Max Gate


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Max Gate, Dorchester, April 2015.jpg

(Image by Pasicles)

For all you Hardy lovers/ haters…


Emma’s hands sweep over ivory keys,

mimicking ill winds from Conquer Barrow.

He fiddles while Mrs Patrick Campbell

zephyrs in muslin through the drawing room,

admired by Virginia Woolf, Sassoon,

yet creating one more annoying draught.

Mrs. Patrick Campbell, actress, full-length po...

Curtains twitch as if Snowdove will appear

miraculously from the railway line.

Florence sighs, surrounded by those dark pines.

She clears her throat with some difficulty.

Upstairs the little old wood table creaks

and the calendar is set: 7th March-

the date Emma came riding towards him.

Violets from Keats’ grave fade behind the glass

of his pillbox. Wessex whines in the hall

as the Prince of Wales throws his waistcoat down.

Nut Walk’s carpet of wood anemones

is curiously flattened in places.

The maid says truthfully, He’s not at home,

as the door in the wall noiselessly shuts.

News From Nowhere


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The Parting of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinever...

(The Parting of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere

by Julia Margaret Cameron)


Since I live in the vicinity of Kelmscott now, here is an

old poem, re-blogged…



I raised a latch of a door in the wall

and immediately knew this was home.

The garden’s rosy superabundance

was a mille-fleurs embroidery stitching

raucous cawing of rooks from those high elms, the

swifts wheeling, doves’ cooing and blackbird song.

A mulberry tree was central. Pastel

hollyhocks nodded their welcome and men

scythed reeds and floated them down the river

under the willow trees’ gray-green flickers.

Lead waterspouts were limply supported

from the mellow masonry and woodworm

pricked the panelling. I felt not sadness,

but a beauty born of melancholy.

Leaving my charcoal overcoat downstairs,

I inspected the quaint garrets where once

tillers and herdsmen slept under the eaves.

The sloping floorboards creaked under my feet.

I realised she had never loved me.

How could she? Women are all shape-changers.

This house is an E with its tongue cut out,

so it will never prattle its scandal.

Betrayal’s woven in its tapestries:

Samson with his eyes gouged out for his love.

Please, dear Janey, be happy…I cannot

paint you, but I love you – and now leave you.


Some called it amitie amoureuse.

They dubbed me Guenevere, La Belle Iseult.

Once in this lost riverland, out of depth,

we drowned in our adulterous passion.

I heard carriages arriving at night,

so the cob’s harsh hooves had to be silenced

by leather shoes. I had no energy

when William was here, but took long walks

with Gabriel, who said our leaky punt

was not a poetic locomotion.

I keep my thoughts locked in my casket

in my bedroom. It was kind of Topsy

to bring me back that fine Icelandic smock.

Gabriel said it served his purposes well.

When they had Mouse the babes were not tiresome,

but Jenny’s impairment grows every day.

Tomorrow someone must trim the dragon.

In the studio I hear faint crying

over a stillborn child. He took chloral,

alcohol and would stay awake till five.

What was I to do with his exhumed verse?

Sir Lancelot had welded us as one.

I suppose I never loved him at all.

Tonight I left a pansy in Blunt’s room.

I am past sobbing that he does not come.

The Burning Bush


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Dear Brassica,

Hope you are not inundated in the South.  Read about all the flooding,

power cuts and trees coming down.

Yes, I like being in The Cotswolds.  Might bump into David

Cameron in Waitrose at Witney.  Recognised Church Green the other

day as his backdrop, when he was telling the world that he was giving

up as an MP.

Remembered the shock (some years ago) of seeing a photo in The

Financial Times of Michael Portillo, posing on the bridge at the end of

my garden in Suttonford.  I think he must have been visiting his

associate, George, who lived nearby.

Well, I needn’t fret: I am evidently still at the centre of global events.

Mind you, sometimes taking early retirement and leaving your old pals

for pastures new (ghastly euphemism pinched and abused from Milton,

who employed it freshly) can be a bit daunting.  That’s why it was

wonderful to come across a veritable burning bush of hawthorn berries

above Dragon Hill – you know, where St George allegedly slew the dragon.

I kept thinking of U. A. Fanthorpe and her witty, GCSE anthology-

endorsed poem on that subject.

