Category Archives: Poetry

Storm Hector and the Garden

Sit with me, Buddha-like, and contemplate

While gusty winds buffet grannies’ bonnets

Foxglove bells bend to ring their tocsin

But resolute roses refuse to shed blooms

Twenty foot elders  with white clusters sway

Like sea kelp in in a fast running current

Claws tight on a twig, a troglodyte wren

Wrestles the gusts, looks them full in the face.

In the thick angry, grey background of clouds

Little windows of blue begin to wink

With a promise of better things to come.

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Sublime to Ridiculous at the Tennis Club

Two young women, nymphs in white peploi,

Play a deliciously languid tennis game.

They flit across the court like butterflies

Making unlikely contacts with the ball.

Occasionally, perchance, maybe not,

A skirt lifts to reveal a flash of lacy colour

Like blue veined underwings of the cabbage white.

 

On the next court two men, in their forties,

Filling out their t-shirts to bursting point,

Play a lethargic, almost leaden game.

But in their minds they’re playing power tennis,

In a mixed doubles match with the young women

And serving aces while holding in their bellies

In distinct danger of losing their shorts.

Harry Wells

Comments and critiques welcome

 

 

 

Requiem for a Hedgehog

The hedgehog population of Britain has declined from approximately  36.5 million in the 1950’s to less than 1 million today

hedgehog 2

Through moonlit meadows and lonely leys

Soft woven by forebears since primeval days

She followed by instinct the ancient furrows

Where she weaned her young in leafy burrows.

But all her byways have been turned to clay

All trace of her nursery blasted away

Raped by the thrust of motorway makers

Who turned virgin greensward to hard-metalled acres.

Now all that there is of her mortal remains,

Prickles and pools of bloody red stains

Is seen in headlamps and felt as a bump

As the motorist passes the little brown lump

Defences of nature once so secure

Failed to protect her from light’s lethal lure.

Harry Wells

Comments and critiques are welcome

Spring – A Military Allegory

Narrative

This morning I sat on my garden bench. For a short time the sun came from behind a dark cloud and I felt its warmth. My eyes were caught by a rank of snowdrops, brave insurgents striving to break winter’s pincer grip. Daffodils nodded agreement in the sharp wind. A robin burst out with his tic tic tic tst. This could be spring, I thought. And so to: 

Pennant

Snowdrops peek first over the parapet

Scouts for an army hidden in the trenches,

Pathfinders, first footers, feeling out the terrain,

To confirm conditions before signalling the advance. 

Spear tips appear, white pennants of the advancing host,

The initial task force, the vanguard visiting every nook

For a foothold, a foxhole of security between the trees,

For crocuses fearful of frost the deadly foe. 

Aconites, yellow berets already over the top,

The shock troops of the occupying forces fill pockets

Of resisting soil and open opportunities for the rear guard

Of daffodils to trumpet the taking of the salient. 

Now is the time for posses of primroses, ranks of tall tulips

Hyacinths, narcissus brazen in their colours,

Free from frost if fortune so favours, to celebrate

That for six sweet months the war with winter is over.

Harry Wells

Comments and Critiques are Welcome

 

 

Helgha of Heorot – Sketch of the Plot

Helgha-Ewer2I’ve been working on my piece associated with Beowulf and his times, ‘Helgha of Heorot‘. It’s my attempt to look at life for women in Anglo Saxon times with particular reference to common women. I exclude noble women on the grounds that the misogyny of the age affected them less.

The story line: Helgha, a servant girl in Heorot, the great hall of the king, is raped by the nobleman Unferth. Helgha does not, in any nobleman’s view, deserve any sympathy or support.

Her father, the blacksmith, determined to get justice, goes to the hall where he is struck by Unferth for not knowing his station in life. Being an old man the smith dies. Helgha goes on living with her mother at the smithy. She gives birth to a boy whom she calls Breca after Beowulf’s friend. She does this to spite Unferth who is an enemy of Beowulf.

