… the valley that you’ve found
Poetry Breakfast ~ at home
Our theme this week is ‘ … the valley that you’ve found’, which is taken from the Joni Mitchell song That Song about the Midway Our Poetry Breakfast contributors have had great fun with it, coming up with, as ever, a wide ranging choice of poems for us all to enjoy – thank you all! The invitation was for poems on valleys, or midways – see what you think!
But please don’t think you have to wait for an invitation to offer up a poem! Next week’s theme is ‘Written on the Shore’ with Pauline Prior-Pitt and we would love you to send us your suggestions! Themes throughout July until we take our summer break are:
- Written on the Shore
- The lonely sea and the sky
- Summer Dreams
- Tonight the Summer’s Over
So – dive in! Enjoy the poetry, and please add comments below about any aspect of the selection that you’ve enjoyed, or share any suggestions for poems that you think would fit the theme. And I’d especially like to know how you partake of your Poetry Breakfast – it makes up (just a tiny bit) for not seeing you and sharing it with you in person.
Char has chosen the poem Happy Valley by Alice Lyons because she likes it and especially because it uses the word Twombly, which I had to look up. It would seem the Twombly was a cyclecar manufactured in the US by Driggs-Seabury between 1913 and 1915. The cars had water-cooled, four-cylinder engines, two seats in tandem, and an underslung body. Few of them are still in existence. According to the urban dictionary, Twombly means to deliberately push yourself beyond the barriers of control in order to gain experience – so now we know!
The Changing Seasons in our Valley
We always knew the months Orion would be clear above our roofs,
the years the damson trees would yield a heavy crop.
We knew when geese would split the skies and flocks
of field-fares arrive to strip the berries from our trees,
the time for harvesting, the holly’s ripening,
the time of wood-smoke and the sawing of logs.
We never thought that we’d no longer read
the seasons as we used to do –
not know when to plant and when to sow,
nor what would prosper in these endless days of rain,
nor when the date of gathering might be
(one meagre week of sun, and so much to be done).
We look up at uncertain skies, wring our hands,
and ask each other ‘What’s to come?’
Thank you for offering us this poem, Gill, and thank you for the photo Eildh Carr!
– Not a breath of air
Ruffles the bosom of this leafy glen.
From the brook’s margin, wide around, the trees
Are stedfast as the rocks; the brook itself,
Old as the hills that feed it from afar,
Doth rather deepen than disturb the calm
Where all things else are still and motionless.
And yet, even now, a little breeze, perchance
Escaped from boisterous winds that rage without,
Has entered, by the sturdy oaks unfelt,
But to its gentle touch how sensitive
Is the light ash! that, pendent from the brow
Of yon dim cave, in seeming silence makes
A soft eye-music of slow-waving boughs,
Powerful almost as vocal harmony
To stay the wanderer’s steps and soothe his thoughts.
Joyce has chosen On Causewayside by The Proclaimers. She says it’s a tenuous link – and a song lyric not a poem, but she’s a fan of The Proclaimers, the Scottish brothers who’ve had much success, and she loves this short song. Joyce says Causewayside is a typical early 1900’s tenement street in central Edinburgh. The streets are like steep sided urban valleys (!) midway between being demolished – or preserved for their fine stone frontages.
Joyce moved to Shropshire less than 2 years ago from Fife (where she attended geology courses).
I love how playful you’ve been with the theme, Joyce!
On Causewayside by the Proclaimers
Did they build this tenement
With stone from Fife?
Does it have a memory
Of an earlier life?
Before it was transported
To be cut with pride
And built up till it looked down
At the edge of the pavement
There stands a girl
Of no more than three
Years in this world
Looking up at her mother
With sheer delight
For a moment
The rats in the sewer
And the autumn sky
Stand still for a moment
And so do I
As we touch the eternal
Then the cold winds sigh
And blow it away
Craig and Charlie Reid
Nicky chose ‘What if this Road’ by Sheenagh Pugh, and comments:
That sense of things being able to change, of being unpredictable. The whole poem seems such a perfect, efficient metaphor!
Thank you Sheenagh for allowing us to include your poem
What If This Road
What if this road, that has held no surprises
these many years, decided not to go
home after all; what if it could turn
left or right with no more ado
than a kite-tail? What if its tarry skin
were like a long, supple bolt of cloth,
that is shaken and rolled out, and takes
a new shape from the contours beneath?
And if it chose to lay itself down
in a new way, around a blind corner,
across hills you must climb without knowing
what’s on the other side; who would not hanker
to be going, at all risks? Who wants to know
a story’s end, or where a road will go?
by Sheenagh Pugh
Three from Alix – one in German, with a prose translation, and where we are just sharing the first stanza while we wait for permission. Alix told me she found her frst edition copy of Tide Race, by the Welsh poet Brian Morris, in my shop last year and was delighted to find that someone who’d taught her was actually a very good poet. Alix said he was a brilliant lecturer, speaking without notes, apparently spontaneously: she says she was a terrible student and reading his work decades later was amazed to find she understood some of it!
