Midsummer Passionflowers

‘Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children.’ T S Eliot, The Four Quartets

June, & at the solstice
The sky’s blue iris widens—wing-wrapped, leaf-lapped—
Drawing out from the apple of midsummer’s eye.

In the crab-tree, a collared dove croons & clamours;
A ruffled wood pigeon clatters away
Scattering breaths of fluff & feathers
While, higher still & higher over all,
Far above the heat-prostrated fields & trees,
Buzzards rise & ride the thermals,
Their screeches borne on the breeze:
As distant & despairing as the prey they hunt below.

Beside the water—coiled, oiled—a grass snake
Basks & smoulders in the tangled weeds,
Olive brown & waiting, waiting…
And so the world turns on its wicked way:
the way of speaking, or of silent breathing;
the way of seeing, or concealing;
the way of feasting, or of being eaten.
Slick, its little, beady eyes
Like pools of bottomless darkness,
The grass snake flinches,
Twitches, flicks away.

Look now.
Look here.
Be quick!
In the green & glossy holly hedge,
Sky-blue eyes open wide in infant innocence,
Blink, wink, spark, laugh,
And—here and there among them—roses drop
Rubies on the holly’s shine.

Oh, we cannot count the blue-eyed children chuckling,
Giggling, rippling through the prickling foliage
On sinuous, twirling bines & twines!

© Lizzie Ballagher, 2014

2014-06-18 14.16.16

New poem for late summer

Straw to Gold


Skedaddle! Out with you, Brothers Grimm—

You and your scheming scimitars,

Your poisonous pouch of nightmares,

Your wicked sickle blades—get out, grim reapers!

Don’t peddle any grimy story near us here:

Of a nameless miller’s daughter dusty with corn husks,

Hair bleached fair as finest barley flour

Repeating her father’s shameless lie

To greedy royal ears that she could turn

The common straw to golden thread

When not one stalk could she so spin.

Go! Wind your broken spools of goblin yarn & take them off

Down stifling alleyways to other village inns

Where gullible fools believe such tales.


The boot’s now on the other foot, you know. It’s not

Poor womenfolk who spin the straw to gold these days:

Not mincing, soft-shoed cobblers’ lasses;

Not singed & sparky blacksmiths’ girls;

Not doe-eyed, millers’ daughters;

Today the hayfields’ wealth is spun to gold

By sinewy, sunburned men with furrowed brows

And crinkled eyes below a denim baseball cap,

Who sit aloft in spacious air-con harvesters

That thresh unbroken narratives

Down satellite-mapped alleyways of grass

And then spill out, spin out

The half-ton reels of gleaming bales:

Fine gold from summer’s yellow fields.


No Rumpelstiltskins spoil the party now:

Only a surly storm or two, glowering, scowling over downland cliffs & folds.

And—in between the hedges and the cottages—

Great curving, curling rolls of gold.

© Lizzie Ballagher

The photo below appears with grateful thanks to Lee Abbey, North Devon, just on the edge of Exmoor National Park. It is one of the most lovely places in Britain.

Lee Abbey fields

Willow in Yellow

Disabled tree: once
You stood at my gate, your boughs, near bare,
Dissecting the air,
Cross-hatching the sullen spring clouds
With runnels of rough bark, all
Water sculpted.

Disabled tree:
Your thinning leaves
Made Chinese characters on the parchment light:
Pale willow patterns on the white,
Shifting and weeping
In the chafing wind.

Disabled tree:
Only the ivy drew you;
And grey moths dusty as graphite,
And slow black mould, coldly
Inscribing final words
On vainly rising roots.

Disabled tree:
Your sap had stopped,
The well of your ink dried up.
Knotty, wild and old, you were,
Yet not so cunning as to gainsay the stinging sentence
Of blade and bow-saw.

Disabled tree: once
You stood at my gate.
How I lament the loss
Of your feathered brushstrokes on the sky.
Now I lament your loss
To green-singing leafy thrushes.

© Lizzie Ballagher



“A woman is a branchy tree / And a man a singing wind…” (James Stephens)

If this be true, what the Irish poet said,
Then the hour has come when
She stands here in wild miscellany,
Tricked out in a fluttering tatters-coat—
All loose ends and ribbons of threadbare leaves—
No rhyme or reason
In the unreeling lateness of the season:
Just a tree through whom long winds have blown
Yet found her sap still rising.

Halt. Hold. The Morris melody is slowing.
All outward shows—the dizzy dancing,
Aching two-part harmonies,
The crazy sawing of a break-down fiddle bow—
All tend to a low decrescendo.
Dressed up in folklore, got up in motley,
Clad in chaos & cross-stitch, colour & cacophony,
Her life reveals—now that this branchy tree
Is shedding leaves—no more than an autumn unravelling.

And should you look closer
At the leafy tracery, the intricate embroidery,
You’ll see, sometimes, the seams & stitches
Are shot through with golden threads;
The beams & branches
Are arrow-tipped with hopeful buds.
Though the manic wind may whistle
Round her delicately veined leaves,
It shall not stop her singing. Never.

No. Nor the birds
Within these silver branches.

(c) Lizzie Ballagher

2014-05-15 20.27.33