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Pyrford Church

by nickb 

Posted: 27 March 2021
Word Count: 218
Summary: A little place in Surrey where my Mum is, and where I was christened


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Some days I reincarnate you,
the long dead, tethered to this place
by the dial of the bell tower roof. 
I imagine you walking amongst the grass
that grapples old headstones,
or the dry pathways; your steps echo
like the spatter of heavy rain.
I am tongue tied by a tumult of words.
This should be a kind place, but we are detached
like the winding road that separates
church from yard. Along its incline,
perspective always gathers to a blind point.
 
And really, what would I say?
I could tell you of the children perhaps,
how this one or that had done well,
their loves and ambitions; but I feel
you would be listening to the sky.
Our words would meander like dust
in a shaft of sun, never meeting,
but falling like sediment, inexorable,
a fine film burying an age gone by.
 
There is a sturdy pathos in the names
marked out in sunlit lichen.
Time gives subtle kicks. My memories
degrade like rust, so I look for you
amongst the flocks of flowers left by the lost
and the half-kept borders;
it is remarkable what the eye believes.
A glimpse of you would help me through this;
better still, sit with me and listen
to the blackbird in the undergrowth,
shaking melancholy off the leaves.






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Comments by other Members



V`yonne at 15:18 on 27 March 2021  Report this post
Nick it is so good to read you again. I already love this poem. It has such feeling and there are many things that resonnate with me which I will go into at length later. In the meantime thanks for ressurrecting this rather dead forum with such a lovely poem.
Oonah

FelixBenson at 17:23 on 29 March 2021  Report this post

 Wow, Nick, what a wonderful poem. Wonderfully written, wonderfully sad, wonderfully true. It seems fully realised and complete already, but I will share a few thoughts.
 
In terms of the subject – I’m with you, it’s certainly a theme I return and return to, so this poem is close to my heart. Those thoughts that the poem explores - how to locate our dead loved parents, how to bridge the gap of time – despairing of the lost years and changes that have happened since, wishing them to return, but wondering how would we ever connect...? But this poem expresses those thoughts so much more eloquently, with such rich imagery and metaphor:
 

This should be a kind place, but we are detached
like the winding road that separates
church from yard. Along its incline,
perspective always gathers to a blind point.

 
That is such an interesting way to see the divide, which encompasses the fact that you and your mother are in this shared physical space, but like two different entities side by side. The grass can no more be the gravel, than the gravel can be the grass. When an image works and connects like these images do it’s such a satisfying feeling as a reader.
 
Buried in the centre or heart of stanza two is another fantastic image,
 

but I feel
you would be listening to the sky.

 
All the time and space between us and our dead loved ones are there in that line - the way you show the dead fundamentally unable to hear and listening elsewhere. It’s such a simple image but a masterstroke. And so much sadness and loss echoing through the line.

In stanza three there is ‘Time gives subtle kicks’ which is so well put, by god, it does! You can’t get away from those kicks, jolts or tugs.
 
The final lines of stanza three are so perfectly done, I am really just full of admiration:
 

A glimpse of you would help me through this;
better still, sit with me and listen
to the blackbird in the undergrowth,
shaking melancholy off the leaves.

It is both sad and uplifting to imagine the two of you together sitting in silence through this loss. But ‘shaking melancholy off’ gives the ending of this sad poem a real lift - or perhaps another 'subtle kick'. The blackbird won’t allow the melancholy to settle (wonderful image) on the leaves. The blackbird is like life itself or time coming refusing to let anything stay still or stagnant; a reminder that things move on regardless.  But these are positives amongst the sadness or at least something we accept about grief, how we might want to 'stop all the clocks' or return to a time when that person was alive and with us, but life and blackbirds,  ever moving on, have other ideas.

Finally, I might just return to further up in stanza three – to this section:

I look for you
amongst the flocks of flowers left by the lost
and the half-kept borders;

I tried to work out why it was so much better to have both ‘lost’ and ‘half-kept’ borders in this line instead of just one or the other.
 
When I ask myself a question or make an observation like this, it makes me think of James, our ever-present and much-missed poetry teacher. I doubt I would have been able to think about poems in this way without him showing me how to do so. It seems somehow fitting that this poem summons up James for me too.
 
But to return to the line, I think it works especially well (not just sonically) to have both 'lost' and half-kept' borders because this poem is exploring borders, namely borders between the living and the dead,or the past and the current time. The poem imagines what it would be if those borders were lost completely (“I imagine you walking amongst the grass”), but ultimately settles for what we might call a ‘half-kept’ border, that is, the act of summoning up the dead person is here in the poem, the exploration of the idea, the imagination of sitting together in silence that we can read at the end of the poem. This half-kept' border is the best we can do.

I wonder if this sounds right to you? I may have rather laboured the point there!
 
A final thought that occurred, the construction of the poem feels almost like a three-act play – and it lifts, explores, and concludes. Perhaps that is why (along with its subject and imagery, it feels so satisfying?

