the lonely sea and the sky

Poetry Breakfast ~ at home

 

Very soon after my Mum died in 2016, I spent three weeks, mostly alone, in a little cottage by the beach in Harlech, north Wales. The lonely sea and the sky was exactly what I needed, and I spent my time quietly reading, knitting – and, of course, walking for hours every day on that gloriously isolated beach.

Like many of us, I have been sea-deprived (Jude describes it as ‘saltwater-deficient’) for a much longer period than usual. Last week’s Written on the Shore theme helped me mind-travel to the many beaches I love, and now we are into full-on sea and sky immersion!  I hope you enjoy it.

Next week, our theme is Summer Dreams: as always, please send in your poetry suggestions, and I’ll be happy to share them.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, 

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by, 

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, 

And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking. 

 

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide 

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied; 

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying, 

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying. 

 

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life, 

To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover, 

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

And here is  John Masefield himself, reading Sea Fever – and settling once and for all (I hope) the question of does he go down to the sea, or merely down to it.

Due to popular demand, our featured poet this week is Kathleen Jamie. Kathleen was a visitor to the Wenlock Poetry Festival in years gone by, and is the highly acclaimed author of many poetry collections, including: Selected Poems, 2018; The Bonniest Companie, which won the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year 2016 and The Overhaul which was shortlisted for the 2012 TS Eliot Prize and won the Costa Award for Poetry, all published by Picador.

Kathleen has also written works of non-fiction in which her poetic sensibilities are never far from the surface: Sightlines: A Conversation with the Natural World; Findings: Essays on the Natural and Unnatural World, and most recently, Surfacing, all published by Sort Of Books. (For a brilliant testimonial to Surfacing and Kathleen’s other books, a visit across to DoveGreyReader is definitely in order!)

Surfacing by Kathleen Jamie

In this luminous new essay collection, acclaimed author Kathleen Jamie visits archeological sites and mines her own memories – of her grandparents, of youthful travels – to explore what surfaces and what reconnects us to our past. As always she looks to the natural world for her markers and guides. Most movingly, she considers, as her father dies and her children leave home, the surfacing of an older, less tethered sense of herself.

Surfacing offers a profound sense of time passing and an antidote to all that is instant, ephemeral, unrooted.

A so simple poem, by a Scottish poet as well known for her essays in ‘Findings’ ‘Sightlines’  and ‘Surfacing’. I love the images of light, night and a blue boat moving slowly together across the water, the lantern guiding.

Maureen Cooper

Readers Retreat

The Blue Boat by Kathleen Jamie

How late the daylight edges

toward the northern night

as though journeying

in a blue boat, gilded in mussel shell

with, slung from its mast, a lantern

like our old idea of the soul

 

from The Tree House (Picador, 2004; ©Kathleen Jamie), Kathleen kindly gave permission for us to inlcude this poem.

I’ve chosen this poem by Kathleen – ‘fleet clouds and salt kiss’ – perfect!

Fianuis by Kathleen Jamie

Well, friend, we’re here again — 

            sauntering the last half-mile to the land’s frayed end

to find what’s laid on for us, strewn across the turf — 

gull feathers, bleached shells,

                                        a whole bull seal, bone-dry,

knackered from the rut

(we knock on his leathern head, but no one’s home).

Change, change — that’s what the terns scream

                                        down at their seaward rocks;

fleet clouds and salt kiss — 

everything else is provisional,

                                        us and all our works.

I guess that’s why we like it here:

                         listen — a brief lull,

                                        a rock pipit’s seed-small notes.

“Fianuis” is from The Bonniest Company (2015) © Kathleen Jamie and published with Kathleen’s kind permission.

 

Alix has chosen this, but says she might easily also have chosen The Whale-watcher and The Glass-hulled Boat

The Lighthouse by Kathleen Jamie

Here is the lighthouse,

redundant these days.

From the keepers’

neglected garden

 – the sea, of course

a metallic seam

closing the horizon.

 – And gulls too,

uttering the same

torn-throated cries

as when you first imagined

hours spent hunched

against the wind-

abraded wall might yield some

species of understanding.

All those hours, gazing

out to the ocean.

Years ago now.

from The Overhaul published by Picador

Thank you to Kathleen for permission to include this poem.

 

Basking Shark by Kathleen Jamie

chosen by Alix Nathan

 

When I came to the cliff-edge

and lay down, all beneath

was space, then green-

tinted sea, so clear

it revealed, level below level,

not void, but a living creature.

