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Title: The Haunted Garden

Date of first publication: 1947

Author: Henry Treece (1911-1966)

Date first posted: Feb. 6, 2019

Date last updated: Feb. 6, 2019

Faded Page eBook #20190212

This eBook was produced by: Al Haines, Jen Haines & the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at https://www.pgdpcanada.net

The Haunted Garden

To the memory

of a little bird that flew

into our lighted room and

then out again, into the dark

by the same author




First published in Mcmxlvii

by Faber and Faber Limited

24 Russell Square London W.C.1

Printed in Great Britain by

Western Printing Services Limited Bristol

All rights reserved


Acknowledgements are due to the following magazines and anthologies, which have printed poems contained in this book: The British Digest (Central Office of Information), The Dublin Magazine, The Glass, Graal, The Irish Times, John O’London’s Weekly, Kingdom Come, Life and Letters To-day, Poetry Quarterly, Poetry (Chicago), Poetry (Scotland), Phoenix, Tribune, The Welsh Review, The Windmill, World Digest, Air Force Poetry (John Lane, The Bodley Head), How I See Apocalypse (Lindsay Drummond), Little Reviews Anthology (Allen and Unwin), The Pleasure Ground, edited by Malcolm Elwin (MacDonald and Co.), To-day’s New Poets (Resurgam Books), and to Vain Victory, by Stefan Schimanski, published by Victor Gollancz, in which the poem ‘Conquerors’ appeared as a Foreword.

H. T.


Prologuepage   9
Little Green Frog10
Two versions of one poem: 
    Through the dark aisles of the wood11
    Deep in the forest11
The Tree13
The Twig14
Blind Bird15
The Haunted Garden16
Let us arise and walk now17
The Lost Land18
Princes of the Twilight23
Known in a drunken ecstasy32
Fickle as tiger33
I have seen sun light up the flowered bones34
Beyond Four Walls37
In the dark caverns of the night44
There is an ocean in my head that nightly sings45
Two Metaphors46
Sea Poem47
Death of a Fighter Pilot48
Christmas 194350
Poem after War62
The Sons of Peace63
Duet for the Times65
We, old as two wars, here have stood66
Seven Stations to the Tomb: 
    Pre-Spring (Birth)69
    Spring I71
    Spring II72
    Inbetween Seasons I74
    Inbetween Seasons II75
    Autumn I76
    Autumn II77
    Winter I78
    Winter II79
    Post-Winter (Death)80
To Lucasta while at the Wars81
Who murdered the minutes?82
If red is passion, with its coloured tales83
Poems to Ireland: 
When quiet comes over the hill again92
Time’s lumbering wheels roll on93


The small bird whistling in my tree

Knows no black hate or enmity;

He does not care if cities fall

And darkness overcovers all.


He minds not if the red blood’s shed

And truth is murdered in her bed;

But watches buds sprout. Without fail

He marks the movements of the snail.

Little Green Frog

Little green frog in the strawberry leaves,

Don’t be afraid.

My boots and hedging knives

Were never made

To take the life from friends like you;

You and the robin and the tiny shrew.


No, never fear, for we of this small house

Are not afraid.

We love the bear as well as the field-mouse

And we are paid

In full, if when you see us pass

You do not shrink into the grass.


Little green frog in the strawberry leaves,

I’ll tell you now,

Poets, thank God, are tearing wolves,

But not to you.

Their enemies are men whose decalogues

Can find no place for love, and little frogs.

Two Versions of One Poem


Through the dark aisles of the wood

Where the pine-needles deaden all sound

And the dove flutters in the black boughs


Through twilight vaults of the forest

Where fungus stifles the roots

And the squirrel escapes with a cone


Through the dim alleys of pine

Where the bent stick moves like a snake

And the badger sniffs at the moon


Through the green graveyard of leaves

Where the stoat rehearses his kill

And the white skull grins in the fern.


Deep in the forest

In a sea-green light,

Where the fern springs thickest

In eternal night,


The white moths weave their pattern

Above the blind mole’s mound,

And badger comes to fatten

On what his eyes can find.


And where the nimble stoats rehearse

Their ballet of the kill,

Half-hidden by a century’s moss

There grins a human skull.


It has been home for beetle

And shelter for the snake,

And half the woodland people

Have heard its dry lips speak;


When evening wind blows strongest,

Sounds in the sockets stir.

The creatures of the forest

Forget when it came there.

The Tree

The tree, wise in its status, never moves

Its roots, though storm should break

And frustrate wind howl like a tawny wolf

Into the tattered cloud. The tree

Keeps its own counsel and is led

Only by rise and fall of sap, by sun and moon.

The birds that work each other’s merriment,

Even destruction on its rocking boughs,

Are minims of the moment, soon dismissed.


But I, talking my way through Empires,

Breaking the silken cord of Pleasure in my haste,

And scattering bright petals with my heel,

I am he who shifts his facile roots,

Accommodating any wind that moves

Harder than rose desires, or any blow

That would shake cherry-blossom down.

It is my destiny that tree, who is my god,

Should raise his arms in loathing of me now.

The Twig

This twig, thrusting its way through the soil,

Puppet of wind and frost, indomitable

Traveller through rock as hard as iron, stands

In some green valley of my questing mind

As symbol of fate’s failure to allay

The lust of motion that drives creatures mad,

Sets men to building bridges out of sand,

Throttling great rivers with a giant’s hand

So that sweet light shall shine his way to love,

Outleaping time across the sky’s vast bowl,

Kidnapping songs in days of summer joy

To let them free when winter seals the tongue.

In this bare twig, whose green mind drives it on,

I see man stab love to the very heart

Or recreate a heaven from two crossed sticks.

Blind Bird

Under the horn of a glass, deep in my dreams,

I hear the prick-eyed linnet, ‘Sweet my love,’

Whistling for all creation in a second’s joy

And never calling to her carefree heart

The long dark months, the grave-blind years, the hell

Of no sweet eyes; no colour leaping free

Out of the simple sky that all men take for bread,

Out of the bright red flower, the twinkling river-bed,

Where paradisal creatures in their scales

Produce a fantasy, a summer sound,

A heaven of multi-coloured ecstasy.

This small bird sees no sky, she sees no darting trout,

But sits, beak soft to breast, thinking her time again,

Thinking the glorious feckless sweep and swirl

Among the cotton clouds, over the hills,

Over the tinkling, steel-blue river, gentle as time;

And then the burning needles, sharp as lime.

The Haunted Garden

In this sad place

Memory hangs on the air

Fragile as Spring snail’s tiny shell,

Coming to the sympathetic ear

Gentle as bud’s green pulsing in the sun,

Suave as sin in a black velvet glove.


The old faces gaze

Wistful as birds, among the nodding leaves;

They watch the pleasures ghosts may never share.

And through the twilight hours

Old voices call along the river-banks

And out of the high-walled garden.


Why do they sigh,

The gentle ones in the flowering musk;

And what are the words of the song

The pale stranger sings as he walks

The garden’s still, deserted paths,

Like a boy searching for his dog?


