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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Vignette on the High Street

You know, there are some people you can’t help looking at. I don’t mean staring; just quietly taking them in as you might when you lean on a five barred gate looking at a rural scene.

She was the sort I am talking about. Not beautiful or even pretty. The French, who have an idiom translatable only with caution, would refer to her as une jolie laide, or having an indefinable Je ne sais quoi. It wasn’t just her face.

It was a very cold day. I had an appointment but I was early for it. I stood outside the Post Office rubbing my hands and stamping my feet in the chilly air when I saw her standing in a Stores doorway selling copies of ‘The Big Issue’. She offered the magazine with the usual cry: ‘Help the Homeless’ but it was with a shaky voice in an accent that surely came from Eastern Europe. Her wan aspect looked as if she entertained no hopes of selling many magazines.

I looked at the front page and then at her face. There I read :

‘I am alone, I am weak, I am away from home. Please help me’.

I bought the magazine for £2. Was there more I could have done?

Why didn’t I just give her a tenner? Later that day I was overcome with a mood of self-disgust.

Harry Wells

The Shop Window

Literary friends say that my prose doesn’t have enough dialogue so:

Saturday

It’s time they did something about that shop front.

‘Now what’s wrong with it’ chimes in my wife.

Well, it’s ugly. I know we live in a down town area but that’s no reason for leaving things looking like that.

‘You don’t have to look at it’

Yes I do and I think I’m entitled to sit in my chair looking through the window at the only view I have got without being disgusted.

‘It’s just an empty shop front. It doesn’t bother me and what are you going to get if somebody takes it on? I’ll tell you. Another betting shop, pawn shop or the inevitable charity shop.’

It’d be better than an empty space.

Monday

Aye, aye! It looks as if somebody’s moving in. There’s a big white van outside.

‘Whose van is it?’

Can’t see. Hold on, yes, it’s B and S. What do they do?

‘Ladies clothing’

Mmm!

The following Saturday

They’re moving mannequins in the window space. Hey, there’s a window dresser in there now in a black leotard. Good looking girl, nice and plump. That black leotard shows up her figure well.’

‘Oh yes! That’ll just suit you. I suppose everything’s going to be alright now.’

Sunday Morning

‘I’ve been thinking about this for ages, John. What our front room window needs is some pretty net curtains.’

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

 

 

 

Elysium

Elysium2

Precursor

Chapman describes, in blank verse, how Odysseus, washed up on the island of Calypso, and finds where:

”A grove grew
In endless spring about her cavern round
With odorous cypress, pines and poplars, crowned,
Where hawks, sea owls and long tongued bitterns bred,
And other birds their shady pinions spread.
All fowls maritimal: none roosted there
But whose labours in the water were.
A vine did all the hollow cave embrace,
Still green, yet some still-ripe bunches gave it grace.
Four fountains, one against another, poured
Their silver streams and meadows all enflowr’d
With sweet balm-gentle and blue violets hid,
That decked the soft breast of each fragrant mead.”

John Keats wrote his poem ‘On Looking into Chapman’s Homer with a similar leap of the heart’

Now my story…

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Elysium

Leading Seaman Johnson’s ears were roaring when he recovered once again from the stupor of days adrift on a life raft. His ship had been torpedoed by a Japanese submarine east of the Philippine Islands ten days before. The emergency rations and water lasted three days and he lasted two more days in the blazing sun before losing consciousness.

He had been recovering degrees of consciousness and slipping back into oblivion so often that he had lost all sense of time except that he was aware of the rotation of light and sunburn, and cold and darkness. He was in one of the states of unawareness when he realised that the surging and crashing noise he could hear was the sound of breakers. He let go and slid back with profound relief on the raft into the slumber of utter fatigue.

He half awoke to find himself being carried in somebody’s arms. Before slipping back again into a wave of nausea he thought that at least he hadn’t landed on this tropical shore only to be eaten by a komodo dragon. What might have been hours later he began to perceive light through half-opened eyes and felt the warmth of soft flesh on his face. He felt like a baby, perfectly secure while energy seemed to pervade every cell of his body. He breathed deeply and slept.

When he next woke he found to his astonishment that he was being suckled by a woman. He withdrew his mouth not knowing whether to continue or pretend to be sorry for a misdemeanour.

‘I feel like a baby’, he said. The woman had been waiting for him to speak. ‘Don’t worry’ said her soft voice. ‘You need sustenance, take it from me’. The speaker was the most beautiful woman Johnson had ever seen. Golden red hair, pale skin and clad in a loose white robe; she shone with kindness. He dropped into sleep again.

