Monthly Archives: January 2014

We Honour Them

The Alfred Staniforth

The Alfred Staniforth

Every year in Teignmouth on Boxing Day is the ‘Walk in the Sea’, a fund-raising event for the Lifeboat Service (RNLI).  My previous blog on the Compass Rose reminded me of a poem I had written in 2012 after that year’s Walk in the Sea.

There is tremendous local support for the Lifeboat service whose volunteers go out any time to help those in trouble on the sea.

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We Honour Them

Just feel the nervous tension in the air,
that apprehension of the icy chill to come.
Groyned into that patchwork shore
beside the strutting pier;
idle jawing, banter,
laughter that dispels the fear of the fun
and heightens, oh so much, the fun of fear.

In fancy dress.
Penguins, pirates, deck of cards,
snowmen, santas, elves
with shards of Christmas cheer in mind.
A pair of naked chefs
with apronned front and monogrammed behind.
Standing, mingling, shivering aloud,
quivering in the steel-sharp wind
that keened through struts and watching crowds.

And then at last the final countdown;
ten, nine, eight ….. right down to one.
The klaxon’s blast
that signalled now the time had come
to test our hearts, our lungs, our mental strength
in dashing through the crashing waves
the length of Teignmouth beach
on Boxing Day.

We strode, we braved the bone-chill seas,
we seized the day
and leapt the breaking foam.
We dived, we plunged,
we lunged, we ducked, we screamed.
Our muscles groaned.
Our rictus gasps sucked in the precious air.
It seemed that we had conquered
and the sea could not constrict us there.

But we were safe,
ten, twenty metres from the shore.
We could still stand.
What’s more we knew
that help was always close at hand.
And we knew our time was short;
three minutes, four,
perhaps as much as five.
We would survive.

But by this simple act of fun
remember them –
those who daily brave the power of the seas
to bring us fuel,
to bring us food,
to bring us goods,
to bring us all we need.
Remember them.

And when their ships go down
in storms too terrible to know,
or shatter on forbidding rocks,
we send more men from town
to rescue them.
Men with families themselves.
Local men, everyday men like you and me.
Brave men who live a sailor’s code
to rescue, save, retrieve, return to home
all those in peril on the sea.

And with this simple act of fun
on Teignmouth beach on Boxing Day,
with every nervous laugh and screech
we honour them,
our Lifeboatmen,
we honour them.

Want to know more?  Check out Teignmouth Lifeboat Service on this site

Compass Rose

Bless the sea and all that’s in

but bring me home to kith and kin

 

Mosaic Compass Rose

Mosaic Compass Rose

This mosaic compass rose is to be found at the lower entrance to Mules Park as you walk up the cliff path.

It bears the above rhyming couplet.  Is this poetry?   I think so.  There are many views on what is actually meant by poetry but if you believe, as I do, that one of the features of poetry is to capture the essence of something in a few meaningful words then this couplet satisfies that criterion.

Teignmouth has a long sea-faring tradition, recorded as far back as the thirteenth century.  Making a living from the sea was, and still is, a tough occupation with high risk and much heartbreak.  The sea provided but the sea could also be a demanding master, taking lives at will.

The couplet reflects Teignmouth’s sea-faring tradition and encapsulates feeling of the prayers and fears of those, and their families, who risked their lives to provide.  A homily that is as true now as it was seven hundred years ago.

The reverence for the sea is observed annually in Teignmouth at the ‘Blessing of the Boats’ ceremony held at the New Quay

Want to know more?  Look at ‘Sea-faring tradition‘ on this site

Larch Brook

The Teign Estuary

The Teign Estuary

Keats’ poem on Teignmouth referred to a number of places along the Teign estuary.  The existence/ location of  two of these, The Barton and Larch Brook, have been the subject of some debate.  I decided to explore for myself and took a walk up and down both sides of the estuary following the path of Keats in search of truth.  This poem reflects my thoughts.

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Larch Brook

I followed the path of Keats today.
I let my footsteps lead
where the feet of Keats might once have trod.
Like a dog that gnaws a bone to extricate the best,
that unctuous flavoured essence of the marrow gel,
I am obsessed by his doggerel that has scored my mind
with lines of verse which I could not let alone
in some obscure metaphoric way.

I followed the path of Keats today,
not by ferry o’er the surging, stygian Teign
but striding forth upon the singing Shaldon bridge,
that Keats would not have known,
to reach the distant Ringmoor shore
where ancient milestone marks the Torquay road
in measured miles and furlongs, even perch,
across what’s now the Templer Way.

I followed the path of Keats today,
slip-sliding up the low-tide shore,
glissading over slime-soaked stones,
avoiding glazed-smooth flats of mud
where bristling clay-pipes peeked,
tempting lairs for crabs that scuttled there
when Selene’s breath would suck the estuary dry
to strand the crabs in traps of clay.

