Memories

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[Photograph from: https://brightshadow.org.uk/why-there-is-more-to-life-than-reminiscence/ ]

It’s almost time for the passing of the year. The days rush towards midwinter and the solstice, minds naturally turn to thoughts of what’s gone. As I write this, Remembrance Day is tomorrow, first time it’s fallen on a Sunday for a while. A time of remembering, as we wait for the Spring to come round again. The trees have a few leaves left, the late entries to the Autumn palette still have gold on their branches but the paths are covered with a carpet of leaves. First frost has come and we await snowflakes, ice and slush. The dark nights begin before teatime and that prompts thoughts, memories, of what went before. This theme is about memories rather than memory itself, there is a difference. What do we bring to mind when we allow our minds to roam the years? The first poem I’d like to share on the theme of memories is by Elizabeth Jennings. Born in Boston, Lincolnshire amongst the fields and hedgerows, Jennings was a fan of Auden and Graves. You can feel their influence in her work. This poem expresses well her reflections on people who have left us:

In Memory of Anyone Unknown to Me

At this particular time I have no one
Particular person to grieve for, though there must
Be many, many unknown ones going to dust
Slowly, not remembered for what they have done
Or left undone. For these, then, I will grieve
Being impartial, unable to deceive.

How they lived, or died, is quite unknown,
And, by that fact gives my grief purity–
An important person quite apart from me
Or one obscure who drifted down alone.
Both or all I remember, have a place.
For these I never encountered face to face.

Sentiment will creep in. I cast it out
Wishing to give these classical repose,
No epitaph, no poppy and no rose
From me, and certainly no wish to learn about
The way they lived or died. In earth or fire
They are gone. Simply because they were human, I admire.

Elizabeth Jennings, 18 July 1926 – 26 October 2001

 

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[The Obelisk on Alderman’s Hill (also called Pots and Pans hill) overlooking Greenfield, the site of a remembrance service each year- picture from the Author’s collection]

My own poem this time is something different for me. A prose poem but presented in six verses. I wanted to show images from growing up in the Northeast. Just random things that came to mind from childhood while writing the piece. I suppose it’s almost ‘stream of consciousness’ but with a theme. I like to think of it  working like a slide show, I can almost hear myself introducing each image and explaining it.

From childhood

Running down the kitchen, dog and me and friend. My friend is invisible but that doesn’t matter, me and dog both know he’s there and we must win the race to the pantry. Mum looks on in puzzlement, why do dogs and boys have this mad urge to rush from place to place with no purpose but she can’t see our invisible friend. Dog knows, she also knows I love her more. Even more than invisible friend, warm, golden comfort.

Saturday, waiting at the top of the alley, for Dad to finish work. I know if I can meet him, he’ll let me ride the tank of the big, black BSA all the way to the back gate. Machine makes a loud noise and the tank is so very wide, I love the smell of the engine, the oil and my Dad. Fish and chips for dinner, cheese in the oven for tea. Warm, familiar times, the power to bring smiles years on.

Boy on his bicycle on a hot summer day, riding close to home, riding for the joy of it. A school bully is there, sudden and large, holding the wheel between his legs. Just there to frighten the boy and exert control, looking for the fear in his eyes, that’s his idea of ‘respect’. A day so joyful turns to tears, so close to home and not at all safe. I ride out again though, another time. A glorious summers day to the old aerodrome. Exciting explorations with a good friend. Imagination runs riot in the broken bunkers and trenches.

Laid in the hospital bed, a bandage round my head and pain in my ear, the nice man in the next bed shows me where the German bullet went through his shoulder. He likes the lovely nurse who looks after us, she is beautiful and kind but doesn’t let me listen to the telly on the headphones after 9:00. She thinks I need sleep. They buy me chocolate and comics from the trolley that comes  round, I quite like the hospital with all these so very kind people.

Mum gets tokens, made of Bakelite, from the Co-op down the road. We leave them in the empty milk bottles for the milkman to collect. Doorstep tokens to pay for our milk. Without them no milk, my Mum unable to make her wonderful homemade rice pudding. 

Walks by the river, it’s so black from the steelworks and the chemical plant. the mud, black too, stinks. Long grass on the bank with a surprise, an old slipway on which a boat rots, keel and ribs all that’s left. Great bridge painted green, spanning the river, with gaslights along its length. We walk across, peering over the rail, to big town.

Glen Proctor

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[The Author’s maternal Great-Grandmother – picture from the Author’s collection]

As its Remembrance Day, We’ll finish with one of the most famous war poets of all, Siegfried Sassoon. Raised in Matfield, Kent, Sassoon studied at Cambridge before being sent to the Western Front. His poems carried a realism and a criticism of authority that led to him being detained in a psychiatric hospital. Britain’s other war poet, Wilfred Owen was heavily influenced by Sassoon and always spoke of his ability and humanity. This is one of his less controversial pieces and speaks of the changes in his memories as a result of his experiences. A sombre piece, but oh so very moving:

Memory

When I was young my heart and head were light, 
And I was gay and feckless as a colt 
Out in the fields, with morning in the may, 
Wind on the grass, wings in the orchard bloom. 
O thrilling sweet, my joy, when life was free
And all the paths led on from hawthorn-time 
Across the carolling meadows into June. 

But now my heart is heavy-laden. I sit 
Burning my dreams away beside the fire: 
For death has made me wise and bitter and strong;
And I am rich in all that I have lost. 
O starshine on the fields of long-ago, 
Bring me the darkness and the nightingale; 
Dim wealds of vanished summer, peace of home, 
And silence; and the faces of my friends.