Behind me peat moor

careered inland. I gripped

sweet rock  – but it was only

resting, berthed as though

drawn by the cliff’s

peculiar backwash,

precisely that its ore-

heavy body and head 

the tail fin measuring back,

forth, like a haunted door 

could come to sense the absolute

limits of its realm.

While it hung, steady

as an anvil but for the fins’

corrective rippling  – dull,

dark and buoyed like a heart

that goes on living

through a long grief

what could one do but watch?

The sea heaved; fulmars 

slid by on static wings;

the shark  – not ready yet

to re-enter the ocean

travel there, peaceable and dumb 

waited, and was watched;

till it all became

unbearable, whereupon the wind

in its mercy breathed again

and far below the surface

glittered, and broke up.

from The Tree House published by Picador

At the risk of being derailed from sea and sky, I couldn’t resist this link from Philip: it is Joanna Lumley reading Cargoes by John Masefield – a poem I’ve finally ‘got’ as a result of her reading it! It segues into a scrummy little snatch from the Likely Lads – hands up if you remember them?

Philip Browning

Poetry Breakfast, Much Wenlock

The mention of the sky connects for me with The Windhover by Hopkins  I have this poem in my mind at the moment anyway as I am teaching an online course on poems about ‘The Wild’ and we have been discussing this poem this week. I absolutely love the way that Hopkins gets so much joy, energy and music into his writing, and the way he celebrates the bird here. I always imagine him just walking through the world and saying ‘Wow! Wow! Wow!’ at what he sees.

Jonathan Edwards

Poet, Editor, Poetry Wales

The Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins

To Christ our Lord

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-

    dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding

    Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding

High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimping wing

In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,

    As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding

    Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding

Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here

    Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion

Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

     

   No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down million

Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,

    Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

Source: Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics, 1985)

Photo: sunrise from Backhill, Berneray

Liz Lefroy has sent us a poem of her own, written when staying on Berneray and making the ferry crossing to Harris. She also recommended a poem by Andrew McMillan. Thank you, Liz.

Liz Lefroy

Poet

Crossing by Liz Lefroy

Put on the north to forget, dress in silver

like a Baltic dawn amidst the archipelagos.

Brace yourself to the voyage, to the haul

of a Viking warrior unused to the idea

of going back, faithful to the long vessel

which doubles as burial rites.

It is enough, this approach to water.

It is enough to look out over

scatterings of land cleansed from heat,

shawl your body against the chill,

stand mast-tall,

edge on into winter.

Photo © Judy King, January 2020, flying into the Uists

when loud the storm and furious is the gale

by Andrew McMillan

the storm has dragged itself offshore

under trees it rains   still

I know a sailor whose mind foamed against itself

and he sat drowning for the next five years

the lighthouse throws its face and catches it

night slicks in over the water

I used to know a shortcut through the dunes

not even dog walkers had spoiled

the shore had dragged itself to sea

the light has the arc of a tethered bird in flight

I have sat in the dune and imagined drowning

in a submarine      heavy death   night slicks

over water it is still raining under trees

I know a shortcut to a sailor   the mind foaming on the beach. 

from Physical published by Cape Poetry

Thank you to Andrew McMillan for kind permission to use this poem 

‘Happy birthday’ to

– Physical –

published

FIVE YEARS AGO

today!

The Lofty Sky by Edward Thomas kind of turns things upside down, turns the sky into a river, if not the sea.  I came to know it just a few weeks ago, mid-lockdown, when it spoke very strongly to me, reflecting a strong urge to get above things, and to have a view, to be able to see for miles and miles. It inspired my choice of an outing on my birthday: we went to Burrough Hill! Sad to say our second lockdown (Leicester) forbids even such small escapes.

 

Nicky Bennison

Shared Reading Leader

Sky over Harlech

The Lofty Sky by Edward Thomas

To-day I want the sky,

The tops of the high hills,

Above the last man’s house,

His hedges, and his cows,

Where, if I will, I look

Down even on sheep and rook,

And of all things that move

See buzzards only above:-

Past all trees, past furze

And thorn, where nought deters

The desire of the eye

For sky, nothing but sky.

I sicken of the woods

And all the multitudes

Of hedge-trees. They are no more

Than weeds upon this floor

Of the river of air

Leagues deep, leagues wide, where

I am like a fish that lives

In weeds and mud and gives

What’s above him no thought.

