Thoughts on a Dead Leaf

It fell
Green life
Extinguished
Time passed
Slowly
It diminished
To its scaffolding
Intact beauty still
New life
Surviving
In the skeleton
Beneath the skin
Revealing the grace
Which had upheld
Its existence
Its structure
Naked now
Spine-bold
Ram-rod straight
Not dead now
Nor even dying
Instead
Skin shed
A statement
Of creation’s power
Holding its tendrils
Steady
In firm formation
Awaiting its
Next chapter

Not yet shredded
Not yet dust
This tomography
Call it a CAT scan
Delving into
Nature’s
secret world
Revealing
The truth
Of whence
Its green strength
Derived

Thus
As our own surface
Erodes
Do we achieve
The same beauty?
Do we secrete
Analogous
New life
Beneath the old?
We leaves
Fallen from life’s tree
Shrivelled
Our essence revealed
In our skeletal remains
Proud-structured
Until
The next stage
And eventual
Severance
From what we have been
Transmogrified
To further service
In replenishing
New life forms
Our fruition in
The new spring’s bloom
Blossom and leaves

There has to be beauty
In death
As in life
Decay
Does not doom us to death
Rather
There is a beauty in death
The leaf ceased to be
A leaf
But became
Something else
And its beauty remained
It merely
Continued
Into a transmuted life
Its fate
As our own
To be
Continued existence

For death is but a metaphor
For new life

All photographs . . .  by WHB – 2016

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

LIFE FORCE – ONE

LIFE  FORCE – ONE

When shadow turns to substance 
In the still of morning’s birth, 
Then once again I wonder 
How much my life is worth.

 Have I in the scheme of things 
At last outlived my time?
I want to last a fair span yet,
To hope is not a crime.

 I long to do a thousand things 
I’ve not had time to do, 
But is that just a selfish wish 
I’m not entitled to?

 So many of my friends have gone,
Lives past while mine’s still here. 
Do I deserve more time on earth, 
Or is my ending near?

 Such morbid thoughts occur to me 
More frequently each day. 
I rush to pack more living in, 
No halt, pause or delay.

 Despite the limits on my life 
My time is filled with actions. 
Yet still my mind frets at the thought 
Of those un-lived attractions.

 Why am I selfishly intent 
On hurtling to nirvana, 
Grasping at each passing chance 
More enhanced life to garner?

 I could so quietly subside 
Into a life of ease; 
No rush, no great exigency 
My daemons to appease.

 Yet I am not content like that, 
I must remain on course, 
To stay with, in the time I’m left,
This imperative life force.


The two photographs were taken by me in London’s Roman Amphitheatre, which can be found in its restored state in the basement of the City of London Guildhall.

These Roman remains, thought to date to the 1st Century AD,  were discovered when the Guildhall Art Gallery was being re-developed in 1985.  The original structure could house over 7,000 spectators seated on tiered wooden benches in what would then have been the open air, where they watched the execution of criminals as well as fights, usually to the death, between wild animals and gladiators.

More can be discovered about these little-known remains of the Roman Londinium on the City of London website at:

London’s Roman Amphitheatre


 

The Lyke Wake Dirge

Aysgarth Church at dusk – Pen & Ink . . . WHB – 1981

The Lyke Wake Walk is a 40 mile walk which crosses the most extensive area of heather moorland in England – in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park.  When the walk was first instituted in the mid 20th Century the challenge was given to complete it within 24 hours.  Many walkers still attempt this.

Although the walk itself is a relatively modern event, the Like Wake itself originated as a funeral chant in the 14th Century in and around Cleveland on and around the northern scarp slope of these moors.  The Dirge as it was known, was normally sung during the traditional watch (wake) at the side of the corpse (lyke).  Known now as the Lyke Wake Dirge,  it is said to be one of the earliest still extant, dialect poems.

John Aubrey wrote in his diaries in 1686 “The beliefe in Yorkshire was amongst the vulgar (perhaps is in part still) that after the person’s death the soule went over Whinny-Moore, and till about 1616-24 at the funerale a woman came and sang the following song.”