I was compelled to approach this crimson phenomenon as it was so

vibrant and it reminded me of Moses and his encounter with verbal,

auto-combustible branches of boscage.

I wondered what it might say to me and checked on the original tale.

So, Moses was over 40 years old and no longer a bigwig.  Instead he was

caring for his father-in-law’s sheep, which did not exactly utilise his

expensive Midian education.  (I suppose he might have been having a

crisis, like David Cameron after loss of power.  But I don’t think SamCam

would like Dave taking to pastoral studies unless she got a discount on

wool for her new fashion line.)

I wonder if Moses’ wife still wore her kohl in the backside of the desert?

Or had she already been yummy-mummified by then?

However, the encouraging thing is that, in a moment of paying

attention – I’m not going to say ‘mindfulness‘ – Moses was called to

a new commission, namely to be leader of the Israelites, as they were

to be delivered from slavery.

So, Brassie, what do you think I did?

No, I didn’t apply for leadership of UKIP, or any other party,

hoping to take my people through the wasteland of Brexit

No, I wrote another sestina on the epiphanal moment when I

realised that I am not past it.  I mean, I knew it, but I had not felt it

in recent days.

My friends who were staying with me had just been to Highgrove,

where it has been suggested Prince Charles talks to plants, so people

may accept, that, in a way, a bush spoke to me yesterday. and said

something like, Fool, look in thy heart and write!

(Okay, so I know I am appropriating Philip Sidney, but it was a poetic

moment and who better to prompt you to get on and do something with

your life than the original Renaissance Man?)

It was in the news yesterday that trees communicate with one another

and, in Fanthorpe’s poem, the dragon speaks, so, suspend your disbelief,

dear Brassie.

Here’s the poem inspired by a communicative Crataegus, namely the

humble hawthorn, except that it was an acacia in the case of Moses

and they have the original (they allege) at St Catherine’s Monastery:


The Burning Bush Speaks

So, how was I to get his attention?

Ah yes, an acacia bush on fire-

though plenty self-ignite and are destroyed,

he’ll notice that I actually sustain

and it is not consumed.  Thus I will speak:

that ought to alert him to my presence.


He feels that he no longer has presence.

The world has ceased to pay him attention

as he minds in-laws’ sheep, over a fire

on Desolation Mountain, so to speak.

It’s not an activity to sustain

a man’s confidence, which has been destroyed.


A Midian education, doubt-destroyed;

his eyes blinded to Shekinah presence-

he has to be convinced that I sustain.

He is not paying me due attention;

the smoking flax is no longer on fire.

Moses!  Can he believe a bush will speak?


He cautiously approaches tongues of fire.

Confidence that had been all but destroyed

re-ignites, as I re-assure him, speak

my name:  I Am Who I Am  (The Presence)

and creator of all hope.  I sustain


the universe.  The Egyptians I sustain.

The Israelites I will refine with fire

and, in order to gain his attention,

I’ll speak to him from something not destroyed

by elemental powers.  My presence

is going to give him confidence to speak.


I have a message; words for him to speak

and laws which I will give him to sustain

my people.  He will convey my presence;

cause them to follow my pillar of fire;

ensure that other gods are all destroyed.

Now, Moses, I need your full attention:


Speak! For the Egyptians will be destroyed.

Sustain your attention.  Heed my presence.

The fire of Adonai will burn in you.


(Image: Dieric Bouts)








Fishing For Compliments


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Inspired by the phrase : ‘A Chat- Up Line’

With apologies to Izaak Walton…


Some Booby Nymphs met two Woolly Buggers,

who threw out some Gold Nugget lures to them,

thinking they were Pale Evening Emergers,

ready for the Down ‘n Dirty Fiery.

Hey, Damsel Wiggle Nymphs! Rise to our bait!

Black Suspender Nymphs-you with the Pearl Butts!


But the Kick Ass damsels merely replied:

You think you are Irresistible Adams;

we are not interested in tackle.

We are not attracted by Double Humpy.

We don’t want to get into Deep Water

and especially not with Green-Arsed Wickhams.

Rat-faced McDougal there could lose Half Stone.

He wouldn’t know a Sofa Pillow from

his Tup’s Indispensible and talks Tosh.

