Poem – The Cave and the Quarry #EverybodyNow

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Gibsons Cave and Summerhill Force by David Allen

Here is a poem, part of a series of posts that mark the Extinction Rebellion protests which are drawing our attention to the damage we are doing to the world around us.

It’s about a walk in Teesdale, in the North East of England, which I did with my husband.  We followed rivers upstream, past waterfalls.  This one, with its legends of runaways hiding behind the water, caught my imagination.  In the North East, you don’t go far without stumbling across remnants of past industries, and here it was a quarry.  These places can be desolate, they can remind us of the costs of changing the way we live for those whose livelihoods, whose families, depend on the way things are.  They remind us of the importance of imagining new ways of living, that promote dignity and independence, as well as creativity and sustainability.

What struck me here, though, and elsewhere, was the power of nature to return and to thrive even in places that seem wrecked and spoiled.  Whatever political and social difficulties we may face in times of transition, living things will come back to desolate places, given half a chance.

“For there is hope for a tree,
if it is cut down, that it will sprout again,
and that its shoots will not cease.
Though its root grows old in the earth,
and its stump dies in the ground,
yet at the scent of water it will bud
and put forth branches like a young plant”
Job 14:7-9

May it be so.  May the trees that we have cut down sprout again, may the scars we have cut into the earth be healed, may the land sustain us, and all living things.

And so, this poem is one of hope, of the return of life, of seeing things anew.

 

The Cave and the Quarry

We followed the valley down –
Down from Gibson’s cave,
where the river poured over
a high lip of rock,
undercutting a dark, hidden place.

It stayed in my mind, that place –
What would it be like to stand there,
behind the falls,
to look at the world
through that fast, cold, brown, water?
Would it wash your eyes to
see things you hadn’t seen?
Was it an enchanted place?

It seemed so, for, walking back,
we saw an old quarry
we had not seen before,
dark, and hidden –
and now we walked by
strange hillocks –
spoil-heaps sprouting trees
like ancient burial mounds,
where crowds of small birds
bounced through the air,
landing on ledges of rock
that once were sharp, fractured.
Now, moss dripped off everything,
and there was a sign
that promised flowers,
for it asked us not to pick them,
and we wondered – what flowers would come?

And I thought as we walked down the
path that carts carrying stone had made –
how long did this take?
How long before the green
and the birds and the
trees crept back into their place?

How strong, how eager, life is.
Water, and greenness,
flowers, and small birds,
moss and grass,
they soothe our scars,
they make the dead come back to life,
we need only step back,
step back and say “yes”.

Poem – Three Days #EverybodyNow

I’m reposting this poem as part of #EverybodyNow, as Extinction Rebellion are focusing our minds on our bonds with the rest of the Earth, and the life of all creatures

Andrea Skevington

blackbird2 Photo from Flickr, photographer unknown

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I have been transplanting buttercups into the verge at the front of our house, where there is no pavement, and have been thinking about boundaries – in particular the contrast between the rather wild garden, full of life, and the fast road outside.  This poem, written a few years ago, came about as I watched a female blackbird mourn the death of her mate.  She kept vigil for three days, and then she went.  I did not see her again.  It made me think about not only the intensity, the reality of each creature’s experience, but how often we live in our own enclosed worlds, isolated from each other, and how hard it can be to cross those boundaries.   How hard to credit and acknowledge the fullness of the lives around us. To begin to do so, to begin to see and understand another,  seems…

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Everybody Now – a parable to mark the beginning of Extinction Rebellion’s week of action

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All around the world, people are taking to the streets to draw our attention to the terrible destruction spreading over our home, the Earth.

It grieves me to learn of so many living things, plants and animals, that are on the brink of being lost from creation for ever.  It grieves me to read of the native European trees, like the ash, and the chestnut, that are now getting closer to dying, of British native mammals whose numbers are diminishing rapidly.

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But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
    the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
 ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
    and the fish of the sea will declare to you.

Job 12: 7,8
It is time to listen.  What will we learn?

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Peaceful, imaginative and creative protest can help us wake up.  It can be a revelation, a prophetic voice showing the impact of human greed, and the poverty of our love for our neighbours.  We are not free from the consequences of our actions.