Siegfried Sassoon, 8 September 1886 – 1 September 1967

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[Ruined building on Marsden Moor, Yorkshire – picture from the Author’s collection]

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Autumn Deja Vu

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[Yew Tree Tarn by Christine Robinson – from: http://www.lancashirelife.co.uk/out-about/25-photos-that-capture-the-true-beauty-of-the-lake-district-in-autumn-1-4249106 ]

The first frost has touched us and leaves are all around. A riot of colour is spreading over the trees and shrubs. It must be autumn again. I did create a blog entry about autumn last year, so this is autumn mark 2! Might be a chance to see if my writing and my taste in poetry has grown since last year? I’m going to start with a poem from John Clare. I’m ashamed to say I’d not come across his writing until early this year. A true son of the countryside, Clare began writing poetry whilst working on the land, gardening, farm labouring, working in the lime kilns. His first collection was published in 1820 and he has been called ‘the very best of the romantic poets’.

Autumn – pub. 1820

The thistledown’s flying, though the winds are all still,
On the green grass now lying, now mounting the hill,
The spring from the fountain now boils like a pot;
Through stones past the counting it bubbles red-hot.

The ground parched and cracked is like overbaked bread,
The greensward all wracked is, bents dried up and dead.
The fallow fields glitter like water indeed,
And gossamers twitter, flung from weed unto weed.

Hill-tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun,
And the rivers we’re eying burn to gold as they run;
Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air;
Whoever looks round sees Eternity there.

John Clare, 1793-1864

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[Thistledown Seeds – Stevebidmead from: https://pixabay.com/en/thistle-seeds-thistledown-plant-382369/ ]

One of my own pieces next, written after I watched Starlings gathering on the high-tension electricity wires near our local station. They looked like they were having a serious discussion about the season. It did bring to mind my own question, whether spring or autumn is the more beautiful season. Both are seasons of huge changes in the temperate north. I’ve sometimes daydreamed about living in warmer climes but I would really miss the seasonal changes. They seem all too brief when they’re happening but so very precious while they last.

Season three – 2017

Starlings perched 
on high leccy wires
holding a forum
on whether leaves
look more beautiful
as they die and fade

ready to fall to be
as a carpet or a hill
of mulch or dry
to provide a playpen
for kids and dogs

autumn is worthy
of serious talk
by birds and by humans
a metaphor for life
until Spring comes
and falling is forgotten

again.

Glen Proctor

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[Starlings gatherung from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05jmp3x ]

Another (short) offering from me next. It seems appropriate, as we got our first frost just last week. There are still enough leaves on the trees to give beautiful, colourful scenes all around but the pavements have big piles of leaves to walk through (takes a strong will not to kick some up in the air). Those who live with huge changes in season, look for signs like this. The first snowdrop, daffodils blooming, birds leaving and returning. This short piece reflects my feelings on the signs of autumn:

(Frolic in) the autumn mists – 2018

Rumour of colours to come,
a few pale glimpses, of gold and brown,
lemon and lime, russet red.
In amongst the still deep green.
Still there, still cloaking lower fells.

Cooler air, chill breezes,
first fogs, bring silent mornings.
Birds gathering, feeding hungrily.
Preparing themselves, for a Winter sojourn.

All waiting the Frost King’s waking.
Soon to pass by, in his mantle,
making beautiful art, scenes,
on glass and grass, on spider webs.

Daylight runs quicker, to the lower bulb
in the hourglass, autumn’s herald,
summer’s eulogy. Writ in light
and dark, dawn’s dawdling, evening’s rush.

Glen Proctor

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[Wintertime along river Avon from: https://www.countrylife.co.uk/country-life/beautiful-frost-67271 ]

We’ll finish with a post-harvest poem by William Allingham, a poet I’ve just discovered. Allingham was a descriptive, lyrical poet born in the small Irish town of Ballyshannon, County Donegal. He later became the editor of the Fraser’s Magazine. Not widely known, he deserves to be read by more people. A similar background to Robert Burns, his style reminds me of John Clare in his wonderful descriptions of nature.

Late Autumn – pub. 1860

October – and the skies are cool and gray 
O’er stubbles emptied of their latest sheaf,
Bare meadow, and the slowly falling leaf. 
The dignity of woods in rich decay 
Accords full well with this majestic grief 
That clothes our solemn purple hills to-day, 
Whose afternoon is hush’d, and wintry brief 
Only a robin sings from any spray. 

And night sends up her pale cold moon, and spills 
White mist around the hollows of the hills,
Phantoms of firth or lake; the peasant sees 
His cot and stockyard, with the homestead trees, 
Islanded; but no foolish terror thrills
His perfect harvesting; he sleeps at ease.

William Allingham – 1824 – 1889

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[Ballyshannon Bridge from: http://www.buildingsofireland.ie/niah/search.jsp?type=record&county=DG&regno=40852064 ]

 

People Watching

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[Picture by Rob Curran at: https://unsplash.com/photos/sUXXO3xPBYo ]

I hope readers will excuse the indulgence, but for this entry I will only be presenting my own work. People watching is a big source of inspiration for my writing. Railway stations and train journeys are especially good for this, I find. Something about journey’s, about travelling, that makes people more interesting to this poet! I’ll start with a poem inspired by ‘rail improvements’. Well, by their results anyway. Bolton station was closed, with a replacement bus service operating to Manchester. I was en route to Swansea to help my big Sister dog sit a very lovable Labrador. Sat waiting for the coach, a girl appeared, carrying half of a giant pair of scissors. It’s surprising where a brief glimpse can take you. I like to create backgrounds and purposes for my subjects, to fit with their appearance and actions. This is the result:

A Song in the Making – 2018

Vivid blue hair, with a red feather, jauntily tied
on the left. Holding, half a giant pair of scissors.
A scissor maybe? Red scissor with gnarled grips.
She looks around, searching, for a face? A look?
Maybe for the other half of the scissor?
She swings Doc Martined feet, as she seeks,
the pivot of her meaning. The hinge of all things.
Alone in a bus station pretending to be a rail station.
Waiting for a bus that’s pretending to be a train.
While electrification is done, the current takes precedence over us.
So she waits, with us, with blue hair, feather, boots and scissor.
Like a folk song, waiting to happen.

