I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Friday, 14 October 2016

The Gardener

Sonnet: On visiting the blog of a dead friend

The sap has dried, disabled stalks have turned
To compost – and he’d know the truth of that.
For me decay, for him life’s stuff re-formed,
It’s not my field, I’ll simply tip my hat.
Others have taken this way.  Like E. who
“Passed by – like Time” and died, another friend.
Her roots were strong, the wit between us grew,
She blossomed to an uncomplaining end.

In glades of death the plant that grows is loss,
Who needs a bell that sounds nonentity?
Why should it be worth my while to doss
Down here wanly in tranquillity?

Text is quite silent, echoes come from sound,
Where else might such a miracle be found?


  1. I thought that was well done, RR. Presumably you were inspired by recent comments on your blog posts.

    Your title reminded me of Kipling's short story on WWI war graves - a beautifully constructed piece.

  2. Avus: It's been ages. Singing - as you may have noticed - absorbs me. The problem has always been to simplify the syntax as best I can. Complexity is the abiding defect of beginners, and not just in verse: debutante prose writers tend to embark on sentences which are far too long and which they realise, in their heart of hearts, they cannot handle. You'd think brevity would be easier, but no. Why? Possibly because conciseness is not thought to be expressive enough. The trick is to mix short sentences with those of medium length, but cleverly, dotting the occasional word. Aping music, that enormously superior language.

  3. Beautiful. Rich and full. Yes, it's in the mix.

  4. A bit of Yeatsian echo? "The fascination of what's difficult / Has dried the sap out of my veins." It also reminded me of Raleigh and "The Ocean to Cynthia": "The blossoms fallen, the sap gone from the tree."

    I like the way you tell us so obliquely what sort of blog it was. And how very up to date! It makes a curious contrast with older elegies. And reminds me that I have not been able to bring myself to delete dead friends on social media.

    I prefer "approaching music" rather than "aping"! I've never quite figured out why we have to set one art above another. They have such different paths to the true and beautiful.

  5. RW (zS): "in the mix" - one of those phrases that's crept up on me; I wasn't around when it was launched and thus have no idea what it means. It was the same with "chill out" which I guessed at and later discovered it meant the exact opposite. But thanks a bunch for reading my verse.

    Marly: Sorry. I have a tendency towards the sweeping utterance. Arrogance is at the heart of it and is, I fear, ineradicable. Singing lessons took me inside music and I'm now prone to all sorts of airs and graces, forgetting that there are others out there who've also received musical instruction. I weep equally at music (eg, Dido) and at words (watched The Tempest this weekend and shed tears, as always, at "rounded with a little sleep").

    You do me proud with with those references. In my own defence I keep all Yeats on my Kindle and have been known to subscribe to his greatness, with you unknowingly and indirectly egging me on. With a sonnet like this, and given that the blog I referred to was that of Joe Hyam, a pal who dated back to 1963, it was vital I eliminated any hint of sentimentality. After all Joe and I are (were?) both English chaps. Thus in the re-comment, gross "aping" rather than something gentler. There are now 25 comments attached to Joe's final post, over half post mortem.

    Joe guided my floundering first steps at verse as well as my slightly less floundering novels (he rigorously edited both Gorgon Times, and Out Of Arizona). I was in the USA when my mother died in Britain. Forty years later I wrote a sonnet about it. Here's Joe's response:

    No witty, sardonic observation here, as we have come to expect from your poems. Rather a deeply felt experience of loss, concentrated and powerfully expressed in a few words. For a moment, I forget that it is a sonnet, surely an indication that it works as a poem.

    I owe him quite a lot.

  6. Oh, that's a lovely comment from Joe Hyam. I didn't really know about him save through Lucy, but clearly meant much to many, and that is a sweet thing.

    So interesting how long it takes us to be ready to write about certain events in our lives.

  7. Marly: "a sweet thing". A sweet thing - the phrase - in itself; couldn't be put better.

    My mother went into decline in hospital just before Christmas 1971. I had to wait over Christmas to get confirmation of her death from my brother. I wept, but what's to say about weeping? Everyone weeps for a lost parent. Forty years later I recognised the pain in terms of the phone call. Then I had something to say.

  8. Bless you for this Robbie.

    The internet has added quite new dimensions to our experiences of love and friendship and their concomitant prices in loss and grief.

  9. Lucy: Once all three of us were putting out verse regularly until force majeure removed Joe from the trio. Losing a reliable and thoughtful critic seemed to stamp out the impulse in me; I don't know about you.

    This sonnet had conflicting birth pangs. As I mention in an earlier comment I recognised a tendency back over the years to complicate my L-plate verse. Joe too may have urged me to simplify, I can't be sure. I set out to be straightforward with this and maintained it for two stanzas (Does a sonnet have stanzas?) But then mysticism crept up on me and with mysticism obscurity, although it took me an hour or so to recognise this. In the end I felt forced to let this tendency have its way since it had, in the end, given me the final line of the couplet. What was I doing, revisiting Joe's blog? What did I expect to find? Was it the need to write another sonnet? Too fanciful perhaps, too much of the snake that started to gorge its own tail.

    I'm very glad you read it. Glad too that you touched on the matter of impulse, always the undefinable aspect of verse.

  10. I guess it would be a bit dishonest and sentimental, a thing he wouldn't have countenanced, to say that I stopped writing poems because he died, but the fact is, other than the one I closed the 'Compasses' blog with, and perhaps an odd damp squib of a haiku or similar, to date, I haven't written anything you might call poetry or verse since he died.

    I haven't taken any vows about it, and don't say I never will versify again, and in truth the urge to do so was waning before that, but the last few poem things I wrote were very much for him, not for his editorship or criticism, a thing which he knew and appreciated. For now, though, the impulse has simply gone. But I do think about the burst of writing creativity that came to him, and to you, late in life, and feel... not unhopeful. And if it doesn't it doesn't, something else will, and life is long and rich, if we're lucky.

  11. Lucy: Joe's politeness was deep-seated and impressive. It was also one of his failings, since it occasionally prevented him from being rude about certain individuals who deserved rudeness and a good deal worse. Fifty years of friendship enabled me to gauge the real levels of his enthusiasms, frequently a proving ground for his politeness. I mention this because he always talked enthusiastically about the poetry exchanges in an unguarded way, for me a sign that they meant a lot to him. They were exactly at the level he strove for and with someone he both liked and admired.

    I am reminded of our conversations at the BR in which you regularly figured; Joe used your name in a certain way as if a minute earlier you'd been sharing the table with us and had just paid a quick trip to the loo. You had what one might call an extended geographical presence. If I think a little harder I conclude he wasn't alone in talking this way, though it's more difficult to judge my own behaviour. Lucy wasn't merely a name, it was also a reference carrying a sort of drop-down menu listing conversations which might or might not be taken up

    We seem to share similiar feelings about poetry, I think it profited from a collegiate atmosphere. For me, as a learner, it was a bit like doing poetry on the Open University. With this most recent occasion the title preceded the verse. On-plus-gerund was so terribly Keatsian that a sonnet seemed obligatory. As to future writings I agree, why you're nobbut a lass.

    VR recently did some tiny crabcakes which had exactly the right amount of chili. "Anything more?" I asked. She gestured impatiently, "Bread-crumbs and egg." They were scaldingly hot straight from the pan and I ate them far too quickly knowing they would burn my mouth. And they did burn my mouth. The analogy isn't at all exact but they had something in common with your comments.