Let us arise and walk now

Out of this bare land, where the wind

Blows over cruel hills cold as a stone;

Out of the plain where grass as sharp as knives

Cuts to the limping bone.


Let us arise and wander

Through the summer gorse, among

Cowslip and violets and bird’s eye trefoil,

Through mists of bluebells on the forest floor,

Laughing at cuckoo’s call.


And let us find our way

To where the strutting peacock trails

His glory at the edge of the dark lake,

Where cypress underneath a lover’s moon

Comforts the old wound’s ache.

The Lost Land


The dry breasts of Britain,

The bare hills, rolling black

Back into nights older than history;

And the gaunt stones

Pointing like hangman’s fingers

Through the morning mist,

Or lolling on the ground like ruined kings;

The great monoliths

In whose stone heart the past declines to dust.


Seven geese go shrieking black across the moon

With necks outstretched and dreaming of the ice

Or golden eagle poised in God’s high palm,

And the strange dark ones rising through the mist

That hides the islands from the eye of peace.


Sickle and mistletoe and full white moon

And weed-grown creatures creeping from the sea

As wide-eyed priest,

His chin turned to the sky,

Beats his thin breast in twilit ecstasy.


In a corner of the dark wood,

Where adder slips through the fern,

Where foxglove and coltsfoot push up towards the light,

The antlered men sit singing in a ring,

Twitching their painted faces at the sign

Of hare’s foot and rabbit’s ear

And black cock’s entrails steaming in the glade.

The whimpering slave chafes at his iron ring,

Fingers his calloused neck,

Pulling his rags around him as he hears

The voices of the trees asking for fire.

Stationed on the plain, the dark-eyed soldiers

Build their grey walls and lock themselves away,

Away from mists and legend’s mystery,

The sacrificial screaming from the fire

And gaunt-faced man nailed up against the oak,

Rolling on sheepskins, they sharpen their short swords,

And round their fires they dream of sunny roads,

Rich Gallic wine and cyclamen

And laughing girls crowding the Capitol.

Princes of the Twilight


Princes of the Twilight


First the frost, kissing the anguished root

And striking terror in the seed’s soft heart

With winter breath, turning all water iron.


Then the thaw and Spring’s soft courtier

Dancing in green across the merry fields,

Gold torque and harp all glittering in the sun.


And last the summer weather in the vine,

Covering the bones from sight with scented moss,

With bugloss and poppy and the rich red corn.

It was well in the old days, before the knife had lost its edge and the dog turned on his master.

Then the sky was always blue and crimson pennants waved in the mild air.

And the lords and the ladies galloped on white horses over the rolling heather towards the sea, laughing and singing, their gay cloaks streaming out behind them.

And in the halls, minstrels sang and jugglers tossed bright swords into the air; and sometimes, at midnight, the grandson of the ancient Oak-men would appear before the window, and with his dark art would set the flowers to ring like convent bells, or fetch a cloud of white doves out of the fire-smoke, or call in strange tongues from behind the flapping tapestry.

And in the hovel the goose-girl dreamed of silken sheets and gay laughter, of golden bowls and red wine, as she laid out the thin cold body in its threadbare shift.

It was well in the old days, for then men looked to a time of freedom, when the wolves would go back to the hills and the raiding long-boats would leave the coasts and founder, farther away than even the wild geese knew.


First desire, and sweet seduction’s play,

The mad blood racing through the veins

To tear the rind and lay the soft fruit bare.


Then pride, striding like famine through the land

With golden staff to slash the heads from flowers,

Or choosing ripe plum here, rejecting there.


And last, mere usage, long habit turning grey

Love’s multi-coloured tapestry, and birds

Suddenly sweeping songless through the air.

The Queen, Gwynhyvar, sat smoothing her golden hair with a comb of jet. At her small feet lay a hunting hound.

From time to time her sea-blue eyes strayed to the waxen image of the tall king, dressed in the cloak of the Red Dragon, and then her long white fingers snatched up the silver bodkin and thrust it again and again through the body and the eyes and the legs of the still image.

Looking into her mirror, the Queen saw the thick curtains part, and her red lips drew back to show her teeth, sharp and white as a cat’s.

In the doorway stood the tall king, dressed in the cloak of the Red Dragon.

And Gwynhyvar turned to him and held out her long hands in yearning.

‘My love,’ she sang, ‘Why have you stayed away from me, to whom every moment of your absence is a needle through my eyes?’


First the mood, a wind shaking the trees

Or stirring in some distant sullen plain,

With a swirl of dust and quiver of dead leaves.


And then the act, quick as a viper’s tongue,

Catching the devil on the knife’s sharp edge

Before he could escape, letting red rain fall.


And last repentance in her rough grey shift,

Hiding her tears with soiled and broken hands,

Listening for larks where no birds ever sang.

Under the feathered tree, seven Princes sat, listening to the harper and drinking from golden horns.

And their words flew in and out of the branches like coloured birds, climbing and soaring, swooping and striking, skimming from head to head and hardly ever perching in the heart.

And at last, when the sun had gone and the last minstrel had been dismissed, that Prince with the jet-black hair and the full red lips of a girl spoke to his peers in this manner:

‘Dogs mate not with wolves the wise ones say,

Nor is man born who has seen moon by day

But from a pit or from the wormy grave.

Who here will call himself the black bear’s slave?’

As the last word fell from the cherry lips, each Prince drew his bright knife and thrust it to the hilt in the daisy-damasked lawn. Then the young one, with the hair of jet and the girl’s treacherous lips, lifted his head as the dusk fell and howled like a wolf between his jewelled hands.

The six Princes saluted him, then turning they flung back their velvet cloaks and shot seven arrows into the round moon’s white face.


First, the three gaunt birds waiting for Spring

On blackened bough, staring across the waste,

Watching for sun to break the purple mist.


Then the summer wood, full of a million sighs,

And the wings of a thousand coloured birds, where

In moon-time the pale man whispers with the moths.


Last, the robin, frost on his scarlet breast,

Making his quaint runes across the snow,

And mistletoe swinging in the Atlantic wind.

The three dark women stood by the table, watching the King as he lolled, his great golden head sunk in his tired hands.

‘Do not despair,’ they chanted, ‘For every winter has its Spring, and not a sword but comes to rust at last.’

And Arthur, his heart lighter, rose and walked by night in the woods, and learned a lesson from the flickering moths.

And at last he came to where the rocky cliffs fall down to the great sea, and he looked towards the land where his kinsmen still lived. Then he shouted into the blustering wind, hoping that his words would carry across the wide water to where his folk waited:

‘Men of Armorica, Comrades, Cymry!

Come now if you will ever come,

And we will tread the serpents in the fire,

And we will drive the wolves back to the sea!’

He listened, expecting a titanic reply. But his ears caught only the mad violence of the wind, and his kingly words fell from the air, torn and shrivelled, down the rock-face and into the seashore spume.

