The Highwayman Alfred Noyes

This poem is looked at in depth as part of the requirement in schools today for understanding the basics of poetry; coming to grips with early terminology, rhyme and storytelling in verse.  And it has all the elements required to introduce young people to reading, writing and developing an understanding of what poetry is about.  However:

I hope that it is mixed in with more current subjects and styles rather than as an example in solitary confinement.  True, time is needed to cover early bases  and this single poem has many.  However, the genre is somewhat outdated ( okay, it has its merits) , the subject is too and ought to be mixed with more modern poems  and contemporary poetry of whatever written or performed styles..Poems compared may be seen to have similar constructions or contemporary modifications and I suspect variety helps maintain interest!

This is still a valid  poem to be read aloud and also for teaching but please don’t grind the children and the poem down as I have seen recently.

By the way, my children remember this poem from their schooldays, I remember it from reading poetry when I was at school but wasn’t stuck with dissecting it.  Maybe that’s why I can still read it…….occasionally!    Or maybe just because I was and am, hooked on words!

The Highwayman                                  by Alfred Noyes  (1880-1959)


The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.

The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,

And the highwayman came riding—


The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.


He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,

A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin.

They fitted with never a wrinkle. His boots were up to the thigh.

And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,

His pistol butts a-twinkle,

His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.


Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard.

He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred.

He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there

But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,

Bess, the landlord’s daughter,

Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.


And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked

Where Tim the ostler listened. His face was white and peaked.

His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,

But he loved the landlord’s daughter,

The landlord’s red-lipped daughter.

Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—


“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night,

But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;

Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,

Then look for me by moonlight,

Watch for me by moonlight,

I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”


He rose upright in the stirrups. He scarce could reach her hand,

But she loosened her hair in the casement. His face burnt like a brand

As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;

And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,

(O, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)

Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the west.




He did not come in the dawning. He did not come at noon;

And out of the tawny sunset, before the rise of the moon,

When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor,

A red-coat troop came marching—


King George’s men came marching, up to the old inn-door.


They said no word to the landlord. They drank his ale instead.

But they gagged his daughter, and bound her, to the foot of her narrow bed.

Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!

There was death at every window;

And hell at one dark window;

For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.


They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest.

They had bound a musket beside her, with the muzzle beneath her breast!

“Now, keep good watch!” and they kissed her. She heard the doomed man say—

Look for me by moonlight;

Watch for me by moonlight;

I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!


She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!

She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!

They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years

Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,

Cold, on the stroke of midnight,

The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!


The tip of one finger touched it. She strove no more for the rest.

Up, she stood up to attention, with the muzzle beneath her breast.

She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;

For the road lay bare in the moonlight;

Blank and bare in the moonlight;

And the blood of her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to her love’s refrain.


Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horsehoofs ringing clear;

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?

Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,

The highwayman came riding—


The red coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still.


Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!

Nearer he came and nearer. Her face was like a light.

Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,

Then her finger moved in the moonlight,

Her musket shattered the moonlight,

Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.


He turned. He spurred to the west; he did not know who stood

Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own blood!

Not till the dawn he heard it, and his face grew grey to hear

How Bess, the landlord’s daughter,

The landlord’s black-eyed daughter,

Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.


Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,

With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high.

Blood red were his spurs in the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat;

When they shot him down on the highway,

Down like a dog on the highway,

And he lay in his blood on the highway, with a bunch of lace at his throat.


.       .       .


And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,

When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,   

When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,   

A highwayman comes riding—


A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.


Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard.

He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred.   

He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there   

But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,

         Bess, the landlord’s daughter,

Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.


From ‘Collected Poems’  1947


Daddy Fell into the Pond

Everyone grumbled. The sky was grey.
We had nothing to do and nothing to say.
We were nearing the end of a dismal day,
And there seemed to be nothing beyond,
Daddy fell into the pond!

And everyone’s face grew merry and bright,
And Timothy danced for sheer delight.
‘Give me the camera, quick, oh quick!
He’s crawling out of the duckweed.’

Then the gardener suddenly slapped his knee,
And doubled up, shaking silently,
And the ducks all quacked as if they were daft
And it sounded as if the old drake laughed.

O, there wasn’t a thing that didn’t respond
Daddy fell into the pond!



‘October’ and ‘The Sun Used to Shine’ Edward Thomas

two poems from: Poems  by  Edward Thomas

Published 1917 by Selwyn & Blount



The green elm with the one great bough of gold

Lets leaves into the grass slip, one by one,  –

The short hill grass, the mushrooms small milk-white,

Harebell and scabious and tormentil,

That blackberry and gorse, in dew and sun,

Bow down to; and the wind travels too light

To shake the fallen birch leaves from the fern;

The gossamers wander at their own will,

At heavier steps than bird’s the Squirrels scold.


