poetry diary

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

Category: Fortress and history poems

Caer Caradoc

Like a grain of sand I cross your banks,
borne on Roman time and tides, too late
to stand and fight, with you, for life.

My feet scour and stir the earth you threw
upon this hill in vain; once proud
projection of your power, erect
(I imagine, at least) but now
soft and conquered, smooth mounds suckling sheep;
slopes made romantic by imagined pasts and feet.
A woman it was, I hear, who did for you at last.

Like a grain of sand I cross your banks,
and shape your fort, and feel your hands;
two thousand years have passed and still
I dream with you.


Caer Caradoc is a hill fort and also a hill in Shropshire, in the West of England. It is named after Caractacus, the Celtic chief who resisted the Roman invasion of Britain in the first century AD, and is supposedly the site of his last stand against the Roman legions. He was betrayed by a neighbouring Queen and taken in captivity to Rome. You can read more about him on Wikipedia and about the hill fort here: Caer Caradoc.

I like castles and fortresses and this poem is one of a series which I haven’t added to for a while. I’ve climbed Caer Caradoc many times, and it is a good place for a last stand.

Meditation – Warwick Castle Sunset

Clouds streaming like armies from castle walls
dissolving into still futile beauty
of a sunset, raw red like war, westward.

They will never return.

Unlike this sunset, which will come again,
and war fall, like rotting pears on the quiet lawns
of middle England, unprepared once more.

And still the fortress stands.


This evening was still and beautiful in Warwick, with storm clouds receding and the sun emerging for the first time in a few days. The days are longer now, and the sun doesn’t set till round 9pm. The first lines of this poem came to me while playing tennis, and watching the clouds (I’m not a very serious player) and the rest is a slightly random meditation. I have no particular premonitions of conflict, but the future is a safely long time. The English are rarely prepared for change, I feel.

Warwick Castle – Friday evening in May

Ramparts against ebbing light;
clouds like sands.
Is this a fairytale come true
or folly on the beach?

Denying time and space;
towers like hands.
Holding this hill and place;
too much to teach.

Laughter dulls against your stones;
gates like frowns.
Fashion passes by and dies,
silent walls impeach.

Lost in time, waiting for wars,
which passed like thieves.
You can’t move, cannot change;
you’re far beyond my reach.


The light and clouds yesterday were fantastic, above the castle walls, and looked just like the pattern you get on beaches, after the tide goes out. (I play tennis next to Warwick Castle most weeks. This time we lost our tennis match 6/0 6/3, but I can’t blame the distraction for that.)

Submitted to Jingle Poetry Potluck. This is one of an occasional series on castles I’ve been doing since last year.

Warwick Castle

Always there;
embedded in your town,
like the patrician you are
and somehow always have been.

Haughty and magnetic;
drawing people now,
and warriors then,
like a wick –
a wick to war, so apt
to your name
and the role you play.

I like the orange glow at night:
the warm lit walls against the night
reflected in the river;
windows flash and flags implied
on slightly random towers.

Too many windows, though,
to defend –
your power is much more subtle.

You haven’t passed a thousand years
without knowing how to flatter
and adapt:
a twenty-first century castle,
conceived in nine fourteen.

© 2011 Matthew Rhodes

Not sure about this one – I may try some major variants. I play tennis beneath these walls twice a week.

Nottingham Castle

Only the burning remains:
blackened stones and silent rock –
gatehouse to nowhere.

This is a land of half-myth;
rebels and oppressive lords –
lost in leaves and fog.

Reality is stranger;
original democrats –
rioting for votes.

Like Cairo today, they cared
and acted against the odds –
looking for better.

Manicured grass and dark stones;
neither one thing nor the other –
today’s castle sleeps.

Robin Hood was more open;
confronting evil with hope –
he led from the front.

Copyright ©2011 Matthew Rhodes

Nottingham castle was burned down by the citizens of the town in 1832, rioting for the right to vote. I was born and brought up there, so know it well.

Corfe Castle, Dorset

Long, dark breaths surround you,
Desecrated, ruined towers.
You came with horses and men;
bent on violence, rape and war.

Drawn in by gentle slopes:
rich rolling curves and soft warm shoulders;
dew-fresh earth, dark and moist;
surf pounding, driving underneath.

Walls built for domination;
erect and proud against the sky.
short-lived all, time caresses:
stones tumble, lie still where they fall.

Quiet hills whisper mists;
absorbing and dissolving strength.
Long, dark breaths surround you,
desecrated, ruined towers.

© Matthew Rhodes 2011


Dunnottar Castle (Fortress IV)

The men who lived here turned to rock,
and fell into the sea.

It seemed a good idea at first,
to build above the surf;

A fortress hewn apart from land,
a playground for the gulls.

Security and peace for all,
he promised and they came.

The waves and cliffs kept out the foe,
and held apart the race.

But soon the greyness of the days,
the rhythm of the foam,

Ate into minds and into hearts,
and memories fell too.

Then women left, and no more came,
and coldly fell the rain.

The men who lived here turned to rock,
and fell into the sea.

© Matthew Rhodes 2011


Kenilworth, England (Fortress III)

In a place like Kenilworth
you see the character of a country:
a castle built for a single party,
still remembered
after four hundred years.

A queen came here once —
in the days of power

(for a week).

And so did a general,
and not so fond of parties,
or queens,
sixty years later blew down the walls,
drained the lake,
and spoiled the fun —
when the days were earnest

(in an hour).

But not the memory.

People come to see the walls,
not the holes.

And who would build afresh
such castles in the mind?
In these days of quiescence

(with a decade, or two,
of luck, and pain).

Such power persists
through centuries —
time to deal with it?

(Not here, not now).

Not ever —
in a place like Kenilworth.

© Matthew Rhodes 2011

Fortress II (Dunstanburgh Castle)

Without the walls, wave-tossed rocks
cry loneliness, even now.

You yearn for sky, I see;
and feel your pain.

So hard to be stone in love
with air – caressed and shadowed;
shaped, smoothed,
and finally –
consumed as dust.

© Matthew Rhodes 2011


Fortress I

Unfeeling stones that sat, grassbound
and sheep-licked, even in Alfred’s day;
touched by light, as they were once
when carted from the hills.

Human hands, still –
then and now through time –
shaping fortresses and fates;
passions turning walls to blood,
and nothing new.

© Matthew Rhodes 2011