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String Theory

Image courtesy of Eva Browning

strings make music

even heartstrings

respond to the vibrations

of the universe

mythic islands

may quicken some

corner of a foreign field

despite quiescence

but gravity's

less potent than


throughout planet earth

scientists say

I wonder what

that means for us who walk it

there's no pulling strings

bowstrings slacken

and violin

strings stretched taut across the bridge

may quiver and crack

thread gems of days

on strings of gold

love knot the bright beginning

love not strained ends but

keep fine purchase

on silken cords

lest pearls be mired underfoot

iridescence lost

A Pearl Through Burnt Glass


The poem below was inspired by a recent visit to the Constable at Petworth Exhibition in West Sussex.

Petworth House, now in the hands of the National Trust, was the home of George O'Brien Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont, a generous benefactor of the poor, an enthusiastic enquirer into science and a patron of the Arts, of whom J M W Turner was the most celebrated. He appears to have been remarkably unmoved by Constable's naturalistic pastorals. However, his largesse extended to inviting the painter - who readily admitted to feeling awkward 'with the great folks' - to be his guest at Petworth where he ensured a carriage was at his disposal at any time of the day. The two men found they had ground in common in attitudes to Anglicanism and what was happening to the agrarian landscape in Britain. There is a scene at Petworth House, featuring Lord Egremont and some of his friends, in The Sheep and The Goats, Second Book in the Berkeley Series, to be published this spring.

Constable first visited Sussex and set up his family home there in the 1820s when he hoped his wife, Maria, stricken with tuberculosis, would benefit from the seaside air.
He was clearly inconsolable at her passing in 1828 and wrote '...hourly do I feel the loss of my departed Angel - God only knows how my children will be brought up...the face of the World is totally changed to me.' He never remarried and cared for his seven children alone.

Yet there is a distinct sense of liberation in the ensuing years. He was freer to embrace his destiny and go where he would. Though he did not care for the Sussex coast, he fell in love with the South Downs and its villages. 'Claude nor Ruysdael could not do a thousandth part of what nature here presents.'

It is a matter of personal satisfaction to me that the last picture he painted, just before his death in 1837, was of Arundel Mill and Castle and was one of his most widely appreciated.

Arundel Mill and Castle




There is nothing here

for the painter

but the breakers

and sky

this place is a receptacle of fashion

offscouring of London

Who am I in this

Piccadilly by the sea?

An August dawn

the seamless tide

all mellifluous silk

and tattered lace

a reaper's sun

spilling alizarin

along a linear horizon

shingle grates


impedes motion

shifts and reforms

product of aeons

of attrition

and aggregation

a millstone

that belongs to no mill.

Maria, dear wife of my soul

mother of my children

who shunned an inheritance

to share my yoke

is slowly consumed

stumbles under the weight

of sheer mortality


tethered each

the seagulls circle and cry

and articulate

the presage of loneliness.

I seek the inward path

through forest and field

the rugged ascent

that offers panorama

the cornfields

the sickle that gleans

the freighted hay wain

the sky its own canvas

chief organ of sentiment

I want mastery of colour

and chiaroscuro

the sound of water escaping



old rotten planks

and brickwork.

I love such things...

I want to forget Ruysdael

and Rubens and Lorrain

nature depicted

sometimes wrested

to its own destruction

I yearn to render

the outer and inner


perfectly matched


the taming of wilderness

My pictures

will never be popular

for they have no handling

but I do not see handling

in Mother Nature.

I practise mood clouds

stride in safety

the chain pier

over a mercurial sea

I sculpt and limn fast

beachbound boats

anchors, creels

the real business of coast

light and shadow

never stand still

I collect red and yellow earth

to transport to my studio

and rake the walls of memory

for detail

when light resembles

a pearl through burnt glass.



Cowdray Park

Chichester Cathedral

(Pictures courtesy of The British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.)

Festive Greetings

If Winter Comes

'In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.'  Albert Camus

April is the cruellest month, the poet says.

