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Cornish holiday

by SarahT 

Posted: 02 December 2010
Word Count: 70

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We strode along roller-coaster paths
our thoughts running ahead
through crowds of picnicking oyster-catchers.

We visited geological halls
built by the ages and dusted by lichen.
3000 miles of moat.

We clambered down to snapshot beaches,
gathering treasure shells,
bathing in contemplation.

We girded ourselves against the future
with the colours of another land.
This place is no flat earth

but if you reach the horizon,
you will fall off.

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Comments by other Members

joanie at 22:16 on 02 December 2010  Report this post
Sarah, I really did enjoy this - I wallowed in it! The first line drew me in instantly, but the final lines were very thought-provoking, I thought.



James Graham at 19:52 on 03 December 2010  Report this post
Hi Sarah - There are one or two minor criticisms I have, but I’ve no doubt this is a good poem, with quite a light touch but with depth too. Where it achieves a real depth is in the very fine lines at the end:

We girded ourselves against the future
with the colours of another land

- these are the sort of lines I don’t want to analyse; they’re an example of ‘What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed’. This is why we visit other lands - they give us something we can treasure in future at times when life becomes much less happy. How about that for not so well expressed? Your lines express it very much better.

Your closing lines

This place is no flat earth

but if you reach the horizon,
you will fall off

have depth and subtlety too. My take on them is that we fall off a sublime world into a more mundane, or more troublesome, world. It’s even like tumbling out of Narnia back into the wardrobe. You never reach the horizon though, because you never exhaust the experience; it never quite leaves you. I also like the humour of ‘This place is no flat earth’ with its literal sense of the up-and-down-ness of the Cornish coast.

I’m not entirely sure of

We visited geological halls
built by the ages and dusted by lichen.
3000 miles of moat.

It’s the use of ‘geological’ in the first of these lines: I suppose it suggests that the caves are a kind of display of the elements of geology, but I think the scientific emphasis here is a bit distracting. Better perhaps to keep geology out of it and evoke the natural, non-human aspect. The only alternative I can think of is ‘primeval halls’ but I hope you see what I mean. And sea-caves are certainly ‘built by the ages’ but more concretely they’re built by the sea, by aeons of storms. Lastly, ‘3000 miles of moat’ - where have I heard that before? I think you need a new line here, more about the caves.

I do think those three lines could be improved. The rest, the oyster-catchers, the ‘snapshot beaches’, the ‘treasure shells’ etc is very evocative.


FelixBenson at 12:54 on 04 December 2010  Report this post
I quite agree about this poem, Sarah - good to have you back, well and truly on form too!

The final lines are really excellent:

We girded ourselves against the future
with the colours of another land.
This place is no flat earth

but if you reach the horizon,
you will fall off.

I think James's eading of them makes sense to me, but they retain a deliciously elusive quality.

Good stuff.

Nella at 17:02 on 04 December 2010  Report this post
Sarah, I agree that this is very evocative, and love those same lines the others have mentioned:
We girded ourselves against the future
with the colours of another land.
What I wasn't crazy about was the repetition of "we". By the fourth one, it sounded slightly tedious to me.

SarahT at 00:23 on 09 December 2010  Report this post
Thanks for your comments, folks. I was interested in the bit about 'geological' because I didn't like that when I wrote it but couldn't think what to do instead. I think I have now hit on an alternative:

'We visited time's unfinished halls'

What I was trying to get at is the simulacra feel to a lot of the rocks that I saw in Cornwall, in that, if you glimpse them out of the corner of your eye, they almost look like architectural ruins. I think it is a feature of the way the rock weathers, but in parts I almost felt we could be in Rivendell. At least, in my imagination!

That feeds in to the two themes that I was trying to run through the poem. First, there are all the holiday type activities, like bathing, picknicking, going on roller coasters and visiting stately homes/halls. But then I was also aiming for a sort of epic trek momentum to the lines, so the heroes stride across the landscape, visit important halls/houses, and then get sent on a mission to hunt treasure. So, for both of those reasons, I want to keep the word 'halls' in.

I might try and work some more verses in. I wanted it to be longer but haven't worked out what to add yet.

Robin, thank you for your comments on repetition. I'll work out what I want to do about that.

James, I Googled 3000 miles of moat but couldn't find it as a line anywhere.

Oh, and I'm glad you read so much into the lines at the end. That started out as an observation about the 'shape' of Cornwall. There are parts which are only 30 miles or so wide. If you are in the middle then, theoretically, the sea is just over the horizon whichever way you look. I certainly felt as though you could just be driving up an even narrower strip of land, another kind of roller coaster. That's probably to do with the light of the area.

Ah, now maybe I need to add a verse about the light...


Nella at 16:02 on 09 December 2010  Report this post
I like your suggestion "time's unfinished halls" very much and think it works really well. Spot on.

James Graham at 14:47 on 11 December 2010  Report this post
Those two threads weave together well - the holiday motif and the ‘epic trek’ or quest motif. 'We visited time's unfinished halls' perfectly maintains that dual theme, with connotations of visiting stately homes but stronger connotations (I feel) of epic adventurers visiting exotic castles.

On the ‘3000 miles of moat’, I thought I’d come across the idea (not the identical line) before, but I was wrong about that. I’m a little confused over something very pedantic, though: the Cornish coast is about 300 miles long. (Had to look that up, of course.) One zero too many? Also, ‘moat’ suggests a fortress, and I wasn’t sure about that word to begin with but in the context of ‘time’s unfinished halls’ it’s perfectly appropriate.

If you do add more lines, about the light or any other aspect, that would be interesting too. If the Cornish light is like the light in Orkney (another magical place, one I happen to know better, though I have been to Cornwall) then it’s remarkable - a challenge to the poet to capture it.


nickb at 22:22 on 11 December 2010  Report this post
Hi Sarah, sorry it's taken so long to discover this. Being a South West boy I can understand the impact of the coast line and you have caught the feel of it really well. Like everyone else I love the ending, it can be read so many ways. And I really liked the phrase

....dusted by lichen

it picks out the rocks really well, especially when the sun is on it. Talking of which I agree with James the light down that way is special, particularly in the late afternoon.

Really enjoyed it.


SarahT at 00:05 on 12 December 2010  Report this post
Thanks for your comment, Nick. I'm glad you liked it.

James, by 3000 miles, I meant looking across the moat, rather than measuring it as it went around the land. Maybe it needs to be clearer.

I'm still pondering extra verses. I saw a programme the other other day which explained why the light is the way it is in Cornwall. It is to do with the fact that there is sea around the land, which reflects the light back in a way that doesn't happen inland.

Thank you again to everybody for your comments. I'll post any re-writes.


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