The rich scene has grown fresh again and new

As Spring and to the touch is not more cool

Than it is warm to the gaze; and now I might

As happy be as earth is beautiful,

Were I some other or with earth could turn

In alteration of violet and rose,

Harebell and snowdrop, at their season due,

And gorse that has no time not to be gay.

But if this be not happiness,  – who knows?

Some day I shall think this is a happy day,

And this mood by the name of melancholy

Shall no more blackened and obscured be.


The Sun Used to Shine


The sun used to shine while we two walked

Slowly together, paused and started

Again, and sometimes mused, sometimes talked

As either pleased. and cheerfully parted


Each night.  We never disagreed

Which gate to rest on.  The to be

And the late past we gave small heed.

We turned from men or poetry


To rumours of the war remote

Only till both stood disinclined

For aught but the yellow flavorous coat

Of an apple wasps had undermined;


Or a sentry of dark betonies,

The stateliest of small flowers on earth,

At the forest verge; or crocuses

Pale purple as if they had their birth


In sunless Hades fields.  The war

Came back to mind with the moonrise

Which soldiers in the east afar

Beheld then.  Nevertheless, our eyes


Could as well imagine the Crusades

Or Caesar’s battles.  Everything

To faintness like those rumours fades  –

Like the brook’s water glittering


Under the moonlight – like those walks

Now – like us two that took them, and

The fallen apples, all the talks

And silences – like memory’s sand


When the tide covers it late or soon,

And other men through other flowers

In those fields under the same moon

Go talking and have easy hours.

Both poems fit the season of Autumn.   October splits into two sections where all is simply observed in the first stanza with the second initially pointing out the freshness of the scenes after the likely summer heat and fading of the summer flowers.  Freshness brought on with the change in the weather and arrival of  the cool and moisture; new colours of autumn foliage and fruits.  But the initial sense of the poem and its seasonality is disrupted by the author’s sudden insecurity of his senses.  Maybe he would find the emergence of Spring or Summer flowers as, or more engaging as they appeared.  He points out that his frame of mind may account for his preference for autumn melancholy.  This may well be true for him and his struggles with depression but his observation on the changes that autumn bring are true and widely appreciated by many observers of the countryside.  Each change of season brings its own brand of spectacular beauty in variance to the previous.

The Sun Used to Shine  also fits the seasonal embrace but here we could dig much deeper into the subtleties of references.  When was it written?  Seemingly early in WW1, was Edward Thomas writing after he enlisted?  His reflections on the companionship might be when walking with his wife, or his friends Robert Frost or Eleanor Farjeon, or others.  He was a great walker!  As part of his work as a writer as well as his need for open space and exercise to keep his mind clear.    Autumn slips in with the fallen apples but seasonality is not the real focus here, rather memory of happier times that have been overtaken by the melancholy of  rumours of war that intrude with sentry of dark betonies.  Even the wasps take on an afterthought of despoiling memory.  Further in, ‘old war’ intrude into the poem but indirectly focusing on that present time of early WW1.

The last two verses are like closing a door on the past and assuming others will have to continue that companionable journey.  His prescience, expectation of death or just that the past could not be re-enacted ever again because of the change wrought by war?

The third from last line: And other men through other flowers    seems to have been taken and slightly rewritten into     Other Mens Flowers  for a famous anthology collected by A.P.Wavell (Field Marshall Earl Wavell) and published in 1944 by Jonathan Cape.    It may be considered a bit of a period-piece now but a wonderful collection nevertheless.   Slightly to my surprise it has neither this poem by Edward Thomas nor any of his in the collection.



Three Poems by Henry lawson

Well,  just trundled my way through his collected works.  There must be over 500 assorted poems in total by this earl Australian poet, writer and journalist.   Most of them fairly long to put in this post of brief reminders of style.  I complained in the last post that his repetitive rhyming and rhythms were not entirely for me.  My slight reassessment  is that at least you know what you are getting every time and that his consistency is remarkable whilst carrying a wide range of stories, or rather sketches and scenes.     Not for too much re-reading unless I need a snatch of early Australian ‘scenery’, which is effective

Three poems:


Dust, dust, dust, and a dog –

Oh, the shepherd-dog won’t be the last,

Where the long, long shadow of the old bay horse

With the shadow of his mate is cast.

