George Mackay Brown

The school summer holidays are now almost upon us, so today’s poem from Orcadian poet  George Mackay Brown (1921-1996) is meant to encourage you to think of beach activities. We do of course have to pretend that it’s never going to rain and that all will be sunshine and light. Fortunately you don’t really need the sunshine to go beach combing. Depending on the beach, you might manage to come up with all sorts of objects; I like the range of flotsam and jetsam that the narrator turns up in Beachcomber.

In our garden, we have a bird table and a plant trough that were made from driftwood salvaged from the river estuary near Swords, Dublin courtesy of the OWLS nature group. Maybe you might feel inspired to do a little beach coming yourselves. Who knows, perhaps you might even find a sea chest of golden coins…


Beach in Orkney

A Beach in Orkney

Monday I found a boot-
Rust and salt leather.
I gave it back to the sea, to dance in.

Tuesday a spar of timber worth thirty bob.
Next winter
It will be a chair, a coffin, a bed.

Wednesday a half can of Swedish spirits.
I tilted my head.
The shore was cold with mermaids and angels.

Thursday I got nothing, seaweed,
A whalebone,
Wet feet and a loud cough.

Friday I held a seaman’s skull,
Sand spilling from it
The way time is told on kirkyard stones.

Saturday a barrel of sodden oranges.
A Spanish ship
Was wrecked last month at The Kame.

Sunday, for fear of the elders,
I sit on my bum.
What’s heaven? A sea chest with a thousand gold coins.

I took George Mackay Brown’s poem from an anthology that I have used previously, Golden Apples: Poems for Children (edited by Fiona Waters). If you want to find out more about Mackay Brown take a look at the George Mackay Brown Website for plenty of information on his life and work.

book cover with a girl and a boy reading and a golden appletree

‘a gift book to treasure’

Orkney Photo Credit: DJL (2012) – with thanks.


Stevie Smith

I chose Fairy Story by Stevie Smith (1902-1971) because I felt that the woodland scene would follow on well from yesterday’s Kipling verses.  There is always a sense of mystery in a woodland, whether it is from strange sounds, half hidden paths or the sense that unseen creatures (and the trees) are communicating in a way that we don’t understand.  I haven’t so far been able to find out when this poem was first published, but it often crops up in anthologies for children. I think we have ‘Fairy Story’ in two or three collections of poetry on The Landing, so I’ve used one that I haven’t featured on the blog before:

Golden Apples: Poems for Children, edited by Fiona Waters and illustrated by Alan Marks (Heinemann, 1985). This anthology is another one of my library sale bargains (thanks again to Dundrum library) from recent years. It is an excellent anthology of ‘simple poems and challenging ones, the familiar and the completely new, poems that range from the lyrical to the comic’.

Fairy Story

book cover with a girl and a boy reading and a golden appletree

‘a gift book to treasure’

I went into the wood one day
And there I walked and lost my way

When it was so dark I could not see
A little creature came to me
He said if I would sing a song
The time would not be very long

But first I must let him hold my hand tight
Or else the wood would give me a fright

I sang a song, he let me go
But know I am home again there is nobody I know.

I only know a scattering of Stevie Smith’s poems so I should look out for an addition to The Landing poetry shelf. While putting this piece together, I was reminded of the film made of Stevie Smith’s life (from a play by Hugh Whitemore) starring Glenda Jackson and Mona Washbourne (1978). I saw it on television when I was a teenager; Glenda Jackson and Stevie Smith have since become inextricably entwined in my mind. I remember being fascinated by the poet having a man’s name (her real name was Florence Margaret Smith) which seemed awfully sophisticated at the time. According to Wikipedia, the reason for the nickname was due to Smith’s supposed resemblance to the jockey Steve Donaghue. And here was me thinking all these years that it was some sort of artistic feminist statement.

I think I now need to go on a DVD hunt to relive my teenage years… 

Advent Reading Challenge: Three Kings

16th December

Three Kings Came Riding by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) another poem taken from The Book of Christmas

This is a long poem of fourteen verses telling the story of the journey of the Three Kings (Wise Men or Magi) to find the new saviour. I have known the poem since my own childhood and well remember the sense of romance about these mysterious figures making such a long journey. I also recall being absolutely baffled as to what frankincense and myrrh actually were.

I have just picked three verses to give a potted version of the story. The men set out following the star:

The Magi Journeying

The Magi Journeying (Les Rois Mages en Voyages)

1) Three Kings came riding from far away,

Melchior and Gaspar and Baltasar;

Three Wise Men out of the East were they,

And they travelled by night and they slept by day,

For their guide was a beautiful, wonderful star.

