Monthly Archives: February 2017

The Old Man

I used to do a lot of hill walking when I lived in the right places, principally Stirling, where I went up into the Highlands, and Cardiff, where I used to drive to the Brecon Beacons. The Surrey Hills, where I live now, are good – but they’re not quite the same. There’s nothing like proper mountains for a sense of freedom.

The old man in this short poem is the the Old Man of Coniston. Those who know that fine mountain in the English Lake District will also know that this photo is not taken there, as I don’t have any digital photos from that walk, which was done a long time ago. (It’s in the Brecon Beacons, near Pen y Fan).

The Old Man first appeared in Orbis poetry magazine, no.88.

The Old Man

In stride pale valleys grow before us,
smoothed between slumbering beasts,
and exciting strange pools of thoughts;
after roaming the Old Man and returning
like water we fall together
by a crumbling river and you sing,
a silly song, into my ear
as I rest my thoughtless head in your lap.

Who are you to me?
Dreaming child, self-absorbed,
before eroded thoughtways
you sing the possibility of freedom.

Scarecrow

This poem, written one winter when I was doing a lot of outdoor work, first appeared in Envoi magazine, no. 127. I was reading quite a lot of Ted Hughes at the time, too, and the great Welsh priest-poet, R. S. Thomas.

Scarecrow

The crow is not itself
just as I am not myself alone –
some of me is stolen
by that shrewd, wheeling eye.

What do I look like in crow?
Dumb, slow, stumbler on a field
of plenty, just trouble enough
to keep an eye on.

It sits there on my fencepost,
careless that it contravenes the good of me.
Watching me, utterly
unafraid of me.
Watching me, my enemy.

Watching me as I pierce
the slopping, inert earth with my cross
and dress its stick arms with shredded sacks.
And it doesn’t caw or blink
as I settle on the upright pole a pumpkin
and on that a black, shapeless hat.

The light on the winter field fails.
The crow’s wings stretch out,
pass up through me
as I walk, unsteadily, home.

Leaving my scarecrow in the field.
Alone with the crow.