At the bottom of the page I am including (with permission from Carcanet) the poem Postmeridian by Nina Cassian – it is longer than I would usually share here, but a beautiful poem with a stunning ending.
Hälfte des Lebens
Mit gelben Birnen hänget
Und voll mit wilden Rosen
Das Land in den See,
Ihr holden Schwäne,
Und trunken von Küssen
Trunkt ihr das Haupt
Ins heilignüchterne Wasser.
Weh mir, wo nehm’ ich, wenn
Es Winter ist, die Blumen, und wo
Und Schatten der Erde?
Die Mauern stehn
Sprachlos und kalt, im Winde
Klirren die Fahnen.
THE MIDDLE OF LIFE
With yellow pears and full of wild roses the land hangs down into the lake, you lovely swans, and drunken with kisses you dip your heads into the holy and sober water.
Alas, where shall I find, when winter comes, the flowers, and where the sunshine and shadows of earth? The walls loom speechless and cold, in the wind weathercocks clatter.
From The Penguin Poets, Hölderlin, Selected Verse, edited and with plain prose translations by Michael Hamburger (1961)
Cwm Gwdi by Brian Morris
Few ever lived here, and now for centuries none have.
Only the fading echo of long dead owls inhabits
This old groin of the hills, this secret patch where paths fork
Leaving a tight, unblemished mound between. A few
Mewed by casual hawks of passage have dropped gently
On this triangular feature: Nature’s droll parody,
The burlesque turn of fertility that might have been.
It all lies very still now, hard and cold as any stone;
Restless winds flutter the couch-grass and the blue heather,
Moving the hill dust on, shifting it from tuft to soiled tuft.
from Tide Race, Gomer Press, published in 1976, now out of print
So little time to suck the blood
bid our business
catch the innocents.
Our lightless vision echoes
sounds you strain to hear.
A different wave
refracts through bricks
We haunt your dream gardens
dwell in coal-dark
scratch your subconscious
are the shadow in the park.
This frantic affray on your Freudian fears
an Incubus screech-owl
pin-drop pointed ears.
This midsummer mayhem
leaves us drained.
the nights are drawing out again.
tonight Fionnuala is your nurse.
You’ll hear her voice sing-song around the ward
lifting a wing at the shore of your darkness.
I heard that, in another life, she too journeyed
through a storm, a kind of curse, with the ocean
rising darkly around her, fierce with cold,
and no resting place, only the frozen
rocks that tore her feet, the light on her shoulders.
And no cure there but to wait it out.
If, while I’m gone, your fever comes down—
if the small, salt-laden shapes of her song
appear as a first glimmer of earth-light,
follow the sweet, hopeful voice of that landing.
She will keep you safe beneath her wing.
She looks up from the potatoes, sees him in the garden
and watches as he levels a molehill. He spreads earth
over the border, scrapes the ground flat, bends
to dust off a low leaf. She knows he will clean
his spade, wash his hands and leave his boots
in the mud room before he comes to sit at the table
and wait behind his newspaper for lunch.
Friends ask how she copes with his dour silence.
She could tell them how he’s got up first for thirty years
to make the coffee, how he’s always folded
his warm legs around her feet on winter nights,
how the first blooms of summer are cut for the kitchen
table before she knows they exist. She couldn’t explain
how once, when she was ill, she woke to find him
watching over her, hollow faced.
She sees he’s flattening another mound as a neighbour
stops to talk. She can see the man is animated,
fast-talking, pointing and making sharp stabs
in the air. She can guess that he offers suggestions
of poison or traps. She doesn’t need to hear her husband
to know what he says as he turns away,
She’s heard it before: They lighten the soil.
Thank you to Philip Browning for choosing this part of A Shropshire Lad, living as I do in the Clun Valley, in one of those ‘quietest places under the sun’, I can hardly credit that I didn’t think of it myself! Philip also chose that wonderful classic, The Charge of the Light Brigade.
Thanks also to Alison Richards for Hills and Dales – how lovely it will be to drive through them to get to the sea, soon!
And a big thank you to Geoff Taylor for the gorgeous photgraph.
Clunton and Clunbury,
Clungunford and Clun,
Are the quietest places
Under the sun.
In valleys of springs of rivers,
By Ony and Teme and Clun,
The country for easy livers,
The quietest under the sun,
We still had sorrows to lighten,
One could not be always glad,
And lads knew trouble at Knighton
When I was a Knighton lad.
By bridges that Thames runs under,
In London, the town built ill,
’Tis sure small matter for wonder
If sorrow is with one still.
And if as a lad grows older
The troubles he bears are more,
He carries his griefs on a shoulder
That handselled them long before.
Where shall one halt to deliver
This luggage I’d lief set down?
Not Thames, not Teme is the river
Nor London nor Knighton the town:
’Tis a long way further than Knighton,
A quieter place than Clun,
Where doomsday may thunder and lighten
And little ’twill matter to one.
Strolling over hills and dales,
Wandering through the land of Wales.
Groves of ash I passed on my way,
Tall trees in the wind did sway.