Much of my work draws on a depth of love for the natural world, and so this week I hope to post, and re-post, some pieces which speak into our current crisis, in my own small act of protest.  And so, I begin by reposting this parable.

 

The parable of the good craftsman

Once there was a craftsman who had two children. As you might expect, he had built a beautiful house out of seasoned wood, with wide windows that looked out over his lush green fields, his flocks and herds.  He had made fine, carved furniture for his house, and he had smiled when he made it, and said, “That’s good!”  He had made beautiful plates and cups and jugs out the red clay near his house, he had smiled when he made those, too, and said, “That’s good!”  He had made a sheepfold to keep his flocks safe, and smiled, then, too.  In fact, all that was around him was good and flourishing and abundant, and as he looked at it all, he laughed out loud and said, “That is all so good!”

The day came when he needed to go on a journey, as the people in these stories often do.  He thought, “My children are old enough to be left in charge now.  They have watched what I did, some of the time, and I have told them how good it is.”  And so he left, and the children looked around, and they, too, saw that it was good.  So good, in fact, that they started to think how much it was all worth.  So they sold the furniture, and the plates and cups and jugs, for a fortune.  They were made by a master craftsman, after all.  The plastic ones they bought to replace them were good enough. They looked at the lush green fields and thought, “We could rear more animals in pens.”  So they did: twice as many, three and four times even, the poor creatures.  They sold the pasture they no longer needed, and a factory and a car park grew there, large and grey and ugly.  The water from the well their father had dug became bitter, but they bought water in bottles with all the money that they had made.

Then, the time came for the father to return.  As he drew near the house, he noticed the trees along the road were withered and dying, and his smile left him.  He came across a bird trapped in plastic that blew across the fields, and he set it free.  Then, near the house, he found a thin child sitting by the side of the road.
“What is the matter?” he asked.
“I drank water from the stream that flows from over there, by that factory.  It tasted bad. Now I’m sick.”  The father gave the child water from his own flask, and picked up the child to take home. He had herbs for medicine there.

But when he got even nearer, he could see that the factory was on his own land, and that where his own fields should be was all noise and smoke.  He could see the plastic rubbish spilling over from his own front garden, from where the flowers and the vegetables and the herbs had been.  He saw his own children, with grey, indoor faces, and said, “what have you done?”
“Father, we are so pleased to see you!  Come inside, we will bring you the accounts and you will see what we have made!”
“That is not the kind of making I intended you for!” replied the father. “And see, see this child, poisoned! How will you enter that in these books of yours?  What have you done with all that I have made – do you not know that I love it all?”

Some prayers from the first chapter of Prayers and Verses

Lord, purge our eyes to see
Within the seed a tree,
Within the glowing egg a bird,
Within the shroud a butterfly.
Till, taught by such we see
Beyond all creatures, thee
And harken to thy tender word
And hear its “Fear not; it is I”.
Christina Rosetti 1830-94

O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us.
Basil the Great c330-379

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772–1834

 

#EverybodyNow

Prayers for a new term – from Prayers and Verses

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September.

This year, it’s rich, and green, and everything is starting to grow again, like a second spring.  It feels like a new beginning, which is appropriate as it’s the beginning of a new academic year.  And, like all new beginnings, even for those who are almost looking forward to it, it can be a little daunting, and make us feel a little anxious.

For others, it’s the beginning of a new adventure, or a welcome return to time spent with old friends in a safe, familiar space.

Whatever it is for you, may you be blessed in the weeks to come.

 

Here is an extract from my book, Prayers and Verses.

A new school

Do not imitate what is bad, but imitate what is good.
3 John 11

Goodbye, dear old school,
Hello, bright new start.
May God guide our lives,
Head and hand and heart.

Dear God,
Help us as we learn new things.
If we learn quickly and easily,
may we help others to understand.
If we make mistakes,
may we understand what went wrong.
help us never to be afraid of new things,
but to see them as an adventure.

 

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Otley Hall Quiet Day – the vine, and other growing things.

Last Saturday I had the enormous privilege of leading a Quiet Day for St Mary’s Church of Woodbridge, based on I am the vine.  I’m afraid I wasn’t taking photos, just giving my attention to what was going on around me.