A brick-brown woman, with their brick-brown kids,

And a man with his head half-mast,

The feed-bags hung, and the bedding slung,

And the blackened bucket made fast

Where the tailboard clings to the tucker and things –

So the hawker’s van goes past.


On the night train


Have you seen the Bush by moonlight, from the train, go running by,

Here a patch of glassy water, there a glimpse of mystic sky?

Have you heard the still small voice calling, yet so warm, and yet so cold:

“I’m the Mother Bush that bore you! Come to me when you are old?”


Did you see the Bush below you sweeping darkly to the range,

All unchanged and all unchanging, yet so very old and strange!

Did you hear the Bush a’calling, when your heart was young and bold:

“I’m the Mother Bush that nursed you!  Come to me when you are old?”


Through the long, vociferous cutting as the night train swiftly sped,

Did you hear the grey Bush calling from the pine-ridge overhead:

“You have seen the seas and cities; all seems done, and all seems told;

I’m the Mother Bush that loves you! Come to me now you are old?”


I am back from up the country — very sorry that I went —
Seeking for the Southern poets’ land whereon to pitch my tent;
I have lost a lot of idols, which were broken on the track —
Burnt a lot of fancy verses, and I’m glad that I am back.
Further out may be the pleasant scenes of which our poets boast,
But I think the country’s rather more inviting round the coast —
Anyway, I’ll stay at present at a boarding-house in town
Drinking beer and lemon-squashes, taking baths and cooling down.

Sunny plains! Great Scot! — those burning wastes of barren soil and sand
With their everlasting fences stretching out across the land!
Desolation where the crow is! Desert! where the eagle flies,
Paddocks where the luny bullock starts and stares with reddened eyes;
Where, in clouds of dust enveloped, roasted bullock-drivers creep
Slowly past the sun-dried shepherd dragged behind his crawling sheep.
Stunted “peak” of granite gleaming, glaring! like a molten mass
Turned, from some infernal furnace, on a plain devoid of grass.

Miles and miles of thirsty gutters — strings of muddy waterholes
In the place of “shining rivers” (walled by cliffs and forest boles).
“Range!” of ridgs, gullies, ridges, barren! where the madden’d flies —
Fiercer than the plagues of Egypt — swarm about your blighted eyes!
Bush! where there is no horizon! where the buried bushman sees
Nothing. Nothing! but the maddening sameness of the stunted trees!
Lonely hut where drought’s eternal — suffocating atmosphere —
Where the God forgottcn hatter dreams of city-life and beer.

Treacherous tracks that trap the stranger, endless roads that gleam and glare,
Dark and evil-looking gullies — hiding secrets here and there!
Dull, dumb flats and stony “rises,” where the bullocks sweat and bake,
And the sinister “gohanna,” and the lizard, and the snake.
Land of day and night — no morning freshness, and no afternoon,
For the great, white sun in rising brings with him the heat of noon.
Dismal country for the exile, when the shades begin to fall
From the sad, heart-breaking sunset, to the new-chum, worst of all.

Dreary land in rainy weather, with the endless clouds that drift
O’er the bushman like a blanket that the Lord will never lift —
Dismal land when it is raining — growl of floods and oh! the “woosh”
Of the rain and wind together on the dark bed of the bush —
Ghastly fires in lonely humpies where the granite rocks are pil’d
On the rain-swept wildernesses that are wildest of the wild.

Land where gaunt and haggard women live alone and work like men,
Till their husbands, gone a-droving, will return to them again —
Homes of men! if homes had ever such a God-forgotten place,
Where the wild selector’s children fly before a stranger’s face.
Home of tragedy applauded by the dingoes’ dismal yell,
Heaven of the shanty-keeper — fitting fiend for such a hell —
And the wallaroos and wombats, and, of course, the “curlew’s call” —
And the lone sundowner tramping ever onward thro’ it all!

I am back from up the country — up the country where I went
Seeking for the Southern poets’ land whereon to pitch my tent;
I have left a lot of broken idols out along the track,
Burnt a lot of fancy verses — and I’m glad that I am back —
I believe the Southern poet’s dream will not be realised
Till the plains are irrigated and the land is humanised.
I intend to stay at present — as I said before — in town
Drinking beer and lemon-squashes — taking baths and cooling down.



I might have included others, such as:          A Bush Girl.    To my cultured critics,     Second class wait here.      Pigeon toes….       But didn’t!