Glen Proctor

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[Blue Feather by Brunettefromfargo – on: https://www.deviantart.com/brunettefromfargo/art/blue-feather-133985992 ]

Sometimes, I get caught in a busy time for the railways. I try to travel when it’s quiet but the world doesn’t always conform to my expectations. Trains can be noisy places when you get groups of people travelling together to an event. This short poem was an attempt to reflect on the madness of one train. A madness that rolled over me as I got on it. Two groups, on their way to wedding prequels and one lady, quietly reading and eating:

Step from the platform – 2017

and in through the door
chaotic people soup
in a little, confused train
with open door policy
scheme

Laughing hens and baying stags
competing for noise, while the lady
of confusion quietly eats
her crisps with a smile

content with her conjuration

Glen Proctor

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[Keswick railway station circa 1972 – from: http://www.cumbria-railways.co.uk/cumbria_railway_photograph_collection.html ]

People of my generation grew up familiar with silence, with boredom, with waiting. Whether it was school assembly conducted in total silence by the pupils or queuing up to get on a bus, we were taught to be quiet and not to fidget about. These days, I seem to see many people who find silence, stillness uncomfortable. They seem to become very agitated, to have a need to fill up the space, make some sound. Writing about it make me look at it from their side though. Maybe there was a reason to be agitated? Could be they’ve just had a bad argument, they’re waiting for contact from someone special? Who knows? I need more tolerance of skittish behaviour:

Fidget – 2017

Riding on the train
Next to someone
They can’t keep still
Fumble, mumble, mess about,
Scratch, sigh, stretch,
Take out a phone,
Put it away,
Take out the phone,
Examine the feet,

They’re still there,
Puts them on the wall,
Across the aisle,
Then takes them down again,
Crosses legs, uncrosses legs,
Feet still there?
Look all around, 
Then down,
Then up,

Sighs again,
Maybe the memories,
Are a mountain of misery,
The actions shout,
and drown out thoughts,
they’re fearful of,
Or they’re bored,
and late.

Glen Proctor

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[Marsden Railway station on the transpennine route – from: https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/5321514 ]

I’ll finish this exploration of people watching with the real/imaginary people, the real people we have do imaginary things, the stories we can create about someone we just glimpsed for a moment. Especially when I’m really tired and the sounds of the train are a lullaby:

Rail Dream – 2017

Drifted off, soothed by the clack of rail
and sameness outside the window
a quiet carriage for once
instead of the mad, bad crush

there’s a face, I don’t know who
curly hair, soft eyes, warm smile
where did my brain fetch her from?
mystery girl with Celtic charm

never gave credence to telepathy
dream-walking, those sort of things
a memory I didn’t know I had?
of someone long past, fleeting

touch of glance on face, so soft
by a lass with curls and a smile

Glen Proctor

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[Curl of hair from – http://casterbridge.blogspot.com/2012/06/on-discovered-curl-of-hair.html ]

Although I mentioned this entry would be all my own work, I just couldn’t resist sharing the poem that accompanied this image with you. Thomas Hardy is perhaps better known for his stories but his poetry is sublime:

On a discovered curl of hair – 1913

When your soft welcomings were said,
This curl was waving on your head,
And when we walked where breakers dinned
It sported in the sun and wind,
And when I had won your words of grace
It brushed and clung about my face.
Then, to abate the misery
Of absentness, you gave it me.

Where are its fellows now?  Ah, they
For brightest brown have donned a gray,
And gone into a caverned ark,
Ever unopened, always dark!

Yet this one curl, untouched of time,
Beams with live brown as in its prime,
So that it seems I even could now
Restore it to the living brow
By bearing down the western road
Till I had reached your old abode.

Thomas Hardy – 1840 -1928

Nature

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[Shoreline at Lake Windermere, Cumbria – picture from the author’s collection]

This time, the blog takes a look at nature. Nature as in Mother Nature rather than Human Nature as it was last time. Nature and the natural world has inspired so many artists of all forms, painters, writers, sculptors, musicians, dancers and of course poets. Nature watching is such a calming thing. Not least because you can undertake it in such beautiful locations, as the title picture shows. I remember arriving at Windermere rail station with a reasonable crowd of people but walking out of town along the lake road to Ambleside, it quickly got a lot quieter. Taking the path down to the shore meant I was soon away from the noise of traffic too. The shingle lakeside retains no footprints so you can easily see yourself as alone in a wilderness apart from the occasional ferry sailing quietly past. 

