In the grim back alleys of the city,

Mean streets devoid of all signs of pity,

Amid the piles of decaying refuse

And slimy pools of darkly noxious ooze,

Frequented only by the scuttling rats

And noisome tribes of scabby feral cats;

Here, slumped in doorways, human flotsam lies,

Just filthy piles of rags crawling with flies.

In such surroundings one would not expect

To find evidence of beauty’s rare spark,

Yet with more careful eye one may detect,

Delicate flowers glowing in the dark,

Rare signs that life defeat will never know,

And even in midst of death hope will grow.


There was once a man whose name was no one,

A man without hope, marked by death’s shadow,

Wasted by booze and drugs, his cheeks hollow,

With sunken eyes from which all spark had gone.

His dissolute life had stolen the sun,

Banished from home, and warmth of family,

Begging for an end to his agony,

Desperate that his crimes could be undone.

But he was not entirely forsaken,

The wife so sorely abused yet loved him,

Regardless of danger to life and limb,

Through the cold city’s foetid underground,

She searched, sustained by hope he might be found,

And love so strong it could not be shaken.


Nothing is stronger in heaven or earth

Than the redeeming power of true love.

Love does our humanity fully prove;

It is the force that binds us from our birth,

And gold or silver cannot tell its worth.

Although passion will fade as we grow old,

And pretty created things lose their hold,

In hearts love ever seeks to make its berth.

Love forgives and takes no account of wrongs,

And through its power all may be reborn,

Whate’re the price may be, love ever longs

To make us whole, caring not for men’s scorn,

For no richer gift can there ever be

Than to share the love that will set us free.

Love Reborn

My dearest wife, it has been such a long winter,
Hard and bitter, draining the heart and soul of hope.
It has been doubly hard for you, so much sadness,
Almost too much to bear, with the illness of friends,
And frozen pipes, and the children’s difficulties,  
Such a long catalogue of woes, you look so tired,  
New lines of care on your face, and fresh streaks of grey  
Staining the golden beauty of your lovely hair.
I am bitterly aware of my shortcomings
As a husband, so often away, leaving you
To cope with the house alone, and worse, so distant  
When I was there, preoccupied with my problems,  
Barely listening to what you had to tell me.
But worse, my love, has been my thoughtless cruelty,  
All too often snapping at you, and the children,
And even rejecting your loving advances,
Pushing you aside, to sob into your pillow,
No longer sure that I even loved you, fearing
I had found another, afraid of losing me.
But now that spring is here, I have made a solemn oath  
To turn over a new leaf, and to give to you
All the devotion and love which I have withheld,  
And which you so richly deserve, poor recompense  
For your constancy and care, and your unswerving  
Love and concern for me, which I have so coldly  
Ignored in my cruel and heartless selfishness.
Spring is here with its happy promise of new life,  
Everywhere we look, new green shoots, the sound of birds  
And the hum of bees pollinating the flowers,
Whose bright colours clothe the reawakening earth
With gladness, lifting our hearts in thankful prayer
For all the goodness and delight that are God’s gift,  
Simple things, and yet so much more than worldly goods.  
The return of light and warmth once more to the world  
Has worked its miracle on even my cold soul,
And made me realise what a wonderful gift
I have in you, my long suffering companion,
My faithful wife who has never over the years
Ceased to love and care for me, honouring the vows  
You made many years ago, until life shall end.
I have resolved to start afresh, vowing henceforth  
To make your happiness my first and my last thought,  
To honour, cherish and tenderly care for you,
To respect and encourage your own fulfilment
As a individual, to speak the truth in love,
But first, to listen to all that you have to say,
No longer closing my ears, and shutting you out.  
Only this way can I break down the barrier
That has gradually grown up between our hearts.  
We are still one, separate personalities,
Yet at the same time, two halves of the same person,  
Thinking the same thoughts, and feeling the same feelings,  
Two parts of one beating heart, truly united,
Never to be parted, forever one in love,
In a marriage made in heaven, eternally joined.
So let us now celebrate the coming of spring,  
Finding a little place where we can be alone,
Free from everyday cares, where nothing can distract,
A cottage by the sea, a place to talk, and laugh,
To find again that wild delight that once we knew,
Running free like children at the dawn of the world,
Singing songs of passion and desire, making love
In the surf without a care, hearts beating as one,
And thus breathe fresh life into our union of souls,
The bright green shoots of new understanding growing
Strong in the sunlight, symbols of rediscovered joy,
And affirmation of the renewal of love.