The gardens are so beautiful, as ever, and it was particularly good to see several vines growing and entwined, with small grapes forming.  They were forming a tunnel, you could walk through the vine, almost grafted in.

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A photo from earlier in the year from Postcard from Suffolk

It was so good to sit by the water, and watch the fish and the dragonflies.

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Here is a picture from an earlier visit, in spring.

One of the things we talked about was how Jesus’ I am saying – I am the vine – gives us a way of seeing ourselves as deeply connected.  We talked of many things – how we can deepen that connection to God, and each other.   We talked about everything holding together, ourselves and everything else, in Christ.  We read about that in Colossians.

We used poetry to help us towards prayer, and contemplation, including Malcolm Guite’s sonnet, set to music here by St Brides.

I can’t help thinking today, about our connection to this good green earth.  It is precious and beautiful, and we are only just beginning to learn how it does hold together, interconnected, and mutually dependent, as we are watching with horror as the Amazon burns, and Siberia too.  We know how ancient woodland in our own land has been cut down, or is under threat.

May we find our way home to tending for this beautiful world.

May we take inspiration from the song of the vine.

You can read some more about the vine, from my book on the I am sayings, here.

God, source of all light and life,
help us to see your hand at work
in the beauty of creation.
Help us to know that, in you,
the whole earth is holy ground.

O Lord,
Your greatness
is seen
in all
the world!
Psalm 8:9

From  my collection of prayers, Prayers and Verses

 

You might like to read A parable for Earth day.

 

 

Poem: Weaving – Unweaving

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This is another poem from the  “They toil not” workshop -poems of spinning and weaving.  The first, you can read here.

At the end of the afternoon, Beth Soule gave us some ideas for doing and making, including this little loom and baskets of threads.

For several days, I’d had some words of Coleridge’s going round in my mind – I’m trying to find them.  I read them in Adam Nicolson’s wonderful “The Making of Poetry”, and they refer to Nature, like Penelope in the Odyssey, making and unmaking, weaving and unweaving.  So, there was an image in my mind of Nature, and Penelope, at her loom, weaving the shroud which she would then unweave at night, as nature makes and unmakes and makes again.

It’s a big theme for a small, playful piece, and maybe I shall return to it, especially if I can find the source.

For now, the woven poem is above, in the picture, hard to read, so here it is set out on a page.

 

 

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Attic red-figure skyphos: Side A, Penelope seated before her loom, and Telemachus standing (both named). Attributed to the Penelope Painter, ca. 450–400 BCE. Chiusi, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, 63.564. Drawing by Valerie Woelfel.

Woven unwoven

The mother gathers her threads,
green, and blue,
blue, and green,
earth, and sky,
field, and stream,
and weaves all day as the sun shines.

Then, at night, with darkness,
and with silver,
she unravels the threads
and drops them
into the deep.

 

 

 

I went to the workshop with my friend, Tracy Watson-Brown.  You can read her poems
Spinning Song

and

Bugs and blossom

on her blog.

 

 

Poem- Spider

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Photo – Matthew Ling

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Yesterday, I took part in a Poetry Workshop led by Beth Soule of the Suffolk Poetry Society

It was held in the Bank Arts Centre, Eye, which really used to be a bank.  I loved the solid mahogany, looking prosperous and dependable, hung with colourful pictures and full of new life.  The food we had was delicious, and the company stimulating as ever.  There is something very special about writing companionably with others, supporting each other.  It was good to be reminded of that!

The theme of the day was “They toil not” – spinning and weaving – and Beth gave us such a rich feast of material that, as we read our work to each other, we saw what ideas had been stimulated and encouraged.
My mind was turning over a poem by Walt Whitman as I came to write this:

 

Spider

Growing in a hidden place,
until the day those long, many jointed
legs begin to flex, and stretch,
and take you out
into the autumn light,
where gnats wail,
and flies buzz slowly

Until, balancing on the end
of the brown buttons of hollyhocks
you throw out your lines.
Where will they land?
You throw again across cool air,
beyond sight of your many eyes,
throw again until something

catches, some connection
holds fast, at last,
and you go into your unknown
along a trail
you have already laid for
yourself to follow,
familiar under your delicate feet.

