The Gipsy's Camp

How oft on Sundays, when I'd time to tramp,
My rambles led me to a gipsy's camp,
Where the real effigy of midnight hags,
With tawny smoked flesh and tattered rags,
Uncouth-brimmed hat, and weather-beaten cloak,
Neath the wild shelter of a knotty oak,
Along the greensward uniformly pricks
Her pliant bending hazel's arching sticks:
While round-topt bush, or briar-entangled hedge,
Where flag-leaves spring beneath, or ramping sedge,
Keeps off the bothering bustle of the wind,
And give the best retreat she hopes to find.
(excerpt) Posted by Picasa

The Village Minstrel - XLVII

And as the load jogg'd homeward down the lane,
When welcome night shut out the toiling day,
Following he mark'd the simple-hearted swain;
Joying to listen, on his homeward way,
While rest's warm rapture rous'd the rustic's lay,
The thread-bare ballad from each quavering tongue,
As "Peggy Band," or the "Sweet month of May":
Oh how he joy'd to hear each "good old song,"
That on night's pausing ear did echo loud and long.

Peggy Band she is my jewel,
My heart lies in her breast,
Although we are at a distance,
I still love her the best.
Although we are at a distance,
And the seas between us roar,
I'll be constant to my Peggy,
And so adieu for evermore.
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The Frightened Ploughman

[Image - Carry Akroyd]

I went in the fields with the leisure I got,
The stranger might smile but I heeded him not,
The hovel was ready to screen from a shower,
And the book in my pocket was read in an hour.

The bird came for shelter, but soon flew away;
The horse came to look, and seemed happy to stay;
He stood up in quiet, and hung down his head,
And seemed to be hearing the poem I read.

The ploughman would turn from his plough in the day
And wonder what being had come in his way,
To lie on a molehill and read the day long
And laugh out aloud when he'd finished his song.

The pewit turned over and stooped oer my head
Where the raven croaked loud like the ploughman ill-bred,
But the lark high above charmed me all the day long,
So I sat down and joined in the chorus of song.

The foolhardy ploughman I well could endure,
His praise was worth nothing, his censure was poor,
Fame bade me go on and I toiled the day long
Till the fields where he lived should be known in my song.
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Summer Images (excerpt)

I love to walk the fields, they are to me
A legacy no evil can destroy;
They, like a spell, set every rapture free
That cheered me when a boy.
Play--pastime--all time's blotting pen concealed,
Comes like a new-born joy,
To greet me in the field.

For nature's objects ever harmonize
With emulous taste, that vulgar deed annoys;
It loves in quiet moods to sympathize,
And meet vibrating joys
Oer nature's pleasant things; nor will it deem
Pastime the muse employs
A vain obtrusive theme.
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Word from Wormingford - Ronald Blythe

We sit by Roger's deathbed, Alison, Vicki, and I. It is late Sunday afternoon, with the heatwave fading; and Roger lies against a white mountain of pillows. The little window opens on to the mite of grass and the cool moat in whch Roger swam all the year round, writing the preface, as it were, for his strenuous masterpiece Waterlog.

Now he whispers, his familiar voice a kind of human susurration in tune with aspen leaves, and we listen hard to catch his words. He looks, if anything, rather astonished, as do we in our different ways.

When he drove from his ancient farmhouse to mine, he would bring a present: a fine cup, a fine grapefruit sapling he had grown from a pip, and once a wonderful new scythe from Stowmarket. Now and then, we were made to stand side by side at literature festivals and talk about the countryside; and he would laugh, because, he said, I used complete sentences, the kind you read.

And now his light flickers, every now and then flaring into his old self, every now and then on the verge of going out. The rough draft for the jacket of his last book slips on the coverlet. It is called Wildwood: A walk through trees.

I have brought John Clare's poems with me. I read the one that Ted Hughes read in Poets' Corner when we put up a memorial to him. It is called "The Nightingale's Nest", and it describes Clare being torn between his need to come close to the sitting bird and his longing not to scare it. How can he communicate his not being like other men or, rather, boys?

It is a long poem, and Roger's ears, I realise, are not at all dying at this moment. He is listening to Clare as keenly as we listened together to the nightingales at Tiger Hill. Both John Clare and John Keats - they knew of each other and shared the same publisher - believed that the nightingale "lived on song".

Clare was the greater naturalist, and knew all about those physical things that produced the music, the dense coverage below the trees in Royce Wood, the secret nest -

. . . no other bird
Uses such loose materials or
Their dwellings in such spots
- dead oaken leaves
Are placed without and velvet
moss within,
And little scraps of grass -
and scant and spare
Of what seems scarce
materials, down and hair ...

Walnut Tree Farm, the home that Roger re-created from abandoned materials, has always reminded me of how men, long ago, and maybe even today, had a nest in mind when they looked around for a house. It hides away in foliage that brings secrecy to a vast open common. Going to see him there has often made me think of centuries of spun-out villagers, as anxious to discover what is going on in nests not their own as Clare was when creeping towards his revered nightingale, terrified that she would hear him and her song would be cut short by "choaking fear".

Only a year or two ago, I had heard Roger Deakin recording the creaks and bumps of Walnut Tree Farm on the radio, and the rivery sounds of the Waverney, perfect scraps of nature's conversation. Could we, perhaps, hear John Donne's prayer? The one about the house in which there will be "no noise nor silence, but one equal music . . . no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity"? And thus we kiss and leave.

(Church Times - 1st September 2006) Posted by Picasa


... for a week. See you on the 13th?


The Fens (excerpt)

[Carry Akroyd's "Fenscape Edge"]

Wandering by the river's edge,
I love to rustle through the sedge
And through the woods of reed to tear
Almost as high as bushes are.
Yet, turning quick with shudder chill,
As danger ever does from ill,
Fear's moment ague quakes the blood,
While plop the snake coils in the flood
And, hissing with a forked tongue,
Across the river winds along.
In coat of orange, green, and blue
Now on a willow branch I view,
Grey waving to the sunny gleam,
Kingfishers watch the ripple stream
For little fish that nimble bye
And in the gravel shallows lie.

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