The Colours of Love

In the first springtime of our love
Everything was as fresh and new,
And tender as the bright green leaves
Bursting forth from winter’s drab coat,
Alive with burgeoning desire
And the joy of revelation
As we explored in sweet delight,
The pale tones of our nakedness
Subtle as the cherry blossoms
On the trees outside your window,
Every kiss replete with promise
Of greater wonders yet to come.

With summer our passion burned bright,
The colours of our lustfulness
Fiery as the rampant spires
Of red and gold of the flowers
That grew in unchecked profuseness
In the gardens where secretly
We nightly danced in ecstasy,
Our flesh hot with untamed yearning,
As we consummated our love,
In the unquenchable rapture
And carnal exhilaration 
Of intoxicating desire.

The unforgiving march of time
Sadly, could not be long denied,
And as the season turned to fall
So your ardour cooled and died,
The ripe colours of your passion
Withering like the fallen leaves
In grubby piles in the gutters,
To be washed away by the rain
Until all trace of joy was lost,
The rapture of our summer love
Just a fugitive memory
As I wait for spring to return.

Elusive Lady

How desperately he wished he understood her,
The elusive lady who had stolen his heart,
But every time he thought she was within his grasp
Once more she seemed to vanish into the shadows,
Leaving him to flounder in the darkness of doubt.
There were many times when the flame of her presence
Burned so intensely it threatened to consume him;
Days and nights when they rode on a wave of passion,
Carrying him aloft on a tide of rapture
To new realms of inexpressible ecstasy,
His desire fuelled by words of adoration,
Words of such intoxicating intimacy
That he believed that she had surrendered her soul
And that they would be eternally united,
Beyond the power of anyone to sunder.
But then without warning she appeared to blow cold,
Sending an icy chill of incomprehension
Deep into the marrow of his anguished being,
And for long drawn out days and nights she disappeared,
Behind an unassailable wall of silence,
Not responding to his desperate entreaties.
It is not as if she had retired from the world,
For rumours percolated through the swirling fog
Where he cowered in vacuous paralysis,
In shafts of brilliance from the exciting sphere
Where she swirled in kaleidoscopic revelry,
While hosts of fascinated admirers followed,
Caught in the orbit of her femininity.


Sometimes by chance he caught a tantalising glimpse
Across the voiceless gulf of his deficiency,
To where she played in a circle of admirers,
Heedless of his confused cries of forgotten love,
Her flirtatious laughter proof of his rejection.
At times he thought these dark visions were projections 
Emanating from the core of his deranged mind
With no other foundation in reality 
Than his chaotic and rampant paranoia,
Which turned minutes into hours and hours into days;
And the voices that he heard clearly whispering
Their slanderous lies were just confused reflections 
Of the cancerous fingers of his psychosis.
But then, when all hope seemed to have crumbled to dust,
Without warning she appeared by his tear stained bed,
But instead of whispered words of sweet endearment 
And showers of a thousand intimate kisses,
Each one a pledge of enduring adoration,
All that she spoke were cruel words of rejection
Each one designed to puncture his sense of self worth,
Words laced with contempt for his pitiful nature,
And disgust for his bourgeois inadequacy
Both as a man and even more as a lover.
When she came into his room his hopes had been raised,
And for a moment it seemed his fears would dissolve
Dispersed by the sunshine of her entrancing smile,
Only to be humiliated and cast down
Into a pit of endless pain and dark despair.

Nights Such as This

It’s on summer nights such as this

That I remember so clearly;

Sitting in my chair in silence

As the daylight fades from the sky

And the soft air folds about me

Like a soothing blanket of peace.


It’s on gentle nights such as this

That I remember so clearly;

Looking out across the calm loch

To the fell-sides outlined ink black

Against the paler indigo

Of the star bedecked northern sky.


It’s on special nights such as this

That I remember so clearly

The very first love of my life

Every detail like yesterday,

As if the passage of the years

Had become just a moment.