I’ve mentioned Robert Frost’s work before, an Englishman who travelled extensively in North America and fell in love with Canada in particular. I find this poem expresses the  feeling about wandering in nature well. We should always choose the road less travelled:

The Road Not Taken – pub 1916

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

Robert Frost – 1874 – 1963

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[Path in Prestwich Forest Park, Lancashire – picture from the author’s collection]

The natural can stay with us for life as this next poem shows really well. I hadn’t come across Edward Sil’s work before. This wonderful short piece makes me want to look up more of his poems. The poem is a lovely story about a gift of nature and how such gifts can grow in importance over a lifetime:

The Tree of my Life – pub. 1887

When I was yet but a child, the gardener gave me a tree, 
A little slim elm, to be set wherever seemed good to me 
What a wonderful thing it seemed! with its lace-edged leaves uncurled 
And its span-long stem, that should grow to the grandest tree in the world! 
So I searched all the garden round, and out over field and hill, 
But not a spot could I find that suited my wayward will. 
I would have it bowered in the grove, in a close and quiet vale; 
I would rear it aloft on the height, to wrestle with the gale. 

Then I said, “I will cover its roots with a little earth by the door,
And there it shall live and wait, while I search for a place once more.” 
But still I could never find it, the place for my wondrous tree, 
And it waited and grew by the door, while years passed over me; 
Till suddenly, one fine day, I saw it was grown too tall, 
And its roots gone down too deep, to be ever moved at all. 

So here it is growing still, by the lowly cottage door; 
Never so grand and tall as I dreamed it would be of yore, 
But it shelters a tired old man in its sunshine-dappled shade, 
The children’s pattering feet round its knotty knees have played, 
Dear singing birds in a storm sometimes take refuge there, 
And the stars through its silent boughs shine gloriously fair.

Edward R Sill – 1841 – 1887

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[Tree at Hall-i’th-Wood, Lancashire – picture from the author’s collection]

The idea that something can make a space and nest in your heart, your soul for a lifetime, comes again and again in poetry. Sill’s tree of his life reminded me of a place I visited as a youngster. It was during my first ever trip to the Lake District, a school trip, camping for a week. I fell in love with place immediately and that love has lasted all my life. One spot in particular lodged in me and still has me misty eyed many, many years later. One of my earlier poems tells the story:

Miterdale – 2016

Beck on a moor, flowing down
From a spring in the mountain,
Across the moor and falls
At rock’s break fracture, waterfall
Sound of water splashing down,
To a rocky bowl, with a soul
On then through the heather
Past the wild bilberries 
and gorse and sheep
The beck which joins
Streams from other hills
To make the river that flows
down to sand and mud

To the flat sea shore
Where tide takes it out
To become the sea
Which feeds the ocean
Drinking from the water, 
handfuls from the stream 
Rooting a bond, a joining
Child’s heart now tied 
To this place of peace
Where it all begins
and grows a Love of peace, 
Love of wildness and silence
Far from road or rail, brick or beam
No track or pavement to here
Just the path the rabbits made
and the sheep widened
and humans borrowed for a while

Life begins again when the anchor 
Takes hold In a place I rested 
and still yearn for, a peace, a dream
A cornerstone of love in a dell
Where water splashed 
and washed the hurt away

G Proctor

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[Miterdale – from The Old Cumbria Gazetteer – at: http://www.geog.port.ac.uk/webmap/thelakes/html/lgaz/lk08042.htm ]

I’ll finish with a Chinese poem, one of a huge collection from the Tang Dynasty period. This one is written by the master poet Du Fu and shows a lovely sense of wonder at the scene he was seeing and how little our petty troubles and worries are compared with the beauty in nature. The original Chinese is posted just below the translation:

Winding River (1) – circa 758 ce

Each piece of flying blossom leaves spring the less,
I grieve as myriad points float in the wind.
I watch the last ones move before my eyes,
And cannot have enough wine pass my lips.
Kingfishers nest by the little hall on the river,
Unicorns lie at the high tomb’s enclosure.
Having studied the world, one must seek joy,
For what use is the trap of passing honour?

Du Fu – 712 – 770

曲江二首 (一)

一片花飛減卻春
風飄萬點正愁人
且看欲盡花經眼
莫厭傷多酒入唇
江上小堂巢翡翠
花邊高冢臥麒麟
細推物理須行樂
何用浮名絆此身

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[Ladybird at Hall-i’th-Wood Rail station – picture from the author’s collection]

Obsession

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[Lily – Spacecoast Dark Obsession from Smokey’s Gardens, Michigan, US on: https://smokeysgardens.com/daylilies/Spacecoast_Dark_Obsession ]

The subject this time is obsession. A word that covers quite a wide range. Obsessive behaviour, to be obsessed, with a thing, a person, a mood. It’s something which is seldom healthy and often produces real fear in a person who becomes an object of obsession. The thought to feature this subject  arose from a couple of sources: I have a friend who is the victim of another’s obsession. My own poem this time is one I wrote for her. The other source was a fellow blogger who weaves wonderful things from a combination of music and stories. They twine about each other to produce marvellous tales and take your feelings to another place. She produced a song about obsession which you can hear on the blog. Please do check this wonderful blog on: mystorieswithmusic.com it’s truly excellent. We’ll start with a poem concerning obsession from Byron, someone often associated with an obsessive nature. He also happens to be one of my very favourite writers.

My Soul is Dark – Pub. 1831

My soul is dark – Oh! quickly string 
The harp I yet can brook to hear; 
And let thy gentle fingers fling 
Its melting murmurs o’er mine ear. 
If in this heart a hope be dear, 
That sound shall charm it forth again: 
If in these eyes there lurk a tear, 
‘Twill flow, and cease to burn my brain. 

