The Ghost Guide’s Tale

Outside the Minster, every eventide,
You’ll see him wait- the smiling Ghostly Guide.
Top hat on head, dressed in Victorian fashion,
He’ll tell you stories full of gore and passion.
“For just three pounds I’ll chill your blood,” he cries.
And people pay him, though they know he lies.
At half past seven by the Minster clock
He’ll gather them to him, like a dog his flock
And fleece them.Then when all have paid him money,
He’ll charm them with a voice as sweet as honey.
Dead Romans,phantoms, corpses limp and gory
Drag bloodstained footprints through each shocking story.
From Minster on to Bedern and the Shambles
He’ll lead his nightly paranormal rambles.
Then, at the end, he’ll finish with a joke-
A jolly ,cheerful, normal sort of bloke.

But take him to the pub and buy him ale-
A pint or three- he’ll tell a different tale.
“Twas late last year if I remember right-
A windy, drizzling, miserable night
In late December. Misty drifts of rain
Shrouded the city from Walmgate to Lop Lane.
I had a party booking- thirty one
Retired teachers from South Hillingdon,
All dressed in anoraks and sturdy shoes.
“Come on !” I said, “There is no time to lose.”
“Just wait a moment more- there is no hurry,”
Their leader said, “We’re still one short- where’s Murray ?”

Chubby and pert, a dapper little chap,
Round as a Christmas pudding, woollen cap
Upon his head, came trotting up and smiled.
“Sorry I”m late.It was a pint of mild
Detained me at the pub.I feel so foolish.
I’m dying to hear of ghosts and all things ghoulish.
Please start at once.” And so the tour began.

Along the Minster’s length to College Green
We trudged.I pointed out the ghastly scene
Where once a man, weighed down with murderous knowledge,
Paced up and down inside St William’s College.
And then to Bedern where the children haunt,
Lurking in shadows, wild-eyed ,pale and gaunt.

For every storyteller it makes sense
To keep a sharp eye on your audience.
To check if they are listening or no.
So as I talked my glance flicked to and fro.
I looked at Murray; terror numbed my mind-
He stood wide-eyed and smiling but behind
Him stood another, shadowy and dim.
His robes were all of black,his face was grim
And corpse-pale, but his eyes were black as coals.
I knew that he was Death, who steals mens’ souls.
I looked round at the others, wond’ring why
No-one saw the horror, only I
And then I knew- their faces blank and blind
Saw nothing of the ghoul that stood behind
them. Spreading wide the folds of his black cloak
He wrapped them round the jolly little bloke,
Who fell down to the ground and gasped for breath,
Twitched and lay still, for he had found his death.

The tour broke up; there was no more to say.
An ambulance arrived to take away
his mortal remnants.Someone phoned his wife.
“He was so happy ! Always full of life !”
The leader said,”He wanted to find out
Within this hour what phantoms were about.
And now he knows.Our souls are full of sorrow.
Just thirty of us will return tomorrow.”

For ten long years I’ve walked the alleyways
Where echoes of the past seek to amaze
and frighten the unwary.But that night
Destroyed my courage and unnerved me quite.
And now when I go out upon a tour
I keep on looking round me to make sure
There’s no-one at my shoulder. Yet I know
When my time comes to leave the world and go
into the unknown, there’ll be no ghost
With ash-white face and graveyard breath to tap
me on the shoulder. He I fear the most
Is plump, and smiles , and wears a woollen cap.

Click here for more like this

Advertisements

Pruning

DSCF2155
Just another word
for amputation.
Fleshed of leaves
the hedge gapes open
like a charnel house-
clawed fingers, knuckles, elbow joints
fused in a mass of spikes and barbs.

An eye for cramped and crooked growth,
long handled cutters and a pair of gloves
will see you straight.
Now pull the twigs aside.
See the main stems- long bones, twisted
tight as cables in the bitter winter.
Pick those thinner than your wrist
and slice them through. The stumps may bleed
a sticky sap, but this will clot and heal
the gash.
Now drag your cuttings out
and burn them.

Thin as lace and filled with air, the hedge
will fade from sight
until the warm days come,
when overnight it grows a lush green pelt.
It smells of sunshine.
Its dappled heart is loud with sparrows.

Laughing in the face of death

5758portraitofjohndonne

 

Look at this:
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so ;
For those, whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy picture[s] be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou’rt slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke ; why swell’st thou then ?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And Death shall be no more ; Death, thou shalt die.

Well- what do you think ?

Let’s get the technical details out of the way first. It’s a sonnet- with an eight line section ( octet) a quatrain (four lines) and a final couplet to round it off. Did you notice that ? Maybe not, because Donne doesn’t draw attention to the structure of the poem- in fact he almost tries to hide it.

You know how bad poetry rumbles along like a train over a bumpy track…the diddley dee rhythm, the regular thumps as it goes over the points? Donne is brighter than that. He writes a steady, five beat line, but both the rhythm and the rhyme are undermined by the sense. Look at the number of commas he uses- they’re the pauses of ordinary day to day speech.What gives life to the poem is the conflict between the way it’s written ( the structure) and the meaning. Clever, isn’t he ?

Donne is talking ( and I mean- talking) to Death. Death is not the end point, the bringer of oblivion. He ( now why did I write ‘he’ I wonder) is not ‘mighty and dreadful’ as some people think. He is not The Master, but a slave to ‘Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,”
Death is nothing more than an inconvenience- an extended sleep. “ Why swell’st thou, then ?” taunts Donne, and then finishes with the ringing paradox : “ Death shalt be no more, Death, thou shalt die.”

It’s a resounding declaration of faith. There is a life after death, says Donne. But when you look at it again, you start to wonder. Donne has faith, yes- but he doesn’t have certainty. He doesn’t know there’s an afterlife- he has faith that there is. And is there a certain whistling in the dark in those last two lines ? A hint of fear perhaps ?

I don’t know. This is a wonderfully complex and teasing poem. It’s full of resonances and implications. “ Holy Sonnet X” does what all good poetry should do- it engages your mind and it reaches down into your heart.

Let me know what you think. Oh…by the way…can I put MP3’s onto WordPress, and if so ..how ?