This infantile pattern continued for some days until Johnson could stay awake and look at the woman and at his surroundings. He was in a cave hung with flowers and strewn with herbs just above the beach.  He was lying on a raised bed, nothing more than a ledge protruding from the rock wall. He asked ‘Where am I?’ The woman who had been watching him came over and knelt beside him. ‘You are safe here on my island. Slowly you will get better as you imbibe from me. Like ambrosia it will give life to you’. And so it was to be but there were a thousand questions that Johnson wanted to ask. ‘All in good time’ said the soft voice.

The daily suckling continued and Johnson felt better than he had ever felt in his life and he made some exploratory steps in and around the cave. One morning she said to him, ‘I have to leave you for a little while I go to bathe. You will be perfectly safe but when I am away you must never follow me’. At this time Johnson knew that he was not yet strong enough to follow even if he wanted to. He contented himself with wandering around the area outside the cave and kicked around in the leaves and bushes there. One day he found a long bone and with horror recognised a human femur, then scraps of blue cloth, a couple of tarnished brass buttons and more bones.

He hurried back and fell on his couch full of apprehension and fear. Who was she, what was she, and what did she live on? When she returned she sensed, with that unerring instinct inherent in women that something was wrong. She sat down beside him and said ‘I need to tell you about myself. My name is Miomene and I am an immortal nymph of the woodlands. Aeons ago, longer than your human mind can envisage I was exiled to this island by our father Zeus’.

Johnson was mystified. ‘Olympian gods! I thought they were just myths, things that mankind made up’.

‘They have always existed since before the world, even the universe began’, she said, ‘It’s just that mankind constantly reinvents them in shapes that suit the particular age’.

‘But why so cruel as to exile you here. What did you do wrong?’

‘I must not tell you why but I have been here on this tiny island ever since and nobody except unfortunate sailors have ever been my company. I have nurtured them, and cared for them over the years’.

‘But why did you breast-feed me?

‘You would have died without it. I imbued you for a short while with my immortal nature, a rescue remedy against your intense fatigue. Soon you will crave for human food and you will forage and find it here on my island’.

‘And the bones in the undergrowth out there?’ he asked.

Miomene paused and pensively replied ‘There were others before you. Being mortal they could not live forever even with my divine nourishment. I can restore a fading life and give a little longer time than is permitted to mankind but I cannot make them immortal’.

Johnson’s curiosity was not completely satisfied and the desire to find out the place where she went came upon him so that one morning he determined to follow her even though he felt disloyal. Keeping her at a distance he saw her walking until she disappeared from his sight long enough for him to creep upon her. First he saw the robe thrown carelessly over a bush. He could see no sign of Miomene only a creature like a huge amoeba bathing in a stream. He ran back to the cave frightened beyond measure.

Miomene returned now in her former beautiful form and knew he had disobeyed her. ‘You have followed me. Are you satisfied now that you have seen me as I really am? I shall not harm you’, she breathed.

‘But why the disguise?’

‘How could I do differently?’ she asked. ‘You were dying and you needed me and I brought you back to life in the only way open to me. If I had appeared to you in my true form, would you have accepted nurture from me then?’

‘But this Greek god business. I thought all the gods on Olympus were supposed divinely to be divinely beautiful as I see you now.’, said Johnson.

‘Ah, the gods! It is in their nature to manifest themselves in forms that you humans would like them to have. Your Jehovah-like god would appear as a burning bush because that was what Moses had been taught by his culture to expect as a divine sign. Sometimes they have manifested themselves as great warriors, spirit animals, rivers, and eruptions from volcanoes’.

He thought about this carefully and asked ‘Well, what about your manifestation to me?’

‘There is in every man’s deepest mind an ideal of perfect womanhood. You are simply seeing the perfect form that you have in your mind. You are seeing what you would like to see. I have done nothing except draw it out of you as I did when I divined your language’.

‘What about the other castaways, the human remains out there?’

‘My sea husbands come, I love them, they die and I mourn them.

‘Don’t they ever get’ he paused to get the right word, ‘don’t they ever get er, rescued?’

‘Sometimes ships passed by and they would light a fire to attract attention to the island and so be rescued as you put it. When they are safe on board they look back and see nothing of me and the memory of their stay with me fades. Yet in later life, perhaps while sitting alone in a pleasant garden on a summer evening, they will look up pensively as if trying but never succeeding to recapture a beautiful dream.

There were some who hid from the ships choosing to stay with me until they died. You may perhaps have to make the choice yourself one day but until then you will find yourself living in complete happiness with me’.

‘But what about you, Miomene, when they were rescued? What if I should go away or die as I must?’

Miomene gave a long sigh.

‘I have no choice but to exist until Zeus should relent’.

Harry Wells

Comments and critiques welcome

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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