But bid the strain be wild and deep, 
Nor let thy notes of joy be first: 
I tell thee, minstrel, I must weep, 
Or else this heavy heart will burst; 
For it hath been by sorrow nursed, 
And ached in sleepless silence, long; 
And now ’tis doomed to know the worst, 
And break at once – or yield to song

George Gordon, Lord Byron, 1788 – 1824

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[Untitled (332c) – Eugene Andolsek – from: https://curiator.com/art/eugene-andolsek/untitled-332c ]

As mentioned in my introduction, a dear friend had been struggling with someone’s obsessive behaviour. Being a really gentle, kind and empathic person, they found it very hard to deal with. The obsessive attention became like a stone someone had placed on their back, weighing them down. I wrote this piece for them as a personal thing but they kindly gave permission to use it here:

When I choose

I’m a person, not a thing, not possession
don’t say you own me, made me, control me
let me be, to talk as I please, or not
my life, my world, not yours, or anyone’s

If I gave, take it, as a gift, I gave freely
If I chose to share, share, don’t take
If you feel slighted, that’s your heart not mine
If I spend time with you, don’t expect it always

I share of myself and love to share
but if you grab, or demand, or stamp little feet
I won’t respond, I’m me, not you, or yours
You have not the right, to demand, to own

to control
I’m me and that’s good, leave me be

Glen Proctor

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[Erratic boulder on Marsden Moor – from the Author’s collection]

We’ll finish with another poem from the Brontes collection I was introduced to by another dear friend. This one is from Emily, who wrote the very dark, obsessive romance ‘Wuthering Heights’ and seems to have foreshadowed the theme of darkness and obsession in this piece:

The Night is Darkening Around Me – pub. 1846

The night is darkening round me,
The wild winds coldly blow ;
But a tyrant spell has bound me,
And I cannot, cannot go. 

The giant trees are bending
Their bare boughs weighed with snow ;
The storm is fast descending,
And yet I cannot go. 

Clouds beyond clouds above me,
Wastes beyond wastes below ;
But nothing drear can move me :
I will not, cannot go.

Emily Bronte, 1818 – 1848

A parting comment.

The painting which follows, by Rossetti, shows Jane Morris posing as Pandora for him. Rossetti became obsessed with Jane and their story can be explored by following the link given to the National Museum in Liverpool.

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[Pandora, 1878, Dante Gabriel Rossetti © National Museums Liverpool at: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/about/mediacentre/2014/rossettis-obsession-images-of-jane-morris.aspx ]

 

Summer

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[Wayoh Reservoir near Bolton – from the Author’s collection]

After the baking sun we’ve experienced in the UK for several weeks, time for a blog about summer. In recent years, summer has been a time of very variable weather with short periods of rain interspersed with sun and cold! This year (2018) saw a return to more traditional summer climate. This has brought its own problems of course! Life is never simple. Still, some wonderful words have been written about summertime. I’d like to start with this piece by Emily Bronte (yes, ‘that’ Emily Bronte!). I have a dear friend, Thivashni, who loves the Brontes and their works. We had a wonderful chat not long ago about the family and the life they led. Thivashni also introduced me to the Brontes’ poetry, something I’d not known about before. She found me a collection of their verses to read. This is a short one from Emily about summer nights, a lovely evocative piece:

Moonlight, Summer Moonlight – included in ‘The Complete Poems of Emily Bronte’ pub. 1910

‘Tis moonlight, summer moonlight, 
All soft and still and fair; 
The solemn hour of midnight 
Breathes sweet thoughts everywhere,

But most where trees are sending 
Their breezy boughs on high, 
Or stooping low are lending 
A shelter from the sky.

And there in those wild bowers 
A lovely form is laid; 
Green grass and dew-steeped flowers 
Wave gently round her head.

Emily Bronte 1818 – 1848 

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[The moors above Marsden, Yorkshire in high Summer. One of the airshafts for Standedge Tunnel is visible in the center – from the Author’s collection}

As I mentioned in the introduction, the heat has brought problems. We had a huge moorland fire on Saddleworth Moor, followed quickly by another major outbreak on Winter Hill, which I can see from my front room window. Several fire brigades, the army and helicopters were all brought in to fight the fires. The moors will take a long time to recover from the incidents but thankfully, no one was badly hurt. Some people have had medical problems arising from the smoke but it could have been far worse if not for the bravery of the firefighters tackling the blaze and the local support they had. Thivashni suggested I write about the fires when I talked to her about the event. This is my attempt at recording the blaze:

Winter Hill – 2018

First was a smell, but there’s building work,
so, burning rubbish, the scraps of wood?
Then, the news, the fires have come
to Bolton from far Saddleworth

We crowd the window to see, above the Courthouse.
Over the hill looms a plume or cloud,
lighter than you’d think, spreading out
across the skyline, heather, gorse and peat

turning to ash in the baking sun, the heat
made fuel from earth and nature
it’s time had come. For 14 days and nights,
a Viking funeral for the moor

Brave lasses and lads, labour under the heat
to hold it back, from the homes
whirlybird dipping into the water
to drop its cargo, along the line

where the flames advance, and ever the smell,
sweet smell of nature, on the wind.
Like incense at a cremation, as the moor dies,
for a time, ten years maybe, the man said

The smoke cloud rises and falls,
until the wind change, brief time
of choking fumes, but the greedy flames
are turned on themselves, towards burnt ground

and it dies, but we watch and will watch
peat burns long and slow and deep
our watchers are wise to all its ways
and will not relent, while a chance of flame lurks.

