We’ve never run a competition like this on the blog before and we’ll definitely do it again, because we’ve been delighted at how many people have sent us their work. There are some really lovely short pieces here, and some very creative explorations of Wordsworth himself, the Lakes he loved, and the themes that inspire and animate his own poetry.
You can read a selection below (incidentally we did have some other good entries, but they were more than the 140-word limit, so we weren’t able to include them).
Many of our poets have been moved – as Wordsworth was – by the transition of the seasons, from Hannah Comer’s evocation of the ‘chilled remains’ of winter, to Aviva Flyax’s image of the ‘sap of living thought… frozen hard as stone’, to Catherine Godlewsky‘s description of a long spring afternoon when ‘time melts away in birdsong, light and long’, and Caroline Gill‘s poem about nesting birds, whose title is taken from a phrase in Wordsworth’s poem Why art thou silent! Is thy love a plant.
Adam Neikirk‘s poem moves from ‘frostfruit in the fall’ to ‘the soul in spring’, with a Wordsworthian sense of time and the cycles of the seasons that ‘endure beyond the year’. The theme of time is intimately linked – as it is in Wordsworth – with the idea of childhood: for example, Fiona Salt‘s poem Clouds is addressed to her daughter, urging her not to forget a day of ‘glorious sky’ and clouds that will ‘remember you’.
Many of the poems feature Wordsworth himself: Matthew Black‘s Lakeland Laureate talks of his ‘parchment and pen, a poet’s tools’, and Kim Rooney conjures the ‘wild and old exile/now home’. Two of those included below are modern takes on one of Wordsworth’s central themes in the Lyrical Ballads: the people who work and live on the land, from the shepherd in Annette Skade‘s poem Lamb, to the ‘shadeless men’ Brian Miller describes, native to their own ‘jagged mountain-pass’ and ‘peaks cloud-hid’.
It won’t surprise anyone that daffodils feature strongly, but our poets have done that with both wit and insight. Susan Cartwright Smith‘s poem begins ‘I wandered by the Eden Banks’, and evokes a modern Cumbria recovering from devastating floods, where ‘Daffs like gossips, huddled, packed’ are contrasted with the ‘rubbish still hanging in the trees’. Mike Irons does something similar in a poem that begins ‘I pondered over pad and grid’, and describes how looking at virtual maps can evoke both real landscapes and those of memory, creating ‘rural paths into the past’ that allow him to see ‘once more the child I’d been’. And for sheer virtuosity, we take our hat off to Anthony Etherin, and his poem composed entirely of anagrams of ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’.
You can imagine how tough it was to pick a winner! But in the end we had to go with Adam Neikirk, for To Albion – we especially loved the nod to Coleridge in the final line. And there’s a runner-up prize for Mike Irons, for On First Looking into Virtual Maps.
Well done to both Adam and Mike – please email us so we can arrange to send your prizes, which will be Wordsworth-related books from the shop at Dove Cottage. And a very big thank-you to everyone who entered. It was a great way to celebrate Wordsworth’s birthday!
A selection of the poems
Spring’s day is longer than the night,
Season awakened by the clock’s extra hour,
Yet undetermined by calendar dates;
Its transitional sigh of warmth,
Life basks in the sun’s mellow rays,
Buds blossoming flowers, trees into leaf,
Arising from Winter’s chilled remains.
The barren Oak and Elm do crack and moan
When whipped by winter’s lashes strong and chill;
Then, bleak intrusive fancies quell my will
To cast them off. The sun’s kind warmth has flown,
And sap of living thought is frozen hard as stone.
The dusty Pine maintains his green attire;
This stoic seems to be a heartless liar —
At least, his secrets are to me unknown.
But all aglow with flame beneath the snow,
Small Hawthorn, leafless, shows a different way:
Through winter’s night her candles brightly play;
Her hands’ sweet fruit can quell the heart’s dull woe;
Her berry raiment’s scarlet strong and gay.
And she shall laugh till winter’s latest day!
A thousand shades of green
Nature’s intricate patchwork
Surveying the glorious scene
O’er a regal lakeland cirque
He called this place his home
Traversed its geological jewels
Freedom to muse and to roam
Parchment and pen, a poet’s tools
Susan Cartwright Smith
I wandered by the Eden Banks
Welly-booted, footings free.
Three months earlier giving thanks
That floods had not discovered me.
Daffs protrude the silty screes
With rubbish still hanging in the trees.
The wind still whips their golden tresses,
Spring a promise that they bear.
And still we Carliols weather stresses
Girdled by our river fair.
Every raindrop watched, implored,
The careless goddess sleeps once more.
The marker from 2005
Is shadowed by December ‘15
That mother, Nature, cruel, alive –
Reminds us we are specks, unseen.
