(Anne Boleyn’s Communion chalice, donated by Elizabeth I’s physician,
is displayed in a niche in the above.)
Had her head been brought in on a platter,
she might have seen a vaulted porch, with veins
like gills, or fine tracery of brocade;
or diagrams of a nervous system;
or skeletal frames of hooped farthingales.
That narrow windpipe staircase on the right,
constricted as her white, extended throat,
might have reminded her of a Tower
and the futility of counting steps.
This holy place was built on virgin wool.
It was a fold for sheep, who stood before
shearers and then were led to swift slaughter.
Here is a wine glass pulpit, slim as waists,
pre-gravid: a stem for those who could grasp.
A Lamb prayed such a cup would pass from Him,
but had to drink it to the bitter dregs
and she had her Gethsemane as well.
Benjamin, caught with a stolen vessel,
was offered clemency – but she had none.
Her gilt chalice, though charged with sacred blood,
conferred no immunity, nor did it
prevent Dissolution of the Abbey.
Criticism of a current favourite
did John the Baptist no favours either.
But the dancer in Herod’s court was sly –
perhaps more so than this sloe-eyed woman,
who ultimately was beheaded too.
May, the traditional time for losing
one’s heart to one’s love, was a nuptial month,
but also a month of execution.
Cherry tree confetti in the graveyard,
proleptic of this afternoon’s wedding,
has already been bruised and downtrodden.
You may sit on a Woolsack, or a throne,
and gain the whole world, or lose your own head.
(The engraved acanthus decoration
evokes immortality; lineage.
Though its thorny leaves speak of sin and pain,
it was an apt gift to a physician,
from the grateful daughter of Anne Boleyn.)
Photo by Candia Dixon-Stuart
The Post Office is closed; a flyer pokes
out of a letter-box; thin rivulet
trickles down a bridleway, aiming for
the Evenlode. A profusion of blue
chicory shivers in the breeze. The church,
sanctified by its topiary cross –
reminiscent of Jane Austen’s necklet
which she wore as she left the rectory
on merciful missions to village poor –
stood firm during Napoleonic Wars.
Its roof vault is as azure as that sky
the poet contemplated on his brief halt,
when his depression lifted on hearing
birdsong, which trilled above the hiss of steam.
From trenches, could he see that cloudless square?
When someone failed to set the station clock,
did Time itself revolt at what would come?
Could we also be on the brink of war?
Yet pale Wisteria seems to conquer
fear and heraldic tulips blazon hope.
A yellow poster in the bus shelter
promises that all money raised
from a talk on Edward Thomas will fund
Syrian refugees – will help those ‘wontedly,‘
or wantonly, driven out of their homes.
Who will attend? Some wealthy weekenders?
Thomas never actually made it here,
although his spirit is ubiquitous.
Pervasive silence invites us to pause,
in the name of Poetry and Beauty,
before all clocks are permanently stopped
and there are no more birds in Gloucestershire.
Candlemas Bells White Purification Snow Piercers
Naked Maidens Good Christians Ice Lilies
February Fairmaids White tears Death Flowers
Shrove Tuesday Fools
Flowers of Hope
Snow Bells Eve’s Tears Mary’s Tears
c Photo and poem by Candia Dixon-Stuart
The man who threaded words together, like
silk yarns in a Paisley shawl, showed respect
for his woven jacket and removed it,
carefully, with his silver watch, before
quietly lying down in a culvert,
no longer walking iambically.
A lass singing his lyrics ambled by;
muffled clacks from cottage shuttles faded.
The lava tide which slumbered in his soul
erupted and he saw Mount Olympus
and heard himself ask the gods for a bard
in Caledonia. They said, Not one,
but two are granted: Burns and your good self.
In fact, your verses, like sharp dragon’s teeth,
when sown in the ploughed minds of your peers,
will multiply the poets of your land.
Where the peesweeps and the shy skylarks soar
your resting place will be; no unmarked grave
will contain you: this tunnel’s mouth no stop
for such as your unlimping lines. And now
Paisley Buddy, you are transformed into
the waft of wild mountain thyme on the braes;
the arabesque of a bent cedar tree;
the elongated curve of a boteh,
such as you might have patterned on your loom,
or incorporated into a phrase
now echoing in the winds of Woodside,
or whispering through fogs in Ferguslie.
Tannahill, you wove the cloths of heaven
into Scotland’s literary fabric.
Photo by stephencdickson – Wikipedia
Photo by Candia Dixon- Stuart
A re-blog from 5/11/16
I visited the church today as I wanted to somehow commemorate five
brothers who were all killed in World War 1. Their youngest brother-
Percy Soul- died of meningitis after the war. He was the sixth son.
