Wildflowers by the River Medway

Unsung vetches almost vanish into the thick grasses and reeds of early July along the banks of the river. I like stopping, sometimes, to notice the details of these spindly and (apparently) delicate plants: tougher than they look.

riverside vetch threads
purple embroidery through
grasses, green rushes

Words and images © Lizzie Ballagher

 

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A Beautiful Place

Have you ever felt a sense of belonging or some kind of inexplicable connection with a certain place? One such, for me, is a wooded hill on Kent’s long greensand ridge. Unassuming by comparison with its oft-feted neighbour Ightham Mote (National Trust), Wilmot Hill offers long views across the blue hills and wide fields of the Weald. And more besides, as I hope this poem illustrates.

“On Wilmot Hill” has recently appeared in the magazine South-East Walker, but I thought I’d share it here to an even wider readership.

On Wilmot Hill

And if you turn aside
from the greensand path
to ascend the wooden stair
in the south slope of the hill,
you will come to an old way,
an older way
running high
on the ridge:
between toppling yews
planted before history by birds & beasts;
between beeches threading the sky with branches,
stitching the greensand banks
with roots that cling,
drive deep down underfoot—

while all the way to the south lie
the plains & blue foothills
of the ancient weald:
away & away for ever to the sea.

In secret folds, in the lee of this hill
where springs run out, grow
primeval marestails greener than greensand,
violets, primroses & spotted orchids.

A blackbird will be singing
just for you
somewhere in the yew fronds;
clouds will drop their mercy on the beech leaves.

Ahead of you
the path will dwindle
to a white-light vanishing point
at its downward curve.

Words and image © Lizzie Ballagher

May-time Haiku

What is it about this time of year (in the northern hemisphere, at least) that inspires hope? The newness of green leaves? The plans for summer and autumn travels? The freshness of opening flowers? All of these and more?

And in the midst of all the bursting and calling out, the explosion of music and colour, suddenly we hear small, hidden voices…

from honeysuckle:

faint cries of new-hatched finches

breaking blue eggshells

Words and image © Lizzie Ballagher

Japanese haiku for a Japanese banner

On a Japanese Banner: Four Haiku for the Samurai

like spring’s blasting gale:
strike against all walls to crack—
break—thick bulwarks down

like summer’s forest:
stand tall in tranquillity—
grow wise in calmness

like autumn’s tree-fire:
flame up—burn across the land—
devastate your foe

like winter mountains:
hold hard—all cloaked in snowfall—
stay firm in fastness

Words © Lizzie Ballagher.

Image: traditional hata sashimono (feudal war banner) as carried by Takeda Shingen in the sixteenth century

 

 

Glorious Friday

On this day every year people say, “What’s so good about Good Friday?”—a question I consider quite often these days.

So here’s my attempt to address this painful, deeply paradoxical question.

Glory, Glory
A star bathed shepherds’ hills in light
The night that Christ was born—
Was this the glory of God?

Stone jars of water turned to wine
At Cana on that wedding day:
And was this the glory of God?

The lame man walked. The blind could see.
The leper left his sores behind.
So was this the glory of God?

The women grieved & Jesus wept.
Then Lazarus was restored to life.
Was this not the glory of God?

Under waving palms & cheering cries
He rode a humble donkey colt.
Surely this was the glory of God?

Stripped to a loincloth,
Nailed to a tree,
Shamed before friend & foe—

He was lifted high
On a cruel cross.
Does glory shine out here?

The temple curtain tore in two.
The voice of His Father was heard.
Glory. Glory!—more than ever in this world.

Stripped to a loincloth,
Nailed to the tree,
This—even this—was the glory of God.

© Words Lizzie Ballagher.  Image of Lampedusa Cross © Trustees of the British Museum only, used by permission.