I’d clearly prefer a Green Highlander

to a Flash Charlie with a Zonker.

You haven’t got a Grey Ghost of a Chance.

My boyfriend ain’t no Leckford Professor

but you are a Moose Turd compared to him.

I’m a Redhead Buzzer and my pal here

will confirm that I am called Red Diva,

so there’s no use in saying, Baby Doll,

do you fancy a Whisky then in Bradford?

You are out of your depth- we’re World Class Flies.


But the Spin Doctor, full of Blue Charm, said:

No, I’d have to be on Chartreuse Poppers

to take on a Little Devil like you.

My mate here is a Black Bullet Conehead,

so you’d better shut your Grizzly Hot Lips.

You might be a Beaded Belly temptress,

but, up close, I see you are wearing Spandex.

I will get my Missionary elsewhere

and doubtless before Moonlight Shadows fall.


Good luck, Dirty Egg-Sucking Dogs!

Cast off!  We don’t need no Psycho Princes!





Chalk Hill Blues


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Polyommatus coridon male Lehrensteinsfeld 20080802 1.jpg


An old one, but worth a re-run maybe?

(Male Chalk Hill Blue, photographed on 2/8/008

by Rosenzweig)


Fine dongas’ etched capillaries

trace downs in criss-cross engravature.

In pure air, flimsy with fritillaries,

Chalk Hill Blues, by divine imprimatur,

caper.  Deft dragonflies, volts from the blue:

thoraxes like mottled Venetian glass,

hover, with pink damselflies, over dew-

dipped vegetation.  Those who would pass

by to reach St Catherine’s coronet (beech

circle)- Iron Age travellers, or those

who buried their plague victims- did not breach

Nature’s contract; nor did those who opposed

that livid, open wound, scarring the cant,

observable from Compton Down.  This way,

once pilgrim path, in earshot of thin chant

from cloisters, now roars, a snarling highway,

bar of shame on history’s escutcheon.

Rufus’ cartwheels no longer rut clay;

but his blood badges the route to destruction.


(Death of William Rufus by Neuville)

Horological Heartbreak


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An old one, somewhat overlooked:

 (Longcase clock. Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai

11/7/15  Image by AKS.9955)



The alarm rang.  I finally awoke.

He who had admired my hourglass figure

could never analyse what made me tick;

was unsympathetic to my moon phase.

(His mood swings were like a pendulum.)

Sometimes he seemed like an automaton.

At other times he would look raised daggers.

Yet people seemed to bracket us together.

My best friend thought he was rather striking.

But I felt he was winding me up-

like when he told me he had a pierced cock.

Although he had an open face, duplex

movements were second nature to him.

Now he’s not the mainspring of my life

any more.  We’d got into a bezel.

Tempus fugit… It had been a long case;

it was time someone regulated things.

My lack of self-esteem was weight-driven.

He was pushing me nearer to the verge.

I was getting Thursday disease all week,

waiting for him to dial; seeking a crutch.

I should have seen that he was the loser.

Inevitably I blew my fusee.

Mother said a man should be the hunter

and a girl’s best friend would be her jewels,

but I preferred to make my escapement

before my life was utterly screwed up.

Ultimately I ran like the clappers

to avoid horological heartbreak:

Now I don’t have fecit written on me.


(Thursday disease- gradual loss of precision in timekeeping as

clocks usually wound on a Sunday.)

Pay Back Time


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Another sestina- I just love the form!

(Job by Bonnat)




Vengeance is mine; I will repay,

says the Lord.  But I don’t want revenge.

Maybe I did, at first, before I could forbear.

I wanted something – justice?  Oh, to heal

took a lifetime of rejecting phantom pain,

after harsh amputation.  So, patience


was prescribed.  Job showed requisite patience,

but could mere multiplication repay?

Would extra flocks and wives reduce his pain?

I’ve heard it said the best revenge

is not to let the bastards get you down.  Heal

yourself, physician!  If you can, forbear.


Somehow that is deemed a triumph.  To forbear

may achieve the moral high ground.  Patience

can get you nowhere, but you might just heal

and maquillage might mask the scars.  Repay?

Energy is depleted by revenge

and you need energy to cope with pain.


And what about the one who caused the pain?