I might be a tench for aught

That I can do to-day

Down on the wealden clay.

Even the tench has days

When he floats up and plays

Among the lily leaves

And sees the sky, or grieves

Not if he nothing sees:

While I, I know that trees

Under that lofty sky

Are weeds, fields mud, and I

Would arise and go far

To where the lilies are.

September Tides by Pauline Prior-Pitt 

who else will stand just here

on these grains of sand

exposed for a moment

at this lowest of low tides

were they ever before 

warmed by the sun 

who else turning over stones

will scrape words on these fine lines 

where waves at slack water 

scarcely rise    

  

who else will stand just here to shout 

your name into the wind

who else will wade in my boots 

                                         so far out

Thank you to Pauline for allowing us to include this not-yet-published poem.

Becoming Variable by Jean Atkin


i.
Attend to the gulls and forecasts heard in bed,
reassurance that we’re safe from winter seas

where wrecks roll under the sea lanes, tilting
in the oily wash of ferries

or fathoms down, where whales slip freely
through the Hebrides.


ii. 
You must have been there in the flap and crack of canvas
that Malin stitched for you in beads of ice

and worked a slanting Dog Watch while the gales
whipped North Utsire white at nightfall

and learned co-ordinates for the sight
of black ceramic water shattering on Rockall.


iii. 
I imagine you counting, between Fair Isle
and Forties, a flock of shipwrecks,

when you slept.  Long after  you’ve gone,
I think of the course of your keel
 
on its barred-silver passage to the mackerel north
or on the coal road from Lerwick to Shields.

Thank you to Jean for allowing us to include this poem.

 

Crossing the Bar by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Sunset and evening star,

      And one clear call for me!

And may there be no moaning of the bar,

      When I put out to sea,

   But such a tide as moving seems asleep,

      Too full for sound and foam,

When that which drew from out the boundless deep

      Turns again home.

   Twilight and evening bell,

      And after that the dark!

And may there be no sadness of farewell,

      When I embark;

   For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place

      The flood may bear me far,

I hope to see my Pilot face to face

      When I have crost the bar.

This poem is in the public domain and was chosen by Ann Wishart and Philip Browning. 

Ann also directed me to this lovely choral version of the poem, thanks Ann.

Philip enjoyed a trawl through four volumes of Poetry Please and More Poetry Please (thank you, Philip) to find some more gems for us!

 

The Old Ships by James Elroy Flecker – the link is to a Guardian article with the poem which some might find interesting

and

The Lake Isle of Innisfree by W B Yeats – no introduction needed.

Kathy Watson chose a poem by David Whyte, you can read the poem in full here, and here is a short extract:

“… you were a signature written in sand
taken by the ocean and scattered

to another wave form, your disappearance
only made more beautiful

by the everyday arrival of a tide …”

Kathy also sent this video of the choir she and Ann sing with – it does mention the sea, and there are lots of photos of Shrewsbury in flood earlier this year!

Longitude by Steve Harrison

John Harrison’s clockwork fingers

carving cogs from well-oiled teak

to lock and turn and tell the time

for navigators lost at sea.

Compass faithfully points at North,

but how far East or West?

Starry nights a satellite guide

Sun and wind all help the guess.

A clock without a pendulum

true to a second, if only

knowing exactly where you sailed –

  

He made sea and sky less lonely.

Thank you Steve for writing this poem for our theme this week – so atmospheric, and such a lovely thought that he made the sea and sky less lonely – wonderful.

Thanks, too, for choosing this poem by Angela Readman.

Anna Dreda

Poetry Breakfast, Wenlock Books Events

Our Names in Pebbles by Angela Readman

Our lives are salvage, on the glint of a storm

we fly out of the house like booted angels,

a clink of gates our splintered wings.

The barrels are always gone, old men roll

home, fires in whiskers, breath bobbing

for kisses their wives have yet to learn.

We hold driftwood like a flame to the notion

of winter, so slippery in our grip. Back, forth,

back, we cart in the dusk, our shifting not done,

we sign our names in stones on planks. Ours

is written in mussels, brittle as lasses in aprons

queuing for milk, stain petticoats under silt skirts.

Mother makes a row of shells and cops a glance

of my father lugging a ship’s desk for a widow

  • seaweed legged, drawer full of crabs.