Guy Butler: Karoo Morning

Karoo Morning.          An autobiography 1918 – 1935

Guy Butler

guy-butlerkaroo-morning-coverMy paperback copy is published by: David Philip, Africasouth Paperback, 1981 edition, third impression 1983.   There has been a slightly more recent publishing but not revised edition, as far as I am aware.

My copy is marked up for many sections to be extracted, sadly I can’t say for what journal, paper or purpose but it adds character to the paperback.

The preface alone is worth reading as reason to look to Guy Butlers writing as a white South African who was born in a small town in the Karoo and remained steadfast in his country until his death          He loved his country, it’s huge expanse and environment, all its variety of people, story and folklore, his family.  All these things were an integral part of his being.

At the start he says (in 1977):

‘Much of the literature  by white South Africans is guilt-laden and self-condemnatory, and there are good reasons why it should be so; but where praise is possible it should be uttered.  The man who has known joy and keeps it to himself is a miser’.

And a clear, comment on his idea of written autobiographies:

‘Two points about the nature of autobiography.

     First, it’s main source is the writers memory, which is soon discovered to be highly temperamental in what portions of the past it selects for conscious attention, and what portions it leaves in the limbo of it idiosyncratic amnesia.

     One can, of course, supplement ones memory by appeals to members of one’s family, friends and contemporaries, and to written records: history books, newspapers, photographs, family papers, particularly old letters – all of which I have done, with great interest and considerable profit.  By such means, faces, incidents, scenes which seemed partially or entirely forgotten, have been swept clean of oblivion’s dust; others, which the memory of reliable witnesses and the written record insist were there, remain stubbornly obscure.

    Second, while making every effort to get the facts right, ones main concern is not with truth to fact and measurement, but to character, feeling, mood and vision.  Autobiography, which would seem to be so close a cousin to history, is less an objective record of a life than an attempt to communicate the writer’s feeling for his life as lived’

It is a large chunk to include from the Preface.  The final paragraph is the most important for me but without the record and action of the first two the relevance may be weaker.  I could have been satisfied with the last sentence.

When you listen to a story-teller, a teacher, parent or friend you hear the words and meanings but take much information from their tone, their speaking rhythm, their body language. So too when reading such as Guy Butler, the rhythm and tone of the writing catches and retains your interest.

He admits from the start that he made use of as many records, letters and memories of his now extended family as he could, to fill the pages of Karoo Morning  because  his forebears were very early English settlers in South Africa, mostly in the Karoo region.   (and those still in England, Stoke on Trent, and America as well as China!); with his personal memories and retelling of stories from his many elders there becomes visible a huge panarama of the region.  Regional history that is political as well as personal.  From his early childhood he seems to have been observant in sight and sound and by delving into this past has been able to recount with a lifetime’s passion and understanding the nature of society.  His belonging to a large family ranging throughout the Karoo meant at times he travelled widely, visiting relatives in differing areas and degrees of their settling. His family was based in Cradock and their nearest bigger town was Grahamstown,  The individual families all had very strong beliefs as Quakers, Methodists, Baptists and Anglican and various experiences as preachers, farmers of crops, livestock and horses, shopkeepers, newspaper journalists and publishers. All have been absorbed by Guy Butler for this book.  His enthusiasm for the country and its people, nature and stories has come to fruition with an invaluable legacy of and to South Africa.   His poetry and regional stories I am well aware of and this fascinating book adds an intricate layer of knowledge (for want of a better word) about his world up to 1935..

(I am soon to read ‘On first seeing Florence‘ his long poem finally rewritten,  completed and published as a pamphlet in 1964)

The early chapters of Karoo Morning  work through the first arrivals of his forebears, great and grandparents and meeting of his parents, his mother moving from a village near Stoke on Trent, Stone. (I have visited Stoke on Trent and it’s various attached pottery towns such as Longton many times over the last twenty years, visiting Stone briefly three times.   The centre of Stone may not have changed too much in the last fifty years but I suspect Stoke on Trent and surrounding towns would be unrecognisable except for an occasional municipal building. The pottery kilns that once turned the air smoke-black are gone except for two museum remnants and many of the great red-brick factories are gone or going. Again with a very few exceptions.)

He writes of the rough and tumble of children in the late 1920s where exploits are real and exciting as they happen in surroundings of which I am jealous.   (Yes, I understand rose coloured glasses may be useful).   The descriptions of the scenery as well as the events is superb.  One episode concerning bees whilst camping had me laughing out loud whilst the following events written of touched the heart:    A seemingly incongruous burial that is described and explained and finally fills you with a surprising emotion.