We pull with tides, we are reflected,
A borrowed planet, we should respect it.
But spring unfolds: the sight is thrilling
Daffs like gossips, huddled, packed.
The Nile-like Eden’s bounty spilling
New life where the deluge sacked.
The Phoenix City the Nation sees,
While daffodils are dancing in the breeze.
On First Looking into Virtual Maps
I pondered over pad and grid ,
Hovering like a hawk in flight ,
About to swoop and dart amid
My long-lost byways of delight.
And diving down, my eyes so keen,
I saw once more the child I’d been.
Upon the mount I ran my days,
Our youthful flock roamed field and wood,
Down the hill where, to my amaze,
An empty, lonely house now stood.
Taking wing , I left the alley ,
Soaring far across the valley.
A new and greener land I found
And rural paths into the past.
Down sylvan lanes with scarce a sound,
My paper-sack and I skipped past.
So many moons since I did play
‘Midst oaks and beeches far away.
The gentle look of frostfruit in the fall,
The furze-flower on its shelf of golden heath,
The aster, bound up in a circle wreath,
And rose ensconced in overshadowed hall,
In a season that endures beyond the year
Describe new weather come in summer late;
The soul in spring, and sure convince of fate,
Whose sounds make pictures on the inner-ear:
As if the apex of imagined pleasure
No single sense could hold or entertain;
But being all of what we cannot measure,
An echo weaved of past and passionate pain,
Gazed sage-like into time’s ambivalence,
Strode o’er the lane, and hopped the infinite fence.
My little girl, remember today.
When the glorious sky stops spinning
and the clouds are castles no more
Remember this day as endless
you’re the compass my girl, be sure!
Remember today as Beauty
Yes, your hands are stubbornly grubby
and your knees a black and blue hue
your cornfield hair – wild and unruly
but your mind, it’s boundless and new.
Take on this world my glorious girl
Keep on spinning through.
Even when there is darkness, know
those clouds remember you.
Slumped against the farmhouse wall,
a newborn lamb on his small lap,
bottle beside him dripping milk,
head still bowed with the effort
to coax the weak creature to drink,
but slack, the life drained out of him.
He shifted an inch at our footsteps,
cradled the lolling muzzle,
forced words out. “He took a sup!
He took a sup!” His father’s hands
unfolded, took away the scrap,
freed him to raise his eyes-
not to heaven; he just couldn’t bear
to look on earth, see familiar things
so changed. He couldn’t save,
no matter what we’d told him,
no matter how hard he tried,
no matter how much loved.
At An Afternoon Lawn Party
Lying, lazy, on the grass in springtime,
Time melts away in birdsong, light and long;
In voices, babbling from flushed lips unseen;
In daffodils, drowning in a young sun’s sweet kiss;
In the eye that gazes, hungry, at the scene
To feast on such delights and retire, nourishéd.
why I’d leave
hills, unbroken water
A brokered stand
high above the Thames
shorn of its fields, yet
at my returning;
a wild and old exile
An Image of an Incan Ruin and its Surroundings
A man unmourned stood free in the blank sun
eyeing a flight of endless Peru steps
never before, never again to thrive
as best, as full, as loved as they had been,
greets me with cold hands under plastic eyes,
telling how he was raised one of a caste,
the ripples of industry, shadeless men,
living to crack, strain, crunch, in vain,
to bring cilantro-scented jade-comfort
to the home in, but not, their own, one made
to feed warm to grave-seekers tattered bone
over jagged mountain-pass, peaks cloud-hid,
over dry white sweat that staying on lasts,
over worn river bridge, from which plummets
thought of purple orchids to wall-stems linked,
daughters of green ridges in mist, the last
vestige of an Arcadian life tinged
ever by the presence of one stone kiss
of a native world there no more.
Anagram-Triolet for Wordsworth
I wandered lonely as a cloud…
All lay worn. I seduced an ode,
a lucid yarn no seed allowed.
I wandered lonely. As a cloud,
alone in duel, delays a crowd,
I answer you, “All land decode!”
I wandered lonely as a cloud…
All lay. Worn, I seduced an ode.
A Forsaken Bird’s-Nest
These twigs that nestled last year’s eggs look bare
without their recent covering of snow:
a blush of blossom sweeps its gentle fire
across the churchyard path of dappled dew.
The Blackbird and the Robin chant their songs
and line their bills with clumps of moss or leaf.
But they have other plans: the old nest clings
to twisted branches, still bereft of life.
The church is open: Easter Day has dawned.
A bell is rung and people start to flock.
The service ends and hidden eggs are found:
their sugar-coated shells begin to crack.
A shadow falls as peals of laughter rise:
the empty nest is bursting with surprise.