mate on mate.
It reminds us, wherever it be,
Of primeval pre-man history.

You prehistoric fantastic beast!
Remembered from where we used to meet
In limeston’d quarry when I was young,
Where once I stopped a kid with a gun
Even though myself scarcely older.
Passion made me angry, nay bolder.
And becoming a man from fey youth
Surprised even myself by such proof.

* * *

The raven’s rasping corronking call
Gives notice; fearing nothing at all
Except endless man – arch enemy –
Who darkly shadows his destiny.
Now see the Raven, still beguiling
In its lonely ancient travelling.
This gaunt grim ominous bird of yore.
What is meant in croaking ‘Nevermore’?

Over our Welsh pinewood winter home,
Where the goshawk and red kite have flown,
Came a strange cork-extracting popping.
Not the usual pruk-pruk toc-tocking
Nor the oft heard bubbling and creaking.
This bell-like liquid gong sent me seeking
Off to Heinrich’s ‘Ravens in Winter’;
Myself once more eager researcher.

In his pages I found a treasure –
That this call is of peace and pleasure.
Now in Devon I hear it a lot
Though from childhood remember it not.
Bold comes its cousin, the common crow
(Less bold the jackdaw) to our window
And raps thereon to be fed some more.
But no raven tapping at my door.

Foolhardy to be any bolder:
Keep your distance from human murder;
Groups of crows are so designated
By man to raise fear of the hated.
O, ebony bird, so beguiling
You set my face gratefully smiling.
Stately raven, quoth I, from my door
I would give you shelter…
Evermore!

© R M Meyer (with respect to Edgar Allan Poe)
Devon, February 2019

Anthropocalypse apocalypse

Last night I dreamt the world was brown.
Lost in space.  Occupied only
By cockroaches and scorpions.
Gone from every city and town;
Gone from every ocean and sea;
And gone to hell all citizens.

So when our fragile planet dies,
It won’t be like the dinosaurs:
A death shadow from god knows where
Blotting out all heavens and skies
Clogging and desolating pores
To suffocate life far and near.

The clever ignoramus might
Betray to treason his own kind –
The once called Homo sapiens,
At least he thinks himself so bright.
What’s it capable of this mind
That would so invite its own ends?

Granma said “Too clever by half!”,
Aimed at myself over some girl.
But how wrong!  Not clever enough.
If only I could see the path
That led away from a pure world.
But alas for me far too tough.

One small man assesses the fright
And scratches his beard in turmoil.
The woman at his side groans and
Fears his anthropogenic plight.
What drives this brain to over-boil
Reduces her to wringing hands.

But it’s unfair that this should be
For it’s her children, and then theirs
Who will die of this human cess
Pit, who have no choice to be free.
It was ours that had too few cares,
Blazoning on madly careless.

The blank complacency of men
Will tolerate with mockery
A death cloud that’s pre-eminent;
And, aye, even more, his children
Confirms in me pomposity
And mocks the word ‘intelligent’.

Of all the living things worldwide
How strange it should be just our own –
The one species which perhaps should
Not – but which will bring ecocide.
Yes, human kind have for sure grown
Far too clever for their own good.

The cleverness which drives our lives,
Do not mistake it for wisdom.
Do not mistake intelligence.
In the businessman who survives.
And, yes, thrives within his kingdom,
By making money with no sense.

Did we think it would be all right?
Did we think it would not transpire?
Did we think techies could sort it?
Did we think it was out of sight?
Did we think it was not so dire?
Did we think it would not persist?

Yes, our leaders thought all those things.
Their lives were good, their wages fat.
They won’t be here to see the war.
To piss on their graves will not bring
Back all the wonderful life that
Garlanded this planet before.

Spinning in perpetuity,
Never to be replicated;
Unless we’re watched by jesters in
Some galactic laboratory
Pushing us until we are dead
Just to see which life-form would win.

This was what woke me fearfully:
A little planet still spinning –
Indescribably small and lost –
And over all, pathetically,
The golden sun still was blazing
All cellular green life to toast.

 © R.M. Meyer
Devon, December 2018
Dedicated to Emma

The snow owl

Night after night I sit and look out
Hoping to see a barn owl about
As white as a surrendering flag;
This gliding wraith-like spirited rag
Would ghost the dark field in looping strides
To scan the rank grass with razor eyes.