Throughout the book, his story, his family story of life moves on, not with any huge momentous event it would seem but with what life throws at you as it progresses. And then those nuggets of events which fill gaps in Time’s fractured picture of far away places to create images of similarity despite the huge differences between the hedged softness of southern England and the clarity of the air of lweather-scaped Karoo.  Even Guy Butler’s brief description of Natal, as different to Karoo as may be but different still to my old scenery.

No easy childhood through the depression from 1929 onwards but his eye, in recollection, stays firmly on the reality of life and bright observation of scenery and people around him.  Some adventures almost out of ‘Boy’s Own’ with the addition of strong family ties and values to secured by.  Yes, this story is an element of South Africa that defines a period and way of life.

Moving on into the book and toward the beginnings of the agonies of apartheid and the conflict to it of the still firm beliefs of the Quakers, Methodists and Baptists in the area, which included the now ever-larger families of Butler, Collett and Biggs spread widely over the Karoo.   Guy tells of his direct family and the pressures of the depression, continuing desperate shortage of money with his father’s businesses suffering badly.  As was much of the local, national and of course international economies.

Also we hear how Guy loosens his interest on all things Natural History and begins to take interest in poetry, chemistry, and girls. Mention of his first long poem entitled ‘The Karoo’ shown to his teacher……(1934?) I wonder if this is a forerunner to or starter for his poem Karoo Town 1939.

This could continue as an outline of the book, but I won’t, what I wish to convey is the brightness of the writing about a childhood, overall happy, it seems, in difficult times and a starkly beautiful country.  Adventures, humorous and not, with what seems straightforward honesty of the facts as he could remember and research them.

Enough to say the book finishes with the European political storm clouds growing in intensity and affect in South Africa; and Matriculation and the thoughts of University having a similar affect on Guy.  All this with the weight of the family’s financial position obvious to Guy but not fully understood until the last couple of pages of this autobiography when Guy is seventeen and has to make a big decision.

There are numerous black and white photographs of the earlier family members, houses, streets and places, even an aerial view of the town Cradock of about 1938.

A fascinating glimpse of a country that has intrigued me for a lifetime.  Superb writing about a place, now almost a hundred years ago, from an observant poet and writer with a clear and balanced South African eye.


(This review has been carried over from ‘Wordparc’ my other site, see above right…..)

Laurie Lee: Selected Poems & A Rose for Winter

Laurie Lee: Selected Poems


A Rose For Winter

… copy, The Hogarth Press 1955

Most recent edition of Selected Poems: Vintage Classics 2003  paper £7.99


lee-poems-coverSelected Poems, latest edition from Unicorn Press, paperback, 2014 at £12,99

52 poems included, selected by Laurie Lee for my 1985 publication.  Current ed. is the same content.

Here’s an admission: I have never read any Laurie Lee until these two books. Never seen any tv film either, maybe for the future…..


Noting that all 15 poems in My Many Coated Man are included in Selected Poems. The remaining 37 have mostly been included from his two previous collections:  The Sun My Monument (1944) and Bloom of Candles (1947).  In his forward to Selected Poems he says he cut the total number from others published by about half for S.P..  Whether for the sake of quality or space he doesn’t make clear, possibly the former.

The blurbs says he read Edward Thomas poems  of 1915 and was responsive to the style of poetry Thomas had invested in.  Poetry seems to have been the starting point of Lee’s successful writing and his development as an autobiographical writer seems to have continued in that ‘countryman’ style. His writings continue with a skill for description that helps the scenery burst from the page.   Lee seems to follow the thread of Thomas but in the opposite direction.  Edward Thomas learned his writing style could be pared down, concentrated, filtered and spun down from his natural history notes and writings into concise more silk-like poetry.

Wider reading than I have done would show more of the influences on Lee’s poetry and the enlarged world of autobiography that sealed his fame.

The poetry varies from those with a more formal rhyme scheme to those that are blank.  Sometimes the rhyme is pure, others half-rhyme, usually at the ends of lines.  I don’t recall more than a few mid-line rhyme or much deliberate alliteration.  Well, each poem should be read for itself for study.  Subjects cover war, love direct and symbolic, religious context, and memory.  The natural world flows descriptively throughout.  Despite the subjects I did not find the spikes or hard edges I expected.  Nudges, inferences but all softened by the overall language used; therefor for me the collection was a little disappointing.  The poems will all stand closer analysis if you like breaking things down. Remember that Lee admits that these poems are from his past and he feels he has changed since writing them. They still work but are not as strong as some of the previous poetry I have talked about.  I think his poetry may fade more over time but should still be read as a preview to his later writings.  However, the book, A Rose for Winter still reads well though perhaps as a period piece.  As are Freya Stark, Fleming, Hemingway et al, all still effective today.