It was on a night just like this

That our paths crossed for the first time

One summer fifty years ago,

Guests at an end of term party,

Two strangers, who in an instant

Made a connection lasting years.


It was on many nights like this

That we sat gazing at the stars,

Your head resting on my shoulder,

Content just to be together

In silence, sharing thoughts in ways

Far more profound than words could tell.


It was on wondrous nights like this

I still remember so clearly

How we loved, the mutual joy

Of our bodily union

A reflection and completion

Of the harmony of our souls.


It was on a night just like this

That we eventually parted,

Acknowledging without rancour

That the spark of love was no more,

No words, just one last tender kiss

Before fading into the dark.


Tonight is a night just like those

And I remember so clearly

Despite the passage of the years

The many nights of joy we shared,

Sweetest Kate, or was it Angela,

Or Susan; am I growing old?


I remember so many nights,

My memories are still quite clear,

Yes so clear, so clear ….. oh, what’s this?

A gentle hand on my shoulder,

“You’re sleeping in your chair again.

It’s time to come inside grandad.”


It’s on summer nights like tonight

I remember her so clearly,

My Kate, or was it Angela,

Or Susan; what became of her?

Perhaps we’ll meet again someday.

Yes I remember so clearly.

Nemesis — the impermanence of all created things

Impassive sentinel of history,

Mute and inscrutable you stand alone,

Floating serenely on a sea of sand,

Unmoved by the passage of centuries

And indifferent to the countless hordes

Whose brief existence has been conducted

Within sight of your enigmatic gaze,

You are a stark and silent testament

To the folly of human vanity

And its desire for immortality;

For the bodies of those whose tombs you guard —

Those majestic gateways to the heavens —

Were plundered for their riches long ago

And nothing remains of their mortal essence,

And in time you too will suffer their fate,

Your stones eroded by the restless wind

And your atoms merged with the blowing sands.

For a little while you will be preserved

As a symbol of human endeavour

To be studied by archaeologists

And to assuage the curiosity

Of those who come to gawp at your splendour,

Some perhaps understanding your message

That our lives ultimately mean nothing.


Driven by the same conceited spirit

As those who commissioned grandiose tombs

To glorify their godlike achievements,

I have attempted to construct with words

Temples of meaning, vast edifices

To celebrate all human life and love,

Vainly hoping for immortality

As one blessed with a special genius

To illustrate eternal verities

In a unique and memorable way.

In my intellectual arrogance

I expect adulation as my right

While humbly accepting every plaudit,

An attitude of such hypocrisy

That deserves the punishment for hubris,

That most awful nemesis for the poet,

Worse than criticism — to be ignored.

The truth, of course, is that my artistry

Is nothing special, merely commonplace,

And makes little impression on the minds

Of those who are kind, or foolish enough

To read my verse, and whose gracious comments

Reflect their generosity alone.

The least among writers, it is my fate

To leave no lasting trace of my passing.

A Soldier’s Memory

He lay stretched out on the narrow iron framed bed

Idly staring at the cracked and blotchy ceiling,

Its surface resembling a map of no man’s land,

A senseless wilderness of craters and barbed wire.

Unthinking, his mind was empty of all feeling

Other than a sense of utter futility,

A weariness that had seeped into his marrow

Like the water bleeding from the walls of the trench

Whose narrow confines had become his entire world,

A place of despair, stealing the light from his soul.


He lit a Woodbine, and watched the skeins of blue smoke

Drifting upwards to add their yellow residue

To the stains left by countless other cigarettes

Smoked by other soldiers in this room, on this bed.

Lifting his head to look round the squalid little room,

Taking in the broken chair with his brown tunic

Carelessly slung over the back, his revolver

Lying on the dirty floor where it had fallen.

Looking the other way he could see the nightstand

With its cracked ewer and basin, and the mirror,

On the wall behind, where the eyes of a stranger

Had blankly stared back at him from the mottled glass,

When he had laid out his razor and shaving brush.

Christ he was tired,

So God-almighty fucking tired.


He woke up with a start,

“Look sharp lads,” he shouted, at

“Get the fuck into the dugouts,”

Then remembered,

Realising the crump of exploding shells was

Just a door banging shut somewhere in the hotel.