You track their life’s ‘success’; try to forbear;

you learn to compartmentalise revenge,

like nuclear waste, sunk beneath fathoms of patience.

You trust there are no leaks.  To repay

is not to incarnadine oceans.  To heal





is to let the waves lave you; tides to heal:

the salt stings, crystalises initial pain.

There is a sea called Forgetfulness.  Repay?

Cast your stale bread on the waters; forbear

and each minute accretion of patience

will erect a barrier reef to revenge.


Life’s rips then seem like crude revenge;

undertows from past strandings.  But as we heal,

we tear down obelisks to our patience.

We feel no need to inflict, nor nourish pain.

The wounds of Christ teach us to forebear.

His private display was not to repay


Thomas.  Patience with that disciple’s pain

showed He could forebear with doubt: no revenge

repaid human weakness.  He chose to heal.







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A very old composition found in the cellar!

The Ci-Xi Imperial Dowager Empress (5).JPG

There was a young woman who lived in a palace.

She had so many eunuchs, she didn’t know what to do;

so she seized all the power and, out of sheer malice,

delivered milk cakes to the hapless Niuhuru.


There never was a girl like Tzu’ Hsi-

prickly as ten porcupines.

She didn’t like being in the second division

of The Son of Heaven’s concubines.

She may have been L’il Orchid when she lived in Pewter Lane,

but she morphed into a tiger lily as The Dragon Suzerain.


If you came into her presence, you kowtowed pretty quick,

or, like Kuang-hsu, you found yourself becoming very sick.


She wasn’t too cognisant of seagull hovering, cicada’s cling,

but she made the dragon turn in the city of Peking.

She slept on petalled pillows, lulled by ticking Cox’s clocks,

pretending to be venerable and fairly orthodox.

But when they all struck ding dong bell,

she had Pearl Concubine chucked down the well.

Oh, what a naughty girl was that,

to drown the Emperor’s pussy cat!

As for her widowed daughter-in-law, she didn’t care a hoot

and didn’t bat an eyelid at the suicide of Alute.


The Great Wall of China at Jinshanling-edit.jpg

(Severin.stalder own image Great Wall at Jinshanling- 8/6/2013)


She hurried to her Manchu homeland in the shade of The Great Wall

while the mutinous brigades she’d fostered went on to have a ball.

Originally they’d practised callisthenics in ill-disciplined cohorts,

but she didn’t want her eunuchs dressing up in Boxer shorts.

Not one to have a lily liver- nor yet a lily foot-

she blithely sent Prince Chuang the silken cord to use as he felt suit.


Out-living Queen Victoria delighted her no end.

To British ministers’ wives she was an enemy turned friend.

But before she died of dysentry, she stage-managed one thing more:

she’d see the wretched Kuang-hsu out-he’d go the day before.

Lest anyone should be confused as to their relative worthiness,

she determined his comparative funeral expense was more than two thirds less.


Inviolate for two decades, she lay in the lavish tomb,

but bandits don’t respect the ancient codes of The Jade Room;

they did not fear ancestral shades; showed little veneration

to one who’d been a Jezebel to a different generation.

They stripped her of her grave clothes and threw her in the dust,

which, in the light of history, appears to us quite just.




Frozen in Time


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The Skating Minister.jpg

The Rev. Robert Walker- skating,

decoupaged through the roseate gloaming;

proud, like a cameo against the dun,

broad brushstrokes of Lion’s Haunch; Arthur’s Seat.

Contre-jour, he’s caught in a deft profile.


Has he sublimated his past losses:

that youthful mother and his first-born son?

The joys of discipline light up his eye

and grace and effort are counterbalanced.

His being exudes sound theology.


Just like his Master, he glides on water;

sure-footed, poised; in his own element;

making his own mark where others have scored.

In The Traveller’s Pose, he whizzes past,

like a sparrow through a banqueting hall.


The pink inklings binding his buckled shoon,

question his Presbyterianism.

His gaze is fixed on another city-

not The New Town, enlightened though it be.

The artist in him suspends all beliefs.


No stone in Canongate will pin him down.



