poetry diary

I rhyme to see myself, to set the darkness echoing. (Seamus Heaney, from Personal Helicon)

Against time

Too soon night’s watching lights dissolve and fade;
make way for fractured skies, which draw each tree
from lightening hills, like tunes from darker sounds.

Too soon the starlings rise; too soon the wind;
too soon the traffic’s beat, impatient feet
on crowded streets; heads sway like wheat, too soon.

Too soon shop windows fill with plastic life;
too soon bored workers close their minds to dreams;
too soon a jilted lover locks her heart.

Then streetlights fight again with rising stars
which grow like crowds, arrived too soon to watch
as time consumes our hopes – too soon, too soon.

November morning

Still blue autumn day;
whispers of frost on the roof.
A red vine leaf falls.

Canary Wharf

Through twisted camera lens
impassive skies frame
jagged diamonds and
splintered, crooked spires.

Naked, shallow waters thirst
for birds or resting ships –
adventure, risk and stevedores.
Sun glanced from tiny waves
to empty mooring rings –
shining black, unused
except to trap by accident
an empty, sodden,
sparkling pack of crisps.

Logos in the water speak
of trade and another age:
Hong Kong, Shanghai, and India;
reflections of a past now blurred
as each cloud blocks the sun;
evaporating with the years
and lack of ships, and men, and fears.

Canary Wharf is a redeveloped dockland at the heart of London’s financial district. I was there last Monday. I’m not a great fan of the UK’s over-reliance on financial services.

Regret (after Paul Éluard, ‘À peine défigurée’)

The lips don’t have to be yours
to plunge me into sadness
with a smile.

Complete despair would be kinder,
than these filaments of hope
always wakening sadness.

We moved on and said farewell,
but you returned again this morning:
footprints etched in the grain of the floor;
your eyes unblinking in those I try to love.

I cannot forget
the power of your love
in every woman I embrace;
in every stirring of the flames,
like a monster without form,
your memory shades their face:
beautiful and sad.

I read a classic French short novel, Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan, this summer (in translation). The title is a reference to the poem below by Paul Éluard, which was included in the book but not translated. My French is modest, but I enjoyed translating it and then re-working it (a lot) to arrive at the very loose translation above.

(‘Bonjour tristesse’ literally means ‘Good morning sadness’…so you can see how free I have been.)

Adieu tristesse
Bonjour tristesse
Tu es inscrite dans les lignes du plafond
Tu es inscrite dans les yeux que j’aime
Tu n’es pas tout a faire la misère
Car les lèvres les plus pauvres te dénoncent
Par une sourire
Bonjour tristesse
Amour des corps aimables
Puissance de l’amour
Dont l’aimabilité surgit
Comme un monstre sans corps
Tête désappointée
Tristesse beau visage

Paul Éluard, ‘À peine défigurée’

A willow tree

Trembling willow leaves
alive to summer winds, fall
to winter’s first breath.


Contemplating the willow tree in our garden.

Waxing boots

I break the yellowed beeswax crust,
like muddied ice on moorland paths;
and fingers gather stubborn lumps,
which cling, like peat.

Roughened leather, weather-washed;
these boots have waited on the shelf –
two children, mortgages and jobs –
three decades since

first making fearless tracks through bogs.
I’ll start with rigid toes: scarred, scuffed,
consuming wax, and gritstone-hard
like Froggatt Edge.

Yellow runnels form, working back,
like sheep paths up on Kinder Scout,
but warm and fade to firming hands –
my fingers sting

from friction rather than raw cold;
and pleasures of secret valleys,
days’ ends and pack-less walks to pubs
awake again

as fingertips, now numb, relax
on yielding, loosened tongues; enjoy
eyelets and subtle seams, still etched
with nineties’ wax.

This scent is history and mud,
tired colours deepening like love –
massaged boots becoming landscapes;
laces, snow-waxed hills.


Froggatt Edge and Kinder Scout (pronounced with a  short ‘i’, like in India) are hills in Derbyshire, UK, near where I grew up. I used to do a lot of hill walking in my late teens and early 20s.

Posted at dVerse.

Sharing autumn skies

When I say ‘I love you,’ now,
we speak as trees in late summer,
and whisper in September winds
as the first leaves fall.

When I say ‘I love you,’ now,
we have seen the trucks collecting lambs
and held the empty starlings’ nests,
black against the dawn.

When I say ‘I love you,’ now,
your roots flow deep into your hill
and mine surround my grassy knoll;
binding earth we know.

When I say ‘I love you,’ now,
I do so freely, as our branches touch,
expecting nothing in return,
but shared autumn skies.


Feeling wistful.

Posted on d’Verse Open Link Night.

Next to a Footpath at Fuente De

Thank you to Vita Brevis for publishing one of my poems, together with a beautifully apt picture.


Vita Brevis

Submitted by Matthew Rhodes

Lives like raindrops falling into mud,
making rivulets of blood.

Unwasted, yet ungently blown; dashed and mixed and tossed and dropped,
then burned and baked to clay;
stretched tight in frozen screams.

Time, as in a century, will pass
and stir the mud; raise ears of corn
unnumbered like the raindrop lives
that cannot be remade.

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Photo credit: An Italianate Landscape with Travelers on a Path, Jan Both

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Late autumn morning

Opening my blind
to frost-iced roof tiles, last night
lingers in the sun.

Local Government (after W H Auden*)

In Homeric disputation
With civil servants, in chorus,
From Departments of uncertain
Provenance and purpose,

A strangely passioned obstacle
I sit, attempting to fulfil
Great Birmingham and Solihull’s
Most democratic will.

By whose selection (ill-advised?)
I bring my radical appeal –
To officers and time-served staff,
In meetings rarely real.

And daily stand for ‘common-sense’
(Or sometimes things only I know)
From conference room to conference room
In rain, sunshine or snow.

Though warm my welcome everywhere,
Governments come and go so fast,
I cannot say from day to day
If policy will last.

Unless I speak of energy,
A world of which I know a touch,
When people know so little now,
I don’t need to say much.

It does, however, bother me,
When a government announcement
Fresh in from the great capital
– I’m sure it is well meant –

Misspells this proud old region’s name,
Confuses their East with our West;
So simply thus reminding us
That apathy is best.


* This poem is a deliberate ‘parody’ of a poem by W H Auden called ‘On the Circuit’ which I’ve written as an exercise suggested on a poetry course I’m reading. Auden himself suggested writing parodies as the best way to understand the poetry of others.

‘On the Circuit’ has 16 stanzas in an 8,8,8,6 rhythmical pattern with the second and fourth lines always rhyming. I’m afraid I collapsed in exhaustion after 8 stanzas, but I’ve also tried to include some of his style with the odd obscure word and a gently ironic tone (?).

I have a voluntary role in one of our local government institutions here, and this poem describes it.

Posted on d’Verse Open Link Night