“Shit,” he thought,

“I need a good fuck with a cheap whore,

A few sweet moments of blessed oblivion,

Anything to wipe out the memories of death,

Christ, something,

Anything to make me feel alive.”


He slept again, dreaming of that golden summer

In Oxford, in another world, before this hell,

Punting on the Isis, the laughing girls and boys,

Oh they were so innocent in that far off time,

Blissfully, carelessly unaware that their world

Was soon to end in a welter of mud and gore,

Men blown into smithereens, the beauty of limbs

Shattered by uncaring shells, or ripped to pieces

In a hail of bullets spewed out by faceless guns.


He remembered one particular girl, sister

Of his closest friend John, who died a year ago,

In his arms, murmuring through mangled lips, of England,

Of home and beauty, green meadows and waving corn,

His lifeblood seeping into the cold foreign soil

Of Flanders, just one of thousands to die that day,

June nineteen sixteen,

The first battle of the Somme,

Sacrificed on the altar of stupidity,

The folly of politicians, blinded by pride,

And fat generals still fighting yesterday’s wars,

Immune to the effects of hot metal on flesh,

Safe in the luxury of their plush headquarters.


Charlotte was her name, Charlie to her closest friends,

Eighteen years old when he first met her, three years ago

When he was invited to spend Christmas with John

And his family at their home in Gloucestershire,

A warm and friendly thatched cottage of Cotswold stone,

In a picture postcard village, beside a green,

Just across from the parish church, and country inn.

He remembered the very first time he saw her,

A heart shaped face framed by tumbling auburn tresses,

With a welcoming smile, and a mischievous laugh,

Vivacious and so full of life,

Stealing his heart.


They had made tender love many times that summer,

In his college rooms, lying naked on his bed,

Gloriously happy in the first flush of love,

Laughing with happiness, suspended in time,

Oblivious to the threatening clouds of war

Spreading their malevolent blight over Europe,

So soon to destroy for ever their innocence,

The beauty of youthful limbs trampled underfoot

Beneath the jackboots of anonymous armies,

Marching robot like across the ravaged landscape,

Of their dreams, the end of a golden age of hope.

Best of all were those afternoons when in a rowboat

They would escape to some secluded backwater

Where, lying in the long grass of the riverbank

He would enter into the mystery of her soul

In a joyful dance of mutual ecstasy,

Radiant with the light of consummated love.

And afterwards, laughing with delight, they would bathe

Naked, playing like children in the cool water,

Only returning home as last rays of the sun

Sent long shadows across the gently flowing stream.


The last time they spent together was in London,

The night before he embarked for France, and glory.

John was there too, with his current girl on his arm.

They went to the Savoy, dinner first, then dancing,

Resplendent in their uniforms, second lieutenants,

In the Gloucestershire Regiment, badges polished,

And boots shining, ready to serve King and Country.

He told Charlotte, better not to upset herself

By seeing them onto the train in the morning,

As he kissed away her tears after making love,

No need to make a fuss, much too embarrassing,

Besides, he said, it would be over by Christmas,

And when he returned they could think about marriage,

A summer wedding would be nice, with all the frills,

With a long honeymoon on the Riviera,

Antibes was particularly nice he’d been told,

Less crowded than Nice or Monaco in summer..


He was disturbed from his reverie by a knock,

For a moment forgetting where he was, drowsy,

Unwilling to wake and return to reality,

Better to dream of those far off halcyon days.

“Come in” he called, then remembering, “Entrée vous,

“La porte est pas verrouillé,” and he sat up,

Because one still had to preserve appearances,

Especially in front of servants, don’t you know.

The door opened to admit a mousy haired girl,

In a grubby dress, with a jug of hot water,

“Le dîner sera prêt dans vingt minutes,” she said,

And left, clumsily slamming the door behind her.

“Fuck you!” He thought, “Fuck me, fuck this whole goddam world,”

But then, chastened, he wearily rose from his bed,

And after scraping the week’s stubble from his face,

Dressed slowly and carefully in his uniform,

And after retrieving his revolver from the floor,

Followed her downstairs, every inch the officer.


