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letter on the Upper Nile

  letter on the Upper Nile

     And taking our your letter under dusk's long firmament

     I let the words you wrote fly upwards like fleeing birds,

     And high among their fellow birds they swung and swirled

     And wove the whole deep sky into a single garment seamless

     Of blue gone to black and star-gold, in which we two were furled.

     So we lay all that night, wrapped in your canopy of words.

     And all that was created wild, river and rock and air,

     Lay in complicity with us: the water swirled the stone,

     Found out its crevices, the river's bed a bed

     For lovers; and air lay with earth and made a fervent pair.

The torrents of our eyes spated the water, our love-sighs fed

The wind, and in our triumph nothing was loveless or alone.

winter’s morning

winter's morning

What is this love to you? – no more
Than a web woven of parting and absence,
A cradle the frost spins for evanescence
And fixes at three trembling points or four
Between reed and reed at the lake's brink
On a winter's morning? Or do you see
Us two linked only by fragile tracery
Of long-wintered beeches? Or think
We run ripples on the lake?

Patternings
As frail as these have a place in nature, 
Vanishing always between past and future, 
And in love to is a place for yearnings
And in torture of wind in the web and high
Mockery of leafless twigs. 

But where am I? 
O come and find me where the rock gives birth
In the deep luxurious hollows of the earth
And find me in the boles of mighty trees. 
Find me and love me in the mosses of my ease
Where lusty roots and limbs timelessly  writhe, 
Where our long summer's buried but alive. 

at our destination

at our destination

Do you know there are two roads?
We take them both. 
We take the hard highway, scuffing the gravel
With determined stride; and with us travel
Innumerable friends and strangers, loath
Within the crowd to hazard separation
On the sun-drummed route towards a destination
Not one of us shall ever reach. 

But you and I
Take also another road that the high-grassed fell
Hides from the mob – a pathway plunging in a dell
Undergrown too deep for any raiding eye
to delve our leaf-funnelled passage. 

Darling girl, 
Here in this tree-borne birdsong and the hollow curl
Of water at our feet, we two can stray
Where we will – at destination all the way. 

trees’ end

trees' end

       We seem to know
the place already, meeting at the tree's end. 
Have our ancestors been here? Each
know the path the other had come by, 
though I'd not tracked through your bright fields
nor you my woods. 

We seemed to know
that something was expected, 
and we found we loved
neither was surprised
but only glad this was the place
our blood remembered a thousand years
since we were children first.

The flowering weed

the flowering weed

For generations we had waited
as incomplete as all the others standing in their doorways.
And even yet we steal each other, 
a double theft, my Lara, your Zhivago –
our love illicit, not a garden flower
but a flowering weed that grew
brilliantly in crevices of rock
long before man ever cleared a plot of ground
and planted by intent.

Evolutionary Poems

Poems of Primality

We are all crumbs

We are all crumbs,
fallen from the Master’s table,
such Mastery as made this rock
and water made
and wind, sun, dust, detritus, silt.
These were gifts
indifferently surveyed
and we, we covert motions
creviced and murked and damp,
we swellings in the mud, we
glomerates, we gave back buds
and flowers, mosses, love.
Yea, love we showed him,
brandished love to Him preoccupied
with universal things,
knelt, bowed, on our provincial planet
demanding mercy.

                                      One of us
within our sedimentary nests
claimed him not Master but
Abba, Father, claimed and proclaimed
and so proclaiming died and rose
sealing at the wood crux
(where dimensions touch, eternity and time)
a pact of blood and water
between the fluke of Him and us.

We are his crumbs, we diamonds are
from his terranean carbon ranges,
tiny and rare, treats for his cheek.
And of his million million fires
we ring the smoke about the iris of our eyes
 His love to recognise.


Who are these, fur-capped

Who are these we come across fur-capped
At the roadside, staved, suspicious, wrapped
Against an adversary we are not acquainted with exactly –
Wary of lowlanders, never first to speak,
Yet responding to our greeting and (in the basic mode)
Sharing our lingo?