Green shoots and blossoms make

a mockery of winter's torpid isolation -

the sky's sheen like old ceramic

crazed with sapless boughs -

the ponds stagnant with rotting vegetation

and hedgerows once decked with flowers

and spangled fruit become

naked tangled thorns,

defensive as razor-wire.

Summer's dream is banished

by the first frost, sharp as ammonia,

its sense, its scent, its sentience

suppressed in resting earth.

We close our doors and light our fires,

don weatherproofs and scarves and rugged footwear

against gale and snow and pelting rain.

Hibernation seeps into the marrow,

blunting the senses to loss of balm

and cordial breezes, chromatic tones that

electrify the filaments of nerve and fibre

and promise Paradise.

Benumbed, our grief is tamed. We shut out

the nocturne of the winter solstice and

devise our own illumination, scorning

the antipodean canicule.

We make merry with old songs,

embellishing the murk with gold and glitter,

and heart-reviving greens and reds

reminiscent of crataegus, said to heal

that restive organ of its strains and pains.

What we need is a Death to conquer death,

a Life whose Grace and Incorruptibility

can harness all the vital forces of Creation

to taste the Lethe and live to bridge its banks


What majesty on earth can that accomplish?

What man-at-arms? What president? What ruler?

Brute myth where human and divine converge!

But hush! A rumour whispers through the darkness

and there are angels carolling a new theme

when the wavelength is attuned.

A blinding star fixes the conjunction

of heaven and earth and turns

Time back to front.

No clockwork mechanism now.

A baby in a makeshift cradle

(or is it an unconstraining grave?)

heralds a renascence that

stirs the ailing cosmos,

pulls sap towards the ether

and consigns the cruellest month

to history's past imperfect.

Wishing you a Joyful and Peaceful holiday season...and health and happiness in 2014.

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The Visible Reminder

Albert Bierstadt – a painter superlative at communicating the possibilities of light. Essential radiance. The light behind the Light. Light uncompromised by the darkness, shadow and tone which define our inner and outer landscapes. The spirit of Light caught in our disposition towards the world. The Divine Light of interior revelation. The dreams of the Wise Men and of Joseph who, having seen, were guided to go 'a different way'. Epiphany.

Bierstadt was a genius. The natural world was Eden, its mysterious laws forever beyond our sight and its animals deserving of the same reverence as people.

His output was prodigious, all of it stunningly accomplished. His vision and sheer energy are breathtaking and a miracle of human endeavour. A Luminist, he pays homage to the Romantics, the Realists, the Impressionists and beyond, whilst remaining uniquely himself. His brushstrokes at times are reminiscent of Constable, Cotman, Turner, Renoir, Cézanne, Van Gogh, even Pierre de Clausade. His experiments with technique are all distinguished by a depth of perspective and an unusual clarity. There are many more I would like to have shared with you. This sample, chosen at random, is only a pale tribute.

Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun.
Pablo Picasso

Phosphorescence. Now there's a word to lift your hat to... to find that phosphorescence, that light within, that's the genius behind poetry.
Emily Dickinson

Love is not consolation. It is light.
Simone Weil

It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but that you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The visible reminder of Invisible Light.

T S Eliot

No one lights a lamp in order to hide it behind the door: the purpose of light is to create more light, to open people's eyes, to reveal the marvels around.
Paul Coelho

When the sun broke
It poured willingly its light
Over the stones

Mary Oliver

Just as a painter needs light in order to put the finishing touches to his picture, so I need an inner light, which I feel I never have enough of in the autumn.
Leo Tolstoy

For it is one thing to see the Land of Peace from a wooded ridge, and yet another to walk the road that leads to it
Augustine of Hippo

Every moment of light and dark is a miracle.
Walt Whitman

We've all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That's who we really are.
J K Rowling

Arise, shine out, for your light has come,

the glory of Yahweh is rising on you,
though night still covers the earth
and darkness the peoples.