 

It’s not the first time spiders have caught my attention.

Spiders – September

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Another poem from the workshop can be found here

I went to the workshop with my friend Tracy Watson-Brown, and her poem is here: Spider

Poem – Today, July 19th

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It’s been a busy few weeks.  I’ve had the enormous privilege of speaking at the 150th Anniversary Festival Service for my old college, Girton.  It was such a special service, and the choir filled the red brick chapel with marvelous sound.  How good to celebrate 150 years since the college’s small beginnings – the small beginnings of women’s higher education in this country.  It was so good to be able to contribute to a diverse and joyful weekend. A huge thank you to Malcolm Guite for inviting me to speak.

What with that, and this – this, and that, I have rather lost my daily rhythm of writing, and today I thought I would try again.  Just to sit with a notebook and begin, and see where my pencil took me.

It didn’t take me very far at all.  It kept me right where I am.

 

Today, July 17th

Today is a day of butterflies –
white against the deep greens,
the purples,
tumbling over the lavender –
intoxicated.

Today the hard nubs of
apples wait for their
slow ripening,
and the last of the buttercups
shimmer faintly.
Tomorrow, and yesterday,
yesterday, and tomorrow,
but now,

Today, is a day for hollyhocks,
frilled and pastel,
full of large fat bees,
while the young newts
hide there, under the red
watering can,
and the sky turns white,
and the swifts fly high,
and my eyes fill with
limpid light.
It is enough.

 

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Poem: Jacob’s Ladder

 

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One of the loveliest spots in my home is the window seat.  In the winter, the radiator does its work through the wood, and it is warm and snug.  At this time of year, as you sit you are surrounded by flowers, and every day you see something new opening.

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This poem is a poem of waking up. To begin with, the life of the world seems far away, on the other side of glass.  Gradually, though, I begin to see.

 

Jacob’s Ladder

Sitting on the window seat, in this box of light,
I drink warm, bitter coffee, my mind waking slowly from  sleep.

There is a fly buzzing against the glass, black and slow,
not getting through.  On the other side is the cool sun,
the flowerheads and flowerbuds swaying in the breeze,
their stems crossing and crisscrossing  in straight green lines,
Making rhomboids, diamonds of the brightness.
And so I sit here, as if among the flowers,
not feeling the breeze, not catching the scent.

There are the bright, tissue paper flames of poppies,
and the soft deep pinks of the columbine,
dove among flowers,
And the euphorbia – black with bees –
their green flowers full of sweetness.

But there, suddenly, are the tall spikes of Jacob’s ladder,
new dazzling white, startling, perfect.
They must have opened early while I slept.
Those flowers – small, spread out skirts
of pure white, anthers gold with pollen,
the delicate deep ring of purple veins –
drawing you deep to the green-dark heart of the flower,
curled, mysterious, where the heavy bee probes
for nectar as sweet as the honey yet to come.

Angels ascending and descending,
ascending and descending
as the stiff green stems are swaying,
are still swaying in the cool breeze.  The day begins.

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The name of this plant calls to mind the story of Jacob in Genesis, which is also a story of coming to see, of waking up.
Here is my retelling from The Bible Retold, the text shared by The Lion Classic Bible

Jacob went alone, travelling unitl it was dark.  Shivering in the chill of the desert night, he took a stone for a pillow, and lay down to sleep.  As Jacob slept, a dream came to him.  He saw a ladder, with its feet on the ground, stretching up and up to heaven.  In his dream, he watched as God’s bright angels travelled up and down in between heaven and earth.  And in his dream, God himself was there.
…….
Jacob woke with a jolt and looked around.  He was alone.
“God was here and I didn’t know it!  This place is the gate of heaven!” he said  Then he took the stone he had slept upon and set it up as an altar to God. He poured oil on it as an offering, and worshipped there.

You can read the Genesis story here

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Sophy Williams’ beautiful illustration from The Lion Classic Bible

 

Help us, like Jacob, dream of angels.
Help us, wherever we wake,
to know that you are there, too.
Help us to see with new eyes.