Tag Archives: history

Friday poem: Harp Song of the Dane Women

What is a woman that you forsake her,
And the hearth-fire and the home-acre,
To go with the old grey Widow-maker?
She has no house to lay a guest in—
But one chill bed for all to rest in,
That the pale suns and the stray bergs nest in.
She has no strong white arms to fold you,
But the ten-times-fingering weed to hold you—
Out on the rocks where the tide has rolled you.
Yet, when the signs of summer thicken,
And the ice breaks, and the birch-buds quicken,
Yearly you turn from our side, and sicken—
Sicken again for the shouts and the slaughters.
You steal away to the lapping waters,
And look at your ship in her winter-quarters.
You forget our mirth, and talk at the tables,
The kine in the shed and the horse in the stables—
To pitch her sides and go over her cables.
Then you drive out where the storm-clouds swallow,
And the sound of your oar-blades, falling hollow,
Is all we have left through the months to follow.
Ah, what is Woman that you forsake her,
And the hearth-fire and the home-acre,
To go with the old grey Widow-maker ?
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Friday poem: The Old Ships

I have seen old ships sail like swans asleep
Beyond the village which men call Tyre,
With leaden age o’ercargoed, dipping deep
For Famagusta and the hidden sun
That rings black Cyprus with a lake of fire;
And all those ships were certainly so old
Who knows how oft with squat and noisy gun,
Questing brown slaves or Syrian oranges,
The pirate Genoese
Hell-raked them till they rolled
Blood, water, fruit and corpses up the hold.
But now through friendly seas they softly run,
Painted the mid-sea blue or shore-sea green,
Still patterned with the vine and grapes in gold.

But I have seen,
Pointing her shapely shadows from the dawn
And image tumbed on a rose-swept bay,
A drowsy ship of some yet older day;
And, wonder’s breath indrawn,
Thought I – who knows – who knows – but in that same (Fished up beyond Aeaea, patched up new –
Stern painted brighter blue -)
That talkative, bald-headed seaman came
(Twelve patient comrades sweating at the oar)
From Troy’s doom-crimson shore,
And with great lies about his wooden horse
Set the crew laughing, and forgot his course.

It was so old a ship – who knows, who knows? –
And yet so beautiful, I watched in vain
To see the mast burst open with a rose,
And the whole deck put on its leaves again.

by James Elroy Flecker (1884 -1915)

Farm

My rolling road smooths over the hills
reveals a distant farm house
hazy gray, huddled in trees
we roll on and the farm folds away
gone into green.
As it did
when Vikings rode past
hunting for spoils, women and food
when the Revenue came later
searching for tax payers.

This land is ancient
holdings forged millennia ago
only when warfare encompassed the air
was this farms safety broached.
Yet bombers passed over to pit and hole
to blast and burn
the farm house remained
snuggled into the land.
Copyright © 2018 Kim Whysall-Hammond

Edited from a version published here in June 2016

Cochi

Deep ploughed grooves
reveal treasures between vines
broken pots, beads, loom weights,
amphora base inscribed with a name.
Burnt edges speak of conflagration,
terror, loss, pain.
Archeology of human fear.

Copyright © 2018 Kim Whysall-Hammond

Cochi was the term for pot sherds when we were Archeological Field-Walking in Sicily several years ago.

1939

She did not weep,
nothing so soft or poetic,
my grandmother sobbed long and hard
remembering war-crippled brothers, war dead father.
She had nursed soldiers, married one,
spent recent years in dread.
A few words on the Wireless,
a husband mustering with his gun,
and the nightmare returns.

As a child, thirty years later,
I saw hunger in her old eyes
a longing for security from fear
that she never lost.

Copyright © 2018 Kim Whysall-Hammond

For Ethel Maude Wellsted Brown (known as Maude), orphaned by the Boer War, Pharmacist during the 1918 Flu pandemic, wife and mother to Airmen and Airwomen. My beloved maternal Grandmother who married a poor boy from Malta and, despite the attitudes of the time, danced with black GI’s in Wiltshire  as they waited to fight in D-Day and the liberation of Europe.

The photo is of her and her children in the mid-1930’s. The little girl in white grew up to be my mother. The three larger children were all in the RAF or WAAF in World War 2. They and their father came through the war unscathed.

According to my mother (who was eleven at the time), Maude sobbed for hours after the declaration of war was broadcast in September 1939..

Times path

Wide track striped white across high grass
draped in silence, excepting faint bird calls.
Wedged between high ground and rolling plain,
edged and encrusted with time’s memorials,
entrances to unremembered dead amid pasture land
and we walkers.

The old earthworks cannot speak,
but they glow in my mind, calling.

If space and time are multidimensional,
could we not walk another way round
sidle through and back.

Meet the neighbours.

Copyright © 2018 Kim Whysall-Hammond

Somerset Tsunami

The surprise flood leaps high up the church wall
infusing its stones with estuarine silts.
Priests exalt the Lord, gladdened by long awaited  Armageddon
prepared to guide their flocks to heaven
or to hell.
The press of water and terror makes it difficult to breathe
the fields are indigo like the winter sea
they are the winter sea now.
Sheep murmur in the waters.

Copyright © 2018 Kim Whysall-Hammond

A large portion of Somerset, in the West Country, is very low-lying. It is called the Somerset Levels, and still floods today at time of very high rainfall, despite drainage canals.

On a sunny 30th January 1607, there was a sudden, very high, flood. The written descriptions  from the time describe the sea receding before the wave arrived and that the wave rushed in faster than people could run. A crowd of people stood and watched the high wave coming towards them until it was too late to run. It is now understood that the ‘Flood’ was a tsunami.

 

Herepath

Wide as ten men abreast
The old road cuts between farms
Dips down to the river
Rises up over the moor
Rabbits lollop, lambs bleat
Rosebay glows at sunset
Where were the wars that you marched to?
Where were the victories that you won?
Here on the old Herepath
The road truly goes ever on

Copyright © 2018 Kim Whysall-Hammond

Bones

Slender bones, delicately traced
staring grinning skulls.
No skin, no muscle,
no eyes, no heart or other parts.
Yet they tell a knowing eye many tales
of wounds healed, muscle strengths,
diseases and battles fought.
Indications of the life lived
and sometimes the death faced.

 

Copyright © 2017 Kim Whysall-Hammond

‘I shall not wholly die’

On this date in 8 BC a great poet died. We know him as Horace. Much of his work is still relevant 2,025 years later.

I feel his best translator is Dryden, and I give you this little snippet from The Odes, Book One, IX:

Tomorrow and its works defy;
Lay hold upon the present hour,
And snatch the pleasures passing by
To put them out of Fortune’s power;
Nor love nor love’s delights disdain –
Whate’er thou getts’t today, is gain.

I am very grateful to the Muddy Archeologist for reminding me  of the date and getting me to re-read some Horace. And for giving us a brace of pertinent Horace quotes at the link below:

https://muddyarchaeologistcouk.wordpress.com/2017/11/24/radio-4-presented-by-horace-i-shall-not-wholly-die-horace-lives-on-on-the-anniversary-of-his-death-in-8-bc/#like-4740