Isaiah 60:1 (JB)

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Ancestral Footnote To 'Priceless'

Judge Jeffreys

Commenting on my recent blog post about the Pilgrim Fathers, Nicholas Mackey asks if I've investigated the line of ancestry which inspires a heartfelt fascination with its theme. The answer is that what has been discovered to date is sketchy. I spend so many hours researching other people's antecedents and piecing their jigsaws together that finding time for my own isn't easy! But there's substantial evidence for what follows:

One branch of my genealogy appears to have sailed for America in the wake of the Mayflower. The family was settled in Newington, New Hampshire, by the 1640s. In 1650, John Trickey was born in Dover, Strafford County, when his mother, Sarah, died in childbirth.

In 1685, after the Battle of Sedgemoor, a forebear, John Trickey, was tried and condemned to death by Judge Jeffreys at the notorious Bloody Assizes in Taunton, Somerset. The West Country was a stronghold of Protestantism which still resonates today. Roman Catholic churches in the South West are thin on the ground.

The Western Rising, as it is sometimes called, was a bid to overthrow the Catholic James II who succeeded to the Throne on the death of his brother, Charles II, in February 1685. However, James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, Charles' illegitimate son by his mistress, Lucy Walter, tried to contest the right of his uncle. He had been brought up in Holland, in a climate of Protestant Reformation, where his father had taken refuge during Cromwell's Protectorate after the beheading of his grandfather Charles I. Monmouth saw a chance to exploit his popularity in the region and lost no time in raising an army. His attempt was doomed to failure and he was put to death on July 15th, 1685.

Many will be familiar with Roman Catholic/Protestant struggles down the ages and how they were little to do with religion and everything to do with reactionary forces in the face of power politics. Nothing is as potent as putting an official 'God stamp' on a course of action. It is difficult to convey to those who've never lived here how deep-riven in the history of a group of small islands that can be.

The John Trickey who appears in the list of those executed at Taunton has long been understood to be our ancestor. But it has puzzled researchers that there seems to be no trace of his origins in the British Isles. However, I recently discovered that New World settlers remained zealous about securing Puritanism in the Old Country and that some of the (perhaps fitter) members were ready to return and fight in Monmouth's resistance movement. I'm pretty sure that John Trickey was one of them. One thing that makes me wonder is that the emigrant Trickeys ran a ferry in New Hampshire at a place called Bloody Point. Did that gain its name principally, not from boundary disputes as some have said, but from the Bloody Assizes? Such martyrdom would have underlined the reasons for their gruelling flight across the Atlantic and would be embedded deep in the psyche. Certainly, there were New World bound vessels whose name referenced the bloodthirsty Judge.

One of my father's favourite books was R D Blackmore's Lorna Doone, a tale of those times written in the Victorian era. His own upbringing was in the dissenting Baptist tradition. After much exploration and soul-searching, I was confirmed as an Anglo-Catholic twenty five years ago. I don't want to go into the hair-split between us and the Roman Church because the liturgy is identical. But an English Catholic would consider me Protestant. Suffice to say that fine lines can become monumental sources of schism when factions reach for arms instead of trying to work towards peaceful solutions side by side. What we experience today is only the palest echo of the past when religious faith was a wholesale way of life and in tune with the seasonal calendar in mansion and hovel. It was the common starting point for whatever personal beliefs might later develop.

Several weeks ago, I visited, for the first time, Stonegallows Hill, Taunton. Exmoor and the apple-green Blackdown Hills tinctured with sanguine reds, bright golds and crisp gingers, stretched far beyond under the shy blue of a November sky. In October, 1685, John Trickey was hanged there. (If he was the American John Trickey, his death is recorded in the US as 1686.) And I reflected on that fateful cause, like so many with which our heritage is studded, and thought that it is the energy and conviction of the sacrifice that lingers and bequeaths the freedoms we enjoy in the twenty-first century. Triumph in our objectives is largely an irrelevance. But sincere endeavour gathers spiritual momentum that rolls on into the future and brings change.

The area is now widely populated and somehow the word 'settlement' has profound connotations. The mysterious nightmare of strangling which plagued my teen years has long faded.

Lorna Doone Farm courtesy of David J Rowlatt Photography

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