Chipping Snodbury


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Great-Aunt Augusta: RIP


Mrs Connolly, the housekeeper at Murgatroyd Syylk’s pele tower,

was exhausted.  She had overseen the triple marriages- well, dual

marriages and one re-espousal- of Augustus and Virginia, Drusilla

and Nigel and her employers: Diana and the aforementioned Murgatroyd.

She had given Dru a lace-trimmed hankie when her mascara had

threatened to run, as the bride had welled up at the thought that dear old

Aunt Augusta would not be with them.  The old curmudgeon had loved a

good wedding, funeral or general family crisis.  She had been sorely


Gus had raised a toast to ‘Absent Friends‘ at the end of his father-of-the-

bride speech, by way of respect.

Curiously a feather had floated down onto the top table at this very point.

It was black, but was nevertheless pronounced a good omen as it

appeared to be exactly like one from Aunt Augusta’s feather boa which

she always wore- even in Snodland Nursing Home for the Debased Gentry, at

aperro-time‘ as she was wont to call that crepuscular, inebriation


Clearly, she was with them in spirit, if not spirits.

They had left a place at the top table for her, or for The Grey Lady whom

she had conversed with, though nobody else had had direct

communication with the resident phantom.

Mrs Connolly had kept a lid on the petulant Mrs Milford-Haven, mother

of Nigel, who had been confused by her lengthy, Corbynesque train

journey from Cornwall.

She had scarcely been over The Camel in her lifetime, but was naturally

acquainted with the concept of a hump.  This was no crude allusion, but

merely indicative of her tendency to sulk when she was not the centre of

attention. Maybe it was some kind of physiological Radon effect.

Mrs Connolly had handled her robustly.

Whit’s the matter with yon wifie?  she had enquired.  Has she peed on a


Soon she had calmed the situation down by introducing her to a Farrow and

Ball paint chart, which gave the peevish guest big ideas for Nigel’s post-

honeymoon guilt trip, to finish off the decoration of her bathroom.

Even Gus had been a tad emotional about his more-or-less step-brother,

Hugo, who was stranded in Venezuela.  He had been unable to leave the

country to take up his proffered teaching post at St Birinus Middle, even

after all the hard work Virginia had put in with visa application and so on.

A black market hawker was unlikely to be able to afford a trip to The


Bachaqueros was a romantic collective noun, but everyone knew that it was


Dru had been exasperated: Why doesn’t he just add billions of zeros to a

Bolivar note and turn up at the airport with a wheelbarrow of them?

It’s not that simple, darling, sympathised Diana.  We should have opened a

‘Generosity’ site to raise funds for him, I suppose.

Oh, I hadn’t thought of crowd-funding, Dru sighed.

Or he could have sold his Ford Pinto, muttered Gus.  Though we have lived to

see Voltaire’s comments on paper currency come true.

The Rev Finlay Armstrong had been aroused at the mention of this notable


Yes, it returns to its intrinsic worth, Snod explained, as if he was back in the


Flickr-Voltaire (marble) by Houdon. Nat Gallery Art, Chester Dale,


Author: Sarah Stierch


But he was not back in the classroom.  He was now to be a married man

and Virginia had suggested that he burn all his old teaching notes in the

new trendy, fire pit which Murgatroyd had installed so that his guests

could sit al fresco in the midge-ridden gloaming on the few Indian

summer evenings which were dry.

That was quick! she had remarked.  There was a few singed curls of paper.

Where is all the rest?  Had you shredded them?

No, Snod replied.  I am of the old school.  All my lessons were, and indeed still

are, in my head.

At least she was assured that there had been no incineration of erstwhile

love letters.  She still had a little explorative rake-through with

Murgatroyd’s self-wrought poker.

She was right about the non-incineration of the amatory epistles. Diana

still possessed them- including the Valentine card which had gone astray

like many a Messianic sheep, all those years ago and which had led to the

current denouement.

But this seemed to be all in the past.  Virginia had been reading Sandor

Marai’s book Embers and an apposite quotation from it had come to mind:

Time is a purgatory that has cleansed all fury from my memories.

We shall subsequently see whether this is indeed the case.

Meanwhile Mrs C was showing her fatigue in her usual Malapropistic

manner: So, when will you be back from Chipping Snodbury? she asked

Murgatroyd and Diana, who had planned a little antique-hunting

expedition in The Cotswolds.

Sodbury! they had exclaimed.