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 the last
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
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
At some time distant
With love and affection
Placed like guards against
Pine, cupressus, holly and acacia
Keeping their leaves, sheltering
The stone from
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.
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