Poem written in old age
The light that streams across the universe
Brings evidence of other worlds than ours
Where midst the flux of fields and particles
Eternal wisdom older than the stars
Unweaves her web of possibilities
The patterner experiments and plays.
Bright pearls arranged according to the laws of chance
Or unknown logic, now ingathering
Dark threaded galaxies where furious force
Sweeps stirs and scars the dust of earlier worlds
And in continuous creation builds again
Forms that persist beyond the death of stars.
I too shall praise the heaven’s magnificence
Honour with awe its ever abundant power
That once with measured force spread out the sky
To be a bound and roof upon our world
And a protection to the fragile Earth
I dreamed we built a home for everyone
There where I danced beneath the moody sky
We gathered gifts from the untamed wilderness
And put our passions together to prove our skill
I piled turves around the tallest tree
To form a seat and meeting place for friends
And all around
We planted seeds and hope in the dark ground.
A craftsman wrought a jewel long ago
Welded of words and of lines laid true:
From older songs he hammered out his tale
Of courage and of loss, of king and earl
Of men and monsters, a memorial
An elegy of an imagined past.
This that the war geared Danes far in days long gone
Gained fame in story, glory in war
How that the Ethelings harassed their enemies
Tribute and treasure took from tribes all around
So that the gold giver strong in his growing band
Folk wielder, wide ruler, strong in command
It pleased the peoples’ king to plot a towering hall
Gathered the workmen there from every land
To build the glad mead hall wondrous in workmanship
Famed amongst every folk, glorious and grand
Glad in the glee of hall, song mead and feast
Welcome to give to all, stranger and guest
He shared God’s wealth with all, except the common land
Care for the young and old , while shall the hall still stand.
Fast came feud, the dragon crawls along the rock
Brother by brother slain, who from his dark tower gazes on his hoard
The works of man overthrown, and grimly the dragon guards his greed
Nothing of worth remains, while treasure proud he broods of doom
War without end, he who is now the wyrm was once a man
He will devour all, and in his banks and barrows guard his pride.
All of our wealth they bury deep, they who were human once are monsters now.
Until a hero would come who had learned all the language of birds
Who had seen how the hazel nut falls who had found out the strength of a wolf
Who far from the friends of men had drunk of the spring and the well
And boasts he will reforge the shattered past.
Because I knew two fat and greedy slugs
Had crept into my garden to destroy
And everywhere they’d been they’d left their slime
On everything I did and still do love
So I must wander in the wild lands
Of my imagination flying far
Beyond each seen hill. into each dark wood
In endless exploration travelling
And trace each little river to its source
There is no river running round the world to bring us back
To step and step again on our own land
And see it for the first time: river run
River run, river run, always new under the sun
River run to the sea, river run, river run.
And then my mind moves on
To Homer’s heroes weeping by their ships
Who in the pain of war
Or washed by slave girls
Sitting in high seats
Would eat their roast meat and their mixed red wine
Gold jugs and silver basins, gleaming oiled skin
And think themselves like gods
As some blind singer skilled
Sang of their war achievements and their crimes.
The old man now remembering his loss
In his imagination finds his home
Trickster and fighter once, teller of tales,
Sacker of cities,
To meet again the weaver of his dreams.
An old man now imagines his return
That trickster, trader, sacker of cities, king
Teller of tales of whom once tales were told
Will find his way again still with deceit
His youth disguised now only by old age
To meet again the weaver of his dreams.
He will imagine what the swineherd said.
That happy is the lad that had no need
To be a hero.
Odysseus had taken all the boys
To fight in wars for Agamemnon’s glory
He’d let them kill the cattle of the sun
And brought back none.
And now the arrogant young lords
Devour all and never leave a scrap
Till everything is gone.
They taunt and mock the poor.
And drive the needy stranger from their door.
And if the king returns he’ll do such things as will be told in story
He’ll bring a bloody climax to their deeds
In all the joy of action….
Then I awoke in a fair field of folk
And let the leaves of memory fall through my skull,
The bare and distant trees where few birds call
The ferns and dead leaves by the waterfall
And the grey lichen on the granite wall
We go to hear the sermon of John Ball
For Much the Miller will grind small small,
Because I know that winter is delayed
While all the colours of the evening sky
Still gleam and fade.
David Hillman was born in Launceston, Cornwall where the poet Charles Causley was then working as a teacher. One of the children of Ron Hillman, a postman. David read widely and explored the countryside on foot but restricted by his family’s poverty he had never been more than fifteen miles from home until he left at the age of fifteen to get involved in politics and study. He obtained degrees in Physics Maths and in Modern History in Brighton, Oxford, and Liverpool, and has spent many years teaching in Oxford including some quite challenging environments. He considers himself an apprentice poet, now in his early seventies.