LANDSCAPES †† Poems by Bob Devereux††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††

 

††††††††††††††††† I

 

Spread the map out flat.

There are no hills here;

This is a levelled land,

††††††††††† Levelled by water,†††

††††††††††† Tamed by man.

††††††††††† Dutch geometry;

††††††††††† Drained land;

††††††††††† Veined with ditches,

††††††††††† Saved from fishes,

††††††††††† Given to grain.

 

When the world was a wild place

And men survived by cunning,

The trapper of birds

And the catcher of eels

Were kings with the heron.

 

They sifted the mud for elvers,

Tended their limed twigs;

Could spear fish.

 

They were the hunters,

Plundering nests for

Eggs and young birds.

Cattle and corn were

Other menís work.

They knew their craft;

Weaving the willow wands,

Could make traps;

And they were happy to walk on water.††††††††††††††††††

 

††††††††††† Then Vermuyden came,

††††††††††† Scarring the face of the fen,

††††††††††† Carving his name.

††††††††††† The hunters saw the old life drain away,

††††††††††† Oozing through new wounds

††††††††††† Cut by prisoners of war.

Dutch engineers made gold from dross.

Dykes netted the land where the wilderness was.

Now fish, fowl and man must follow their course.

 

††††††††††††††††† II

 

††††††††††† Fixed to focus,

††††††††††† A speck in space,

††††††††††† The kestrel

††††††††††† Hovers over the young corn

††††††††††††††††††††††† Waiting his moment.

††††††††††† Everywhere

††††††††††† The silver-tongued skylarks

††††††††††† Sing as they climb,

††††††††††† Warbling up and down

††††††††††† Their ladders of air,

††††††††††† Looking for high notes.

††††††††††† A crow flaps by in his black rags.

††††††††††† The blue dome is filled with feathered life.

 

††††††††††††††††† III

 

Before the taming,

Out of the bubbling broth,

Out of the soup of unknowing,

Wading waist-deep,

††††††††††† Seekers came,

††††††††††† Fighting the fever,

††††††††††† Bent by the weather.

They built their huts of mud and wattle . . .

††††††††††† And they prayed.

 

Truth only comes to men in solitude,

††††††††††† In holy silence.

 

Only the bitterns booming in the sedge,

And the scrrech of the night owl

††††††††††† In the reed beds

††††††††††† Troubled their peace,

As they tilled and built to God,

††††††††††† Busy as bees

In those monastery gardens.

 

Great were the churches that grew from the black peat.

††††††††††† Great Abbeys;

††††††††††† Acres of honeyed stone

††††††††††† Climbing to Heaven.

††††††††††† Their vaulted roofs were sweet

††††††††††† With plainsong,

††††††††††† Their cloisters filled with murmuring.

 

††††††††††† And the poor people

Brought ploversí eggs and honeycomb

And silver pike for Abbotís high table.

††††††††††† And the Heron King

Placed his fish in a circle

††††††††††† On the bank,

††††††††††† And flew into the setting sun.

†††††††††††

††††††††††† And the poor people

Brought oak gall and goose feather quills

For the monks to write the Scriptures.

 

(This movement also incorporates vv. 7-10 of Psalm 19 in Latin)

 

††††††††††††††††† IV

 

††††††††††† Five swans

††††††††††† Flying in from the tundra,

††††††††††† Flying in from Siberia,

††††††††††† From the Kara Sea.

††††††††††† They carry the cold wind

††††††††††† From the Caucasus

††††††††††† On their snowy white backs.

††††††††††† The bell-beat of their wings

††††††††††† Is bringing them home

††††††††††† To winter pastures.

††††††††††† Grey armies of geese

††††††††††† Fly in from the North.

††††††††††† And greylag and pinkfoot

††††††††††† Come whiffling down

††††††††††† Out of a winter sky,

††††††††††† Flooding the fen with strange sound.

 

††††††††††††††††† V

 

††††††††††† Build another step.

Good earth is blowing in the wind;

Slowly our land erodes.

Curtains drawn across the sun;

Thick mist blankets the fen;

††††††††††† Her ghosts are stirring.

 

When there were still hedges,

And wrens to nest in them,

Our horses ploughed a straight furrow;

††††††††††† Then fields were fields.

†††††††††††

They drove geese to market from here.

 

††††††††††† Black white, black white,

††††††††††††††††††††††† The lapwings fly.

††††††††††† Black white, black white,

††††††††††††††††††††††† In unison.

††††††††††† Black white, black white,

††††††††††††††††††††††† They wheel and turn.

 

So many sunsets

The heron hunts with hunched shoulders.

 

They harness steam to pump the water.

The night has a heart beat.

The long arc of the horizon circles all.

 

††††††††††† So much sky,

††††††††††† So full of light.

††††††††††† The sunís reflection dazzles

††††††††††† In every dyke.

†††††††††††

††††††††††† Gold in the grain,

††††††††††† And in the pollen.

††††††††††† In every dyke

††††††††††† The sunís reflection.

†††††††††††

††††††††††† So much sky,

††††††††††† And all aflame.

††††††††††† The sunís reflection dazzles.

††††††††††† Gold in the grain.

 

© Bob Devereux 1987