Apparently some villagers were annoyed that Mrs Soul received financial
‘compensation’ for her five sons’ deaths in service.
Later she moved to Great Barrington. She had three daughters who must
have been traumatised by the loss of their brothers.
I kept thinking of Fry’s Five Boys chocolate, for some reason and I checked
that it was in production when the boys were young. It was. I hope they
were able to enjoy this childish luxury as they ran around the fields,
scratching their names on the beams of a barn. Maybe not, if they were
(Photo by Kim Traynor, 2013. Own work of enamel sign.)
It was freezing cold today. Inside there were wall monuments to others
who had died – centuries before. One girl had only been 19 when she
There was a little trapped wren inside and an aspiring organist who
arrived for a practice. I don’t know how he could have attempted to play
with cold hands!
Anyway, I went home and thought I’d try a villanelle. The rhymes are
limited, but there are 5 tercets- one for each brother, maybe. It ends with
a quatrain, where the rhyme feels a bit anti-climactic. But then, maybe it
suits the content… All ready for Remembrance Day. Let’s Not Forget.
The Lost Souls of Great Rissington
So, she wouldn’t stand for God Save The King,
though all five sons lay down for him and died.
For each life she pocketed a shilling.
The candle in her window kept burning,
watched by a girl who’d never be a bride.
And a mother and three sisters crying
was no salve for the sharpness of Death’s sting.
Over the cow-common, The Windrush sighed
and, in a drawer, telegrams were yellowing.
The candle guttered- a Soul was leaving.
The Roll up yonder couldn’t be denied.
No bugler registered this sibling.
In a village barn there is a carving-
names of hopeful lads which emphasised
desires for immortality. Living
in a peaceful hamlet? No, perishing-
even a twin had no one at his side.
While some entrenched neighbours were gossiping,
lethal as shrapnel and more exacting.
(St John the Baptist Church, Great Rissington
Photo by Jonathan Billinger, 2007)
autorotation, Beaumont Hamel, Bois des Fourcaux, Bois l'Eveque, calvaire, Cambrai, Craiglockhart, del Gesu, Delville Wood, Dufay, dunnock, Hamel, Hebuterne, Last Tree, lynchet, Mametz, mandrake, Maricourt, Napier University, Ors, Queen's Hall, remblais, Sassoon, Somme, Steve Burnett, sycamore, The Branch, Wilfred Owen, World War 1 poetry
A friend told me about an amazing radio programme about Steve Burnett,
in Edinburgh, making a Wilfred Owen violin from a fallen branch from a
sycamore tree from Craiglockhart Hospital, now Napier University,where
Sassoon and Owen met and discussed their poetry, before Owen
returned to the trenches and met his untimely death.
I listened to the programme and then felt compelled to write the
The Sycamore Sings
Shall life renew these bodies? Of a truth
All death will he annul…
(amended words from his poetry on Wilfred Owen’s gravestone)
Where a mother muted her offspring’s ire,
deleting his line’s interrogative;
where Dufay scored his music at Cambrai;
St Quentin’s corpse loomed from the Somme marshland,
to hallow the grandest basilica;
where guillotines did their grisly work,
fog lifted from shattered Bois l’Eveque-
new dawn drawing back night’s curtain of war.
On a towpath, a twenty five year old,
tried not to fret how he would cross the bridge.
Mesmerised by the autorotation
of seeds, he foresaw his own slow spiral,
where magpies croaked in blasted canopies.
Dark, stark poplars had been lopped long before;
the copses razed; the rides and lynchets scarred.
Mametz, Maricourt and Bois des Fourcaux:
sweet chestnut, lime, beech, hazel, oak, hornbeam-
mad mandrakes uprooted; bi-furcated trunks.
Sad remblais of Hebuterne (No Man’s Land)
absorbed shrill batteries near sunken lanes.
Calvaires bowed before continuous suffering.
In Beaumont Hamel, a single tree remains,
petrified. In Delville Wood, The Last Tree
stands like a gibbet. Sycamores survive.
They grow where other trees give up the ghost.
One such, at Craiglockhart, he could recall.
Again he heard the dunnock’s douce refrain,
singing for dear life, from lush foliage,
before its notes were silenced, once for all.
Fragments of father’s sermon rose to mind-
about The Branch, hope, regeneration.
Now, while still green, a supple slice is bent
into a tongue which will tell of all loss,
tears oozing like resin from a wounded bark:
man and nature in divine harmony.
In Queen’s Hall, it will sob and it will sing
of the pity of war – the air fleshily weeping.
And, one being dead, yet will be speaking
through a universal language of peace,
from a pattern once conceived by Gesu.