Another time, another place, another bed,

White walls and ceiling, the muffled sounds of moaning,

And the sweet pungent smell of carbolic, and blood,

But remote, as if it was far away, like a dream.

He shook his head, trying to clear his clouded mind,

And then the screaming began, inescapable,

Burning through his brain in a shriek of agony.

“Shut up,” he thought, “shut the fuck up and let me sleep.”

And then, dimly, through the sharp blinding fog of pain

That was his body, he realised the screams were …

His, his agony, Christ! His pain. Shit, what the fuck!

And then he remembered, or didn’t remember;

All that he could recall was a shrill shrieking noise,

Shouted voices, and then a flash, and … nothingness,

Just silence and darkness, sweet comforting darkness.


“Wake up Major;” a voice out of the white darkness,

“It’s time to check your dressings, this might hurt a bit,

But be a brave soldier, it will soon be over,

And then you can go to sleep again. Sleep will help.”

He looked up into the whiteness, towards the voice,

And saw a vision of loveliness … an angel?

Was he dead? Was this heaven? But then, why the pain?

“What,” he croaked, “where am I? Water, I need water.”

And then a sharp prick in his arm, and oblivion.


Later, how much later? He didn’t know … hours, days?

Slowly he returned to consciousness, looked around,

And finally recognised the truth … where he was.

Hospital. Just another body on a bed,

Another piece of wreckage of this endless war.

And he cried, tears of self pity and hopelessness.

“Good morning Major,” that voice again, the angel!

This time he could see her, no angel, just a nurse.

“Well Major, your war is over now,” the voice said,

Kindly, concerned, soothing, but something else. What?

The voice sounded familiar, a voice from the past,

From the time before the horror, the blood, the pain.

Familiar, but different … older and wiser.

“It’s alright Major, you’re safe now, home in England,

They’re coming tomorrow to measure you for your …

“My what?” he cried like a child, alarmed, frightened.

“For your leg,” she said, “you’ll soon be up and walking,

Right as rain, a new man. You’ll be as good as new.”

“What happened?” He asked, I can’t remember a thing,

Just a shriek, and a flash, and then nothing, nothing.

“You were caught in a shell burst,” she replied gently,

“In the final push on the Somme. It’s all over,

The war is over and we are at peace at last.”


Weeks later he finally mastered his new leg

With the devoted care and help of his angel,

His Charlotte. She had followed him to war, signed up

As a nurse, and by some strange miracle of fate

She had been there beside him in his darkest hours.

You really couldn’t tell the difference … the leg …

Not much anyway when he was properly dressed.

He was alive, unlike too many of his friends,

And there was hope, a better future, no more war.


They were married early in the New Year, in church,

In Gloucestershire, surrounded by family and …

And also the ghosts of those who hadn’t survived.

He was resplendent in his full dress uniform,

The hard earned ribbons of sacrifice on his breast,

Among them the Military Cross , for bravery,

She in white, not the plain uniform of a nurse,

But floating down the aisle in a shimmer of silk,

Truly like an angel. No longer innocent,

They were older, and sadder, but also wiser,

And determined in their joy to make a future,

A better future in a brave new world of hope.


We know better now, and it took another war

Before Europe finally came to its senses.

But we will remember them and their sacrifice,

And pledge to constantly work for peace and concord,

For that will be their only fitting memorial.

The River — A Contemplation on Life and Love

People have many different ways to find peace

When living is just becoming too hard to bear,

For some it is in sleep, some have a special place,

Others seek the company of lighthearted friends,

Some settle down with a book, others meditate,

And many spoil themselves with a favourite food.

I have a special place where I like to escape

For a few days whenever it is possible,

Where there is such quietness and tranquility

That my mind is emptied of negative feelings

And I rediscover the lightness of being

That I had forgotten in the bustle of life.


I know I should really keep it a secret

For fear others might invade my sanctuary,

But that would be selfish and there is room for more.

The place itself is not at all remarkable,

Just a small island in France on the river Seine,

Twenty miles upstream of the city of Rouen

Where the river is broad, bordered by high chalk cliffs

Rising to a plateau of fields and small hamlets.

Another larger wooded island lies beyond

Screening the noise of the barges plying their trade,

Carrying all manner of cargoes between the

Inland factories and the great port of Le Havre.