And a bird, his small breast bleeding from the barb, hobbled behind him through the snow, and the marks that his feet made spelled the history of despair.


The fifth sad season is a pæan of pain,

Nothing so simple as mere toothless death,

But pitched right at the point of stark corruption


Where every cell shrieks for another dawn

And breath of parsley underneath the moon,

While womb’s walls writhe that their dear day is done.


The last decaying hair, the crumbling jaw,

Ask no broad freedom, crave no fragrant grove,

Beg only the soft motion sea-sand knows.

The old man took the little Prince by the hand and led him down the worn stone steps into the vault below the chapel.

A bat flew out of the shadows and brushed across the boy’s face. A grey rat scuttled over his feet and was lost in the darkness. Above, in the world of men, the Atlantic roared and broke its hyaena-teeth against the gaunt cliffs.

‘This is your kinsman,’ said the priest, lifting the stone lid of a great coffin. ‘This is Uther Pendragon, whose banner you will one day carry through the land.’

The boy looked at the writhing mass and shuddered.

‘Look long on this great one, boy,’ said the old man, ‘and say a prayer.’

The boy bent his head and thought of men chained in a burning cage.

When the two had climbed the stone steps, back into the light, three old women, dressed in black, came out of the shadows and peered about. They lifted the heavy coffin-lid and plunged their yellow hands inside. Standing on the rocks above the churning sea, they threw their horrid load to the hungry breakers.

A black seal raised his head above the waves, and recognizing the falling gift, dived deep to carry word to the green eminence.

And a dying raven, wandering towards oblivion in the upper air, swooped and carried off in his dry beak the ring-finger of the ancient King.


Love-in-dream, the golden pinnacles

Piercing the cotton-wool to a cobalt sky,

And the goose-girl climbing the palace’s jade steps.


Love-in-life, the winter afternoons

When log-fires throw their shadows on the wall

And wind howls in the chimney like a wolf.


Love-in-death, the white child in the wood,

Walking among the drooping aconite

And listening for voices that will never come.

And so he lay, the last of the Romans, and listened to the battle rolling away from him across the rocky field.

And Arthur leaned on his withered arm and wept to hear the bright blood streaming from his side.

And as he stayed, bound to earth, the vetch and the convolvulus crept through his open, gasping wounds into his head; and he remembered Olwen, the goose-girl, who had come bare-foot to Camelot to conceive his child.

And he remembered the long, warm, dusky afternoons they had spent together, between battles, in a shepherd’s hut above Vricon.

And last of all, he remembered his son, who might have saved the land, but who was lost, no-one knew where, and now would never know the light ecstasy of victory, or the weight of a crown.

And Arthur reached out for his sword, to put an end to his suffering in the old Roman way.

But his fingers were already dead, and his eyes filled with blood.

‘Bedwyr,’ he called, as faint as conscience in a drunken dream, ‘Bedwyr, my friend, come to me now.’

There was a rustle in the sedges by the lake, then silence.


Between fate and falcon’s falling, screaming, tearing,

Cleaving the still cloud to deliver death,

Swirls in the upper air a sword-like will.


Somewhere between the rolling weed-grown wave

And craters pocking the green ocean bed,

Sways mercy in a labyrinthine shell.


The will to kill no less than will to die

Swings in the dusk of mindless ecstasy,

Mocking the three crosses on the hill.

Then the tall Queen, the darkest of the three, who sat like a dream of monoliths in the stern of the boat, quietly drew a long knife from her breast, and slowly cut the pale, bruised head from the defeated body. Holding it by the tattered golden hair, she let it drop silently into the black lake.

Only a single ripple hurt the stillness, and then a cloud moved westward across the moon.


Who is the pale hunter dressed in green,

The white stranger with the death-pale hands;

And why does he carry that bright golden spear?


Who is the dark soldier dressed in red,

The black watcher with the bloody hands;

And why does he wear that gleaming silver star?


The hunter is desire, who waits the winter moon;

The soldier, love, who moves towards the sun.

Why stare they at each other’s hands in fear?

In a small clearing of the frozen forest, a little lad tumbled on all fours, among the volcanic stones.

He wailed as he played, and said, ‘If I am indeed the son of a King, as they say, why then is my body clothed with hair, and my hands armed with curling claws?’

The dying raven watched him, with glazed eyes, from the broken bough of a tree. For a moment it remembered its own heritage, and saw itself seated on velvet at a golden board, with the sad harps wailing the song of the mid-summer sacrifice by the great fire. A wolf howled from the depths of the wood.

The little lad stopped in his play of gnawing a snail-shell and shambled towards the sound.

‘I am coming, Mother,’ he sobbed. ‘Have patience with the weak. Pity the sons of Kings, for they must play.’


Known in a drunken ecstasy, the birds

Wheeling, white-winged, across the fluid plains;

The sombre woods forgetting their distress

And lilting, breeze-moved, into summer’s dance.

I have known this, have held the legacy

Of hawks and hounds, in the gay mad mandate

Of furrow and feathery cloud,

The provinces and dominions of the sky

And all the swarming marvels of the deep.


But lion in his rocky folly roars

Rage and repentance over the dead hills;

The quick snake, brilliant in his masquerade,

Shudders among the trailing vine, and halts.

This is the end of all things, end of time

And end of all the mind’s green escapades,

That brought love back with every sign of Spring,

Through whistling wood and daffodil’s gold horn.

It is the window’s close, the lute’s last dying fall,

The dark cloud’s fingers reaching over all.


Fickle as tiger, gay with golden eyes

As amber saviour dancing in a tree

And calling all the timid doves to rest

With angel-silver voice,

Preparing them for table with steel claws:


Smooth as the leopard lolling in the bough,

Taking no toll from jewelled snake that swings

From heaven to sunset in a coloured coil,

But sharpening his white fang

To trap the son of God in his boy’s leap;


Which lad, blue-eyed, wandering through ears of corn,

Knows future in the shining feathers’ spring

And all the perfumes of the past

In almond-blossom’s livening

Among the cool and virgin snow-clad hills.


We all know treachery, as maker or unmade,

And each has fingered blade to lay friend low.

No-one can censure tiger or quick snake,

And not a man remains

But would nail up the master once again.


I have seen sun light up the flowered bones

And tear a groan

From each soft cell-locked minion in the vein;

The poison-ivy of the reaching mind

Strangle each gaily-painted dream

That set the blood in music to the wind.


I have seen willow-wands along the lanes

Move in a dream

Of princesses towards the grave-locked town,

The vetches of the forest whose green hand

Creeps closer to the lonely home

And puts man’s hero from the midnight mind.


These things, known as a crystal forms,

Skin upon skin,

According to solution’s pattern, win

Brain to follow heart into the land

Where no-one dances but the lame,

And only daft have mind to understand.

Beyond Four Walls


Beyond Four Walls

Sentenced at the Shrewsbury Assizes, 13th March 1787, John Llewelyn, twenty-five years of age, on a charge of murder.

The Accused, farm-hand, of a poetic temper but small wit, making his way home from a political gathering in Radnor, on the bitter night of 20th December 1786, sought shelter in a cottage, whose light had attracted him.