A facial disc, ears set obliquely,
Picks up murmurs sent non consciously
By vole and mouse – but, yes, lost to me.
Signals that were never meant to be
From deep inside the raked-over grass:
To all those as deadly as Arras.

This floating thing of deathly beauty
With fine synchronous duality
Is the most sublime killing machine
I am sure that I have ever seen;
And I’ve worked with tigers and lions,
But this owl alone brides its talons.

Yet, see, its peril is also white,
As soft a shroud as wings in the night.
Snowfall that covers the killing ground
Blankets out unwitting sight and sound
And shields for one and for all the voles,
Who may now venture without their holes.

Yet what brings life in train brings death, and
Will fate Her players as chance demands.
For beneath the snow, still in the fray,
The brown fox now ventures into play.
And snow, which enables voles to crawl
Out of sight, masks the deadly footfall.

Nature weighs, measures and will balance
All the players in Her endless dance.
No design and no manufacture,
Refined, eternally year on year,
Until parts all slot in their places
Until…
Until man kicked her traces.

His ‘god-given’ urge to dominate
Set himself above Nature’s mandate
Does with sublime precision tamper
And monkey with the blind watchmaker
Those parts that never can be put back
Become young future’s brains to rack.

So the barn owl, in microcosm,
Sets the stage therein Nature’s prism.
One immaculate crafted species
Details Her overwhelming thesis.
And would, with infinite patience, show
The magic of the owl and the snow.

Devon, January 2019

Two hedgehogs

Sonnet:

We saw two hedgehogs.



We saw two hedgehogs feeding side by side
And it wouldn’t be our fault if they died.

They had been grunting through the summer night.
Safe from traffic – we thought they’d be all right –
In an island garden bordered by woods.
Each evening we offered them special food
In a plastic box wasted and surplus.
They went straight there the first night with no fuss.
Though far too nervous to come out in light:
This their entrench’d anthropogenic plight.
Now mangling their nightly excursions are
(New dreads but) most of all the motor car.

And remember bonfires roast them alive,
As one did a guy on November Five.

North Devon, 12 October 2018

Brute tractor

A monster was coming on at me,
Devouring the world, all I could see,
Such was its all-consuming presence,
That nothing else composed an absence.
Crashing there, pulverising closer.
A beast advanced over the border.

*

Now, sounds of the English countryside,
Herald a fresh hell of herbicide.
An incessant whine of brute machine
Counterpoising the crack, crunch and scream
Of advancing chains flailing hedges,
Even trees and all the quiet edges.

Fields once in early autumn slumber,
Bough and branch in myriad number,
Are beaten into low submission.
Heavy-handed ironbound precision
Bullies countryside’s casual borders
Into tame and abased neat order.

Now reducing full forage hedgerows,
In all their blowsy carefree billows,
Into managed new factory walls;
As close as the jackboot tractor crawls.
Those linear woods, trashed in thoughtless
Haste, make a sad wake in wakes of mess.

These linear woods are all that’s left
Of a landscape that is now bereft
Of the deciduous eternal
Hanging woods which once clothed the feral
Land from east to west, from south to north.
A greenwood cover of endless growth.

Now, ev’ry year hedges try anew,
To regrow once more and save a few.
Hawthorns! Their remembered sweet fragrance
In blossom clouds of creamy cadence,
But there they are, hacked back more and more
Till all that’s left is jagged and raw.

They won’t be laid traditionally.
Every advance drives more fiercely
Into older and thicker timber,
Till the gross impact upon your ear
Is in due accord with the ravaged
Scene: wood and nerves together shred.

Now, never mind the long standing tree.
And farmers won’t see the bird or bee.
For what cannot be seen counts as nought.
Subtle lessons like these can’t be taught
To those immured within tractor walls,
Or logged into cool persuasive malls.

Then his tea, in towered splendour, he sips.
And with insouciant fingertips
Nudges on hundreds of horsepower might.
Never giving one thought to the sight
Of tangled despoilment left behind
After the flailing chains’ savage grind.

Now, with protection wrapped round his face,
Headphones musicking a deaf embrace,
To insulate the remote cabbed man
From all consequences of his plan.
So deafness mutates this crashing hell.
With never a witness left to tell.

