Decline & Fall

course of empire
The Course of Empire: Destruction by Thomas Cole

 

Decline & Fall

The Romans faced decline, they say,
A hundred years or more,
Before the Goths stole Rome away,
All in one day.
It wasn’t just a day, of course,
With forces building at the core
Throughout the hundred years before.

So were there Romans in that fray
Who watched the turning of the tide,
The steady slide, the slow decay ?
And were they powerless to stay
The endless slump of getting worse,
The creeping curse, the seeping sore,
The gradual fade to grey ?

Or did they never smell the rot
They’d got ?  Perhaps too decadent,
Too drunk to see their own descent,
Too busy in the hay.
They maybe missed the skulking spore
Until the joists had given way,
And brought Rome to the floor.

But that was then.  We’ve surely learned
How Rome was burned from within as without:
The morals shine and loudly shout,
And history shall not be spurned.
And yet.., I sometimes look about
And wonder where we’ll be in, say,
A hundred years or more.

Salient Thoughts

Ypres

 

Salient Thoughts

Passing through Ypres,
We paused for a moment to take in the Cloth Hall.
By the cathedral we parked,
And we wandered the Grote Markt,
Charmed and yet chilled
By the way they had carefully rebuilt it all.

The shops were all shut –
(We’d come on a Sunday, just wanted a look)
English words blared from their posters and flyers
So locals or ex-pats ?  We didn’t enquire.
Their windows were filled
With helmets and biscuits and rifles and books.

Then down to the Menin Gate –
Far too triumphant and proud of its names:
Look at how many I bear !
They all did their duty and lie who-knows-where.
Just look at our killed !
And dare you resist us, and dare you lay blame ?

Rank upon rank of surnames,
With first-names reduced to only initials.
People I found myself wishing
Had told their nations to carry on fishing –
But instead, they had fought.
And here were their names, to make it official.

The flags barely moved,
And a few of us found ourselves holding our breath,
And it all seemed so lonely and still
And so thankfully long since the kill,
And yet still overwrought –
A faded and motionless orgy of death.

Ah, hindsight you rogue !
But let us not hate the hard lessons you tell.
So maybe it’s time to finally suture,
Time now for Ypres to find a new future.
And here’s a thought:
Maybe let’s spell it as Ieper from here on as well.

Undone Town

architecture british buildings business
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Undone Town

I rarely go to Walthamstow,
I never visit Hayes,
I’m seldom seen in Parsons Green,
Or Catford Bridge, or Grays.

It’s not their fault my doings halt
This side of Pimlico,
But now the thrill of Hampstead Hill
Is one I’ll never know.

You see, the catch with Colney Hatch
Is that it’s far away,
And Belvedere is not so near,
And nor is Harringay.

It’s quite a trek to Tooting Bec
To tax my weary feet;
To all who dwell in Camberwell,
I guess we’ll never meet.

I’m at a loss beyond King Cross
In Wimbledon or Cheam,
And hopes to race to Enfield Chase
Are but a wistful dream.

My view is dark of Belsize Park,
No matter how I look,
I’ll never gain on Rayners Lane,
Nor wade in Stamford Brook.

My plans to rove in Arnos Grove
Will never come to good;
I can’t head down to Kentish Town,
Nor fly to Falconwood.

They’re much too far from Temple Bar,
Though hardly by design;
It’s just today I rarely stray
Beyond the Circle Line.

 

I was aiming for a modern version of Bow Bells, but what with property prices these days, it’s already thirty years out of date.

 

 

Nothofagus antarctica

southern beech
Nothofagus antarctica-08 by Blake C Willson

 

Nothofagus antarctica

They call him the Antarctic Beech,
And they call him False Beech too,
He’s somewhat beechy, that bit’s true,
Although he’s rather false as well:
A cousin, not a brother, truth to tell.
But as for the Antarctic, hell –
That one’s a real reach !

Antarctic Beech is no such thing,
He cannot cross the Southern Seas –
He clings to Fuego, looking out,
The southernmost of all the trees.
He braces up to southerlies
That stunt and sculpt and knock about.

And so, each slow September-Spring
He wakes, and adds another ring.
But far five hundred miles beyond,
His boughs bow-out to fragile gloom,
Where only mosses raise a frond,
And only grass and pearlwort bloom.

Now far to the north, he’s also in sprout:
An immigrant hardwood who’s hardy and stout.
So the Antarctic Beech is the king of the Faroes –
Where’er the cold air blows,
That’s where he grows.
Though not in all lands that are under the Plough,
But only as far as the cold will allow:
The poles are forever beyond his long reach –
Forever the sub-arctic beech.

