SUICIDE ON A WHIM

‘River Liffey Inciden’t . . . Pen & Wash . . . WHB – 1994

SUICIDE ON A WHIM

Suicide on a whim
is not unheard of
but few such perpetrators
live to tell the tale

one such
rescued from his indecision
by the Gardai
lived through his trauma

sweet Liffey run softly
while I tell the story

distraught by his
gambling debts
and the drinking
his only way to a conclusion
seemed to him to be
voluntary
self-inflicted
euthanasia
yes
he thought
that he wanted to die
half-determined
part irresolute

in a single moment of wavering
he had jumped
just fell perhaps
but the fear
and the cold water
soon hit him
hit harder
than the twenty foot drop

an instinctive cry
escaped him
you could call it
a change of mind
his cry for help
was a second thought
an unintended consequence
of his half-hearted conviction

and now he was held
grasped in a rescue bid

but did he wish to be salvaged
to be pleaded with
would that bring him
the closure he craved
attention unwanted

but secured
attention secured
but unwanted

and still
he could not let go
the ladder
his passport to life
a life he did not desire
could he bear to go there
yet again
to continue
victim to more pain
to yet more anguish

but temporary chagrin
is no killer
his cri de coeur
answered
his indecision
thwarted

is it heads or tails
is it stay or go
is life’s hurt
greater than death’s pain
is future shame
worse than eternity’s
opprobrium

we will never know
the prognosis
I suspect
he is still amongst us
ever indecisive
a suitor for attention
defaulting on his debts
not stopping at three pints
one of life’s
protean chancers

The Lessons Of History

The lessons of history are all around
Etched on death’s memorial
But who looks at memorials?

The war to end all wars ended
But the peace had not been won

Exchanging eyes
Has not proved a workable proposition
And yet the attempt goes on
And mankind is condemned to try again
To seek an end to conflict
By perpetuating conflict itself

Those lessons from the past
Unlearnt
At best misunderstood
Ignored
And so it continues
The errors of the past
Visited on countless future generations

Fear reigns
And stultifies hope
Because mankind remains
Because mankind will not change
Still comatose
Sleepwalking into conflict again
Again
And yet again

Original sin
Casts its sinister shadow
Over hope
And so
The cycle continues
War and peace
Unfeasible bedfellows
History hardly notices the difference

But we do
And suffer for it

The two illustrations above were scanned from my copy of Holbein’s ‘Le Triomphe De La Mort’ published in

1780 … Etchings of Holbein’s originals by Chr.De Michel

‘CAGED’ – William Blake … 1757-1827

‘Caged Beauty’ … Pen&Ink – WHB – 1981

FROM: ‘ Auguries of Innocence’

BY . . . William Blake

“ . . . A Robin Redbreast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.
A dove house fill’d with doves and pigeons
Shudders Hell thro’ all its regions.
A Dog starv’d at his Master’s Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State.
A Horse misus’d upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fiber from the Brain does tear . . . ”

William Blake … Poet & Artist  … 1757-1827

LANGUOR

Bruton, Somerset . . .  Pen & Wash – WHB – 2016

Contentment suffuses the scene
And peace lies softly on the land
Life languishes in its grip
Labour held in thrall to lassitude
Neglectful now of endeavour.

In the calm
Of the midday sun
The farm sleeps on
Parading its contentment
Revealing its accord
With its heritage
By just being there
Seemingly throughout time
Amid the rolling fields
Savouring
The languor of a lazy day
The serenity
Of a sublime summer

The quiet joy of existence
Tells more of peace
Than a thousand pacts
Life lived
In alliance with nature
Endowing us with serenity.

FOUR HAIKU – ONE STORY

The sun’s open arms 
Embrace the emerging day
Seeking lost sunbeams

Clutching at ripe fruit
Ever hoping to regain
Spent and mislaid strength

Hopeless task to set
Once spent never recovered
Now feeding our homes

Caught by our panels
Sustained by the human race
Lost to Mother Earth

The pen & wash sketches are by WHB  (aka Roland).  In order they are of …


Top:  South Bishop Lighthouse, Pembrokeshire, Wales (1993);
Centre:  An English Dawn . . . (1991)
Bottom:  Lamlash and Holy Isle, Isle of Arran, Firth of Clyde, Scotland … (2001)

Two Londons

View from Decimus Burton’s Wellington Arch, Hyde Park Corner,  Adrian Jones’s sculpture of ‘The Angel of Peace Descending in the Quadriga of War’ (Watercolour – WHB)

LONDON  2017

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-Seven Dial early 19th Century – Sketches by Boz

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

Dreamland

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones …’The Sleeping Beauty’ 1871

DREAMLAND

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

to me that remains a mystery.

OUR VIKING FOREFATHERS

The Vikings . . . Embroidery by Eileen Phelps – 2013

OUR VIKING FOREFATHERS

(Or perhaps it should be ‘FiveFathers’?)

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.

NOTES:

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.

. . . And Then There Were Four

London, Victoria Embankment, late 19th Century … Pen & Wash – WHB – 2014

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.

CRICKET … LOVELY CRICKET

‘Watching Cricket’ . . .  Watercolour . . . WHB – 2001

With my dog and my lunch and my wife by my side

I’ll go watch the cricket today I decide.

The sun it is shining, a book in my hand,

I’m ready to watch the lads make a stand.

In the trees now the birds, they natter and chatter,

Makes me feel sleepy but what does that matter.

 I see deep square leg take a wonderful catch,

But then fall asleep for the rest of the match.

They missed my support, but I’m quite happy now,

I can go back to sleep ‘cos we won anyhow.

. .. and talking about Cricket, I am reminded of that great joyful Calypso – all the rage in my youth! (now you know how old I am!)

You can join me in enjoying it once again in this YouTube video  . . .