River

From the rock, a miracle.
Water, the colour of sky,
cold as the caverns
it came from, glittering
into the morning world
and down the hill.

Wily as a cat, it twists
and splits round shingle banks.
Shape-shifter scooping deep
still pools for trout to laze in.

Gathers to itself the becks and burns,
the brooks, the runnels and the rivulets,
puts on muscle, hurls its berserker howl
against the valley walls then
cleaves a crack, one man might leap,
and bludgeons a way through.

A sheet of sliding amber takes
the evening light, transforming it
to gold, imparts a fine polish
to wet stones and fronds of weed.

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The Lake in December

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It’s that dead time of the year. There’s a thin skim of ice on the lake, thin enough to be almost invisible, so the gulls standing on it look as though they’re walking on water. The trees are stripped down; the grass is is covered with a frost so thick, it almost looks like snow. There’s a cold wind coming down from the north end of the lake, so I pull my coat collar up round my ears.

There’s no-one here. That’s the wierd thing. Usually I meet half a dozen people ( and dogs) on my way round. But today there’s no-one. No bikes either, which makes a pleasant change. Usually they zip past your elbow without giving you any warning or thanks. No geese. Not a Canada or a greylag in sight. They’re down in town, by the river. It’s three degrees warmer in the city, and there are plenty of visitors to give them handouts. If the pickings are slim, they wait outside the supermarket and blag stuff from customers.

Everyone goes to the lake in the summer – the little kids on a nature walk from school,the Ladies Dog Walking Club, cyclists, lovers, fishermen- it even makes a good rendezvous for the local crims when it gets dark.

But today there’s no-one. The lake is resting under a thin sheet of ice, all the maquillage of flowers and buds stripped off. It’s the low point of the year.

That’s fine. We rest. We gather our strength, and start to think of the year ahead.

A cold song for a cold night

Ok-  this week we’re going to the  Boss, the Top Banana, the Mensch- we’re going to look at something by William Shakespeare.

Arrgh ! No ! Not Shakespeare thingy  ! He’s old fashioned and boring and you can’t understand him and he’s like…just dull !

Silence oik ! And listen to this:

What do you think ?  Lovely reading but isn’t the poem a bit olde worlde ? A bit twee ?

A bit chocolate box ? Think again

Line 1 OK- I concede- an average opening line for a winter poem. We’ve all seen icicles

Line 2. Dick the shepherd tells us this a rural poem. Why is he blowing on his nail ? Because he hasn’t got any gloves ! Because he’s poor and cold and his finger ends hurt like hell.

Line 3. We get the first hints of a household here. There’s Dick the shepherd and Tom the servant- and Tom is carrying logs in because they’re going to be needed on the fire.

Line 4. It’s so cold the milk is solid. We’re starting to get a Breughel winter scene here.

Line 5. Key words are “nipped” -you feel as though the blood is freezing in your veins. And “foul” – the roads are impassable

Line 6. The owl. Not the most cheerful of birds- then why “ merry” ? Are we getting the feeling that The Boss is being a bit ironic here?

I won’t do a full line-by-line run through of the next verse. I’d only point out (a) the breathless use of “ and” throughout the poem. He can’t wait to tell the story of our house. (b) there’s a cast of characters here- the parson who can’t be heard because of the coughing, Marian, and greasy Joan- who’s probably the kitchen maid. And  why is she keeling (scraping) the pot ? Because she’s hungry and she’s scraping out the last bit of meat or dried on gravy, that’s why.

So the “merry note” of the owl isn’t so merry after all.

Far from being a jolly, rilly-me-dilly-me-and-a raspberry -o song, this is a harsh portrayal of a household on the breadline, in the middle of a filthy, cold winter.

Difficult ? Not really. Bland ? Certainly not.Powerful ? I think so.

There, that didn’t hurt, did it ?