The Horn’s as far as he may go,
But fair’s fair, fossils have been found
Beneath the harsh Antarctic ground –
But as for living species: no.
But oh !  The Antarctic beech – what a star !
The tree to the south of the south of afar !
So yes, we all know that his claim is a lie –
But how could we let such a name pass us by ?

 

 

The Land of the Saints

Cornubia
Cornubia by John Miller

 

     The Land of the Saints

They’re pious in Cornwall, or proud, or just quaint,
Sennan and Bryvyth, Morwetha and Cleer
They name half their villages after a saint;
Piran and Tudy, Winwillo, Gwinear
Not many Marys or Peters or Pauls,
Nevet and Probus, Mabena and Breock
For ev’ry Saint Helen’s we find a Saint Mawes.
Leven and Cuby, Wennapa and Feock
Our corporate saints have been roundly withstood,
Sithney and Breward, Lalluwy and Ruan
For theirs are so local, old Cornish done good.
Mylor and Sancreed, Illogan and Mewan

 

I’m sure I’m getting the emphasis wrong on some of these names, but that’s the beauty of English – anything goes, and my mispronunciation is just as valid as yours, especially when you definitely have never heard of these names before.  And yes, they’re Cornish, not English, but consider them now Anglisised.  And yes, I did just spell Anglisised with two esses – deal with it.

 

My First Imperial Adventure

pole

 

My First Imperial Adventure

As a child, I loved to pore
Upon an atlas like a book.
The early chapters laid out Europe,
Where I knew it’s ev’ry nook.
Later on came Africa or Asia,
I forget which first.
The other next, then North, then South America
Would be traversed.
Oceania bringing up the rear,
And scattered islands next,
With local names italicised beside
The faithful English text.
That was the story’s climax, now the coda –
Now the final pair of plates –
The Arctic, then the Ant, in round tableaux,
The Baring and Magellan Straits.

Antarctica, to my surprise,
Had place-name labels scattered round –
The Ross Ice Shelf and Ellsworth Mountains,
Kemp Land, and McMurdo Sound.
Such British names !  The Arctic, though, was foreign –
Though I’d love to think
How Queen Victoria might send
The Royal Navy out to turn it pink.
Take Greenland, with its Anglo-Saxon name –
From Cape Farewell down in the South,
On through Discov’ry Bay to Upper Tooley,
And out East there’s Scoresby Mouth.
The Viceroy has his Residence in Goodhope,
With the inevitable railway lines –
Heading South to Hope St Julian,
Through Greenvale and the Squarehill mines.

And heading North on the Great Green Line,
With a branch and boat-train out to Sugar Top,
And via Lower Streamouth aerodrome,
To Foxborough – which once was the final stop,
Until the junction to Jacob’s Harbour,
(Ferries to Goodhaven from the pleasure pier),
Then the final push to Springfield Isle,
On viaducts of steel that we’d engineer.
Of course, in time the Esquimaux would learn
The ways of cricket and the bowler hat,
And in later years, there’s some would settle down
In Blighty, in a council flat
In Ashford, Accrington and Aberdeen,
To drive the buses and newspaper stands,
Opening churches, opening restaurants,
Marrying the local girls and forming bands.

I know, I know, so many problems
Unthought-out in the fantasy of a kid.
Just as well it never happened –
And yet…on a parallel Earth, it probably did.

 

 

Of Lost & Found Cities

beige analog gauge
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

 

Of Lost & Found Cities

Nineveh and Babylon have crumbled into dust,
Carthage, Ur and Jericho are pillars in the sand;
Once they were such glories, true – bustling and august –
But now reduced to legends and faint markings on the land.
London, though, is still alive, still growing and unplanned,
Not like dead Persepolis, where only mem’ry roams.
Ephesus and Ashkelon are sinking, gust by gust.
Luxor, Thebes and Memphis, now preserved in ancient tomes,
Sumer, Sardis, Akkad and Knossos are unmanned.
London, though, is standing yet, and just as grim and grand.
Middle-aged, with stuccoed bays and stock-brick-golden domes;
Humble tracks now avenues, from Oxford Street to Strand,
Yet keeps forever youthful as it builds and fells its homes.
Many structures barely make a century’s employ,
Ere yet another edifice is raised upon its bones;
And so King’s Cross and Bishopsgate, and Knightsbridge and Savoy
Have thus by slow rebuilding changed their slates and paving-stones.
Once an early city stood, whose name we still enjoy,
But now that ancient London’s quite as lost as Kish and Troy.