Helgha vows that she will never tell Unferth that he is the father. She is afraid that Unferth might seize the boy and to bring him up at court. Secretly she yearns for vengeance.

She is presented with one problem in connection with all these ideas because Unferth suspects that the boy is his. The other problem is that she wants revenge for herself and for her father’s death at Unferth’s hands.

Also she has to earn a living and is obliged to choose between field work and serving at the court again. She chooses the former in order to avoid contact with Unferth.
However, the nobleman begins to show some apparently kind intentions towards Helgha when he sees her. Helgha worries that he might really have an unreciprocated liking for her or that he is doing it just to get the boy.

Unferth begins to hang around the smithy and leaves presents for the boy that Helgha will not pick up but soon, as he grows, Breca wants the presents. He gets on well with Unferth when Helgha isn’t around.

Helgha is beginning to feel herself in a moral dilemma. What would her fate be if Unferth got the boy? Can she really proceed with her desire to kill Unferth just when Breca is getting on well with Unferth and enjoys the father figure image that he presents? If she carried on with her desire to kill, how would she do it?
While Helgha tarries Fate takes a hand.

Click here to read the poem “Helgha in Heorot”

Helgha In Stone

Helgha of Heorot

Glossary

Gæo ā wyrd swā hio scel – fate- wyrd-will take its course
Heorot – Hall of the Stag – the king’s great hall
Sleipner – Odin’s six-legged horse
Thane – A nobleman
Vidar son of Odin and god of vengeance
Wyrd – fate
‘Til we are called by Him//carolling our joy (a later Christian addition)
As we enter His Hall/of heavenly splendour (as opposed to Heorot’s earthly splendour)

Click here to read further background information on this poem.

Helgha in Heorot

Part 1

Waes  Hael,

‘The boasting you have heard, the braggarts’ tales in Heorot.
How warriors, sword in hand wilfully come to blows,Helgha-Ewer
Vie and settle slights with violence and anger.
For fame’s sake even slay friends of yesterday.

Nobles of the mead bench making merry while
Mean churls, lesser folk lead lives of want.
Thus declared Helgha daughter of Magan,
Iron bending smith, smiter of anvils,
Whose mighty muscles melded white hot steel
Into swords and arms for these self-styled heroes.

To that earthly hall of Heorot fame
Was Helgha sent to be skivvy, drudge
In scullery and kitchen and called upon
To serve maudlin thanes merry at mead bench,
Fuddled in their boasting full of vainglory.

There was Helga harassed serving at Heorot, Hall of the Stag
Lustfully eyed by the thane Unferth, leering in drink
Peepholes blazing bloodshot with desire,
Watched by lords who laughed unseemly
At the lust unloosed by Unferth who
Spread the maid across the board, breached her maidenhead
Amid laughing shouts and Helgha’s cries of anguish.

Magan, once mighty muscled smith, smiter of anvils Smith
Father of Helgha, furious in anger and swift
As Odin’s Sliepnir, the god’s steel shod mount,
Magan stormed into Heorot, sought redress
To avenge dishonour for this deed of violence
On his daughter Helgha now heavy with child unborn.

At Heorot’s door of holm oak and mighty,
Stood the fond father, furnace eyed
Smithy fresh from the forge unslaked.
Spoke Magan, ‘Which is he, despoiler?
I’ll not call him man, this mauler of women.
He’s all mouth and bluster, with the manners of a rutting pig’.
Magan, fire tempered, furious for vengeance
Yelled his call charging cowardice on him
The violator of maidens, of manhood unworthy,
Unferth, craven, incapable sot he called him.
At this strutted out Unferth straight from the throng,
Arrogant, resentful at aspersions such as these
Cast on his manliness mouthed angry threats.
The lords watched for what might happen.

Without warning Unferth waiting no longer Man
Struck a middling blow straight to Magan’s head
With the flat of his sword, not deigning to fight a thrall.
His brain case buffeted Magan, bleeding, rose no more.
Now the might of his muscled sinews fled
Weakened by age as we all must be,
‘Til we are called by Him, carolling our joy
As we enter His Hall of heavenly splendour.’
At this time so answered Magan that summons divine.
Ðæt wæs gōd fæder. He was a good father.

