Another New Year: the mystery of future time

How can we know what’s ahead in 2017, or indeed in any year? We can’t, but time (the enemy, as some call it) can also be merciful. As I approach the mystery of another new year, I do so as much with hope and comfort as with doubt.

Of Time & Tide: fourth in a series of new posts: here’s another Reculver poem for the first day of January. May the fog lift to bring hopeful, joyful and peaceful days!

IV        Sea Fog                    1805 – 1945 AD

 

Bound for oblivion,

Walls crack, heave up, subside, give way.

Tower windows widen like vacant eyes—

No one now watching the derelict Wantsum—

Just shafts of sky above the boiling tide.

 

Today’s towers stand, though broken,

As tokens & signs for sailors & airmen.

Two thousand winters of history,

Two thousand cloaks of summer weeds

Settle like sea fog over the ruins.

 

Words and image copyright © Lizzie Ballagher

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Of Time and Tide – third in a series of new posts: the longing for peace

In these days of searingly painful news, a time in which world events explode all around us, our longing for peace has rarely seemed more poignant, and peace itself more vital. Christmas can remind us, though, that people were hungering for peace two thousand years ago in the Middle East. They longed for peace, too, a thousand years ago on our own shores. And the narrative of Christmas is one of hope. This post focuses again on the great stone towers at Reculver, which was a monastic community both before and after the Norman invasion.

III         Pax Domini              669 – 1150 AD

 

Bound for long silences,

For the telling of beads & hours on knees

In the monastery church built on crumbling rubble

(Above the seas & the wreckage of Romans),

Monks guided their missiles of plainsong & prayer to low clouds.

 

No more invaders striding, riding here

But (always reminding them of time’s truth) the dry whisper

Of wind in thrift, in sweet-cut hay,

And the battering of waves,

The chattering of bead-like stones on encroaching cliffs.

 

No more Pax Romana.

Instead, now, Pax Domini vobiscum

Et cum spiritu tuo—for all wrong deeds

And the desperate longing

That—for ever & for ever—peace should fall upon us.

© Lizzie Ballagher

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Of Time and Tide: What Canute Understood – second of a series of new blogs

Two things surprised me recently: to learn that my understanding of the old tale of King Canute supposedly trying to stop the tide was completely back to front; and to discover that the poet Lachlan MacKinnon has written a poem (“Canute”) which gives a wry, dry voice to this long departed king. So here’s my take on the king, the tide, and that thousand years ago time.

II          What Canute Understood            1030 AD

 

Not bound for glory, poor Canute!

And yet it was not as legend claims

(That he, a fool, had raised his kingly arm to stop the tide).

Instead, when waters lapped the throne’s high legs,

His followers found out—exactly as their canny lord intended—

That human power is pure delusion.

 

No throne, no ruler, no human hand or foot

Can turn a rampant tide, return the time.

Aye, rocks & stones may shore up ruins,

Though only for a while;

For, iron-tipped, time pushes forward—feathered, swift—

And a ruinous tide rolls on, rolls in.

Text © Lizzie Ballagher, image © Jamie House

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Enduring Love

Not that love is a test of endurance! But real love “lasts long as granite in New England / Quite as cruel” – it has its highs and lows. Above all, it lasts! I wrote this song to celebrate love; enjoy it, those who celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Stubborn Love

You may as well ask

Fires not to rage on summer’s forest floor;

Grainy sands not to shift on the endless shore.

 

You may as well ask

Sweet rain not to fall on the field or the lea;

Rivers not to run down their valleys to the sea.

 

You may as well ask

Roses not to bloom in a bright morning’s dawn;

Oak trees not to hold fast in wild winter storms.

 

Oh, you may as well ask me

To stop living,

To stop moving,

To stop giving,

To stop loving—

Oh, you may as well ask.

 

You may as well ask

Spring tides not to rise in the moon-crescent bay;

Comets not to blaze their fierce light far away.

 

You may as well ask

High stars not to glow in the inky night,

Or time not to fly like an arrow in flight.

 

You may as well ask

The fiery sun not to set deep in the west;

The moon not to roll in its orbit to rest.

 

Oh, you may as well ask me

To stop living,

To stop moving,

To stop giving,

To stop loving—

Oh, you may as well ask.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

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Landscape’s Memory

Recently it’s struck me that human beings and animals aren’t the only ones with a memory. If there can be such a thing as inorganic memories, then surely some landscapes are proof that there’s a kind of memory in stone, shale, sand, and even soil… though perhaps not! Still, at least the scientists, seismologists and climatologists who dig into the earth’s crust to make sense of the past can read a marvellous sort of archive that serves a similar function. I find it consoling to think that when we’re all, as the song says, “dust in the wind”, there will remain parts of us in the composition of the earth that now we walk on.

Memory  

Somewhere in the hemispheres’ tight folds,
In the cavernous enormity of inner space:
Certainty, bedrock.

Above it, a warm inland sea,
Uncharted reefs, shoals shifting in unseen currents stoked
By the blazing core;
And over these again, the stratigraphic record
Of shale & soil. And of sacred soul—
Lost foot- and fingerprints, frond and feather-prints,
Fossils ossified, lithified in the lowest ledge, all hidden
Under drifting dunes, dissolving marl; the scoured sandstone
Of inner deserts, abandoned coastal plains;
All hidden under mountain ranges worn
To dusty stubs by time & tide & tempest.

A heave of memory
And the earth churns up, turns over:
Lifts, tilts, dips, jack-knifes, splits, is cloven
Until my spirit quakes.
But springs, lagoons soak through;
The subterranean groundwaters of joy
Bubble out, well up
Carving channels & runnels for light,
For comprehension of the unfathomable
Chaotic & uninhabitable world
Of what is past.

Here the level ribbon of time
Is rinsed & crimped, furled & unfurled,
Pulsed, pushed, hurled
As life’s pyroclastic flow sheds out,
Spreads out another layer
And another & another.
All strands & faults are weighed
Down, pressed down: overflowing
Far beyond a full measure
Where vaults & galleries echoed once
With emptiness.

Still, deep below the landscape long grassed over,
Somewhere in the hemispheres’ tight folds:
Steadfast bedrock.

© Lizzie Ballagher

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Looking both ways in the New Year

Every year around the first week in January, I find myself  looking back and at the same time looking forward. Time is strange stuff – an idea I explored in the poem here: “Time the Tyrant”.

Time the Tyrant

Time the tyrant, before first light

You strap me to your wrist:

Your slave.

You tether me, hour by hour, while

Relentless, you beat

The measure of my heaving heart; while

Ceaseless, you mete

The breaths of my so labouring lungs.

 

Faceless, you change the landscape of my face:

Warp the planes & cleave the valleys;

Armless, you clutch me, clamp me

To your cold embrace;

Tuneless, you whistle days away

Through cogged & clicking teeth.

Legless & heedless, you lurch on, march on,

Forever indifferent.

 

Time, you obdurate tyrant, dire dictator,

Dawn to dusk, rain to rust,

We have no true

Defence against you

Save hope trembling, cradled

In an alien manger.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

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