How has it come to this? That October is already showering us with leaves and that National Poetry has dawned again.
Today also marks the launch of Places of Poetry: Mapping the Nation (University of Exeter and Oneworld Publications), in which my poem ‘Long Man of Wilmington’ is featured; an online map of the many poems in this volume – and others besides – may also be found at www.placesofpoetry.org.uk
Here, too, is a copy of the poem published today; I hope you’ll enjoy it, especially if you’ve never had a chance to visit this fascinating South Downs place in East Sussex:
Long Man of Wilmington
He was a man too bold to bury in the town.
His eyebrows bristled hedgerows
And from his smoldering face the black looks fell
Like a flock of rooks, a murder of crows.
Lime-kilns that were his smoking eyes flamed fear
In hearts of local country folk.
His arms were mighty corn-stooks bulging
From a lumpen neck, nipped in at crook of elbows;
His thick trunk stern & strong as seven sycamores;
His legs too long for some poor, paltry parish grave—
Nay! What he needed was
The whole sloping shoulder of the hillside,
The weathered, rough-edged ridge & dorsal spine
Of the long line
Of the Downs.
And so they hollowed out a mighty barrow;
Bore him up (those men of the town)
And, groaning, carried him (flesh & marrow)
Aloft to burial on the Downs’ high crest;
Interred him there beneath a flint-locked sky…
But carved his image on another cliff,
White chalk etched out of pagan darkness:
Giant over, & under, the hill.
And, afterwards, they gave him
(As a parting shot, or to appease him)
A pair of walking poles;
Then, on yet another top,
Later, a chalk-white steed;
So, if he minded, he might haul his bones up, heave the hill up,
Stride away, ride away & leave them
Standing in among their sacred stones.
Image and words © Lizzie Ballagher