After receiving food and drink from the occupants, an old man and his wife, Llewelyn is alleged to have demanded money; and, on being refused with some heat by his host, took out an old cavalry sword that he was carrying and stabbed the man.

The old woman, his hostess, imploring him to stay his hand, he hacked her about the body in such a manner as to cause her death.

As he made his way from the cottage, he looked into an outhouse, and finding there a small dog, struck off its head before leaving.

This then the twist of tricks, the enmity,

The quick turn in the heart that kills

With words or knives or poisoned wedding-cup.

Who cares that the boy who dies to-day

Danced like a willow-wand to last night’s flutes;

Or maiden, joyous in her love, rivalled the lilac-tree

In untaught wantonness?

Who feels that the old man meant much less

Than his time-hardened words had seemed to say?

No lad, the gesture’s made, the word flies high,

Black sword is out and blood flows free!

The Accused, having been judged guilty of murder, was sentenced to hang by the neck until dead, and awaiting the execution of this judgement, was lodged in Ludlow Gaol, an epidemic of gaol-fever having broken out at Shrewsbury, where he was tried.

While waiting the punishment of his devilry, John Llewelyn showed some measure of his madness by his constant changes of mood. At one time he would rave and roar about his cell, singing a song of his own invention, set to a drinking lilt, and ending by shouting, ‘Judas, Judas, old rope-friend, why do you shun me now?’

One for a roaring fee foh fum;

Two for a plague of wasps;

Three for a palace of glimmering ghosts;

Four for a dead bird’s gasps.


Five for an arrow in the heart;

Six for a midnight cat;

Seven for a nail knocked through the hand;

Eight for a blood-red coat.


All together let us sing

Nine for the Gospel-Maker;

The thirty coins have no true ring,

So Ten for the rocking acre!

Yet at other times he would stalk about his stone floor, his raven hair awry and his tattered coat flung about him like a mantle, declaiming poetically and with all the gestures of the heroic Bard, holding his hands this way and then that, so that his gaoler was pained to observe his movements through the keyhole:

When the mood is on me

And the bright fires burn,

Seven birds come singing to me,

The linnets of the moon.


I take the twig of the elm-tree

And autumn’s chestnut leaf

And write in words of mystery

As black as grief.


And my verse is the song of the dark wood

And the ruined house;

And my right hand holds a flaming sword

And my left the field-mouse.


And I walk alone among the mists

Upon forgotten hills.

At dawn the iron’s on my wrists

And in my eyes grey walls.

But always at night, when the gaoler brought his late meal, John Llewelyn would be surprised at his prayers, on his knees by the side of his truckle-bed, weeping and mumbling a devotion of his own devising; a prayer not of these times, but belonging to an earlier age, which, for all his witlessness, he seemed to have knowledge of:

Incense and fennel and the Holy Salt

And parsley cropped under the summer moon,

All stirred with the tongue of a mottled snake

And drunk to the sickle and mistletoe tune,

Will heal and preserve all men from the pain

Of the black poison


The red palsy

The white migraine

The yellow ague

And the purple bane.


But no man is born who holds the skill

To heal the disease that works my ill.

O Lord, have mercy.

Have mercy, Lord!

And latterly he would cry out in his sleep, ‘Masters, a bone for the little dog! He shall have his rights if I die for it! Let the poppet come for his dues!’

Or at other times his words would be, ‘Take me from here. These walls are made of paper. They who would do me an injury can pass through stone. They can get to me beyond four walls. I know them by their horn!’

Then, one night, watching his opportunity, he begged a sheet of paper from his gaoler, and a pen, and he wrote three verses for the easement of his spirit; though, from their nature, it could be seen that his mind was now more than ever in a state of unbalance:


The horn, the horn, the blood-red horn,

The rose sinking down in the death-dark tarn,


Down among fishes of shimmering gold

And amethyst eyes, but oh so cold,


As cold as the heart on a pitch-black night

When the watcher leaps from his bed in fright,


For the tongue that licked his dangling hand

In the dark was no dog’s, but smooth and round


And the creak in the wainscot was no mouse

But the start of fear in an empty house


That grows to a scream as tall as the sky,

Then shrinks to the size of a wren’s small eye


And echoes for years in the dusty hall:

Like the petals afloat on the midnight pool.


Yes, you may take the knife when the deed is done,

Take it and kiss it and thank it for its edge;

Then bless it again for the golden life it steals,

The quiet sleep, the hedgerow flowers and heart’s sweet peace

That never will, while hills stand, be your due.

Then weep your haggard eyes out that the blade

Come clean again, pray that the lisping wound

Will close those sneering lips. Or take your knife

And wipe it white between the two white breasts

Of she who bade you kill. So test her love!


No, never will your twilit room be free

Of sullen whisperings behind the walls,

The scutter of dry hands among the thatch.

Nor, though you thrust your fingers to the brain,

Shall your keen ears shake off the nightly sound

Of a small dog whining to the winter moon.


They shall come in the black weathers

From the heart of the dead embers,

Walking one and two over the hill.

And they shall be with you, never farther

Than your bedside.

        At their will

The smell of putrefaction lingers

And floor is carpeted with rotting hair

Or sheets are torn to shreds

        By the beaks of dead dry birds

And red blood clots in the cup.

        Put up your swords!

What steel can cut the throat of next year’s dream,

What tongue is tuned to speak last night’s quick scream?

Go alone by darkness;

        Burn the clippings of your nail;

Donate a thousand candles,

        But do as you will,

When sun is blind and lamps are lit once more,

Two and one, they shall be standing

        At your door.

On May 25th, two days before he was to hang, at midnight to the minute, the gaoler on duty was disturbed by loud cries from John Llewelyn’s cell.

‘Do not blow your horn, old man. Can you not let me ever sleep?’

And then again, ‘Here is a bone for the little dog. But send him away to eat it outside. I cannot bear to look upon his head again.’

And then at last, ‘Keep the sanctity of these four walls. Remember they are of stone.’

Then there was much screaming.

The gaoler, afraid for the prisoner’s mind, ran to fetch his companions, and together they entered the cell.

John Llewelyn lay stretched on his lonely stone floor, bloody froth at his mouth. And he was dead.

His throat was bitten to the bone; as might have been done by a fox, or a badger. Or a little dog.


In the dark caverns of the night,

Loveless and alone,

Friendless as wind that wails across the plains,

I sit, the last man left on earth,

Putting my fear on paper,

Praying that love will flow from my dry pen

And watching the tears make havoc on my page.


And I remember then,

Under the night’s still mask,

The gallant geese

Making their way through storms,

The fieldmouse scuttering to my door

Away from the black cloud,

And the gay snail

Garnishing the twig before leaves came.


The old ones told me,

‘When you grow grey you think on little things;’

Now these dreams kiss the bruises from my mind

Under the night’s still mask,

As loveless and alone

I sit, till dawn the last man left

Who knows the sound of rain on summer leaves,

The graceful swan breasting the blood-red stream,

And heart’s incompetence.