So Helgha mourned, heavy with Unferth’s seed,
Plump with promise in her belly and poison in her mind.
She bore her son, swore silence on his parentage
The lineage of the boy Breca, bastard son of Unferth,
That bestial implanter of impious unwanted seed,
Wished Unferth’s potency to wither never a father to be again.
His punishment, her revenge to renew for all his lifetime.
Thus vowed Helgha by Vidar god of justiceBaby in Basket

Part 2

Hard times lingered in the low dwelling
Of Magan’s widow, child minder of Breca
While Helgha worked wearily, full of care,
Became the butt of jests from braggart thanes.
Yet Helgha smiled within, kept her secret vow,
Fermenting in her mind a fearful bitter must,
More sweet than mead, to her sorrow more fitting.

After making merry at Heorot Unferth makes sheep’s eyes  field
At Helgha, looking fondly following her at fieldwork,
Some finer sense he awakened maybe of pride in fatherhood
A yearning to know the boy kin begotten by him.
Yet she disdains Unferth, denies advances abruptly,
Never weakening her intent to wreak vengeance upon him
Vowing by Vidar son of valiant Odin

There came the day Unferth could deny no longer
His urge to see the boy, to bear his body high,
Praise Odin in thanks, revel in paternal joy.

From the woods nearby warily he spied
Upon Breca, two years old at his boyish play.
Now did Unferth yearn and yielding to his heart
Squatted by Breca on the squaddy earth
Intent on tousling his hair and talking to the lad.
But not today was his wish, his dream, to be granted.

Helgha ran and seized her bairn snatching him
From Unferth’s embrace, unwilling to allow
His father, denying him the details of his parentage.

There came a day when Breca now a boy of five years,
Asked Helgha saying ‘Mother, who is my father?
Other boys I play with call me bastard of Unferth.
I have fought them fearlessly from shame.
Helgha wept at her helpless state

One day Unferth stormed into the Smithy, his eyes seething with purpose.
Intent to snatch the boy. he seizes Breca from Helgha’s arms.
Fierce as Grendel’s mother Helgha fought the fiendish lord,
Flailed her fists, howled like a banshee. Back she shoved ‘til he slipped
Unbalanced against the anvil his head pierced by the horn.
Thus his curses lighted on his own head
With the just hand of the god upon him

Vengeance like the wheel, like fate, Wird, tells us;
What goes around again will come around.
Gæo ā wyrd swā hio scel
He who kills by steel by steel will die.

 

Aegishjalmur

 

 

 

Beowulf Verse Forms

Waes Hael

Each line is divided into two with a break called a caesura. (unmarked)
Ideally there should be two stressed syllables in each half line.

The verse is accentual – counted by beats rather than syllables with two beats in every half line. There is no syllable count.

Alliteration is frequent but different to the modern form. A stressed word in the second half (but never the last word) alliterates with either of the stressed words in the first half.

Kennings are frequent:
Genitive kennings – Heaven’s jewel meaning the sun or if plural the stars
Metaphorical – Swan road – the sea, wave cutter – a ship, widow maker – a weapon.

Antithesis often used – as it was in the beginning so it will be or is in the end, i.e. ’The king had his way with her but in the end the maid gets her justice’, often this might be natural justice.

Comic understatement almost sardonic.

Parallelism – As the beginning was to the people so the end would be to their lord.
Synonyms and epithets – profusion is the rule.

Epithet – a descriptive word that replaces an actual name such as Sven Forkbeard, Haral Hairy Pants. There’s a local example in the village of Brockelsby. (Brocks – Brockless). An unfortunate man who goes down in history because he lost his breeches.

Sentences that are slow to advance are typical often because of verbal peregrinations and repetitions often occur.