If not in line of time our ancestors,
Surely it is these that took our past
Up by the sunless tributary gullies,
Difficult to pass and single file for goats,
To what were once pastures in most parched
High summertime, and settled there above
The treeline, not for a season, but
To live and die.

The younger men trespass down,
With a few hides and artefacts of bone.
For a single day, or a day and a night’s unrest
Lodged at the town’s edge, their zest
Gone absent, narrow-eyed, observing little,
Watchful for exploitation, trickery and the derision
Of our children.

Then they are away again for another year, on foot,
Squatting at the roadside to regroup their hearts,
Rising hesitantly as our vehicle decelerates ...
Swart, monkey-faced, smelling of old smoke,
Uncertain if to smile or be on guard
Upon the currency (for ornament), salt, tobacco,
Peppers and white sugar in the warm
Darkness of their clothing.

On our return they are gone, we suppose
Moved off between high grasses on a trail we never noticed
Half a day’s tramp to where the mountains start
And their legends of precipitous routes by tree-cramped
Torrent. Then the bared steeps where their turf huts
Crouch windowless against the cold
That slays their frail each winter, an adversary
We are not acquainted with
Exactly.

                      Were these not they of the simple life
Whom we townsmen, sophisticates, boulevardiers,
Affect to envy?


On gazing upon cars nose-to-tail in Snowdonia

Coming by iron he moved the frontiers of his pride. 
First building furnaces in bellowed clefts,
He made the rock weep copper. From continents apart, Brothers brought tin, and fangled bronze
To glint his awed submissive soul and question
Supremacy of forest, star and beast. 

Coming by iron, he moved the frontiers of his pride. 
God became smith, fabricating sanctity, 
And soon the clad wheel trundled his vulcan powers
Across all surfaces of land, until this day
Where steel snake-shackles his latter globe
And fangs back starving soul from dark
Deep-circled mysteries of forest, beast and star. 

Easter Story

If that day he did not die
Yet slept only, 
Yesu Nazarene, 
A sleep so clean
And total deep
It took breath and beat, 
To awake in vault
Tenebrous and cold
And by his own shoulder
Rolled back the boulder
Rousing the watch-by-night
to funk and flight ...
If from sepulchral portal 
Self-beguiled immortal
Stepped he in dawning garden –
Heart! do not harden
Against the glory
of a Saviour for a story
Credulous disciple
Took and told as gospel. 

How, how shall Truth be tellable
Else but be parable
Or ever Word made Knowledge
But is dislodged
A fraction into fiction?

On Faith and Art – St George’s Church, 30 October 2018

The Resurrection by Piero della Francesca

You are never so much yourself
as when you lose yourself.

Lecture at St George’s Church,
Campden Hill, on 30 October 2018

I have brought you here under false pretences.  The title of this series is Exploring Faith Through the Arts. But what I intend to do is re-define Faith and re-define Art … and perhaps thereby (and by God’s grace) discern what is taking place between these two fundamental realities. I shall project for you no pictures (though I shall refer to some which are already familiar of have been made familiar by the valuable talks we have had so far). I shall be quoting passages from certain writers and from Scripture. But I don’t want to hang this talk on visual or verbal or aural samples of art from art’s vast panoply but, rather, keep upon the plane of ideas, of theological and philosophic perception. Continue reading “On Faith and Art – St George’s Church, 30 October 2018”

‘Old men ought to be explorers …’ – Wotton Society (Eton) 70th Anniversary Speech

Tom Stacey’s 88th birthday on January 11, 2018 was the date selected for the celebration at Eton College of the 70th anniversary of his foundation of Wotton’s Society (in the field of philosophy), with a dinner hosted by the Provost of Eton, the The Rt Hon Lord Waldegrave, at which Tom Stacey was guest-of-honour and gave the following speech without recourse to notes: Continue reading “‘Old men ought to be explorers …’ – Wotton Society (Eton) 70th Anniversary Speech”