There is an ocean in my head that nightly sings,

Swings, sways and crawls about the mental globe,

Leaving its molluscs here, its green weed there,

And pocking the still sea-bed with its gusty whims,

So that the barnacle-befestooned wreck turns widdershins

And casts its pearl-eyed memories in my lap

To sort and sift and allocate to Heaven

As I see fit; I, sitting like a salty demi-god,

Whose hand staves in planks here and there discovers gold,

Then throws the whole haul into emerald currents

To disturb the placid whale, spoiling his Iceland course,

Diverting him to some sharp spear-manned isle;

Yet pleasing mackerel, with their soft minion’s eyes,

Giving the festive shoal a holiday

To skip and curvet in among the coins

Like Spring-tossed bushes, or little boys at play.

Two Metaphors

Under the placid surface of the sea

The cruel currents swirl,

Disturbing quiet squid, dislodging barnacle

And scattering the tiny crabs

Here and there among the shifting dunes.

In such disordered motions do I read

The lyric of my life, spirit’s obituary.


Above the bellying white cumulus,

High in the thin, the purple air,

Among the zephyred quicksands, treads the hawk,

Tossed right and left, not knowing when

His pinions will stay on harder atmosphere.

In this uncertain lift and swoop I know

Heart’s weathers and my future’s solitude.

Sea Poem

A kingdom swirls beneath the weed

That knows no mortal eye,

A silent midnight heaven

Where coloured creatures fly

Through clouds of iridescence

And forests of pure jade,

Among the skulls of sailors

Whose jaws are opened wide

In last nostalgic pain.

Those lonely men of Spain,

They will not dance again.

Death of a Fighter Pilot

Devoted to death, even as a child,

The shadow in his eyes showed as the mark

For that slow tumble down the summer sky

With chute close-furled, no terror in the mild

Young face, nor frantic grappling of the air

As doom unfolded. Only the still hands fanned

Over the quiet breast, as though to say

This was the wisest way out of a world

Too hard for one boy’s heart to understand.

The birds about him watched his lurching arc

And as he fell the breeze moved his bright hair.

Then earth reached up and took him in her hand.


By sundown we came to a hidden village

Where all the air was still

And no sound met our tired ears, save

For the sorry drip of rain from blackened trees

And the melancholy song of swinging gates.

Then through a broken pane some of us saw

A dead bird in a rusting cage, still

Pressing his thin tattered breast against the bars,

His beak wide open. And

As we hurried through the weed-grown street,

A gaunt dog started up from some dark place

And shambled off on legs as thin as sticks

Into the wood, to die at least in peace.

No-one had told us victory was like this;

Not one amongst us would have eaten bread

Before he’d filled the mouth of the grey child

That sprawled, stiff as a stone, before the shattered door.

There was not one who did not think of home.

Christmas 1943

To-night the dead lie quiet in the fields

All over Europe; they will not speak again.

There’s one who shuddered in the midnight wave,

Worried by weed and buffeted by spar;

That one smiled once at memories of home

Before the bullet took him as he leapt;

He who fell screaming from the summer sky

Saw bones where had been hands upon the stick.


Lie quiet, lads, lie still and smile i’ the ground,

The same bed waits for us; you have been first,

Taking the hard way up the stairs to death,

And that is all. Listening to the bells

This Christmas time across the flat grey fields,

I know youth passes with their peal, and then

Only the iron foot of Time will march;

The clock will tick all life to quiet dust.



          O do you not hear them calling,

          Calling thin as the wind,

          Calling as keen as the curlew

          Across the moors of the mind;

          Faint as the horns of Elfland blowing

          Back across the years?


In my troubled garden the violet vies with vetch

And lilac is entwined with sly convolvulus.

Set among beds of parsley and of thyme

The plain-faced dockleaf shakes a leather ear;

And grass grows coarse across the tortured earth,

Covering alike the corpse and bridal strawberry.

Playground of birds by day, and prairie for the cats

That come by night savouring the moon,

Relic of five long years of war—

That is my garden.


So I come home again to a parcel of land

Where weeds climb softly round the memory

Of clean black earth and tidy paths;

To a house where I can hardly hear

The echo of the words we spoke five years ago,

And a life whose youth was wrought about with war

Like lilac boughs by sly convolvulus.


I sit here in my little wilderness,

Shaping to-morrow as the sun goes down.

The air is colder now and birds have flown.

Under the hill the church clock strikes the hour,

And I hear them calling again,

The lads who will come no more,

As sharp as the lonely curlew

Across the moors of the mind:

We are gone. We are gone. Remember . . .

  There was one who met death high above the clouds,

  Skimming across the sun with wings of fire

  And bird’s bright eye, over the map of fields,

  Glad in his engine’s powered roar.


  Death came with no white skull and gleaming scythe,

  No thunder rumbling from glory’s past;

  But with a spume of contrails and a scream,

  And all Time’s hatred in a five-second burst,


  Then circled once again and quietly watched

  His flaring victim stream out of the sky,

  And making sure there was no parachute,

  Turned and set course again for Germany.


What are they saying now along the wind

In words as faint and plaintive as a dream?


Call me as you come across the hill

Into the valley sleeping with the night;

Call me on your way towards the flock.


Call me when the winter wind is sharp

And bites the creaking lintel like a wolf;

O call me when the fire is burning low.


And let your cherished voice cry out my name

When next year’s bread falls rotten from the ear,

Or when black dogs come snuffling to the door


O let me know your anguish as my right

When on your way to Evensong you find

The tiny mouse, blood-spotted, in the road.


They are all mine, the pleasures and the pains,

These little things lost in a monster world,

The dramas that need mountains for their home.


Keep me alive, my precious, with your tears;

O keep me warm lest I should tell myself

How hard I died, so far away from home.


  There’s one who met death deep beneath the sea

  In the forest-green twilight of a madman’s dream,

  Watching the shift and slide of the crusted bed

  And the blood-red bubbles staining the white foam.


  Under the sea, a hundred fathoms down,

  The cackling shadows groped and sharp-mouthed shells

  Tinkled with every motion of the tide.

  The lolling weed-green sailors dreamed of hills


  And gardens smelling in the rain, and flowers

  That had no eyes, no gaping mouths to feed;

  Of counties where known creatures graze in fields

  And quiet homes await the weary dead.


I hear them clearer now, their voice is raised.

They speak in anger who should know sweet peace,

Telling of those who once disturbed their rest.

I hear them say:


  Let them shout louder with their brazen tongues,

  O let them yell the limit of their lungs:

  We who marched at their word now move no more

  Though hills should shriek in torture to high heaven.


  Come cold and crack the blood within the veins,

  That stones, for very agony, should creep

  For shelter deeper in the ground, and hawk

  About to strike fall like a meteorite.


  We feel no pain now, still beneath the turf;

  That season passed the day they stole our youth.

  We have no tears to shed who know the worm;

  We shed them all the day the world ran mad.