For me the poems to recall are:

A Moment of War,    The Town Owl,   On Beacon Hill    and   Shot Fox.

rose-for-winter-coverReading  ‘A Rose for Winter’  you discover a fascinating picture of Andalusia, Spain in the mid 1950s, some 15 years after his years wandering in Andalusia and brief involvement in the Spanish Civil War.     Here the Spanish world is full of wildly different lives and scenes in comparison to England of today, or then.  Spain too, no doubt. His descriptions were as a visitor but also recalling and re-establishing memories and places of his travels in earlier years.

The book is  full of movement and description with evocative splashes of colour and emotion that fill the air despite it being a period of great hardship for so many after the Civil War.  Most frequently he conjures with the gypsy, the itinerant and also the seemingly huge quantity of street urchins, the homeless children and homeless families.   Focus often falling on the music and dance of the flamenco which seems to dominate his love of the country and people.   With his wife Kati they visit the Spanish coastline after accessing via Gibraltar.  A countryside, at least here, that is shown to us as almost deconstructed structurally and economically.  Maybe his preference was for the poorer, humbler areas but the people he meets with and describes seem to have the music of life within them.   Be the areas humble, they are not all bleak and the scenery and descriptions are rich. The section on Alhambra is especially memorable.   Maybe he treats all the hardships around a little casually whilst travelling.  A sign of the man or sign of the time?  Most likely just an observing eye.    He describes the grit and harshness of the lives he sees but honours the pride within all; sadly accepting it as the way of the world at that particular time.  Mind you, he himself seems non too prosperous, except relatively.

His travelling notes are fascinating and plentiful almost preliminaty pauses between the entertainments.  Which abound, usually occasions where music, song and dance fill the book with the electric gravity of the flamenco and Spanish gypsy character.  Bullfights, not the grandiose but the local affairs, get honest descriptive coverage several times.  Lee’s writing is a scenic tour part memoir-cum-travel that covers a factual viewing with a touch of nostalgia.   I am fond of flamenco so find the book quite fascinating as part travel, history and musicology.    His continuous flow of descriptive adjectives and adverbs is potentially overwhelming but luckily for me I can work with it in this book.  However I may well search out  A Moveable Feast to counteract it.

Two for the price of one, eh!

I found this poem without the potency of Lee’s descriptions but I include because it sets a scene:

From: Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke.  Translated by Jessie Lamont.  Published 1918

The Spanish Dancer

As a lit match first flickers in the hands

Before it flames, and darts out from all sides

Bright, twitching tongues, so, ringed by growing bands

Of spectators – – she, quivering, glowing stands

Poised tensely for the dance –  then forward glides


And suddenly becomes a flaming torch.

Her bright hair flames, her burning glances scorch,

And with a daring art at her command

Her whole robe blazes like a fire-brand

From which is stretched each naked arm, awake,

Gleaming and rattling like a frightened snake.


And then, as though the fire fainter grows,

She gathers up the flame –  again it glows,

As with proud gesture and imperious air

She flings it to the earth; and it lies there

Furiously flickering and crackling still – –

Then haughtily victorious, but with sweet

Swift smile of greeting, she puts forth her will

And stamps the flames out with her small firm feet.



With thanks to Gutenberg Project for this extracted poem.




A Splinter of Glass by (Charles) Mike Doyle, Review

A Splinter of Glass,    Poems 1951-55

Charles Doyle

The Pegasus Press, New Zealand. 1956

From a signed copy, with the words:    “‘One end of a business deal!’   Mike Doyle.”

Note: the authors name on the title page is as Charles Doyle but he is more regularly published as Mike Doyle.

This is his first published book, a collection of 23 poems, the title one ‘ A Splinter of Glass’ is divided into seven sections.

The flap states he is Irish but other notes say he was born of Irish parents, in Birmingham, England.     Born 1928, served in the Royal Navy 1946 to 1954. Visited New Zealand in 1951 settled there after the Navy and became a school teacher.  Co- founded, co -edited ‘Numbers’.    The poem Splinter of Glass was granted the Jessie MacKay Memorial Award in 1955.

