Poet in Residence

 

Bob's first four poems are published below. Read & enjoy.

For the first poem of my residency I wanted to convey something of the history of the area. St Matthew’s Churchyard stands at an ancient crossroads, embodying all the folklore associated with the meetings of ways. Roman and British coins were discovered hereabouts, which suggests some sort of skirmish two millennia ago.

I have used early spellings of local place-names, the first two of which will be clear enough. The others are Upper Winteredge (near Coley Church), Woolrow (on the Calderdale Way between Bailiff Bridge and Thornhills), and Rookes Wood, Norwood Green. Estfelde Knowl was a field-name, and was situated to the east of what is now Knowle Top Road, at the southern end.

 Elland Flags is the sandstone, excellent for building, which was quarried at many sites in the old township of Hipperholme-cum-Brighouse, and almost up to the present day.

 The Old Churchyard

 Where four tracks met and parted

coins and blood were spilled,

silver heads of Caligula, gold Boudiccas,

in the world of neither here nor there

where the 255 Arriva cruises the turnpike

down to Baillibrigge and Clyftone Beck.

                         *

 Solace-seekers roam around low mounds of turf,

carved headstones of blackened Elland Flags:

two acres of the township’s departed, extras

in time’s tragicomedy, revenants

whose silence rings from Wyntersedge to Woleroe,

Rokeswode to Estfelde Knowl.

                         *

 Late winter sun over Birkby Hill splinters

through bare branches of oak and beech and thorn,

scatters across affectionate remembrances

of the long-lived, of infant mortality,

the pure of heart, sung to their rest

by flights of angels; the lover and the loved.

 Bob Horne  

A couple of weeks ago I visited John Clare’s cottage, now a museum, in Helpstone, Northamptonshire. He’s also buried in the village, at St Botolph’s Church. Clare is often referred to as a ‘peasant poet’, a term which sounds condescending these days. However, what he was, and remains, is a humble and moving poet of nature, as well as much else. Even during his final desolate decades in Northampton Asylum a deep love of the birds, flowers, trees and creatures amongst which he’d lived his life was often a solace.

I’m certainly not comparing myself to Clare, but the poet’s great lesson, for me, is that it’s always possible to open ourselves to the natural life which surrounds us.

April the Ninth

6.45 a.m. Sun just up, sky blue and gold.

I rest my bicycle against the back of a bench

next to Emily Jane Lister, ‘Beloved wife …’

Across Till Carr Lane Chris Green’s cattle

catch the warmth as the last of a light mist

lifts from the valley below. Birds everywhere,

soaking the air with their songs of spring.

 

From the top of an oak a woodpigeon,

still as the windless morning,

weighs up the world. An early bee

forages amongst last year’s leaves.

Drum roll of a distant woodpecker.

 

Pale yellow primroses, keys of Heaven,

flower of love, huddle on the graves

of Sam Watkinson and his neighbours.

Jackdaws carry twigs to the top of the bell tower.

Daffodils, that die on Easter Day, glow

against the dewy grass’s glossy green.

 

A duet of wrens defends the headstone

of Samuel Baines. Five crows float by.

From all corners a chorus of blackbirds

celebrates the sun’s slow resurrection

further north each morning.

A lengthening of light:

triumph, again, of day over night.

  Bob Horne        

   

Yggdrasil, the World Tree, represented as a gigantic ash, is central to Norse mythology. Its many mythical and legendary qualities are represented in almost all the world’s cultures. This particular ash tree occupied the corner of a field between the cricket ground and the churchyard until about 40 years ago. (Three Days Work was/is a field-name.)

 

World Tree

 

In a corner of Three Days Work

by a stile which takes the path

to the back of the old graveyard:

ash, shelter and shade

for beasts in summer.

 

You could stand on the coping

of the weather-mangled wall –

scrags of blackened sandstone –

pull yourself onto its lowest branch,

inch along rough ridges of bark

to its centre, climb

 

to where you would see

wheatfields over the embankment,

then lean and close your eyes,

listen to the breeze

as it brushed the leaves,

soft as love.

 

Lightning felled this one.

It lay for years, diminishing,

until someone saw to it

and emptiness filled the field.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Corporal Joseph Naylor of the 5th Dragoon Guards, a Lightcliffe man, took part in the Crimean War of 1854-56 with 250 of his regiment. He was one of the 30 who survived the campaign, only 14 managing to bring back their horses. If you want to know more about Corporal Naylor, his family and descendants, go into About the Churchyard on the website, scroll down until you come to Click here …people of interest … then scroll down to Corporal Joseph Naylor. You’ll find the results of Dorothy Barker’s excellent and detailed research. Or press here and then scroll down.

 

The Charge of the Heavy Brigade

 

I know what you’re thinking – slip of the tongue:

it was Tennyson’s ‘noble six hundred’

who were the heroes of Balaclava.

They were the ones who rode, how does it go,

‘boldly and well’. The poet was right there,

and he was right again when he said

they were riding into the mouth of Hell.

They must have known it, must have realised

Lord Raglan’s orders made no sense,

but never stopped to ask the reason why.

 

Before that it was our turn – the Heavies.

The Light Brigade looked on as we advanced

against the Russian and the Cossack cavaliers.

Hardly a charge. Uphill from a standing start.

Our horses had barely raised a trot

when them and us came face to face,

and, though there were more of them than us,

ten minutes of our hacking and heaving

and they’d had enough. When I think back now

I just hope the Good Lord’s forgiven me

for I fought more like a devil than a man.

 

We’d been there a month. No tents at first.

We lay down side by side in mud and rain

through the dark hours. Not many slept.

Then it got colder, cold enough at nights

to freeze a soldier’s beard to his greatcoat.

I thought a lot, I can tell you, of sunny days

down Crow Nest and Bottom Hall Beck.

Half the regiment went down sick. Not me.

I was lucky, that’s all.

 

Less than a fortnight and it was Inkerman –

outnumbered five-to-one in the fog

we fought as we saw fit, came out on top.

Then we holed up outside Sebastopol

twelve long and weary months, until at last

we starved ‘em out. They’d had enough,

we’d won, us and the French and the Turks.

We could go back home and sleep in beds,

though I never really understood

what it was all for, just did as I was told.

 

The Sun Inn laid on a spread for me:

bread and cheese and ale, and my friends

from the mill and the farm, thirsty for tales

of the fighting. I gave them what they wanted –

Russians running before the British fighting man;

showed them my decorations – two medals,

three clasps and four good conduct badges.

I’d come home a hero, one of the few dragoons

who made it through, and my horse,

my lovely brave Magpie. No laureate’s praise for me,

no streets or alehouses parading my name.

I was lucky, that’s all.

 

                                      Bob Horne

 

 

               

 

 

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