  True we are sad, who loved the summer rain,

  Who sigh that we shall not see Spring again,

  And sad that love, like any wistful wraith,

  Is powerless against the tomb’s locked door.


  But what is this, the grief of one short death,

  Set up against a lifetime of despair?


What do they leave behind them, all these boys,

But a word, a picture and a capful of debts

They never could have paid in this strict world?

But more than all, a handful of aching hearts,

An offer of love they had no time to prove;

And this perhaps their final tragedy:


  Don’t stand at night by the gate, love,

  He will not come again,

  And there are eyes that laugh to see

  The flowering of a pain.


  Do not lay him a place, dear,

  For you will eat alone;

  Nor put you on that pretty dress,

  The need for that is gone.


  Just go into your room, lass,

  And make yourself a prayer,

  For that will be your strength now

  This many and many a year.


The black boughs grope

With leper’s weary hands;

Feel without finding,

Hope but never hold,

Reaching towards some unknown home of peace,

But never knowing when peace has been found.


So moves the heart of man

Among the trees,

Where ancient sorrows wail between the aisles—

Moves to what home,

What fond forgiving friend?

The old owl wraps himself from light, too spent

To hobble down and take the tired wren.


But five short Springs ago

The mellow pipe tricked limbs

To leap about the coloured pole;

A drum set caps a-skipping, caps that hid

Heads greyed with more than one brief season’s drought.


  But that has gone,

  And gone are all the songs.

  The pipe is still and put away to rot,

  Home for the memory

  Or shelter for the worm.

  The drum is broken and will speak no more;

  The pole is but a hazard on the darkened green.


  And the lads,

  The darling lads who knew delight,

  Are silent as the pipe,

  Dry as the drum;

  Nor shall they dance again,

  No not again;

  Not even though the pole

  Should spring to life and dress in leaves again!


And I have heard them talk, sharing their swift speech,

Knowing the way their words flame in the air

Or flower gently like violet by a stone,

Watching the bright look in their eyes

And the quick motions of their youthful limbs;

A few of them gay and boastful,

Laughing devil-may-cares,

Biting in game the hand that gave them food;

The others quiet, almost timid creatures,

Solemn-eyed in the ante-room to Death,

Asking but friend’s word here and there

And one who would remember when they went

Into the night . . .


  And they are all gone now;

  Some under ground and some below the sea,

  Twined round with clover or worried by green weed;

  And some neither under ground nor underneath the sea,

  But wandering lost in a world

  That is neither one nor the other,

  Where feet move onward never nearing home,

  Where hands reach out for love

  And clutch the mist.

  Such lost ones have a voice

  No stronger than the death-cry of the mole,

  Or the sad echo of a word one sometimes sees

  In the eyes of a tired old man.


Are the years lost for ever now?

Like pages torn from a book by another hand

And blown away on a feckless wind

Before we had time to read them,

Are they lost now, for always, always gone?

Or may we not wake again to a world of Spring,

Where the clean light of morning

Shines through dew’s diamonds,

Where the coney busy at his trade

Hears our young footsteps thud

And is up, off again, with a scurry

Of quick feet and a flashing tail;

Where early woodsmoke rises gently,

Kind to the eye and the nostril,

Curling among the apple-blossom for a while

Till the keen breeze takes it

And whips it to the clean blue sky;

While the bird, precious breaker of hearts,

Calls careless as a spirit

Out of the pink almond tree:

Come love, come love, do not wait!


  In a shaded corner

  Where the wood comes down to the field,

  The white may is heaped thick in the trees.

  I watch the tropic ladybird make her slow way

  Across the bridal blossom.

  At my feet, among the luxuriant grass,

  Peep the glorious blue speedwell,

  Like shy watchers who may start away in fright.

  It is Spring

  And fields are crowded out with daisies,

  With the simple yet exquisite buttercup

  Flaunting its varnished petals in the sun.


  But they, the bright boys, are not here now to see;

  Nor will they ever see these things once more;

  And my eyes fill with tears for them

  As I bend to smell the perfume of the may.


So, in my neglected garden,

I sit now, and know these things once more;

But the lilac shudders in the evening breeze:

For always now, for ever gone, she says.

And I turn, chill now the sun has left the garden,

To make my way back to a friendly fire.


It has been a long and dusty road to tread,

Even for those who at the start

Saw but a short and flower-bordered path

Into the rising sun.

Now, at the end of a day, we find the road

Winds without purpose over dank fields,

Over the dreary slag-heaps of despair,

To nowhere;

While we are left standing where the world begins,

Facing a broken signpost and staring at a sun

That soon will sink below the hills,

When the dark will come upon us all again. . .


  Bindweed and nettles torture the tender rose

  With a tumult of tendrils and assassin roots.

  The lazy bee turns from this chaos to pursue

  Prey in the fresh field of coloured clover,

  Leaving the garden loveless and alone.

  The red fox picks his dainty way among the stones,

  But finding Death has been before, coughs and is gone;

  And everything is still again, still and alone.


    Now do you not hear them calling,

    Calling as thin as the wind,

    As sharp as the lonely curlew

    Across the moors of the mind?


  To-morrow, if the night will give me strength,

  I shall uproot the sly convolvulus.

Poem After War

Fearful that summer will forget the frost

And boys the body broken on a stake,

We stand. And who shall blame us if we take

The sword again to bring to life the past?

Future can only live by death of fears,

By love as effortless as lilt of birds:

To learn such love, and hear such flaming words

Our dead would wait another thousand years.

The Sons of Peace

Because we may have lain too long with death,

Or held his shrivelled hand in gibbering fear

When life became too hard for us to bear,

We are no less for that;

Our hearts beat no less bravely for the thought

That last night when the world was set aflame

We saw how fragile youth was,

Saw how weak the faithful flesh could be

Against the engines of destruction:

No, no less swiftly at the dawn of day

And sun’s bright eye chasing the mists away.


To have listened to the nightingale’s

Deep mellow throbbing through the wood,

Opalescent arabesques flung to the moon’s dead world,

Or to have watched the frenzy of the dancing stoat,

Weaving his magic patterns round his prey,

Is to have known two shapes of beauty in the heart,

Two ways of life

As difficult to reconcile as war and peace;

But yet two ways, each valid in its place.


We who were taught the tale of Mother Goose,

And knew the midnight dagger in the straw,

Whose ears were friendly to the bat’s shrill cry,

Having fast in our heart that madly glorious play

Of tigers prowling in the Prince’s halls

Screaming for love;

We know the smell of sunset on dead hills,

The hells of sympathy,

The language of the maggot in the skull;

Our hands can fashion flowers at one swift minute’s grace.

We can be saint or troglodyte, the sons of peace.

Duet for the Times

Where was freshness

Here is death;

Beauty fades

In crackling breath.


        Bombers came

        And took your son?

        Faithless, get

        Another one . . .


Where was plenty

Famine sneers;

Golden corn

Rots in the ears.


        Do not grieve

        At harvests gone,

        No man lives

        By bread alone.