Lyke Wake Dirge

This ae neet, this ae neet,
Every neet and all,
Fire an’ fleet an’ candleleet,
And Christ receive thy saul.

If thou from here our wake has passed,
Every neet and all,
To Whinny Moor thou comes at last,
And Christ receive thy saul.

And if ever thou gavest hosen or shoen,
Every neet and all,
Then sit ye down and put them on,
And Christ receive thy saul.

But if hosen or shoen thou ne’er gavest nane,
Every neet and all,
The whinny will prick thee to thy bare bane,
And Christ receive thy saul.

From Whinny Moor when thou mayst pass,
Every neet and all,
To Brig o’ Dread thou comest at last,
And Christ receive thy saul.

From Brig o’ Dread when thou may’st pass,
Every neet and all,
To Purgatory thou comest at last,
And Christ receive thy saul.

And if ever thou gavest meat or drink,
Every neet and all,
The fire will never make thee shrink,
And Christ receive thy saul

But if meat nor drink thou ne’er gav’st nane,
Every neet and all,
The fire will burn thee to thy bare bane,
And Christ receive thy saul.

This ae neet, this ae neet,
Every neet and all,
Fire an’ fleet an’ candleleet,
And Christ receive thy saul.

The following is an extract from ‘Lyke Wake Walk” by Bill Cowley . . .

“Wake” means the watching over a corpse, and “Lyke” is the corpse itself- as in the “lych” gate of a church-c/f. German “leich “. … there is no suggestion that corpses were carried over the Lyke Wake Walk, and the connection between Walk and Dirge is merely that members of the first party to do the Walk, like many who have done it since, finding themselves in the middle of Wheeldale Moor at 3 a.m. felt a great sympathy with all the souls who have to do such a crossing, and a real affection for the poetry of the Dirge-its stark simplicity, repetitions, and dramatic power. Perhaps only those who have crossed Wheeldale or Fylingdales Moors with storm and darkness threatening can fully appreciate the beauty of the Lyke Wake Dirge.

For a sung version of this ancient poem – by Pentangle, click on the YouTube link below . . . Lyke Wake Dirge

Haworth Churchyard at dusk – Yorkshire  … Pen & Ink – WHB – 1983

Skulls – A Halloween Meditation

A West Country Skull . . Photo: WHB2021

What better encapsulates
Life’s end
Dust to bone
In resolution
IlAnticipated
Never remembered
Indescribable experience
Expressed in an image

In memoriam
Deferring to Absent Guests
I give you
The Skull beneath the skin
The Quick extolling The Dead
A cadaverous resurrection
Memento More
Become Death’s Head
Where Is Thy Sting?
Heads You Lose
Tails? – I win
Bone Dry
Let Us. Pray.
All Bone – No Meat
Jolly Roger – Old Codger
Jammy Dodger
Brolly Bodger
Death’s Sting
Is corpsing
And, pared to the Bone,
Becomes Life’s Detritus
Leftover leftovers
Smile Of The Devil
Halloween’s halo
All Done and Dusted
Life’s slipstream
Dracula The Goth
Moonshine pale
Reborn as Life’s Dust
What Remains
Only the Death Mask
Wool Skull
To numb skull
Skullduggery again
Rebirthing as
Cranium geranium
Bonehead!

A Death I Die

Loch Earn, Scotland

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow.

T.S. Eliot (The Journey of the Magi)

I wrote this poem, as I did several of my recently blogged poems, many years ago.
In ‘A Death I Die’ below the sober thoughts reflect a dark  mood,  the reason for which I now have no recollection.   For me, at the time of writing, they obviously represented the Shadow, that halfway house between knowing and not-knowing,
between what is and what might be,
between Eliot’s ‘the motion and the act’.

A DEATH I DIE

I have no heart for selfish love
that starts and ends with flesh.
It leads along an endless path,
it binds, compels afresh.

There is a sort of death I die;
Am killed and kill myself.
I am alone in this. I am a willing suicide.
I go on a journey bearing my own end.