Tonight I’ll see her circle, ladling soup, so close 

he may feel a kiss sail over his neck, she’ll lean in

clank a pocket and lay a single shell on his wrist.

from The Book of Tides by Angela Readman, published by Nine Arches Press.

Thank you to Angela Readman and Jane Commane for permission to include this poem.

 

Drifting – Ynys Enlli by Chris Kinsey

 

Perched at the north end
I listen to the tides swirl.

Out in the sound, a tug
of turquoise tears white threads.

Shrieking oystercatchers jab limpets
on black and orange lichened rocks.

I turn my back on the turmoil
of birds and tides, lie face down

in cream clover, smelling of
powder compacts, raided handbags.

Dusty bees drone me back
to the weave of tough stalks.

I’m close up to eyebright’s
white, yellow, purple flowers,

size of the stones clustered
in a 1950’s engagement ring.

Chris Kinsey 

from Cure for a Crooked Smile by published Ragged Raven Poetry

Thank you to Chris for giving permission for us to include her poem, and to Gill McEvoy for requesting it. 

We have the sky by Char March

 

caught taut between
my kite and yours,
between
Wainhouse Tower
and Peckett Well memorial,
between
Rishworth comm’s tower
and the Ovenden windfarm,
between
Stoodley Pike
and Emley mast.

We have the sky
pinned by these spikes:
a butterfly of cirrus
and cumulus, of nimbostratus
and the threat
of rain.

 

© Char March

from her collection ‘The Cloud Appreciation Society’s Day Out’ published by Indigo Dreams, 2011

Thank you to Char, for permission to include this poem.

So many poems!  And here are some more. You might like this piece of music to listen to as you read?

Hilary’s choices this week are Breakage by Mary Oliver and Tides by Jenny Joseph  – a favourite of Hilary’s and rightly so! We all know Jenny’s marvellous Warning poem (excuse me while we take a short diversion!) – but there is more to her than that!

 

Joyce said she really likes this poem – Seventy Feet Down by Philip Larkin and as she really likes Kathleen Jamies’ poems she’s looking forward to this post.

 

Jude chose Sea at Low Tide by Mathew Francis which she has in her copy of Shorelines, from Lautus Press. All of their anthologies are highly recommended.

 

Elizabeth picked Sea Song by Allan Cunningham which she remembers her father singing to her as a child, and from Alison this week, The Lonely Beach by Linda Harnett

So that’s it for another week.  Thank you, as ever, to all the poets and publishers who have enabled us to share their poems, and to all our poetry readers who have made recommendations. This wouldn’t happen without you!

Please send us poems by email or you can use the Comments function at the bottom of the page.  You can also follow us using the social media buttons just below.

And right at the bottom of the page you can sign up for our monthly newsletter. (Can you tell that we really want to keep in touch?!)

We would love to hear (and share) your suggestions: don’t wait to be invited!

Anna Dreda

Poetry Breakfast, Wenlock Books Events

6 Comments

  1. Gillie Squires

    Thank you Anna. This selection really resonates. Missing, no, pining for, the coast this year. Great poems and lovely pics and music.

    Reply
    • Anna Dreda

      Thanks Gillie, it was a good one to do! Glad yo enjoyed it, Anna x

      Reply
  2. Gill McEvoy

    Steve might be interested to know re his Harrison clock poem that my son was former Curator of Clocks at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, and had to travel to Australia, USA, and China, taking with him an exhibition of Harrison’s clocks. A nerve-wracking business in case any damage occurred to them during transit. Thanks for your clock poem Steve, and thank you also to all the poets whose work has appeared on this week’s Poetry breakfast!

    Reply
    • Anna Dreda

      That is so interesting Gill – thank you for sharing this with us!

      Reply
    • steve harrison

      Hi Gill , thanks for that ; and ironic that your son had to wrap up clocks some of which were designed to cope with the rigours of a sea journey ! No doubt you’ve read Longitude ( Dava Sobel ?) who looked at the history of designing and making an accurate clock for less journeys..

      Reply
  3. Anna Dreda

    I just came across this while browsing (as you do) and thought it really was quiet a fine reading of Jenny Joseph’s Warning by Helena Bonham Carter! See what you think! https://youtu.be/bNMRO-UxE9g

    Reply

Leave a Reply to steve harrison Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Contact Anna

(yes this is still the right email!)

Keep in touch!

For all the latest news about forthcoming events and to see the lastest blog posts, sign up below.