Glen Proctor

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[The fire on Winter Hill – from the Author’s collection]

I’ll finish with a poem from one of my all-time favourite writers, Henry Thoreau. Thoreau wrote the wonderful book ‘Walden’ about returning to nature and this long piece concerns nature too. A lengthy poem, but one well worth the time spent reading for the sense of a timeless summer it evokes, so beautiful:

The Summer Rain

My books I’d fain cast off, I cannot read, 
‘Twixt every page my thoughts go stray at large 
Down in the meadow, where is richer feed, 
And will not mind to hit their proper targe. 

Plutarch was good, and so was Homer too, 
Our Shakespeare’s life were rich to live again, 
What Plutarch read, that was not good nor true, 
Nor Shakespeare’s books, unless his books were men. 

Here while I lie beneath this walnut bough, 
What care I for the Greeks or for Troy town, 
If juster battles are enacted now 
Between the ants upon this hummock’s crown? 

Bid Homer wait till I the issue learn, 
If red or black the gods will favor most, 
Or yonder Ajax will the phalanx turn, 
Struggling to heave some rock against the host. 

Tell Shakespeare to attend some leisure hour, 
For now I’ve business with this drop of dew, 
And see you not, the clouds prepare a shower– 
I’ll meet him shortly when the sky is blue. 

This bed of herd’s grass and wild oats was spread 
Last year with nicer skill than monarchs use. 
A clover tuft is pillow for my head, 
And violets quite overtop my shoes. 

And now the cordial clouds have shut all in, 
And gently swells the wind to say all’s well; 
The scattered drops are falling fast and thin, 
Some in the pool, some in the flower-bell. 

I am well drenched upon my bed of oats; 
But see that globe come rolling down its stem, 
Now like a lonely planet there it floats, 
And now it sinks into my garment’s hem. 

Drip drip the trees for all the country round, 
And richness rare distills from every bough; 
The wind alone it is makes every sound, 
Shaking down crystals on the leaves below. 

For shame the sun will never show himself, 
Who could not with his beams e’er melt me so; 
My dripping locks–they would become an elf, 
Who in a beaded coat does gayly go

Henry David Thoreau

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[Wheat Field with Cypresses, 1889 by Vincent van Gogh – from the Met https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/436535 ]

 

Generations

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[Our family (Mum’s taking the picture) at Seaton Carew c.1966 from the author’s collection]

It’s been a while since the last blog entry! Not quite a generation but feels like a big gap! That leads nicely to the theme for this return to writing:  ‘Generations’. More specifically, how one generation sees another. We start with a poem by Robert Service, often criticised for not being serious enough. He was also labelled as ‘flippant ‘ by the literati. Service wrote earthy, gritty, ‘real’ poems though. This one examines the pressures parents put on their kids to ‘be’ something. Usually they want something steady and secure too. This can clash with the hopes and dreams of the kids though. I experienced a mild form of the well-intentioned, gentle pressure Service writes about here:

My Future

“Let’s make him a sailor,” said Father,
“And he will adventure the sea.”
“A soldier,” said Mother, “is rather
What I would prefer him to be.”

“A lawyer,” said Father, “would please me,
For then he could draw up my will.”
“A doctor,” said Mother, “would ease me;
Maybe he could give me a pill.”

Said Father: “Let’s make him a curate,
A Bishop in gaiters to be.”
Said Mother: “I couldn’t endure it
To have Willie preaching to me.”

Said Father: “”Let him be a poet;
So often he’s gathering wool.”
Said Mother with temper: 
“Oh stow it! You know it, 
a poet’s a fool.”
Said Farther: “Your son is a duffer,
A stupid and mischievous elf.”
Said Mother, who’s rather a huffer:
“That’s right – he takes after yourself.”

Controlling parental emotion
They turned to me, seeking a cue,
And sudden conceived the bright notion
To ask what I wanted to do.

Said I: “my ambition is modest:
A clown in a circus I’d be,
And turn somersaults in the sawdust
With audience laughing at me.”

Poor parents! they’re dead and decaying,
But I am a clown as you see;
And though in no circus I’m playing,
How people are laughing at me!

Robert William Service 1874 – 1958

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[Swan family – Creative commons image from Pixabay at: https://pixabay.com/en/swans-family-swan-water-white-2441210/ ]

Service talked about how parents can put pressure on children, sometimes in a well meaning way and unwittingly. My own piece this time looks more at things unsaid, maybe it’s more accurate to say unasked? This piece came from a discussion with a group of writers I mix with about inter=generational issues. How do the different age groups see each other? how do they interact? do they think that the other groups are more/less privileged? Keep an eye out for the anthology when it’s published!

Dad came home from the war – 2018

No, not that one, too young for then
the one after, the one where
‘superpowers’ wanted to make 
people in their own image

so he sent and received the signals
on a carrier at sea
aircraft carrier, that’s 5 squares
If I remember? big anyway

Was he changed by the deaths?
he wasn’t  at the lines but then
even out at sea, he saw
shot up planes, crashes, the loss

but we came along, my Sister, then me
and navy life wasn’t a thing he could live
so home from the sea, home again
in a new start, new town, new world

to work the machines, with oil, steel and muck
boiler suited, toe capped booted
earning a crust, a packet of pay
as we played and chased, along the Tees

did he still have those ghosts?
I should have asked him then
maybe it’s all he needed, to lay them
to have someone ask, to tell, to bleed

the pains of war, of life left behind
friends gone, shipmates lost
a life he left behind in body
but did his mind forget?