Where was truth

Red rumour crawls;

And sweet singing

Scarlet howls.


        What is truth

        But other words;

        Or sweet song

        But blinded birds?


We, old as two wars, here have stood

Beneath the white and sheltering apple-tree,

Listening to the night’s dark violins;

Have paused from time to time

Among the fantasy of wild orchises

To watch the painted birds daub the bright sky

With fugue of feathers in a breathless sweep.


We, old as history now, have even dared

To mimic God, fly as the angels fly,

Forgetting we were moment’s minions,

That bone would break to lime

And brightness yearly fade from eager eyes.

Perhaps we forgot too soon mortality,

Man’s fragile virtue and the way to weep.

Seven Stations to the Tomb

1. PRE-SPRING (Birth)










7. POST-WINTER (Death)



He has made a long journey

In the darkest years of all,

This boy with the wide blue puzzled eyes;

Travelling farther than his father knew,

Past the beginning of things and the blood-red sun,

Through forests where fantastic yellow plums

Hung ripe with promise as the harvest moon;

Where the damp frog in glorious wilderness of green

Sang anthems in the twilit lakes while lamps

Swung by on boats as black as doom,

Carrying the wounded King and his three mistresses

Back into youth and seas and sunlit pools.


All this he sees, and hears the leopard’s scream

Among the coloured rocks shaped like a hand;

All this he hears, watching the green eyes move

Among the rushes, sharp as moonlit sword;

Hearing the soft footsteps before yesterday

Treading the turf,

The quiet sounds that leave imprint in Time

Never to fade;

The gentle hands that raise the monolith

Which never falls,

Although the steel bird and the wits of men

March for a century and fling their fire.


All these he sees and hears,

My David, pushing on

Through death’s dark forest into birth,

Through the red flames and the silver snarl

Of trumpets calling through the olive jungle night,

Past the quick swirl of darkening pools

Into the far-forgotten land of love,

Pushing past words into the phase of songs—

Not songs we know when sweet strings hold

The glory of the stars an instant as we muse,

But songs such as the kindling tigress knows

Deep in the jungle, while the night-drawn snake

Lisps his slow length along the rotting bough,

Or while the age-old creature lifts his head

From sun-drenched swamp to ease his weary pain

In voice not known to men,

Speaking a tongue of fear and endless want,

The tongue one knows whenever a son dies . . .


The feeble hands to-day are reaching out;

To-morrow they will clutch the tiger’s throat,

And the next and the next

His hands will hold my heart.

And so I watch while his small feet

March on a million bloody miles,

Through youth, ambition and the hearthless home,

Through love and pain along the friendless road.

I watch him walk each thousand threadbare inch—

And know he hasn’t moved.



Oh come, you swift and laughing girls,

With lips as ripe as a mellow pear,

And we will wander in the woods

Where spirits swirl in violet air.


And we will bind our limbs with rings,

With rings of good red gold, I swear,

And you shall have a bird as bright

As any comes from India.


Oh come, you dancers shaking bells

And lithe as the green willow wand,

We’ll live in castles of delight

And ride through this despondent land


On milk-white palfreys decked in red,

With hounds whose collars are pure jade;

No eyes shall fright us with their gaze

As we sweep through the midnight wood.


But I must warn you, when the Spring

Puts on her gay green cloak again,

I must ride on to find my love,

Though your tears fall as fast as rain.



Who can guess the bitter weathers

Tormenting the whirling heart;

Or by brain sense how the knife hurts

That destroys the gentle thought?


Who can know the music’s ending

But the hands that touch the string;

Will this love seem still unending

When the frost surprises Spring?


Death walks through the mind’s dark woods,

Beautiful as aconite,

A lily-flower in his pale hand

And eyes like moonstones burning bright.


Love creeps down heart’s corridors

Singing for a crust of bread

All the tales of laughing youth

Who to-morrow will lie dead.


Here two summer metaphors,

For even on a sun-mad day

Laughter breaks into salt tears

And grave is never far away.

Inbetween Seasons


The white flowers flame

Like a lover’s dream

Against their leaves

As black as doom.


Across the moon

A sad bird flies;

‘Too late, too late,’

I hear its cries.


Stones lie like skulls

Along the road;

In a prism of pain

The shadows bleed.

Inbetween Seasons


There is a music in the garden

As the sun falls from the sky,

That is more than leaves’ crisp rustle

Or the shrill bird’s twittering cry.


There’s a laughter in the orchard

That knows no human throat,

In the dusk where bright eyes kindle

From the kingdom of the stoat.


There are words in the old elm-tree

That are more than rook’s dark call,

Echoing up the worn stone steps

To the heart of the empty Hall.


There’s a sigh along the gallery

Like an old piano’s note;

And a voice in the dusty twilight sobs,

‘Love has come too late, too late.’



Rain beats in the dank garden,

Breaking the leaves from the trees;

Wind steals the red and the golden

And punishes the boughs.


Under the wall of the garden,

Where the dock and the nettles grow,

Two hearts began to harden

To each other years ago.


The sunlight on the meadow,

The patterned fields of the downs,

The crisp clean air of cock-crow,

And the steeples of the towns;


These were already forgotten,

Erased by the moonlit pain,

As we stood in the haunted garden

And took back our hearts again.


Man ends where he makes his start,

In the bitter storm of tears;

Now the rain beats in my heart

Disturbing the lichened years.



As I lie alone in the quiet night,

Listening to my breath,

I see again our lightning youth,

The river and the snow-white swans

That seemed an absolute, a truth

Of beauty untransmutable.

And in the dark I watch the flight

Of late October geese, fretting the sky

In their great squadron-skeins,

Crying, always crying, back to the pool,

To the drying sedge and peace.


I see a sweet Spring morning,

Two lovers by the bridal may,

Following the ladybird’s bright way

Over the white blossom. Your face

Is serious, watching each tiny thing,

For life is such a duty to the young:

Only a child knows the agony

That echoes in the rabbit’s cry;

Boy’s tears at fluttering curlew’s pain

Come not again, no not again.


Now here I am alone as the owl cries,

Thankful for the world behind my eyes,

The world that dies not when love dies;

Thankful too that grinning Death

Has so far let me lie,

Listening to my breath,

And smiling in the quiet night.



Do you know the snow

Quietly creeping over

      highroads and hedges,

Muffling man’s sounds

      and making a deaf world?

Creating Christmas-trees

      from the gaunt boughs

And turning a threadbare scene

      into a world of white?


Do you feel the flakes

Building slowly up

      against the door,

Stifling the breath

      and blotting out the sight;

These merry lambswool toys,

      gyrating to earth

From some malicious Paradise,

Killing the will

      and freezing the white hand,

And covering the barn

      where the new child is born?



The crisp white covering

To all earth’s indiscretions

Crunches beneath our feet

As we walk towards the farm.


Here and there, half-buried bushes

Push up their blackened twigs

Like supplicating hands.

The gay robin sitting on the gate

Shivers inside his scarlet coat.


