The Old House — ‘Clan-y-Don’

Once in a lifetime;

There were celandines on the lawn

And daisies.  And the spreading moss

That took the place of grass, outgrew it

And defied the pulled root.

Daisies like thin snow

And celandines like dropped gold.

The gates, white lines, left open

Drawn against the ivy and buttressed

With a boulder.

Elms with sticky flowers

Early out.  Two apple trees outbid

By evergreens, cupressus and holly.

And the dying out of roses, unpruned

Over years, cankered in the bud.

The lawns lying in half shadow

Always.  The tall trees, too tall,

Sheltered from the west wind, and

Drawn up by the taller house,

Hiding the sun even at noon

So the grass grew short.

I loved this house

It was of stone  


not alone

And glass  


not the last

The elements  


were inseparable.

The sunset’s fire, the dawn’s white light

And the still heat of noon

Like a cocoon warming.

Three sides I tended the briars and the bushes

But the fourth inviolate, beyond the wall.

Comparatively how the house looked

I do not know.

I had no yardstick to survey its sides

Or chronometer to estimate its height.

I lived half inside it and had no more

Need of a scientific evaluation

Than a tortoise its own shell.

Yet it was beautiful, and warm,

The night lit light inside

Coming out on to the frost

That lay on the lawn,

Or sighting a brown owl on the high

Dipping down branch of the pine.

It did not move, yet all things

Moved around it.  The elms swayed

Like hips above flexed legs, and

The waters swathed it close, yet

Kept their proper distance.

The evergreens, cupressus and pine,

Grown tall, bent low in the south wind.

And when inside the house

I could look out with joy,

A poet’s eye seeing beauty and fear

And meaning in all things

Beyond the green trunks of the trees

And the fawn willowing of last year’s

Grasses, the black of hedgerows,

Thorn and stone, there was always

Another world that beckoned me,

That I sought out in word and line.

The house gave meaning to the sky

And to the water,

Its windows mirrored the red west sun

And its tower blocked the yellow

Of late winter splendour.

On its tall walls, the shadows of the trees

Traced their evening pattern from the low down sun.

The river bent beside the house

And its waters echoed the chimney’s lazy smoke.

I loved the house both for itself,

It was a haven,

And for its setting on the hard promontory

That bent the river like a dry stick.

Even at flood, when the valley seethed

with brown water

And the hiss of the dipping boughs

Beneath its torrent

Took the place of summer ripples

Over the smooth stones,

It stayed aloof and dry.

It was there when I needed it.

Never did the cold wind

Of unwelcoming

Move in its corridors.

Though it lived in the shade

All its eyes turned to the light.

And when the night

which grew through the house

Not standing outside

Both in and out the dark

And light both out and in

Breathed over by the whispering

Wind of the pine needles

Shredding the wind.

For the house was dark

As dark as the night,

And light as the day

By the light inside.


Take winter first

For that is the sleeping

And spring can be duly

The awakening.

At some time distant

With love and affection

Placed like guards against

      The eastwind

      The northwind

Pine, cupressus, holly and acacia

Keeping their leaves, sheltering

The stone from

      The eastwind

      The northwind.

In winter too the wind

Lived with us around the house,

Not without noise, its presence


A thousand taps and knocks

The evidence of its fingers

In all the pies, cracks, groans


There have been nights when

We have lain close to the floor

Three storeys down beneath

The tall chimneys and the slatted tower

Not sleeping.  The wind like

An express train in our ears.

I have seen too the white swan

Walk upon the river, and

Dogs short-cut their wanderings

Without wet paws upon the surface

Of the month’s-life ice, thick

Down to the pebbles.

Still winter,

when the snow piled on the fir-tree boughs,

Looped them down and broke

A pistol crack.

And winter too so cold the

Frost killed all the holly leaves

And left in spring, a barren tree.

I can remember the myriad diamond snow

Heaped in the hedges, and shining

with the slide of runners on toboggans

Like icing sugar licked by a wet knife.

But the house was warm and

Inside the house and it in me.

So winter was a spectacle, a joy,

The glistening whiteness of the cold

Calendar, and prelude

To Spring.