More explaining what I think I meant

In this post, the respected critic Simon Banks comments on the work of the obscure poet Simon Banks. In the last post I analysed, or at least commented on, Spirit Mountain and Knight at Arms. Now, proceeding from the earliest poems posted here towards the latest and selecting poems I think I’ve got something to say about, here are some more.

MARSTON MOOR

On Marston Moor the rubbish grows

Beside the road, great pile on pile

And those who choked on their own blood

If they could see, would wryly smile,

 

If they could smile, at this New World

Which marks their death with rusty iron,

Snapped plastic, aluminium;

And those who tried to build their Zion

 

Or serve their King, may hear the chant

“Behold, we’re making all things new:

The bloody rout on Marston Moor

Is no concern of me or you”.

 

The Yorkshire soil is doing its job:

Fed deep by Scots and English blood

It brings forth cabbages and beans

Where shattered horses writhed in mud.

 

The moorland’s gone, the muskets too,

But over flat and docile land

A harsh wind blows and voices call

Of hopes we would not understand.

 

Marston Moor was one of the biggest and most important battles of the English Civil War, fought in 1644 just outside York. The city of York was in Royalist hands but a Scottish army supporting the English Parliament had been besieging it with English support. A Royalist army under the loved and feared Prince Rupert, King Charles’ young German relative, marched to relieve the city. More English units had joined the besiegers, but, fearing to be caught between the garrison and Prince Rupert, the besiegers withdrew. Prince Rupert left the garrison in situ and marched after the besiegers to make sure they withdrew entirely. However, the Scots/Parliamentary army turned around and offered battle. What followed was the war’s bloodiest battle. The Royalists nearly won the day but the intervention of a rising Parliamentary commander called Oliver Cromwell was decisive and the Scots/Parliamentary forces won a great if expensive victory.

Some years ago I visited the battle site and was shocked to find it marked only by a 19th century monument, against the fence of which the farmer had stacked bales of hay. Across the small road was a refuse tip of some kind. The poem is about the battle and about the failure to mark it with proper respect – so about modern attitudes.

I studied History at university and particularly the Civil War and Commonwealth period. In the poem I use Civil War period terms:

New World: America was much in people’s thoughts in the 17th century as a New World seen as a new chance, but also many on the Parliamentary side saw what was happening back home as a chance to make a New World – a different, better society.

Zion: The Parliamentary side, including but not comprising only Puritans, used a lot of religious language and to them Zion was not an Israeli state in the Near East but a kingdom of God. This is contrasted with “serve their king” – which is what most Royalists would have said they were doing.

Making all things new: a biblical reference. The more revolutionary of the Parliamentarians used it to characterise the big changes in England and Scotland associated with the downfall of the king. But I turn it round to refer to the incomprehension my contemporaries felt for the Civil War period.

In 1644 the battlefield was a mixture of moorland and farmland. Apart from the tip, it’s now all farmland. The area is flat and fertile.

 

ARRIVAL

We will shortly be arriving

At a quiet dead end

Where the fallen coin on the platform

Has been there for over a year

And the door to the booking office

Swings open when you approach

Where the bench is empty

And always will be so

 

But you may sit down here

To regain your breath

You had some when you started

So you want it back

And a tabby cat will come padding

Down the platform and through the wall

Then a long-dead friend will join you

And turn to a mother you knew

 

On the other side of the wall

Where the cat has gone

A murmur of several voices

It’s not the kids in the yard

But maybe the gates of heaven

Or a shift change on the ward.

 

I used to travel to and from work by train. The Harwich end, where I live, is on a small branch line: my station is the last before the terminus. This poem draws on the reality of a quiet, usually unstaffed station – but after the first verse it’s an attempt to represent the experience of an old, confused person in hospital and near death – the end of the line.

WOLF

Cry in the night

A wavering yearning wail

Remembered

 

The pack all know their part

The smell of sickening deer

Bloods their comradeship

Torn flesh is life

 

Wolf dreams the voices in the leaves

The running of a long-lost mate

The tumbling play of cubs and then

Midwinter snowlock, icy breath

 

Fairytale devil

Hiding in homely things

Better to eat you, dear

Ravenous, clever

 

A chalice for our wish to kill

For rape and for rebellion

To turn the world right upside down,

Of chaos, and the homeland’s milk

Of law and lace for all time spilt

 

Wolves ride our dreams

In each dark wood

A half-remembered beast

Down each sharp slope

They wait, or wander like the wind

To fall on anywhere they wish;

 

The fearful grope

Of climber on the alp falls short

Because the wolf waits just beyond

But at his fall the wolf will stand

And soon have sport

 

A child is missing

Sheep are torn

A travelling brother never comes

Folk knew the wolf must be the cause

So hunted it with dog and gun

Until one lonely wolf was left

Searching for any of its kind

Into a trap and hung to rot

 

So who had killed the lost child now?

Some human wolves must roam the night

And must be burnt to break the curse

 

To wolves the random rage of men

Is like a maddened hurricane

That picks this up and sets this down

Safety and death in hands of clown

 

That wail again: no devils of dream

Unearthly through the forest stream,

But wolfpack hunting in the night

And not a tiger burning bright.

This is both about real wolves and about human fear of wolves and images of wolves. It’s set out to indicate two voices, opening with straightforward description of a wolf’s life and moving to the wolves of human dreams, myths and thoughts before finally returning to an attempt to speak for the wolves. The wolf is “a chalice for our wish to kill” – it represents a side of ourselves we can’t admit – and it’s a dream figure of fear and death, possibly referring back to our humanoid ancestors’ real experience of being hunted by great cats. Wiping out the real wolves, though, does not end evil, which is now sought in “human wolves” and persecution of human by human.

For me, the best verses are the last two and the last one still sends shivers down my spine, though I wrote it. There is of course a reference to William Blake’s “Tyger, tyger, burning bright/ In the forest of the night” – a brilliant poem, but I’m trying to reclaim the real wolf (and tiger) from the mythical images of darkness and power.

For the time being – that’s it, folks.

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4 Comments

  1. jmk

     /  March 18, 2012

    I don’t mean to neglect the other two poems but I was swept up in Arrival. Very good.

    By the way, I notice the stanzas that appear in the emailed notice don’t appear here. Or is it just my browser?

    Reply
  2. Thanks, jmk. Yes, I don’t know why the gaps between the verses and indeed the distinctive layout of “Wolf” have disappeared. They were pasted from a word file where all that was correct, and the same process worked when I first posted them. Some technical improvement, no doubt, devised by someone who didn’t consider poetry! I’ll go back and edit the gaps in, though the other layout issue may be beyond me. Perhaps I can put the verses of Wolf that were set back in italics instead.

    Reply
  3. LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words

     /  March 23, 2012

    I liked your “Wolf”
    one needs to respect the reality they live in…
    and I do… I enjoy the wolves..my two
    are beautiful, but even at 8-9months, I have seen their
    true nature…
    yes, i do respect them….
    This was very good …
    I liked it alot…
    now if i can find the Witch with Green hair..I keep getting sidetracked..
    Thanks Simon…
    )0(

    Reply
  4. Reblogged this on Greatpoetrymhf’s Weblog and commented:
    Always delighfull this one will make your day or not

    Reply

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