Over the thatched roofs

The pungent wood-smoke hangs

Like an ancient memory in the clear air,

And one remembers the medieval calendars,

The bright colours and the gold

Adorning the fact that country men went out

In days like these,

Not as we do, for pleasure,

But with aching hands to bring back Yuletide logs

Or dig the silly sheep from frozen drifts.


We can smile now, who know another trade,

And raise our voices to the merry dogs

Who gallop on ahead

Barking, and leaving their dark imprint

In the fresh white snow.



We stood in the graveyard

Where black trees bent their heads in gentle grief

And the old voices muttered

From amongst the moss-grown urns.

We stood confused and silent, humble guests

At Death’s dark House, counting the few short hours

Till the last candle should light us to our beds.


We stood in the graveyard

Like sullen blocks of stone; ‘Frail as a leaf,

All that in life mattered,

He is gone.’ The dumb tongue yearns

To fill heart’s home with star-eyed smiling ghosts.

Cold, brainless hands clutched the death-white flowers,

And the last of the wild geese flew over our bowed heads.

To Lucasta while at the Wars

How could it hurt me, love, if Death

Should take me from your very arms;

If what my heart speaks is the truth

How can I fear sword’s quick alarms?


I looked upon my love in Spring

And laughed to hear the words she spoke;

I listened to her sunlit song

Then wept as though my heart would break.


I gazed upon my love when ice

Had stilled the revels in the plain,

And read my message in her face,

As charitable as a stone.


The flower I plucked when first we met

Has long since shrivelled in my hand;

The kiss that blossoms out of hate

Is past my power to understand.


So, could it harm me, dear, if Death

Should steal me from your tired charms?

If what my head speaks is my faith,

Then brotherhood is with the worms.


Who murdered the minutes,

The bright golden minutes, the minutes of youth?

I, said the Soldier, dressed in his red coat,

I with my trumpet, my sword and my flag,

I murdered the minutes;

I took the minutes and what good I did,

For see how the black men kneel, he said.


Who killed the hours,

The gay purple hours, the hours of faith?

I, said the Parson, in his black cloak,

I with my book and my bell and my pen,

I killed the hours;

I killed the hours as my holy right,

And see how the people kneel at night!


Who slew the years,

The sweet precious years, the years of truth?

I, said the Lover, in her gay gown,

I with my lips and my breasts and my eyes.

I slew the years;

Yes, I slew the years, my silly dove—

And see how you kneel to me in love!


If red is passion, with its coloured tales,

Then give me grey; grave grey that stills the heart

And calls the tongue out on its steady beat

To regulate the blood and put the words to rule.


We cannot live as men in the heart of the sun,

Flaming like angels, trumpeting like gods;

The poor flesh burns, the sad mind asks for rest

And hand falls listless as it plucks the flowers.


The call is grey, whatever others play;

It is the call of those who wish to see

The globe spin equipoised and still in space,

The known trees burgeoning in Spring.


It is the colour of those men who sit

And smile to hear the young blood groan in the root.

Poems to Ireland




Out of a heart of stone

Grey Galway speaks with a brogue

Of peat-smoke and sea-weed

And the scream of wheeling gulls.


Looking towards the weir one sees

The salmon thick in the shallows,

The white swans lording the green stream

And a solitary cormorant

Diving for eels.


Out of this wilderness of whitened hovels,

Of stone and hawthorn-trees and sea,

The women come in their black shawls,

Following the hearse across the bridge

And never raising their red eyes

To wonder at the salmon’s silver leap.


But we who go away when the week is out

Will know light and music and comfortable beds,

Some hard coins in the hand;

And the gaunt man, who touched his cap as I passed,

Will have only peat and stone and strangling briar;

He will never understand.



A grey wind scours the land

And whips the grey sea:

These stone blocks are the mind

Of a ruined peasantry.


Gaunt cattle search the lanes

And crop the famine mounds:

Out of this hell of stones

There come no friendly sounds.


The singing string is still,

The sword resolved to rust:

No memory in the hill

Disturbs its mindless rest.


There’s a laughter in the South,

And Dublin’s eyes are gay:

But out of Galway’s mouth

Springs only the grey spray.


The green vales of the South

Wail bannered pageantry:

But out of Galway’s mouth

Only the grey gulls cry.


The blue lakes of the South

Can spin the wheedling word:

But out of Galway’s mouth

Falls only green weed.


Yet Belfast’s like a fox,

And Killarney lives a lie;

There’s a truth in Galway’s rocks,

Though in seeing it man die.



Leaving the palm-trees of Parknasilla

And Killarney’s fuchsia-crowded lanes,

At first the eye, finding the quiet stream

And dun quayside less like a dream,

Is blind to the beauty of this town by the water

And the Spanish reserve of the wayside shrine.


It takes some time for the ear used to Dublin

To deal in the homely sounds of these streets:

But the cry of rooks in the breakfast sunshine,

Exploring the hazards of Norman Keep,

May come at last with a lump in the throat;

In memory may come to make eyes weep.



Are you a nun in a gipsy’s gaudy rags,

Or a lion with the heart of a lamb?

Is your symbol the towering courthouse dome,

Or a clanging bright-green tram?


I heard the barefoot beggar’s cry

From Parnell Street to Stephen’s Green;

But at Jammet’s we had strawberries

And chicken fit for a Spanish Queen.


I gasped at the gilt magnificence,

The magic of the Book of Kells,

Then walked a ruined Georgian street

Stinking with half a decade’s smells.


What message do you hold for us,

You with your exquisite disease:

You who escaped the obvious war,

Will your dear heart’s bleeding never cease?


When quiet comes over the hill again

And light bursts from the door;

Then blonde will drink with black again,

But the poor will always be poor.


When trees put on their fruit again

Sweet songs will colour the night;

But though man walks with other men

The knife will always be bright.


When love comes back to the heart again

We’ll pay for bread with faith;

But the gold that can ease a Prince’s pain

Will still buy the poor man’s death.


Time’s lumbering wheels roll on

But static moment is its own reward.

Eye catches frog in halted leap,

Poised between heaven and earth;

The pale moth kissing with his wing

The slow bronze temple bell,

Or garlanded and painted girl

Dancing through the house of death.

So we forget the stations to the tomb,

Watching the cherry-blossom poise

On the quiet blade’s keen edge.


I have come a long way from the blood’s tidal voice,

Moaning and wailing across the salt flats of the mind;

A long way from the haggard priest in a twilit land

Where orchids scream in a glassy-green night,

While weeping ghosts with their howling dogs

Call out to the child with flowers in his eyes.


I have moved far from the image of another

Who once walked with me, sharing one shadow;

And I have reached the prize of my own rough shroud,

Out of another’s decay to my own rightful death,

And the ecstatic freedom of a personal end

Shared now with no-one and which none shall ever share.



Misspelled words and printer errors have been corrected. Where multiple spellings occur, majority use has been employed.

Punctuation has been maintained except where obvious printer errors occur.

[The end of The Haunted Garden by Henry Treece]