This death is a habit, a nasty selfish habit
I know and hate it.
I both give and receive.
The giving is good
– but also a habit.

Receiving – an infinite regression.
We plan the means and the end is all.
Purgatory is the cemetery, time the resurrection.
And All is planned that This should be so.

THE JOYOUS DEAD

The souls of the dead are out for the night;
Relieved of life’s burdens, no cares in their world.
They’ve cast off their dresses, their suits and their coats.
They’ve shed their repressions, their shrouds now unfurled.

Yes, the souls of the dead are alive in this graveyard
They relish their freedom from exigent life.
It’s a long time since spirits were body and flesh,
And bound by a lifetime’s perpetual strife.

Their skulls and their cross-bones – now symbols of joy;
No more are they bound up by sinews and  flesh.
At last they are free to enjoy independence,
Instead of entangled in life’s viscous mesh.

The gravestones that tumble aren’t suffering from age,
But signs that life’s shadows from death have arisen,
And now are quite free to enjoy their repose;
No longer locked up in Life’s sepulchral prison.

‘Tis weird to think that those re-incarnated
Are liking their life in the desolate grave.
They’re loving their freedom to scare and to haunt
To curdle the blood and to panic the brave.

The ghosts of the past are there in the air
And hugely enjoying their spirited life
Their terminal death has brought to an end
Their fear of the gun, the rope and the knife.

They’re dancing on graves where their bodies were buried
Carousing as though not a netherworld care
‘Tis different from life all bedevilled with worries
Less urgent and pressing than work to be fair.

They hide when the day comes of course, as you know,
They do need to re-charge their unworldly spirits
To ready the next bout of haunting and mirth
For them now there aren’t any rational limits.

Crepuscular light is enough for their congress
With help from the thunder, the wind, and the lightning,
They frolic and haunt, enjoying the moment;
The wraiths, spooks and demons intent on their frightening.

The banshees and devils all join in the fun,
The shades and the vampires, the ghouls and the phantoms,
The wraiths with the zombies, kelpies and ghosts
Give vent to their passions in furious tantrums.

So do not despair when you‘re laid in the ground
A new life will certainly sprout from your ashes
A life full of spirit, of new spectral bliss
A bonus when mortal life finally passes.

The photographs used to illustrate this poem were all taken by me over a period of several years at churchyards in Surrey and in Devon, U.K.

Stop The Clocks

W.H.Auden … Pen & Sepia Wash: WHB – 2001

FUNERAL  BLUES by W.H.AUDEN

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. 

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves. 

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Auden composed two versions of this poem.  This, the most popular version, was composed in 1938.  It was written to be sung by the soprano Hedli Anderson in a setting by Benjamin Britten.  It is now frequently used in funeral services, particularly since It was widely popularised in the 1994 British romantic comedy film ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’.

The pen and wash drawing above was made by me in 200. 
It is of Auden when in his sixties.

Stanley Spencer – A Happy Resurrection

Photograph of Spencer at work in Cookham Village … by WHB . . . 1957

Stanley Spencer, CBE RA (1891 – 1959)was an English painter. Shortly after leaving the Slade School of Art, Spencer became well known for his paintings depicting Biblical scenes occurring as if in Cookham, the small village beside the River Thames where he was born and spent much of his life. Wikipedia

The sleepers awake
from an imagined death
A teasing adventure in insubstantial earth

Pram pusher extraordinaire
in the Village that lit up his life
inspired his vision
Trundled easel hearse
put to work in progress
To see, to feel, to breathe
destiny on the village green
The past become the present
resurrected in tranquillity
Life-lite under the churchyard yew
this moulded flesh – full featured
bringing joy from the stern grave
Life’s resurrection imagined
in hope and the churchyard
in his eyes and his pigment
Drawn and deified
Death and Resurrection as Spring
As buttercups in the greenest of fields.


The sleepers awake
from an imagined death
A pleasing adventure in insubstantial earth

Stanley Spencer: ‘The Resurrection, Cobham … 1924-27. Tate Gallery