At Melville’s Tomb
Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge
The dice of drowned men’s bones he saw bequeath
An embassy. Their numbers as he watched,
Beat on the dusty shore and were obscured.
And wrecks passed without sound of bells,
The calyx of death’s bounty giving back
A scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph,
The portent wound in corridors of shells.
Then in the circuit calm of one vast coil,
Its lashings charmed and malice reconciled,
Frosted eyes there were that lifted altars;
And silent answers crept across the stars.
Compass, quadrant and sextant contrive
No farther tides . . . High in the azure steeps
Monody shall not wake the mariner.
This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.
Chosen by Will Burns
National Trust houses, cows, huge open fields:
The countryside is not present in these.
Rather, it is the brief smell of rain on earth,
The dank, warm taint beneath the riotous grass,
The bare blue chick dead and drying on the path.
Red earwigs always in the fencepost-holes
And sycamore-copters that spin down in dizzy lines:
These are the secret things that ‘country’ means.
The scuff of beech mast under rare feet, and the low
Contented notes of the wood-pigeon that drift
Above long-shadowed summer air, sifted and sweet
With the haze of distant smoke, and a gentle heat…
Later, the tea-time frost that silvers drifting leaves
So summer’s swelter seems an old amnesia;
These things are the countryside’s lazy treasure.
It’s not the framed, uncomprehending space
Beyond the Intercity’s rain-blown window glass;
Nor is it the cloud-chased wold carved through by car
En route to somewhere easier to picture. No,
It is both more secret than these things, and richer.
It is the simple benediction an evening hedgehog brings
Shambling a myopic trail through dew-veiled grass;
The chain of tiny beads a bramble leaves on skin…
These country things I have given up remembering.