In town the storm loosened the bones of the cedar tree,
Thrashed them out of its roaring green pelt
And they lay clean white on the lawn next morning.
‘Worse troubles at sea’ my mother used to say
About almost everything. I arrived in Devon
That afternoon, and she was proved right, long after death.
The storm was here too, blowing its own trumpet,
Holding up the white wings of my neighbour’s geese
As they fought like angels in the growing darkness.
That night the news, fraying from the Stockland mast,
Stuttered across the valley that the Penlee lifeboat
Was lost with a crew of eight.
(‘Lost’ they still say when talking about the sea
But not ‘souls’ any more.) The waves that mislaid them
Were two moors away and three lighthouses,
Yet when the vicar paused in his prayer that Christmas Eve
There was true silence in the church as though
The lost souls had been found for a few minutes
Who had no time for ‘Nearer my God to Thee’.
The seventh month of the year,
And the kitchen calendar
Turns over to her,
The Lady of Shalott.
One candle in the boat
Snuffed out by storm, one still bright
Stand over the horizontal
Crucifix, the only jewel
She plucked from the castle wall
And threw on to its back.
The rope in her hand is slack.
The river has its way to make.
No more than mirror-old
She sits staving off the cold
In three swathings of white and gold,
Eyes about to close,
Mouth half-open, glossily at ease,
Hair over one breast in the mermaid pose.
She will soon be out of sight.
Before she lay down she wrote
Her name on the prow of the boat
And this action made
A person of the dark wood,
Like all the ships of childhood.
The gossips at Camelot
Will see nothing but a stray boat
Pleasantly named The Lady of Shalott.
And at the end of July
Comes the turn in the pathway
Where all the unseen knights rode by.