Thursday, 2 November 2017

A Poem for November

Autumn has set in thick here in the Calder Valley. Each morning, the hills beyond my window are sugared in a sprinkling of silver frost.  Emotionally, I plunge into and embrace this coldness, for it speaks the language of my own heart in these dark times, when with every passing day Britain sinks more deeply and inevitably into a toxic quicksand of prejudice and political corruption.  I trawl through old, unpublished poems and am startled by the apparent yearning for spirituality undercutting so many of my words, composed even as I watched the world teetering to oblivion amid religious terror - a phenomena which seemed almost unprecedented in the early to mid-2000's, but which has grown so frequent in our world today that the most hideous massacres go almost unreported.  One week Africa, the next the USA - only yesterday, our television screens relaid the latest carnage on New York.    Closer to home, bewildered by the current British government, and disgusted by the official Opposition, I turn increasingly to former ages, myths and legends, to antique landscapes and alternate planes of existence, and, in doing so, rediscover the wintry landscapes of yesteryear.  The poem below was written in late 2005, when I was immersed in Scandinavian poetry and Norse mythology, and pays homage to the realm of Niflheim, the cold, dark, misty world of the dead, ruled by the goddess Hel. I am surprised to see the imagery of blood and death amid depictions of the natural world - a "red in tooth and claw" implication which would not go amiss in the Ted Hughes dominated Calder Valley poetry world, but which seems incongruous to the comparatively quaint suburban environment in which I was living at the time of writing.  But the apparent calm of the suburbs is deceptive and, like so much else on our turbulent, contradictory, dangerous planet, belies a savagery as merciless as it is inevitable.

November’s ice-blooms
half grown, still evolving,
slowly, advancing on autumnal dawns. 

Trudging fields, see mist evaporate,
one stray coot beside
a steel, swan-studded lake. 

Up above us, reaching over dark horizons,
a block of flats stands sentry. 

The hills, the bundled boughs, the lake, this whole
panoply of earthy stillness,
willow-bordered, field-fringed,
a morning in its deathly beauty
surveyed by gods above
and deep below, our visions dance
upon the eyelids of Niflheim. 

The gods, the spirits, and all the terrible children
of the glacial realms
have us in their sights

and threaded like jet
upon the necklace of the lake
jazzy beaks and foreheads
striped bright red, like icicles of blood. 

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