Sunlit flight

The now orange leaves of
the Japanese Acer
skitter in our English
cottage garden – a new
Sunday morning’s quiet
autumn dawn – and a light
turn of an Upstream page
like salmon’s sunlit flight
is early wandering
through riverside landscape
with Mary Oliver
while each alone – and in
their own parts – sings new and
silent sabbath-songs deep
in observing hearts

(* Upstream, is a new Penguin Press collection of Selected Essays by Mary Oliver)


The Calming Thought Of All

That coursing on, whate’er men’s speculations,
Amid the changing schools, theologies, philosophies,
Amid the bawling presentations new and old,
The round earth’s silent vital laws, facts, modes continue.

Walt Whitman
Sands at Seventy, 1888

Let the poet’s perspective be my anchor and guide.

Harmony and hymnody

Indoors, I heard them before I saw them, and whatever it was they were up to sounded very much like major celebration. So I raced outside and the blue sky seemed full of gleaming sunlit underbellies. And had there been solo honking earlier it had ceded now to full chorus. No photographic exhibition will host the images I made hastily with only my iPad to hand. But I shall keep the grainy reminder that allowed me, after the event, to count a flight of 110 wild geese above our house, as I swallowed the lump in my throat, celebrating the harmony and hymnody of their communion.

The singing

There’s a simple slate memorial slab on the wall of the old church in Martindale near here. Remembering a former priest of the parish, it bears an exquisite inscription from the Song of Songs, 2.12

The time of the singing of birds is come

Cloud-capped Blencathra, bathed in sunshine as we cycled by, made for an atmospheric ride, despite collisions with the millions of midges also thriving (those that weren’t snapped up by birds on the wing not busy singing) – in the humid warmth of a lakeland autumn afternoon.

Eycott Hill holds a profound silence and space that I’m always awed by. Very few things indeed are better antidote to this world’s contemporary anxieties than deep silence beneath the rich blue dome of the sky. Here, as in the ultimate cycling onwards into the peace of all eternity, the time of the singing of birds is, indeed, come – and these quieter songs effectively drown out the raucous cacophany of some of the very much louder ones!

The gallery

The craft’s art in linseed-oiled silk-smooth oak stirs
a deep response before we’ve stepped fully
into the gallery-space and one senses
immediately the artisan pride
in the room and even sight of the curtain
brings to hearing the clatter of a loom
like the one in the three storeyed weaver’s house
a friend set to restoring forty years
ago where one could close one’s eyes and yet see
before them the handwritten indenture
that certified a joiner’s licence to hew
and fashion extraordinary ceiling
beams in seventeen fifty two – and here
today’s table is such a craftwork too


When all the world appears
quite mad her peoples ought
not to be so sad that
we fail to see human
views as illusion and
that life’s confusion took
shape aeons ago and
we cannot know where the
future will go or how
we’ll grow but still we may
aspire to ways of peace
see the sun set and the
sun rise and celebrate
yet our little sojourn
on earth – and often when
least we expect it some
glad and joyful surprise

From Syria, with love

On the steps of a marbled city space
I spoke with a Syrian refugee,
cold, worn and shaking, left arm reaching to
a black and tan mongrel pup’s bright-eyed face.

‘All I need now’, he began to tell me,
‘is a small and portable, waterproof …’

‘… ah yes, of course,’ I presumptuously
interjected, ‘you need a mobile phone?’

He smiled. ‘No, no, friend, until I met you
I have not known a single soul to call.
It is a small warm kennel for newfound
responsibility I need. That’s all.