Winter by Anonymous (10th-11th Century)

Wind sharp, hillside bleak, hard to win shelter;
Ford is impassible, lake is frozen;
A man may near stand on one stalk of grass.

Wave upon wave roofs over land-edge;
Shouts loud against breast of peak and brae;
Outside, a man may barely stand.

Lake-haunts cold, with the storm winds of winter;
Withered the reeds, stalks all broken;
Wind-gusts angry, stripping of wood.

Cold bed of fish in the gloom of ice;
Stag lean, bearded reeds;
Evening brief, slant of bent wood.

Snow falls, covers with white;
Warriors go not forth on foray;
Lakes cold, their tint without sunlight.

Snow falls, hoarfrost white;
Idle shield on an old shoulder;
A monstrous wind freezes the grass.

Snow falls, high in the ice;
Sweeps the wind atop the thick trees;
A stout shield that, on a bold shoulder.

Snow falls, covers the vale;
Warriors hurry to battle;
I’ll not go, wound does not let me.

Snow falls, over the slope;
Prisoned the steed, the cattle thin;
Here’s no question of a summer’s day.

Snow falls, white border of mountains;
On the sea, ship’s timbers bare;
The coward nurses many a scheme.

by Anonymous
(10th -11th century)
translated by Tony Conran

Home Front by Tony Curtis

That winter of our Island Fortress,
the docks blacked-out and sirens wailing,
the house closed its brittle silence around her.
Rain drummed the windows behind her children’s dreams.
Over the months she saved from her widow’s pay
and the hours of cleaning at the manse
seven silver coins, one from the abdication year
with the head of the love-lost king.

Should the coastline be split by incoming shells,
parachutes flower in the Vale
and jackboots strut in King’s Square,
then she would lay her six children
to sleep, sealing the windows and doors
with newspapers and blankets.
Seven shillings’ worth of gas
would deliver them out of occupation.

For months she has dreamt of his lost freighter,
torpedoed six days out of New York,
men overboard, gagging on salt and diesel.
How the ship reared and plunged like a whale,
her wash sweeping cold hands from flotsam.
As he sank into the anonymous dark
the final waves from her
minting coins from the constant moon.

Tonight the City of London burns
with St Paul’s untouched at the very centre.
At the edge of night the Welsh ports sound no alarms.
She opens the curtains to a moon-bright sky,
counts out the coins in the tea-caddy
and holds them cupped in her palms.
OMN. Rex. Defender of the Faith. Emperor of India.
The seven polished shillings sing in her hands.

by Tony Curtis

Additional information: Although it goes without saying Tony Curtis is a Welsh poet not to be confused with the American actor.

October by Gillian Clarke

Wind in the poplars and a broken branch,
a dead arm in the bright trees. Five poplars
tremble gradually to gold. The stone face
of the lion darkens in a sharp shower,
his dreadlocks of lobelia grown long,
tangled, more brown now than blue-eyed.

My friend dead and the graveyard at Orcop –
her short ride to the hawthorn hedge, lighter
than hare-bones on men’s shoulders, our faces
stony, rain, weeping in the air. The grave
deep as a well takes the earth’s thud, the slow
fall of flowers.

Over the page the pen
runs faster than wind’s white steps over the grass.
For a while health feels like pain. Then panic
running the fields, the grass, the racing leaves
ahead of light, holding that robin’s eye
in the laurel, hydrangeas’ faded green.
I must write like the wind, year after year
passing my death-day, winning ground.

By Gillian Clarke
from Selected Poems (in the New Poems section of the 1996 edition)

Additional information: Orcop is a village and civil parish in the county of Herefordshire, England. It lies 14 kilometres (8.7 miles) south of Hereford.

St John the Baptist’s Church, in the parish of Orcop, is known as ‘the Poets Church‘ due to being the site where the English poet and broadcaster Frances Horovitz was laid to rest in October 1983 so, I assume, she is the deceased friend referred to in the poem.

Poem in October by Dylan Thomas

It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
And the mussel pooled and the heron
Priested shore
The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall
Myself to set foot
That second
In the still sleeping town and set forth.

My birthday began with the water-
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
Above the farms and the white horses
And I rose
In rainy autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days.
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
Over the border
And the gates
Of the town closed as the town awoke.

A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
Blackbirds and the sun of October
Summery
On the hill’s shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
To the rain wringing
Wind blow cold
In the wood faraway under me.

Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
With its horns through mist and the castle
Brown as owls
But all the gardens
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
There could I marvel
My birthday
Away but the weather turned around.

It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
Streamed again a wonder of summer
With apples
Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
Through the parables
Of sun light
And the legends of the green chapels

And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
These were the woods the river and sea
Where a boy
In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
And the mystery
Sang alive
Still in the water and singingbirds.

And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.
It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
O may my heart’s truth
Still be sung
On this high hill in a year’s turning.

by Dylan Thomas
(August 1944)

Dylan Thomas reciting both ‘Poem In October’ and ‘In My Craft or Sullen Art’

Additional information: One of Dylan Thomas‘ many birthday poems.

The setting of the poem is Laugharne in Carmarthenshire viewed, stanza three onwards, from St John’s Hill.

Thomas called it ‘a Laugharne poem: the first place poem I’ve written‘ (letter to Vernon Watkins, 26 August 1944).

Especially when the October wind by Dylan Thomas

Especially when the October wind
With frosty fingers punishes my hair,
Caught by the crabbing sun I walk on fire
And cast a shadow crab upon the land,
By the sea’s side, hearing the noise of birds,
Hearing the raven cough in winter sticks,
My busy heart who shudders as she talks
Sheds the syllabic blood and drains her words.

Shut, too, in a tower of words, I mark
On the horizon walking like the trees
The wordy shapes of women, and the rows
Of the star-gestured children in the park.
Some let me make you of the vowelled beeches,
Some of the oaken voices, from the roots
Of many a thorny shire tell you notes,
Some let me make you of the water’s speeches.

Behind a pot of ferns the wagging clock
Tells me the hour’s word, the neural meaning
Flies on the shafted disk, declaims the morning
And tells the windy weather in the cock.
Some let me make you of the meadow’s signs;
The signal grass that tells me all I know
Breaks with the wormy winter through the eye.
Some let me tell you of the raven’s sins.

Especially when the October wind
(Some let me make you of autumnal spells,
The spider-tongued, and the loud hill of Wales)
With fists of turnips punishes the land,
Some let me make of you the heartless words.
The heart is drained that, spelling in the scurry
Of chemic blood, warned of the coming fury.
By the sea’s side hear the dark-vowelled birds.

by Dylan Thomas
(October 1934)

A recording of Dylan Thomas reciting his poem ‘Especially When the October Wind’.

Additional information: Two of Dylan Thomas‘ major themes come together in this poem. One, stemming from the fact that October was the month of his birth, is the initiation of decay traditionally associated with autumn. The other, confirmed by similar statements in the letters and by an earlier version of the poem, is what philosophers call the problem of ‘nominalism and universals‘. That is to say, for Thomas, word and thing seem indivisible: ‘When I experience anything, I experience it as a thing and a word at the same time, both equally amazing‘ (E. W. Tedlock, ed. Dylan Thomas: The Legend and the Poet [Mercury Books, 1963], p.54).