In all that bright and glorious sunshine, amongst those trees, those parks, those sculptural delights, Hidden below that Impressive skyline, Beneath and among those imposing sights, How much deprivation is still concealed As that which was to Blake revealed?
( Pen and Wash drawing and the accompanying verse above are by WHB)
What was revealed to William Blake as he wandered the streets of late 18th and early 19th Century London, he wrote about in the following poem. It was first published in his ‘Songs of Experience’ in 1794
London . . . By William Blake
I wander thro’ each charter’d street Near where the charter’d Thames does flow. And mark in every face I meet Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
In every cry of every Man, In every Infants cry of fear, In every voice: in every ban, The mind-forg’d manacles I hear
How the Chimney-sweepers cry Every blackning Church appalls, And the hapless Soldiers sigh Runs in blood down Palace walls
But most thro’ midnight streets I hear How the youthful Harlots curse Blasts the new-born Infants tear And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse
When morning meets my melancholy I must refocus dispel my clouds and reconnect to nature through her glory
The garth gate invites pledges enchantment such memories harboured here once the cloister garden of my medieval monastery now still the repository of the priory’s peace ancient orchard now transformed but still a place to rejuvenate the soul to touch feel and taste nature’s serenity
The morning mist lingered low over the once fallow fields then no longer virgin earth but become thick with apple trees and those long gone and autumn dormant now awaiting its wheat-carpeted summer season
The morning advances only half-appreciated until the the priory arch proud against the sky bursts through the mist into the weak sun’s gaze the veiled sky allowing the gathering sunlight slowly to prove its strength and bring clarity to a waiting world
And The pathway its ancient course piercing its length into the shrouded distance remembrancer now of those Augustinian brothers traversing this ancient orchard
who with such care tended nature’s gifts now bare of fruit but never fruitless no longer cosseted by priestly presence and full of nuanced context still
For me …
The Applegarth my own memory of this sanctified place sings of golden corn bordering that arrowed path where also was the winning post the last gasp of those long-past teenage distance running races marking my triumphs measuring my success against the countless strides I had wrenched from my straining body to accomplish to lead the race the end of endeavours signifying my own my personal accomplishment.
To be beside the sea That is our nation’s fashion; It’s obviously the place For promulgating passion.
But how do seaside shoppers Decide just what to buy? Are they tempted by advertisements? I often wonder why.
Well, once upon a summer, On a hot and sunny day, On holiday in Devon, On a stroll around the bay.
I came across this advert Along the promenade; I must admit initially I thought I’d have it barred.
A touch of seaside whimsy That’s OK and I’m all for it, But such immodest come-ons, Who’d have ever thought it!
‘KNICKERS FOR A NICKER; POUCHES FOR A POUND’, To titillate the tourists, Well, such ads are all around.
But on a seafront shop I didn’t think it right; I even thought that something Was wrong with my eyesight.
I don’t know why it was I was so overcome, With thoughts of indignation I really was struck dumb.
It was just a bit of fun, Why was I so upset? But when little George cried ‘Look Dad’ I broke out in a sweat.
“That’s what you and mum wore When I spied you yesterday. Can Sue and me have one each, Like you?”, I heard him say.
‘Nicker’ is Cockney Slang for One Pound. The OED says it’s origin is unknown, but suggests it could be originally horse racing slang. The term … has … London associations … and dates from the early 20th Century (it explains that terrible old joke: ‘Why can’t a one-legged woman change a pound note? Because she’s only got half a (k)nicker!’ and which nobody seems to know the origin of).
My mind enfranchised in sleep liberated from rationality and conscious executive decision my unconscious set free to roam my history.
The blurred narrative picks and chooses what it wants to portray to examine to reconnoitre.
Personae and locale juxtaposed regardless of sequence of time and of place
A current friend a past acquaintance someone who is no one brought together and the scene is set.
I wander amongst its passage ways through its disjointed scenery meeting both friends and strangers so unclarified and yet telling a minimal story its sequence uncontrolled unfettered by personal decision moving on at leisured pace subject it seems to no control seemingly governed solely by its own momentum no decisions involved in the flow of events linked by no conscious reason aware of scenery of being somewhere half-known but insensate unaware of how I feel towards it.
Then, an arbitrary end to these inconclusive series of events; sometimes just a fading; but at other times an abrupt cessation of the out-of-focus story’s flow an abrupt end often in mid event.
And I am left with traces vague recollections of where indistinct awareness of who no understanding of why no connection to past no sense of a future
Just dreamland half-remembered soon forgotten altogether lost in another time another life a parallel reality or even outside reality but it must be my reality.
My mind enfranchised in sleep liberated from rationality and conscious executive decision
My unconscious set free to roam my history. How that happens to be
Kirk, Ulf, Dag, Garth and young Sven, Five fierce and intrepid Norse men, All were keen for a spot of adventure, And some philand’ring as well now and then.
These five Vikings set off from their fiord, Their longboat just bristling with gear; Spangenhelm, chain mail and hatchets, They thought they had nothing to fear.
But the North Sea didn’t prove easy, They rowed until practically dead, Till at last they spotted the Orkneys Then got ready some Scots’ blood to shed.
They’d set out equipped to do battle, To plunder, to pillage, despoil, But they could not decide where to settle, Where best to create more turmoil.
So they carried on rowing southwards And kept their eyes skinned for a village; For any old Saxon encampment With people and pastures to pillage.
Before long they came to an island That was covered in seaweed and priests; They decided to stop and replenish, While the priests signalled, clear off you beasts.
At first they weren’t kind to the natives; They took all their women and corn, But they could not abide all the chanting And treated the abbot with scorn.