I followed the path of Keats today
upstream, absorbed in Endymionic dream,
in search of truth, the truth he knew as beauty,
which is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.
Each breccia’d headland opened up another cove,
carved by brook and Teign in ebb and flow,
silted hollows open-mouthed to suck you in
if you should from its hardened, lapping lips dare stray.

I followed the path of Keats today
and found the Arch of ancient stone
whose breasted brook surged out from reeded fields.
I reached the cream-tea land of Coomb at clear Teign head.
On distant hills was nestled Bishop’s Teign,
the Barton, the King’s Teign edging Newton Marsh.
Just as they, with Arch Brook, were no opiate dream
then surely Larch Brook was no casual rhyme that Keats had feigned.

I followed the path of Keats today,
followed on and passed the Coomb at head of clear Teign,
not through faerie groves, nor across Elysian fields
but edging vaporous, grey-slicked muddy coves
until I found where I believed lay truth.
A brook that oozed beside a stand of trees,
gaunt conifers in silhouette against the vernal skies.
‘Larch Brook’ – no poet’s random rhyme; I found Keats’ truth today.

Want to know more? See …..
Notes on Keats
Notes on Poem

Wassail

Wassail posterHistory was made on 17th January when this first Wassail in living memory was held in the area.  It was a celebration of the creation of Holcombe Community Orchard in 2012 year, the Jubilee year, and a festival of future fertility of the orchard.  There was music, song, verse, dance and a healthy helping of mulled cider and wassail cakes.  Here is a selection of the verse used in the ceremony:

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History:

Beowulf:
Waes this hal.
The rider sleepeth,
the hero far-hidden,
no harp resounds,
in the courts no wassail,
as once was heard.

Herrick:
Wassail the trees that they my bear
you many a plum and many a pear.
For more or less fruit they may bring
as you do give them wassailing.

Song:

Here we come a-wassailing
among the leaves so green.
Here we come a-wandering,
so fair to be seen.

Love and joy come to you
and to you come wassail too
and we wish you and send you
a happy new year.
And we send you a happy new year.

Bud and blossom, bud and blossom,
bud and bloom and bear,
so we may have plenty
of cider all next year.

Invocation:

Old apple tree we wassail thee and hope that thou wilt bear.
The Lord doth know where we shall be till apples come another year.
To bloom well and to bear well, so merry let us be;
let every man take off his hat and shout to the old apple tree.

Old apple tree we wassail thee and hope that thou wilt bear
hats full, caps full, three bushel bags full
and a little heap under the stair.

Hip, hip, hooray!
Hip, hip, hooray!
Hip, hip, hooray!

(Lots of noise, banging and rattling of pots and pans.  The the following verse is said whilst the trees are blessed in the time-honoured manner)

To blow well and to bear well,
so merry let us be.
Let everyone drink up his cup,
here’s health to the apple tree.

CONNECTIONS:

Wassail Tradition
Holcombe Community Orchard

The Darkling Thrush

comp wtw 140108 poemI found this, “The Darkling Thrush” whilst out walking on Wednesday.  It was pinned to a nature noticeboard in Mules Park in Teignmouth.

 I wonder if this is an example of “Guerilla Poetry”.  Nice idea.  Perhaps I should do some clandestine postings around town!

 

 

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The Darkling Thrush
Thomas Hardy


I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware

Keats – ‘some doggerel’

keats poem new quayWhat better way to start Teignmouth in Verse than with this piece, ‘Teignmouth‘, by Keats which can be found on the wall of the New Quay Inn.

This was described as ‘some doggerel’ in a letter to B.R. Haydon.

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Teignmouth
John Keats

Here all summer could I stay
For there’s Bishop’s teign
And King’s teign
And Coomb at the clear Teign head –
Where close by the stream
You may have your cream
All spread upon barley bread.

There’s arch Brook
And there’s larch Brook
Both turning many a mill;
And cooling the drouth
Of the salmon’s mouth,
And fattening his silver gill.

There is Wild wood,
A Mild hood
To the sheep on the lea o’ the down,
Where the golden furze,
With its green, thin spurs,
Doth catch at the maiden’s gown.

There is Newton Marsh
With its spear grass harsh –
A pleasant summer level
Where the maidens sweet
Of the Market Street,
Do meet in the dusk to revel.

There’s the Barton rich
With dyke and ditch
And hedge for the thrush to live in
And the hollow tree
For the buzzing bee
And a bank for the wasp to hive in.

And O, and O
The daisies blow
And the primroses are waken’d,
And violets white
Sit in silver plight,
And the green bud’s as long as the spike end.

Then who would go
Into dark Soho,
And chatter with dack’d-hair’d critics,
When he can stay
For the new-mown hay,
And startle the dappled prickets?

Connections:

Keats
Keats’ Teignmouth Poem