Along the way the travellers talk to people they meet of the child, and so Herod the Great hears.

He asks the Wise Men to bring him news from Bethlehem:

8) So they rode away; and the star stood still,

The only one in the grey of the morn;

Yes, it stopped it stood still of its own free will,

Right over Bethlehem on the hill,

The city of David where Christ was born.

The Three Kings found their way to the baby’s birth place and gave their gifts:

The Book of Christmas

The Book of Christmas

12) They laid their offerings at his feet;

The gold was their tribute to a King,

The frankincense, with its odour sweet,

Was for the Priest, the Paraclete,

The myrrh for the body’s burying.

After worshiping the new child, the Three Kings rode away and headed back to their homes in the East. They were wise enough not to return to King Herod, but travelled home a different way.

The painting here is by James Tissot which is in the Brooklyn Museum (image taken from Wikipedia).

Advent Reading Challenge: Wendy Cope

December 11th

The Christmas Life by Wendy Cope (taken from The Book of Christmas edited by Fiona Waters and mentioned in a previous post). This poem was previously published in If I Don’t Know (Faber).

I have been a fan of Wendy Cope’s verse for a long time, since someone gave me a present of Serious Concerns (Faber) when I worked in a Birmingham bookshop in the 1990s.

This festive poem celebrates the zest and spirit of Christmas: the living greenery brought inside the house with its hint of spring to come; bright colours on the tree; memories both happy and sad and the hopefulness of a new beginning for all of us.

Here are the first and last verses:

Decorated Christmas Tree

All Kinds of Everything…


Bring in a tree, a young Norwegian spruce,

Bring hyacinths that rooted in the cold,

Bring winter jasmine as its buds unfold,

Bring the Christmas life into this house.

Bring in the shepherd boy, the ox and ass,

Bring in the stillness of an icy night,

Bring in a birth, of hope and love and light,

Bring the Christmas life into this house.

I hope that you are enjoying these Advent snippets of poetry and prose both old and fairly new. It has proved to be an enjoyable writing and reading challenge for me and I am re-discovering many old favourites along the way.

(photo: Chris Mills)

Until tomorrow…

Advent Reading Challenge: Mincemeat

4th December

Mincemeat, a poem by Elizabeth Gould

Elizabeth Gould’s poem is another extract from The Book of Christmas, edited by Fiona Waters, mentioned on the 2nd December and again it is about a traditional edible element of Christmas. Having said that, as consumers are only too aware it is perfectly possible to buy mince pies all the year round. I still persist in the notion that mince pies taste much nicer in December, when they are supposed (by any right minded person) to be eaten. It is also perfectly true that a mince pie is an ideal snack to leave out for Father Christmas on his big night out.

Here are a few lines to tempt your tastebuds:

Mince meat and Pie

Sugar and Spice…

Sing a song of mincemeat,

Currants, raisins, spice,

Apples, sugar, nutmeg,

Pack it all away

Tied in little jars and pots,

Until Christmas Day. 

Sounds delicious…

What is your favourite festive fayre? Are you a mince pie fan?

The Book of Christmas

The Book of Christmas

Advent Reading Challenge: Christmas Pudding

2nd December

A rather rotund pudding...

A rather rotund pudding…

Pudding Charms, a seasonal poem  by Charlotte Druitt Cole

I found this poem in a children’s poetry collection The Book of Christmas, complied by Fiona Waters and illustrated by Matilda Harrison (Chrysalis Chilidren’s Books, 2004).

The Book of Christmas a was a gift to my daughter from my parents in 2007.  I hadn’t come across it before, but it has become a mainstay of our Christmas reading. Fiona Waters’ book is a wonderful collection of seasonal poems and stories and Matilda Harrison’s accompanying drawings are bright and lively.

I hope to feature one or two more poems from the compilation later in the month. Food is such an important part of the festive season, particularly Christmas pudding that I thought I should give over enough space to mouth watering goodies. Just the thought of all that sugar, spice and candied peel being mixed up ready for cooking. Druitt Cole also mentions the traditional charms that go into the pudding…a little bit of magic.

Here is a snatch from Charlotte Druitt Cole’s Pudding Charms:

Currants and raisins, and sugar and spice,

Orange peel, lemon peel – everything nice

Mixed up together, and put in a pan.

And out of her pocket a thimble she drew,

A button of silver, a silver horse – shoe,

And, whisp’ring a charm in the pudding pan popped them,

Then flew up the chimney directly she dropped them.

Hope you like today’s food related piece – edibles will surely feature again…

(illusration Chris Mills, 2012)