Wessex: The Writer's Muse

wessex poem book cover

As A.E. Housman put it:

Tell me not here, it needs not saying,
What tune the enchantress plays
In aftermaths of soft September
Or under blanching mays,
For she and I were long acquainted
And I knew all her ways.

All writers have their jealous but inconstant muses, and here the mocking spirit flits across the English countryside and through the generations of a family that traces itself to holdings in the west country long before the Normans came.

In this modern version of the English pastoral the same themes are repeated: the constant longing for place, the reference to what should have been, the evocation of someone dead who still serves as emissary to a world that lies everywhere around us, if we had the humility and sense of history to see it.

An evocative portrayal of past generations in the form of a love poem: a free ebook in pdf format.

Excerpt: Opening

Would you retain me in our few letters,
Reduce me, laughing, to some purblind dream?
The paths in the sunlight are not the same.
Ours was a falling into headlong waters,
              A bewitchment further than the earth again.

Why reiterate how every chit of stone
Brimmed with a music that now is silent?
In the torrents of spring we yearn for attainment —
For the yielding, the belonging, the outward turned in:
               How fast that epiphany is put away.

Say what you want to, exactly: I shall not care.
Enough were the words once to clothe the heart.
But now I am part of all the inanimate
Small and the suffering. Tell me: does the circling year
               Return now the scene where our own bird sang?

Pretend to yourself — why don't you? —   I shan't be long,
What with the sun up, the air soft, and the leaves warm.
There is no one to hear you. It will do no harm
To hold me awhile as though summers bring
               Tangible wonderment only once.

Why the incessant indulging of old regrets,
Playing the martyr? We have done our stint.
The fields have reseeded; the little that went
On from us soaring to a famed romance
                Is burned out and sintered, the first child spilled.

No, that's not true. There is an inner weld
Where still I may find you and feel the stone
Warm with your touch, and the doorway creaking. Lean
Out of absence a moment and I will build
               Stairways to rapture from a patchwork song

That flumes in the telling as an underground spring
Irrigates later when the great storms are gone —
Inwardly always, and my hooded skin
Is smooth and persuasive as the lawyer's tongue.
               Smile, disbelief: yes, they are best.

What's it to me then, this all-conquering past?
These townships, these Downlands, while burning May
Holds parley in woodlands, at road stops, where cars skim by
Counting the road miles, the coupons, the crest on crest
              Of skyline warped into silent stones.

Here were the chieftains, the Romans, and rough Saxon thanes
Knitting to leaf-mould, where the Chalk-land breathes
Of fume in the Springtime, of the garnered lives
Heaped up in tumuli, enclosures, in the turreted bones
               Of the polecat, the otter, the rabbit's spoor

10.Blanching in hillside, tranchet, in air-brindled moor,
Or the high beeches sighing over ochred flints,
The potsherds and the frost on the implements —
Of all that is nothing in the tier on tier
               Of the long so encompassed, and now always here.

With these I have paced out our Maiden Castle where
We two went laughing through the night's advance;
I have held out my hands, and the inheritance
Fell far beyond me as the evening fire
               Glimmered and drew down to the friendly west.