Now and again after a long piece there is a terse statement like ‘He was a good king’ or as in Hamlet after a procrastination ‘He was a man for all that’. ‘ as in the Yorkshire ‘Aye, he were alreight, he were’.

The Metre
‘The fell and the fen//his fastness was’. The first letter in the stressed syllable in the second half alliterates with one of the two stressed syllables in the first half or both. The last syllable in the second half never alliterates.

These verse forms from Beowulf are included in my poem “Helgha of Heorot” which can be read here.

 

 

 

A Hood for Jezebel

Kestrel Hood

I flew a falcon many years ago.
She came to me, two months old, an eyas,
As yet untrained to glove or lure or line
To begin those golden years together.

And soon, one glorious night I waked her;
Sat her on the glove while she stared past me
Wary, gimlet-eyed, ‘You will not fool me’.
Red eyed, I prepared for a sleepless night.

Suddenly she bated and I gently
Lifted her to my gloved fist; she stared on.
A second bating left her upside down
Hanging by her jesses, a wily ruse.

Come dawn she slept, I closed my red eyes+
I had sat out a dance with the morning star
And waked a falcon, who would stay with me
For two years of sweet companionship.

Glossary
Bating: When a hawk tries to fly off from the fist and you don’t want her to
Hawk bells: Attached to the hawk’s feet. These are best when cast in Lahore where the tin ore is impure. This gives a charactersitic tinkle, each bell being an octave less than the other.
The hood: to keep her calm when not flying or at her perch
Jesses: The leather restraining straps attached to the hawk’s feet
Line: The long twine attached to the legs during training flights
The lure:A piece of meat to encourage her to the fist after flying
Waking: In order to get the hawk to trust you, it is necessary for you to have her on your fist and sit all night without you going to sleep. Eventually, in the early morning and maybe after a few unsuccessful bates, she will close her eyes and sleep. Then she is yours for life.

Written in blank verse

Harry Wells

Comment and critiques welcome

Spectre with a Hood

Millet's Spectre
Most days I see him, the spectre with a hood.
Head and rounded shoulders bent as he walks,
No, trudges, the country road I always use
On my frequent forays into the town.
Clad in faded camouflage he carries
In one hand a plastic supermarket bag
While his shoulders tote a flaccid rucksack.
He is looking neither forward nor sideways,
But always downwards, he is oblivious
To the white cow parsley in the verges,
To the late blackthorn and the May blossom
Emerging from which a startled blackbird,
Cackling her alarm call, darts across his face.
I wish he knew that the birds sing for him too.
Such strange behaviour, I say to my friends
Who reply ‘He’s off for his free methadone’,
Dismissive as if this answer explains all.
I wonder what lost chances lie in his wake,
What bitter wind blew dust into his eyes
Or what errant gene it was that engendered
This fellow human being’s path of sorrow.
It’s just a platitude for sure I know
When I say ‘there but for God’s grace I go’.

Harry Wells
Composed in Blank Verse, that is: lines of ten or eleven syllables ending with a rhyming couplet.

The Patchwork Quilter

Log Cabin
She sits by the window for the best light,
Surrounded by a pile of folded quilts
That waits as if for the princess and the pea.
Her mouth, a quiverful of pins, permits
A muttered mmm mmm mmm if you should have
The nerve to ask, ‘What’s for dinner tonight’?

On a side table is a confusion,
Though she would deny it, of remnants, patches,
Scraps of cloth that have absorbed the essence
Of those who wore or laid out on the bed
A petticoat or perhaps a bridal gown
From which she’ll set out, yet unstitched, a quilt.

In her head, run tumbling blocks, fat quarters,
Cathedral windows, log cabin, lone star,
English piecing, nine patch, bear’s paw, pinwheel.
Disparate bits and pieces, yet from these,
The needlewoman makes with cotton thread,
From old and new, a counterpane for a bed.

Harry Wells

Comments welcome

I wrote this poem in ‘blank verse’; that is to say in lines of ten or eleven sylables ending with a rhyming couplet.