Poem: Beech Wood near Henley

My wife and I house-, chicken-, and dog-sit near Henley. This part of the Chilterns is far deeper countryside than I had ever expected.


Beech Wood near Henley (in high summer)

Across the field
the beech wood seemed
like a giant
in his mature prime,
barely breathing;
as though lying on his side;
its leaves
and branches
making his rough
broadweave tunic,
here and there dark-stained,
by beast or soil,
here and there rain-washed pale.

The early evening,
warm like a foreign day,
was in a sort of daze,
and we fell into it.

No kite mewed.

Following the dogs,
we passed within
this great being
and stood within
a chest as deep
as Nelson’s column is tall.

We looked up
the slender trunks,
and into the canopy,
as though arteries
were resolved into
broken-veined capillaries,
where a body meets the weather
for good or ill.

Down on earth,
there were scurryings
in the brown leaf litter,
hidden by veils
of holly and briar.

We stood still,
the better to listen for
the giant’s sighs,
but heard instead
a scatter of lesser lives
being lived and
lost in his bosom.

From somewhere beyond
there came a roar –
briefly, like an exhalation –
and the dogs –
not thinking of chasing, now,
but of being quarry –
turned and checked us
as we queried each other.

Birds sang out alarm calls,
and then fell quiet,
as though questioning their wisdom
in making any sound.

The roar repeated itself,
nearer now,
and was followed by
a huge red sun
bright enough
to penetrate skin
and bone
and canopy
and lofty boughs
as the red balloon bore
its passengers
to cocktails and canapés
or a burger and a pint,
going no faster
than the sun sinks.

It seemed
as it passed
like the hunter
which had downed
the great creature
in whose breast
we paused,
and each of us
held our pose
and our breath
for fear it might
fancy a coup de grace.


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Publication date

15 November 2016


RDN's poems