In summary - beautifully done, Nick. It made me dig out poems I had written which covered similar themes. I remember writing quite a few poems ten years ago when my Dad was 20 years dead, and I wrote about going to the Crematorium where his ashes were scattered.  It’s 30 years since he died this year, perhaps that will generate more poems. Who knows? Certainly, I wish I could write something of this high standard! But I've enjoyed your poem very much, and I am sure it is one I will return to read again.
 
I wish James was here to give you his wisdom on this poem, as it feels like there is much more to say about it.

Kirsty

FelixBenson at 17:25 on 29 March 2021  Report this post
I just realised, I have assumed you are talking of a lost mother here, but the poem doesn't give that away. That's my baggage perhaps given my Mum died relatively recently.
 

nickb at 12:56 on 30 March 2021  Report this post
Hi Kirsty, thankyou so much for your very generous and detailed feedback.  I'm so glad that it struck a chord with you.  I find it a very poignant subject (as I am sure everyone does) and actually quite hard to write about without becoming over sentimental.
I am continually happy and surprised at how poems can relate to others experience and interpretation.  You found things in the poem that weren't in my vision at the time but are a valid response......I'll take that any day.
It is about my Mum.  This year it will be ten years this year since she died (on the 11th of the 11th, 2011 which is slightly surreal) so the timing of this felt right.  So sorry to hear about your Mum, it is such a difficult process.
Like you, James taught me so much, I hope he would have liked it.

Nick

FelixBenson at 14:17 on 30 March 2021  Report this post
HI Nick, 

Sorry to hear it has been ten years since your mother died. Anniversaries of this sort bring their own special pain, alongside all those other day-to-day feelings of loss. 

You certainly succeeding in avoiding sentimentality in the poem - it is touching and moving and doesn't descend into sentimentality at all.  

That is certainly surreal about the dates of your mother's death though. Is that partly what you were referring to in the line:

There is a sturdy pathos in the names
marked out in sunlit lichen.

Although I remember you commenting on one of my poems about my Mum's death and telling me that your parents had both died within a very short period, so I did wonder if that was on your mind when you made 'names' plural. Or was this more generally a line talking of the strength of those feelings of just seeing those names marked in the churchyard? I thought the use of 'sturdy' very good in particular. It's an unexpected word and stops you to consider the line again.

I thought later, after commenting on the 'lost borders and half-kept borders' line, that this also neatly looped back as an image to the lines in the first stanza in terms of the poem's preoccupation (to me, at least!) with interrogating those borders between the living and the dead.

we are detached
like the winding road that separates
church from yard.

This might be another reason why the poem feels so well constructed and satisfying (complete, that is), to me.

I feel pretty confident in saying that James would have liked your poem, as it's so very good, honest, and full of excellent images and ideas. These are some of the elements of good poetry he mentioned and which I have appreciated from reading his comments over the years. I am not very confident in talking of sound and form, and this is where James would have been able to explain to me how you did it! 

All best, 

Kirsty

V`yonne at 17:09 on 30 March 2021  Report this post
The long dead and the recent dead are laways with us. My father died 61 years ago and my mother 18 and I never visit the grave because I don't live there anymore but I do identify with this from childhood memories and I would honestly be too sad to go.

I am tongue tied by a tumult of words. 

is such a perfect expression. It's hard to speak of these things and this is something you express wonderfully 


Our words would meander like dust
in a shaft of sun, never meeting,
but falling like sediment, inexorable,
a fine film burying an age gone by. 

It is in a way what I was saying about my dead sisters in the poem about the bridger at Kirkinriola. Even when you didn't meet those familial dead, there is still a connection. I've explored these connections and losses many times but this resonnates again with those feelings. It's a true Palm Sunday sort of poem.

                                         I look for you
amongst the flocks of flowers left by the lost
and the half-kept borders;

I love the flock of flowers ending in the blackbird at this time of year

shaking melancholy off the leaves

Lost borders -- half kept

These are things that meander and are liminal just like the veil between the living and the dead.

There is so much to admire hear and to love and to feel that I hope it is going to a good home, Nick. 

nickb at 17:04 on 01 April 2021  Report this post
Hi Oonah, thanks so much for the feedback.  I guess it is a universal subject for those of us who have lost parents, and one that I find sad and slightly bewildering.  Your Dad must have died a quite a young age, I'm sure it must have had a big impact at the time.  Nick

V`yonne at 18:54 on 01 April 2021  Report this post
Yes my father was 48 and I was 5. It was life changing. 

nickb at 14:24 on 02 April 2021  Report this post
I meant to mention that it turns out Pyrford Church has a poetic connection too as I found out recently.  John Donne worshipped there for a few years whilst he was working for the Earl of Lincoln at Pyrford Place which is not far away.  There is an Elizabethan summerhouse in the grounds of Pyrford Place adjacent to the Wey navigation which is supposed to be where he stayed.
 


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