Ferns luscious in their coats of green,
Wild flowers many I have never seen.
A glory opening to my wondering eyes,
At each turn and bend some new surprise.
Villages enchanting to behold,
A few quite new many very old.
With here and there ruins of stone,
Reminding me that I am alone.
Alone on a journey of my choice,
Good reason for my soul to rejoice.
I realised that it soon must end,
My mind sorrowful thoughts did send.
I must return to my daily routine,
Happy and thankful for all I have seen.
Nature had shown me yet once again,
That she alone had the power to keep me sane.
A lovely topic for this week and it made me think of this poem by Frances Horovitz. I have had a copy of her collected poems for a long time but didn’t know the area of Hadrian’s Wall at all then. I walked Hadrian’s Wall in 2018 (in the drought!) and loved discovering the Irthing Valley. Looking down at the huge ruins of a Roman bridge look like a piece of landscape art. Irthing Valley was first published in her collection Snow Light, Water Light. However, I have it in her Collected Poems, Bloodaxe Books
Thank you again to Neil Astley for permission to include this poem
a field of stones
a river of stones
each stone in its place
can a star be lost
or a stone?
the constellations of stone
the wind lays itself down
a fine cloth over the stones
the river is dipossessed
it casts up white branches
shoals of white sand
it cannot oust its stones
between air and water
laving the stones
Pauline has chosen this poem by David Whyte, because she says
it is so life affirming, even though I’m way past the middle of my life.
Thank you Pauline.
You can read David’s poem on his Facebook page where he also says a little about what the poem means to him.
My choice for this week is Mametz Wood by Owen Sheers.
Mametz Wood, in the Valley of the Somme, was the setting for the bloody action of July 1916 that resulted in the death of 4000 Welsh soldiers.
I always find the ending, with the image of a band of men deep in the earth of the valley, mouths open as if to sing out, particularly poignant – and such a picture of Welshness.
Postmeridian by Nina Cassian
After the morning has cut the sediment of night
with luminous acids, here is the afternoon
slowly recovering, getting heavier,
feeding on the general tiredness.
here is the afternoon with its look
of a middle-aged woman who once
committed a crime, long ago,
never discovered, forgotten, of no consequence;
she now passes, always unnoticed.
The afternoon among them, through them,
moving its heavy haunches.
The great rest, the great parties, the great solitudes
take place at night, when one possesses time,
when, after work, time finds itself
in the man in the North Railway Station,
in the woman in the South Railway Station,
in the deaf-mutes in the restaurant,
whose quiet liveliness does not contaminate anyone,
in a certain nuptial room,
in a certain attitude of sleep,
in a particular dream in the shape of a rhombus.
The afternoon is intermediary time.
Those who love lack the courage to show themselves.
Those who are loved let themselves be waited for.
Waiting expands chairs,
flattens the telephone,
the walls become pneumatic;
you hit your head against them in vain; it doesn’t hurt –
the entire universe is anaesthetized.
Those who love ring the doorbell, and when you open
there is nobody there; somebody ran away leaving behind
a delicate ectoplasm which disappears
if you breathe too heavily.
And so, between those who left and those who did not come,
you stand frozen, disfigured,
tattooed on the air.
In the afternoon, the cobras sleep.
In their long slumber only the venom stays awake,
like a violet light bulb.
The lions with their wise jaws sleep.
In the sky, the pale soul of the stars.
In the alphabet, the letter ‘M’, the letter ‘N’,
closely embraced, sleep.
Postmeridian – take care:
the day is half gone; you’ve already forgotten
the sparkling thorns of sunrise;
the speed of light in the tree’s spine
now has passed its peak.
After the cold waters of dawn sculpted you,
experience was deposited on your body
in thin layers, invisible.
If you could live
the tea hours, the coffee hours,
the tranquil sound of cups,
if you could conceive of the fragile amber hours,
the afternoon of an old family in an old century
altered by a romantic memory,
if only you would resist the horror
of seeing your face in the cupful
of tea, burning in the flames of Hell.
Or, in the later afternoon hours,
have you ever seen the sudden rain of wrinkles
falling on your visitor’s cheek?
It is as if the light’s decline
would first test its victim,
then abandon it without going for the kill,
leaving it terrorized for the rest of its life.
And you who watch say nothing,
only ask yourself if the same mass of wrinkles,
like a living creature, didn’t throb for an instant
on your own face. You do something, anything –
for example, light a cigarette –
and, finally, twilight saves you.
Finally, the air is cool, like the body after love.
The vapors of premonition are lost.
The afternoon moves to the other side of the globe,
with its aspect of a middle-aged woman,
each hand carrying a loaded shopping bag.
Who know what they contain? Maybe flour, maybe raw meat.
In any case, some bloody streaks were observed in her wake,
in the railway station, in the lion’s eye,
in the cup of tea. Don’t worry about it now.
From the newspapers, tomorrow,
we’ll find out what really happened.
So that’s it for another week! Please send us poems on this, or any of the themes by email or you can use the message function at the bottom of the page. You can also follow us using the social media buttons just below.
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