He settled in New Zealand for a few years then moved to Canada and remained there.  Now retired from his university in Victoria B.C..    He has had several books published on poetics as well as collections of poems, none as far as I can find published in the U.K..   All seem to be out of print currently.  This is a shame as I would like to set my hands on his ‘Collected Poems 1951 – 2009’  by Ekstasis in which he selected about a third of his then extant work for publication. There have been a couple of collections listed since then but again seem difficult to find at a price I can cope with, especially as they reside in Canada or the USA.

Poetry is massively written, massively read but not easily (economically) published throughout the English Speaking World as the purchasing public is so small.  As in fiction, only a small number of authors get published and an even smaller percentage become popular and have any sensible income.  Of course, as in all aspects of the Arts, or just Life, there are stellar successes which seem impossible.   Almost hidden from view may be as many good or better artists.  The trust and the hope is that those hidden gems will at some time see the light of day and find their space in that good old ‘firmament’.

I diverge, sorry, bad habit.

See Malahat Review website for review of collected poems by Mike Doyle

Winter Beach, the first poem moves from the rose-tint of summer memory as unreality.  Halfway through prods at the harshness of winter before relenting briefly, like an ‘Indian Summer’ before revealing the explosion of a winter storm.    Here is description with several layers for peeling and picking.      A Sea Change is the next poem.  The two are connected by the sea but here we immediately have a different style, rhythm and tone with little punctuation and elements of dislocation.  Ninth line before a punctuation stop where the explanation is found as to why images are solid though yet a little blurred.   If you look you find a little rhyme and some half-rhymes and numerous other poetic nuances but save that for later. Reading is the important element.   Here is a short poem written by a man in his mid-twenties, published sixty years ago, that catches emotion and story in a poem that re-reads again and again.     The poem in question:

A Sea Change

In the estuary as the trawlers sail

their salt fish up to the scuppers laden

the wharves black wet in the brawling winter gale

all that land but the heart’s acres hidden

in hangdog weather the cuff of the sea’s sleeve

ruffled and the waves hands plucking

greedily at the sand the squat sheds grieving

silent as empty churches and the wreck

two days now fast in the shadowy fathoms.

Only the divers simple messages come up

monotonous, moving, final as a requiem,

and the tides take hope out surely on the ebb.


This poet, in his first collection shows a great depth of artistry and storytelling.  This  suggests a passion, restlessness of mind and an overall melancholia that seems to accompany him.  Eight years in the Royal Navy must have given him the time and experiences to develop his poetic style and self.  He said he started writing poetry at about the age of thirteen but only at twenty three to feel some satisfaction with his work.  This first collection gives confirmation to his belief of himself and his poetry.

Reading through this book you might feel the touches of other poets echoing into your mind, for me it was often Dylan Thomas.   Whether they are your own bias in echoes of other poets or Doyle’s is moot.  What is important is the overall tales that slice through the series of images, often one that is unusual, as the circumstance of the pictures are powerful yet stated factually.

A Splinter of Glass, the title poem, in seven parts, seems a personal story of moving to and meeting with  ‘New World’ of New Zealand.

The main theme is surely the sea and distance, with the seasons weighed heavily by ‘black winter’ and loss/ death.

The poems, Old Maid and The Tower fill,the part of ‘simplest’  and more formal  than many while  A Window in the World and the last poem, Empirical History, both dip a toe into the metaphysical: of the Universe, its origins and Man’s place.

A Splinter of Glass is poetry of its day but fulfills its role still.  As a first collection it is assured and a voice with plenty to say.  My favourite poems have been picked out in the text above. I look forward to getting my hands on more of Mike Doyle’s work.

And for those keen to see the years roll by and a poet still enjoying life, just go to You Tube and type in:  Mike Doyle’s book launch part 5  

Book launch parts 1 to 6 are also available.

Three Poems by Charles Hamilton Sorley

Charles Hamilton Sorley   1895 – 1915 (13th Oct)

He was on walking tour in Germany before taking up a scholarship to Oxford University. War declared whilst there; briefly arrested before able to return to England.  The morning after arriving home he applied for a commission. In France (Suffolk Regiment) in May 1915, made up to Captain by September, killed 13th Oct.   A brief life cut short by a sniper at the Battle of Loos.

link to war poets website:  war poets


I believe Edmund Blunden considered Sorley to be already a consummate poet and a great loss in potential at the hands of  The Great War.  I have not found many but these three ( four if you take the Two-Sonnets as two, I dont).  The ‘Letter‘ seems a very fine poem to my mind

A Letter From The Trenches To A School Friend

I have not brought my Odyssey
With me here across the sea;
But you’ll remember, when I say
How, when they went down Sparta way,
To sandy Sparta, long ere dawn
Horses were harnessed, rations drawn,
Equipment polished sparkling bright,
And breakfasts swallowed (as the white
Of eastern heavens turned to gold) –
The dogs barked, swift farewells were told.
The sun springs up, the horses neigh,
Crackles the whip thrice-then away!
From sun-go-up to sun-go-down
All day across the sandy down
The gallant horses galloped, till
The wind across the downs more chill
Blew, the sun sank and all the road
Was darkened, that it only showed
Right at the end the town’s red light
And twilight glimmering into night.

