NINE POEMS ON NINE PICTURES

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The images are available as GICLÉE PRINTS: See Explanantory Notes

THE POEMS FEATURE IN MY FILMS

The fountain in the square in Panicale, Umbria, Italy

LA FONTANA

This travertine marble has travelled far,

It was thirsty work those two hundred miles,

Those eight hundred feet from quarry to here;

All those heights above undrinkable water.

 

Under the burnt streets of this hilltop town

This cooling water will spill from a wound

Neptune made in the side of the mountain.

We, with our dried-up throats, cannot yet drink

From this fresh source of our own devising-

The naiads are playing with Tantalus.

We kneel with hope on the stone steps and pray,

But that pale-faced chalice remains unfilled.

 

Years pass and the fountain gives of its gift

To those who need help and ask for relief.

Now our thirsty work has been forgotten

When we return and find the fountain dry.

But today our prayers are heard nearby,

For there is a small bar across the square

Where mischievous naiads are forbidden

And water comes from bottles, not fountains.

 

A street in Panicale, a village above Lake Trasimeno in Umbria, Italy

THE BIRD or L’Uccelo nel Cielo

My friend says it’s far too high to tell

Whether a buzzard or a kestrel;

Whatever bird of prey it calls itself

It likes the mountains this hunting bird,

And now the jagged roofline provides

By shadowing walls as the Apennines.

It hovers for Zeus to make a sketch

So the blue sky can take the bird’s wing

It mimics, and echoes, and parrots.

It looks down watchfully on this

Gravity ensnared Umbrian street

Gaia sketched in for Man to follow

His ordained undulating blueprint,

Merging earth with the empyrean.

 

Alleyway or vicolo in Panicale, Umbria, Italy

IL VICOLO

The Italians have theirs burnt or raw

In this Umbrian street or vicolo,

Coloured with the tints between earth and sky;

A passage of Dante Alighieri,

Neither infernal nor ethereal.

 

Within ethereal are the letters

Available for spelling earth and heart

But neither the engulfed heart of darkness

Nor the effulgent light of the warm earth

Where doorways will emerge into sunlight,

To both a scorched world that turns the earth red

And a virgin landscape of uncooked greens.

 

An old vicolo with streaming flagstones

And mossy bricks and orange stuccoed walls

Built with pigments and baked earth,

Making in a tight space a universe,

A closed world of opposites united.

 

A vestry in an abandoned church, Panicale, Umbria, Italy

LA SACRESTIA ABBANDONATA

‘Because I know that time is always time

And place is always and only place

And what is actual is actual for only one time

And only for one place…’

ASH WEDNESDAY T.S.Eliot

   

After saying the Latin Mass, the priest

Quietly closes the sacristy door.

It is Ash Wednesday and the sacristan-

The holy palm ash cross still on his brow-

Locks it fast shut until the next Sunday;

But forty days go by and no one comes

And the palm ashes are now holy dust.

 

Hidden in the wardrobe are the vestments:

The priest’s white alb tunic, now not so pure;

His chasuble covering, now sinned against;

His stole – at hand for drying – now unwashed.

Unconsecrated wines, some for the Mass,

Some wisely kept back for the priest,

Not needed now, and only vinegar.

The waiting jug is empty of water,

Of no use to the spirit of the stairs.

 

This place is no longer the only place,

Entombed now, not embalmed but decaying-

And what is actual is for all time.

After forty days it is deserted

And now forsaken for eternity

The sacrestia abbandonata.

 

The Camellia House, Nettlecombe Court, Somerset, England

THE OLD CAMELLIA HOUSE

Here they once housed camellias:

Now all the camellias are dead,

Choked by the fresh flora that flourish

In the broken dedicated ward

For tender flowers consumed by age.

The red, cherished as a period piece,

The white, no longer abed waiting

For the gardener’s nurturing hand.

Now, never seen through the shivered panes,

Les dames were shown no kindly mercy.

Today, the house is bound by nature

Before it too returns to the earth

To be with its red and white patients.

 

The Golden Mean 3

THE DIVINE PROPORTION

The earthly godlike proportion states:

The smaller part is to the greater

As the greater part is to the whole.

Did the gods on a Mount Arithmos

Come up with this divine division?

The alchemy of the Golden Mean.

 

A universal logarithmic

Is a phrase that counts, as all words do –

A phrase describing this mundane verse?

A poem that could ascend or plunge?

A paradigm lost and then regained,

Scanning the gap between coupled words

Like heaven and hell or love and hate.

A precious proportion, though confined

In a golden rectangular page.

 

Or just say: 1 to point 618 –

That’s roughly one way of putting it…

 

Chairs in a Spanish church

EX CATHEDRA or a MOVING PICTURE

Is this a snapshot of a searchlight?

Of a family of chairs in flight

Seeking refuge, escaping the chase

Illuminating a darkened sky

That could be a haven or dead-end?

Or is it a clip of hanging chairs

Before falling to a fatal fate?

Awaiting their uncertain future?

Their shadows the images of bats,

That presage freedom from fearfulness.

Is the door an entrance or an exit

Into a land of hope or despair?

Is a chair without a seat, a chair?

Would Magritte say: "Ce n'est pas une chaise"?

In truth, they're in a small Spanish church,

In brief suspended animation,

In stop-motion beneath an aisle

Should they not be in a cathedral?

After all, is not a cathedral named

For the Chair in which sits an archbishop?

 

The church of Our Lady of the Assumption, Urbino, Le Marche, Italy

URBINO

The saints and bishops rise to the azure

From the 'Our Lady of the Assumption',

Pointed upwards by columns of glory.

Heading heavenwards do they all assume

To be received by Raphael the god-like

Son of Urbino, 'the little city'?

Are they stone upright Fathers of the Church

Who assume the virgin's rise to heaven?

 

Standing erect is San Crescentinus

A Roman soldier who slew a dragon,

And the warlord Hophra's spiked obelisk.'

Do they now assume a calm peacefulness?

Earthbound below is an upright figure,

I assume her to be solely upright -

She is striped white with no earthly shadow -

And a darkened pick-up truck with ladder.

Even on terrestrial level

The temporal words, pick-up and ladder,

Must assume some form of levitation.

 

A Vespa, Urbino, Le Marche, Italy

LA VESPA

There she is waiting, wearing the purple,

More royal than the absentee princess

Who went on an unscheduled holiday

In Rome tearing round the Colisseum

(Although no relation, Vespasian's

Monument to good fun and bloody games-

Torte e birra for the plebeians).

 

Attendant on her owner emerging,

Sensuously perched on radiant tiles

Seemingly tethered to a Mondrian,

Painted earth and ochre on an off day;

Wasp coloured walls sheltering violets.

 

Who will emerge in the cool, dark doorway?

For it can never be a Miss Hepburn

Or a Mr Peck, now crumbling like the walls,

But a ragazzo and a ragazza

Suitably alla moda l'ultima,

As exhilarating as their fresh steed.