I particularly like to sit in the grass

Beside the river in peaceful relaxation,

Sometimes doing nothing, letting my mind go blank,

Released from the grip of negative memories.

At others I meditate on the meaning of life,

Finding peace in solitary contemplation;

The only sound the gurgling of running water,

The song of birds in the trees and hum of insects,

And in the spring the croaking of the many frogs

Sitting on the lily pads at the river’s edge.

This is where I wish my last resting place to be,

My ashes scattered in this place of tranquillity.


One day while I was lost in such a reverie,

A new idea impressed itself on my mind,

An epiphany that the river could be seen

As an appropriate metaphor for all life.

It begins its life in quiet obscurity

In the quiet darkness of a small mountain tarn,

Or bursting from the rocks in merry abandon.

There is little indication in its early life

Of the majestic river that it will become

As it flows through alpine meadows decked with flowers,

Or rushes headlong through rocky gorges to plunge

Over precipices into deep crystal pools.


It is already home to many forms of life,

The only human witnesses to its childhood

Hill walkers and young children fishing for minnows

Or happily playing their games of innocence.

When it reaches the lowlands its strength increases,

As it gathers other streams to swell its waters.

Here it meanders between fields of green and gold,

Source of life and vitality to growing crops,

And refreshment to cattle grazing on its banks.

Still unpolluted by human activity,

It learns of ancient ways, unchanged over aeons,

The abundant knowledge of many centuries.


With early adulthood the scenery changes,

And fields give way to towns and the bustle of men.

In places the river runs between banks of stone,

Its life and vigour channeled to suit human need,

Roads run along its banks clamorous with the noise

Of lorries bringing the first of many cargoes

For the great barges moored alongside the long wharves

That will soon proliferate and then dominate

Its life, blotting out the sweet memories of youth.

Then come the factories spewing their toxic waste

To pollute and corrupt the former purity

Of the river, coating its clear waters with foam.


Middle age approaches fast and the world moves on

As the first suburbs of the great city appear

The river ignored by busy people intent

Upon their own concerns, their faces turned away,

Minds filled only with thoughts of family and trade.

But then a new song begins to float in the air,

The happy sound of carousers on pleasure boats,

Plying the river at the heart of the city,

And young swains trying to impress their lady loves

With their skill as boatsmen, and scullers and yachtsman

Practising for the many summer’s regattas

That will grace the river with gaiety and joy.


By the time it reaches me the river is old,

Running steadily towards its destination.

It is broad now, dotted with islands large and small,

The main channel still busy, but in the backwaters,

Home to ducks and many other small water fowl,

Ruled by the swans floating in all their majesty

On its limpid surface, quiet and peace has returned.

The river is still gaining wisdom, listening

To the whispered voices of the trees on its banks.

Soon now it will sense premonitions of its end,

As the taste of salt brings the message of its death,

And stories of wider shores and a greater life.


Throughout the long journey from its source to the sea,

The river will have experienced many things,

But in its diverse contacts with human beings,

An extra dimension to life will be revealed,

A motivating force that drives all our actions,

Even though we often deny its influence.

From the moment of conception to our last breath

We are all governed by love in all its aspects.

From the simple joyfulness of children at play,

Or the whispered words of young lovers on its banks,

To the love of money at the heart of commerce,

I realised that the river will see them all.


So as I lay there in peaceful contemplation,

My mind meandering lazily outside time,

New visions began to break on my consciousness,

Appearing and then disappearing like eddies,

Briefly disturbing the calm surface of my thoughts,

And I began to discern another river,

Intangible, but even more profoundly real,

Flowing invisibly and yet inexorably,

The dynamic heart of the entire universe,

And I perceived with a sense of awe and wonder,

That another river pervades all creation,

A majestic river of infinite power.


A force without a beginning or an ending,

The River of Life is the source of all being,

Its true nature is love and it knows no evil,

And though we might never give it a moment’s thought,

It is our origin and our destination,

The source and true meaning of our brief existence.

Though we may wilfully choose to disregard it,

And too often attempt to swim against its tide,

In our ignorance and pride resisting its call,

The benign power of love seeks to transform us,

And when at last our brief span on earth is ended,

We will become one with the mystery of love.