Five poems from The Gypsy and The Poet by David Morley
Finished planting my ariculas——went a botanising after ferns and orchises and caught a cold in the wet grass which has made me as bad as ever——got the tune of “highland Mary” from Wisdom Smith a gipsey and pricked another sweet tune without name as he fiddled it
John Clare, journal entry
It is pleasant as I have done today to stand
… and notice the objects around us
‘There is nothing in books on this’, cries Clare.
‘I do not read, brother’, states Wisdom smiling,
‘for I will not bother with Mystery.
Worlds move underfoot. Where lives Poetry?
Look’, hums Wisdom Smith, ‘in the inner domes
of ghost orchids – how the buzzing rhymers
read light with their tongues; or in this anthill –
nameless draughtsmen crafting low rooms, drawing
no fame – except the ravening yaffle,
or fledgy starlings bathing in their crawl.
I see these worlds – lit worlds. I live by them’.
The wood-ants sting. John Clare shifts foot to foot:
‘I did not know you gave me any thought’.
‘This? All this – is nothing, John’, laughs Wisdom.
Where I lived with my children the whole summer long
The Gypsy progs the slow fire and listens.
‘I do not write,’ John Clare tells Wisdom Smith,
‘my fingers founder on raising a pen;
‘my eye blackens the parlour and the hearth;
‘all I love – hedges and fields, stand silent;
‘I have no pride in working or in life;
‘I no longer have a friend in yourself;
‘I have no friend in myself’. ‘I had children’,
breathes Wisdom, ‘all three boys now dead or grown.
I was a boy myself when fathering them.
Those boys’. The Gypsy rises and stares at John:
‘Don’t – don’t stamp on yourself’. ‘Every moment
I stamp on myself. Were poems children
I should stamp their lives out’. ‘Then do not make them’.
the spring had taken up her dwelling in earnest she has covered the woods
with the white anemonie which the children call Ladysmocks
John Clare holds up his orchises and celadines to Wisdom.
‘Eat flowers then’, replies the Gypsy. ‘Serve harebells to your children.
Save petals against their schooling. Whittle pens from a thistle-stem.
If you can afford bouquets then you cannot be going hungry’.
‘Aye, brother’, gruffs Clare, ‘you were saying that about poetry.
I gained all this for the low charge of a three miles walk
with poems yet to be written on some botanising topic
picked up from sheltered places where these wild souls grow’.
‘Eat words then. Some must murder their supper’. The Gypsy
folds across a fence into the wood and leaps through shadow.
Windflowers, Grandmother’s nightcaps, or what the children,
mishearing, call wooden enemies, lift drooping heads and listen
to moonlit rumour from behind bared branches. Wisdom Smith
pacing like a fox between the trees. He freezes. Sinks to earth.
King of Cormorants
& pieces of naked water such as ponds lakes & pools without fish
make me melancholly to look over it
Then a jay jeers from the sobbing blossoms:
I always see a bit of home
in every likely thing –
a white-thorn hedge
or bramble bush
or pollard willow tree
brings me my own homestead
and the budding of the spring.
A shrike stops her ear to her spiked tenants:
To be alive! To be alive! Lord, how they sing.
Wild rains roam and rush around the Gypsy’s tent.
Wisdom clears his throat and frowns over to his friend.
Mad Clare, “poor John”, wafts his coat over the campfire;
nay, over the whetted world. ‘I am king’, he cries, ‘of cormorants’.
The Friend of All Friends
Returned home out of Essex…and was soon at Northborough
but Mary was not there neither could I get any information about
her further than the old story of her being dead six years ago
‘I walked the hard road home with my garrison, Wisdom.
I had my invisible army about me, all of us hungering.
I gained Northborough. My second wife Patty was home.
My true love Mary, they say she is dead. This was our ring’.
John Clare unclenches his palm. The Gypsy reaches, lightly,
and pretends to marvel. ‘It is a fine craftily matter, John.
Our blacksmiths would wonder. To smelt the purity
of air, and hammer it to something hidden yet lovely.
You must have loved her, friend, as if she was your own’.
Wisdom Smith glances: ‘What do you want for the thing?’
‘I want Mary to live so I can believe the world alive again’.
‘Patty is your wife’. But Dead Mary watches the Gypsy.
She stares out from John to his friend of all friends.
Believe in me, she whispers as John Clare breathes: ‘Believe me’.
David Morley recently published Enchantment (Carcanet), a Sunday Telegraph Book of the Year chosen by Jonathan Bate. The Invisible Kings was a PBS Recommendation and TLS Book of the Year chosen by Les Murray. The Gypsy and the Poet is due from Carcanet in August this year and is available to pre-order here. He writes for The Guardian and Poetry Review. He wrote the bestselling Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing and co-edited The Cambridge Companion to Creative Writing and Bloodaxe’s The New Poetry. He teaches at Warwick University where he is Professor of Writing and blogs here. He was one of judges of the T.S. Eliot Award in 2012 and is judging the Foyle Young Poet of the Year in 2013.