Aye, the crashing sound above all else
Has no regard of pastoral sense.
It surely would dumbfound old hedgers
Thankfully safe now in quiet slumbers.
Would they swap craft’s old occupation
For this new gross manifestation?

Now, a poet wand’ring in Nature
Seeks his peace in this secret treasure;
For wind and song are quintessential;
Listen! And be mute deferential.
For there is peace and sweet harmony
In measuring life’s geometry.

Still the brute tractor masticates on.
Jaws chewing; weight thrown about; and strong
Enough to pulverise any foe.
What hope can there be of tomorrow?
Yet wait! The pregnant buds still prepare
To try yet again another year.

Now the ogre leaves the margin’d stage
(And a poet impotent in rage!),
The hedging tree will lick its spirit.
And the only good to come of it,
If calm reflection matters a toss,
Is to help us value what we’ve lost.

(c) Richard Meyer,
Winswell Water, N. Devon, October 2018

Epitaph for the Badger

It’s not new for me! This was published in 1971 in The Lady
(written under the name I used then for Natural History books)

Slide 17

Epitaph for the Badger

A snarling dark shape in the depths of night,
Blundered into whilst on unknowing paths,
Reduces careless ignorance to fright.
And in others may produce mirthless laughs;

For sure, there are few to be had today,
Farmers and ministers have seen to that.
While hunts sabs and patrols, try as they may,
Cannot hope to mangle every cruel trap.

What it is to be feared, yet have no voice:
Found guilty by the company we keep.
It could never have been a badger’s choice
To mix with cows or dung or corn or sheep.

And then a microscopic deadly bug,
Named long ago after some wretched cow,
Untold thousands of needless graves are dug.
Continues the killing from then till now.

*

As the badger noses his woodland track,
And cubs dance among the bluebells in play,
A mercenary with gun on his back
Approaches – sights set on a hapless prey.

Despite frenzied digging, claws long and torn,
There is no escape from the senseless cage.
So the badger lapses, senseless, forlorn,
And awaits the man blind with misplaced rage.

The end comes quick enough, in drifts of mud.
Proclaiming man’s absurd insanity.
An inhuman prison, base mired in blood.
No earthly help to cure bovine TB.

Across all the land, thousands of cattle,
Who – for all their history – stamp and fret
With no thought of misdirected battle.
Leave trails of death we will never forget.

*

And the cows! They go from a stinking byre,
Through crush and syringe to Positive test.
And end their days on a funeral pyre.
Can there be anyone left not depressed?

I’ve been lost and bereft for forty years,
By abrogation of a science law.
And have seen around me good fellows’ tears.
Nonplussed, unbelieving, in fraught furore.

Cool appraisal of the science shows,
However black and white (and neat) it feels,
The badger’s not the enemy they know;
It’s cows which spread the bug from field to fields.

Yet on and on it goes, running amok.
How or when it will end, no-one can say.
But when they’ve killed the last remaining Brock,
They’ll find another neat scapegoated prey.

*

And as though all this wasn’t bad enough,
There, see the man touting pistol or gun,
Who thinks it’s a mark of being ‘dead tough’:
Sporting a quarry shot simply for fun.

Official massacre carries no hope.
A steam-hammer abused will crack no nut;
Blunderbusses trained through a microscope
Can’t stem a bacterial tide like Cnut.

A host called ‘spill-over’ is Brock’s death-knell
Caught up in the saga of bTB,
Looks on from woodland setts where it would dwell:
A hapless bystander in history.

Politicians – government ministers –
Self-imagery of their poor selves made,
Think mainly in terms of ballot papers.
And wildlife can make no Jarrow Crusade.

*

‘Here today, gone tomorrow’, it’s been said,
Civil servants can blithely walk away.
Leaving behind their bloodied trails of dead
Which had no English voice and held no sway.

When they’ve murdered all that the state decrees,
Don’t think it all over, dusted and done.
On moor, or under wooded canopies,
The thugs will still be there with dog and gun.

Sharing between them one medieval
Mindset lacking all imagination.
Corrupted by peer and older evil
Bloodlust thirsting for extermination.

And while one arm of the law tries its best
To save from louts a protected icon,
Another in power and much better dressed,
Finds ways of letting the killing go on.

he law tries its best
To save from louts a protected icon,
Another in power and much better dressed,
Finds ways of letting the killing go on.