We carry the legacy of his times
the sea still calls for us, 
both his sons and his daughter,
it calls a call in waves

that brings us all ease, 
Dad’s gene’s, his gift
brought home with him
from the sea

Glen Proctor 

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[HMS Ocean anchored at Sasebo, Japan during the Korean War. Picture from: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/korean-war-60th-anniversary-events ]

I do believe each generation can become inward looking and not consider what other groups go through? Maybe this is even more common amongst us older ones. We went through those times and experienced growing up, so we can come to believe we ‘know it all’. The World was different then though, gentler? slower? easier? harder? Every human is an individual with individual needs, desires, pains, experiences. More time thinking about how others see the universe, more empathy, is that the answer? For what it’s worth, my own view is that it has to be worth a try!

We’ll finish with a famous piece indeed. Written by one of the most famous writers who ever lived too! I’m sure many people will recognise at least the first stanza of this. Worth reading again (and again) even so. Sums up the issue so very, very well.

All the World’s a Stage – 1603 (first performed)
from As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school.

And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow.

Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth.

And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part.

The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound.

Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

William Shakespeare 1564 (est.) – 1616

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[The Wrestling Scene from As You Like It – Daniel Maclise, 1854 – image from: http://www.artnet.com/artists/daniel-maclise/the-wrestling-scene-in-as-you-like-it-YW2WNAa2yx6ua4VTZq6J1A2 ]

 

Today we reject hate

A poem I wrote the weekend after the incident. When I saw the crowd that attended the flower-strewn square spontaneously burst into song.

A week later

It’s quiet, more so than usual, a stillness
in the station, once more with trains
like a pause, for respect and love
Even pigeons, roosting above not scrabbling
for crumbs, as if they know why and what

No flowers, they’re all in the square, t’other side
of town, by a cathedral, in the centre of things
not at the scene, below the stage, below the blast
It’s like people want remembrance out in the light
not hidden in the dark, let the Sun dry tears

Not hide our faces, from who we are, what we mean
even the song, chosen by acclamation, sings 
of anger let go, fear shunned, we will not change
we’re the North and we love without fear or favour
hatred tries, again and again, but it can’t find root

Care, community, people helping people, runs deep
and long, where unions, unity, unfettered giving
grew and blossomed, into flowers in the square
and songs
from northerners

Quietness

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[Picture from: http://zwierciadlo.pl/psychologia/zrozumiec-siebie/utrata-bliskiej-osoby-grozi-twojemu-zyciu ]

Even in the quietest moments, a song by Supertramp (and an album title!). This blog was inspired by needing to find that quiet place within after too much activity. My health requires that I avoid high stress and bustle. Not always possible but poetry helps, as does music, both listening and playing. I recently started to take playing the guitar a bit more seriously again and I’m taking some advanced lessons to fill in the inevitable gaps in my knowledge and skills. It seems strange to place music firmly in the ‘quietness’ field but it does promote a quieting of the brain, heart and soul.

Many meditation techniques teach you to focus on simple things so that your mind can leave the daily distractions. As children, people our age often had to endure silence and stillness, school assemblies being an excellent example! Now, that same silence is a blessing, a chance to breath and look at the moment. Being on the high mountains, sitting by water, watching nature all bring that inner silence and calm.

Poetry is another art that helps promote stillness and calm, both reading and writing. There are of course poems that rouse us, make us jump to our feet and shout “yes, yes, that’s it!”. In the vast body of verse though, there are many pieces that are calm and soothing. People of the present age sometimes find it hard to cope with stillness, silence, the quiet time. Maybe because they grow up with distractions all around? Rumi, one of the masters of poetry that speaks philosophical wisdom, wrote of quietness. This is a poem that requires careful reading and thought. Remember it is allegory, just revel in the beauty of the words:

Quietness – 13th Century ce

Inside this new love, die.
Your way begins on the other side.
Become the sky.
Take an axe to the prison wall.
Escape.
Walk out like someone suddenly born into colour.
Do it now.
You are covered with thick cloud.
Slide out the side. Die,
and be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign
that you have died.
Your old life was a frantic running
from silence.

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī – 1207 – 1273

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{Pendle Hill, Lancashire – picture by the author]

My own piece is something strange in its form. Sometimes, the words you form demand a certain layout. To stray from classical outlines and wander free. Matches the walk itself which came on one of those trips where you decide each moment, where to head. Sometimes, you just wander and pick a direction because it calls somehow. This one ended on the summit of Skiddaw. A good place to be!

A Feather – 2018

falls, and in its flight, makes waves of silence
In the air. that moves, the grass

Quiet
but sound of the wind
Quiet
but bird calls, wheeling in the air
Quiet
but kettle burbles and boils on the small stove
Quiet
but friendly ‘hellos’ from fellow wanderers
Quiet
on the mountain side

Room 
for thoughts, to leave
for stress to melt
for pleasure to rise
for peace to come
for air to be clean
for sights to heal a heart
for majesty unbuilt

Packing up, I rose and took
the path again, upwards
got to be upwards
past rocks, and beauty
Sounds and sights
to make things right
to achieve, small victory
and view of two countries
Sea and estuary
Firth and river and lake
Healing mountains
and quiet

Glen Proctor

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[Looking northwest from the summit of Skiddaw – picture from: http://www.lakedistrict-walks.co.uk/2009/November/13.11.2009_Skiddaw.html ]

We’ll finish with one of England’s most famous poets, mentor of Wordsworth, visionary and great writer, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. A longer piece than I normally post in these entries but it fitted the theme so well and it’s such a beautiful piece:

Frost at Midnight – 1798

The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind.
The owlet’s cry
Came loud—and hark, again! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings: save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
`Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness.
Sea, hill, and wood,

This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.