The horses never slackened till
They reached the doorway and stood still.
Then came the knock, the unlading; then
The honey-sweet converse of men,
The splendid bath, the change of dress,
Then – oh the grandeur of their Mess,
The henchmen, the prim stewardess!
And oh the breaking of old ground,
The tales, after the port went round!
(The wondrous wiles of old Odysseus,
Old Agamemnon and his misuse
Of his command, and that young chit
Paris – who didn’t care a bit
For Helen – only to annoy her
He did it really, K.T.A.)
But soon they led amidst the din
The honey-sweet – in,
Whose eyes were blind, whose soul had sight,
Who knew the fame of men in fight –
Bard of white hair and trembling foot,
Who sang whatever God might put
Into his heart.
And there he sung,
Those war-worn veterans among,
Tales of great war and strong hearts wrung,
Of clash of arms, of council’s brawl,
Of beauty that must early fall,
Of battle hate and battle joy
By the old windy walls of Troy.
They felt that they were unreal then,
Visions and shadow-forms, not men.
But those the Bard did sing and say
(Some were their comrades, some were they)
Took shape and loomed and strengthened more
Greatly than they had guessed of yore.
And now the fight begins again,
The old war-joy, the old war-pain.
Sons of one school across the sea
We have no fear to fight –

And soon, oh soon, I do not doubt it,
With the body or without it,
We shall all come tumbling down
To our old wrinkled red-capped town.
Perhaps the road up llsley way,
The old ridge-track, will be my way.
High up among the sheep and sky,
Look down on Wantage, passing by,
And see the smoke from Swindon town;
And then full left at Liddington,
Where the four winds of heaven meet
The earth-blest traveller to greet.
And then my face is toward the south,
There is a singing on my mouth
Away to rightward I descry
My Barbury ensconced in sky,
Far underneath the Ogbourne twins,
And at my feet the thyme and whins,
The grasses with their little crowns
Of gold, the lovely Aldbourne downs,
And that old signpost (well I knew
That crazy signpost, arms askew,
Old mother of the four grass ways).
And then my mouth is dumb with praise,
For, past the wood and chalkpit tiny,
A glimpse of Marlborough -!
So I descend beneath the rail
To warmth and welcome and wassail.

This from the battered trenches – rough,
Jingling and tedious enough.
And so I sign myself to you:
One, who some crooked pathways knew
Round Bedwyn: who could scarcely leave
The Downs on a December eve:
Was at his happiest in shorts,
And got – not many good reports!
Small skill of rhyming in his hand –
But you’ll forgive – you’ll understand.



There where the rusty iron lies,
The rooks are cawing all the day.
Perhaps no man, until he dies,
Will understand them, what they say.

The evening makes the sky like clay.
The slow wind waits for night to rise.
The world is half content. But they

Still trouble all the trees with cries,
That know, and cannot put away,
The yearning to the soul that flies
From day to night, from night to day.

            Two Sonnets


Saints have adored the lofty soul of you.
Poets have whitened at your high renown.
We stand among the many millions who
Do hourly wait to pass your pathway down.
You, so familiar, once were strange: we tried
To live as of your presence unaware.
But now in every road on every side
We see your straight and steadfast signpost there.

I think it like that signpost in my land
Hoary and tall, which pointed me to go
Upward, into the hills, on the right hand,
Where the mists swim and the winds shriek and blow,
A homeless land and friendless, but a land
I did not know and that I wished to know.


Such, such is Death: no triumph: no defeat:
Only an empty pail, a slate rubbed clean,
A merciful putting away of what has been.

And this we know: Death is not Life, effete,
Life crushed, the broken pail. We who have seen
So marvellous things know well the end not yet.

Victor and vanquished are a-one in death:
Coward and brave: friend, foe. Ghosts do not say,
“Come, what was your record when you drew breath?”
But a big blot has hid each yesterday
So poor, so manifestly incomplete.
And your bright Promise, withered long and sped,
Is touched, stirs, rises, opens and grows sweet
And blossoms and is you, when you are dead.