But in time they took to the island, Found some fair Saxons to wed; Even started attending the chapel, Word of their atonement soon spread.
When I think of my Norsemen forefathers
Now I don’t see foreign insurgents; I think of them solely as tourists, Who created a bit of disturbance.
I am indebted to the artist, Eileen Phelps, for permission to use a photograph of her embroidery, first exhibited at the Barn Arts Centre, Surrey, in 2013.
Because Eileen’s embroidery on which I based these verses is clearly light-hearted, jocular and whimsical, I have followed that approach with my verses. I apologise to the historians of the period of British history for seemingly making light of the violence and deprivation which the Viking raids wreaked on coastal communities in the North of Britain.
The Vikings first invaded Britain in AD 793 and last invaded in 1066 when William the Conqueror became King of England after the Battle of Hastings.
The first place the Vikings raided in Britain was the monastery at Lindisfarne, a small holy island located off the north-east coast of England. Some of the monks were drowned in the sea, others killed or taken away as slaves along with many treasures of the church.
Following many years of incursions by the Vikings, eventually, King Alfred of Wessex was able to confront the Viking ‘Great Army’ at Edington, in 878, when his victory enabled him to establish terms for peace, though this did not put a complete stop to Viking activity which continued on and off for several more generations. Alfred had to concede the northern and eastern counties to the Vikings, where their disbanded armies settled, created new settlements and merged with the local populations. Lincoln, Nottingham, Derby, Stamford and Leicester became important Viking
towns within The Danelaw (or ‘Scandinavian England’), while York became the capital of the Viking Kingdom of York, which extended more or less over what we now call Yorkshire.
These areas were gradually reconquered and brought back under English control by Alfred’s successors, but not before the Scandinavian influence had been locally imprinted to an extent which is still detectable today in place names as well as the DNA of many of its inhabitants.
Late autumn evening treading wet leaves on the broad embankment beside the dark river; starry sky and the pavement spotted with lights dark pools between those balustrade sentries the eighty year old yablochkov candles (the country’s very first electric street lights) still throwing the trees’ shadows across the road to Victoria’s gardens.
Perhaps memory twists my tale; mike, dave, wally, ray, with me five of us, fresh lads freshers too up from the far country to study to see the big city to re-start a life men now together soliciting knowledge tempting experience.
Interned for a Chelsea month, then the anticipated incursion, our first excursion into the great city set for new challenges no plan just exploration; for the moment nothing cerebral just life in the moment awaiting a happening neophytic greenhorns.
Walking where Victoria walked, or did she ever really enjoy her gardens by the river? thrilling evening walking that promenade, drinking the sights eating the sounds devouring the smells and tastes soaking up the river and the beer, Victoria’s Embankment Gardens.
We didn’t know it then nor did any of us suspect it was to be ray’s swan song sweet Thames run softly and be his swan song.
Turned up Villiers Street, Kipling’s and Evelyn’s street, tumbled into The Trafalgar, seedy then, well, rare student prices, waitress in black and white I remember the white cap with lace and black band the tiny white apron on black dress alluringly short wiping her hands by rubbing them seductively on her aproned thighs, “what can I get you lads?” … ribaldry … ray “what time do you finish?” … her answer no more than a half-smile;
After the spam fritters and the glorious knickerbockers and more small pink hands attentive hands rubbed clean on lacy white apron, ray’s eyes never taken off them then drinks nothing heavy.
Ray fell must have done from a great height smitten I would say to his adam’s apple core, eyes only for a pretty face and those lacy edges.
Conversation ricocheted across the tables voices spurted out their verbiage as those yablochkov candles expended their light, more raucous than uncouth.
Then the attempt to close to dispense with customers we head for the street ray stays in his seat “’bye chaps, I’ll see you.”
… But he never did.
Nor we him. Ever again.
The Thames Embankment is a work of 19th Century civil engineering which reclaimed marshy land next to the River Thames in central London. It follows the North Bank of the river from Westminster Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge.
The Victoria Embankment Gardens , built also in the latter part of the 19th Century, separate the embankment and the road running alongside from the buildings on the south side of Whitehall, Trafalgar Square and The Strand.
Villiers Street is a short connecting thoroughfare, now mainly pedestrianised, running from the Thames Embankment and Charing Cross underground Station uphill to the Strand, Charing Cross Mainline Railway Station and Trafalgar Square. It contains many restaurants and eating establishments. The Trafalgar Cafe, however, can no longer be found there.
Poem by WHB and re-published in memory of Dave and Mike – now passed on to where all memories are filed and all mysteries are resolved.
This Life Is short Remember Honest and modest You’re not in a beauty contest.
So When I’m gone Do not pray For my godliness Just remember my gentleness.
If I Survive To be old One hundred and five I hope it’s worth being alive.
But It Only Merits it If you are still there To continue our love affair.
I am grateful to M.Zane McClellan who in his January 2016 poem ‘Repeating Pattern’ on The Poetry Channel, introduced me to The format of the Fibonacci Poem. He also gave in his blog the reference to the article on the ‘Poetry Foundation’ website, which gives the history of this fascinating verse format: What’s a Fib? Math plus poetry.
Essentially the ‘Fib’, as it’s creator, Gregory K. Pincus, calls it, will have 20 syllables in total, with the syllables in each of the 6 lines increasing in the Fibonacci sequence familiar in Mathematics and in Nature, that is: 1,1,2,3,5,8… ,
In my first attempt at this format, I have attempted to write a poem of 4 connected verses, with the added feature of making the last two lines in each verse rhyme.