But O! how oft,
How oft, at school, with most believing mind,
Presageful, have I gazed upon the bars,
To watch that fluttering stranger! and as oft
With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt
Of my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower,
Whose bells, the poor man’s only music, rang
From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day,
So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me
With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear
Most like articulate sounds of things to come!
So gazed I, till the soothing things, I dreamt,
Lulled me to sleep, and sleep prolonged my dreams!
And so I brooded all the following morn,
Awed by the stern preceptor’s face, mine eye
Fixed with mock study on my swimming book:
Save if the door half opened, and I snatched
A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up,
For still I hoped to see the stranger’s face,
Townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved,
My play-mate when we both were clothed alike!

Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
Fill up the interspersed vacancies
And momentary pauses of the thought!
My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
And think that thou shall learn far other lore,
And in far other scenes! For I was reared
In the great city, pent ‘mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher! he shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772 – 1834

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[Midnight sky, BenDiAnna – picture from: https://bendianna.deviantart.com/art/Midnight-Forest-175938448 ]

 

Home

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[Victoria Bridge between Thornaby-on-Tees and Stockton-on-Tees. The border between Yorkshire and Durham – from: http://www.teessidetogether.com/6-bridges-half-marathon/ ]

Home is where the heart is says the proverb (and as the song by Elvis Presley tells us). Marvin Gaye told us ‘Wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home’. An alternative viewpoint, that of the wanderer. Home calls to us, evokes images of safety and warmth, becomes an objective for many. Setting up home, making a home. For humans, ‘home’ seems to have replaced ‘nest’ or ‘den’. Some choose to take home with them, humans who live like Snails or Hermit Crabs. Whatever the definition, wherever the place or thing is that bears the label, home seems to be important, instinctively.  

The first poem about ‘home’ is by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge, descended from Samual Taylor’s Brother. Mary is calling someone precious to her, calling them to return home. To be where peace and love are. The genes obviously ran true in Mary in this beautiful short work:

Come Home! pub. 1908

When wintry winds are no more heard, 
And joy’s in every bosom, 
When summer sings in every bird, 
And shines in every blossom, 
When happy twilight hours are long, 
Come home, my love, and think no wrong! 

When berries gleam above the stream 
And half the fields are yellow, 
Come back to me, my joyous dream, 
The world hath not thy fellow! 
And I will make thee Queen among 
The Queens of summer and of song.

Mary Elizabeth Coleridge 1861 – 1907

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{Henry coming home by Edward Lamson, image from:

https://onlineonly.christies.com/s/american-art-online/coming-home-173/41199 ]

My own poem this time, looks at the first dog I remember living with at home. I grew up with dogs in the house, mostly Golden Retrievers but this first one was a Cocker Spaniel. He left the World when I was about two years old so only fleeting memories remain. We lived about a quarter mile from the river Tees, a very polluted, industrial river back then. The Old shipyards, the ironworks just upstream and ICI like a small town stretching along the Tees. Our lad had a habit of getting out and running down to the river to roll in the stinking, black mud on the banks! We loved him anyway, though he did reek a bit until he was washed. He remains one of my fondest and earliest memories of home though:

Our Spaniel brought the Tees home – 2017

Empty, dog-shaped hole in the kitchen.
‘Gone again’ – my Mum, worried and tired.
He does love us, loves his family, his home
but the river calls strong, from down the street.

Black, black water, full of muck.
Stinking mud, too, near the works,
but he comes home, covered and reeking,
so very pleased and so proud,
of his reek, his mud, his chic.

Watch my Dad stick him in the tub.
Filthy water draining the day away,
like all our troubles, down the plughole,
with the reeking, stinking, black, black mud

Then bliss, by the fireside, sat close 
in the kitchen, spaniel and me, 
as we eat, our toast and dripping,
fresh made with on fork, held at the fire.

In evening’s comfort, 
at home.

Glen Proctor 

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[My wonderful Grandad pictured outside the house I grew up in – picture from author’s collection.]

We finish this time with a piece from Anne Brontë. The less well known of the Sisters, Anne lived only 29 years but showed a rare talent for meaning and emotion. This lovely work has a related poem by Anne. I’ll leave it to the reader to do the detective work and find the corresponding poem!

Lines Written From Home – 1843

Though bleak these woods, and damp the ground
With fallen leaves so thickly strown,
And cold the wind that wanders round
With wild and melancholy moan;
 
There is a friendly roof, I know,
Might shield me from the wintry blast;
There is a fire, whose ruddy glow
Will cheer me for my wanderings past. 

And so, though still, where’er I go,
Cold stranger-glances meet my eye;
Though, when my spirit sinks in woe,
Unheeded swells the unbidden sigh;

Though solitude, endured too long,
Bids youthful joys too soon decay,
Makes mirth a stranger to my tongue,
And overclouds my noon of day;

When kindly thoughts, that would have way,
Flow back discouraged to my breast; —
I know there is, though far away,
A home where heart and soul may rest. 

Warm hands are there, that, clasped in mine,
The warmer heart will not belie;
While mirth, and truth, and friendship shine
In smiling lip and earnest eye. 

The ice that gathers round my heart
May there be thawed; and sweetly, then,
The joys of youth, that now depart,
Will come to cheer my soul again. 

Though far I roam, that thought shall be
My hope, my comfort, everywhere;
While such a home remains to me,
My heart shall never know despair!

Anne Bronte 1820 – 1849

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[A sketch of Anne by sister Charlotte, circa 1834, image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Brontë ]