In spring the crocuses broke out as bold
As brass from refuge in their barren clay.
They speared the air in colourful array
And blazoned they their petals proudly told
Of azure and of purpure and of gold.
Heraldic, seméed in a field were they,
Where cultivated gardens may display
New growth and hopes unfurl amid the old.

How numinous the force that can roll out
Rich carpets over seeming fruitless drought!
Our humble task, to give each plant a name:
Fireweed perhaps, or rosebay willowherb?
We curb the weed, the herb we don’t disturb:
But in His eyes they surely are the same.



High summer now, the rambling hedgerows loud
With magpies’ urgent rattle; thorny nest
In hawthorn long abandoned, now possessed
By creeping things, new leaves their living shroud.
In season’s thunderstorms and heavy cloud,
Well hidden in the deepest thicket best
Permits the shrew some fitful sort of rest,
From snake and stoat the only sort allowed.

The turpentine seen bleeding from the pine:
The deathcap; hemlock, poisons’ archetype;
And bursting forth forbidden fruit, a sign
Of all that’s cloying, fulsome, over-ripe.
And Adam ate whatever Eve would bring,
Beguiled he was, he tasted everything.



In Eden’s garden rampant weeds now found,
Disease and blight on every fruit and flower.
Near leafless they and lifeless every bower,
The broad oaks’ welcome shadows now surround
The garden walls, in harsh white half-light bound.
Beneath the louring naked hills they cower,
The raindrops sour that fall in storm and shower,
Well-trodden through the sodden peaty ground.

The birds have flown, the swallow and the swift;
Beginning their transcontinental drift
The martins from their cradles in the eaves.
The thorns still barb the rose that’s shed its leaves,
But soon we’ll hear the hardy redwing sing
Through winter bringing promise of the spring.



In winter clarity is best of all,
Cerulean-bright the sky or Wedgwood blue
Revealing frosted cobwebs in the dew.
The ice creeps slowly over all to sprawl
In sculpted drapes on frozen waterfall,
Shapes Michelangelo could no more hew
Than cast in bronze the churchyard’s wizened yew
Or bring to life the sightless in their pall.

And in the shortest days our menfolk brawl,
For when the nights are long their tempers fray.
The women call for peace, their children bawl,
The old become more bitter by the day.
For young and old the days are bitter cold
And each cold night more bitter for the old.



To Excel in Self-Pity

I wonder if self-pity is the ache
Of all the worst, because it always throws
A pall of grief on others as it grows?
To be the victim, take the blame, forsake
Our kind like scapegoats, we must try to make
Our wasted lives heard loud above all those
Whose lives are just pathetic, make our woes
The object of our every hour awake.

To silence competition first we need
The loudest voice of all, the greatest grief,
The most exquisite pain beyond belief,
And only then will anyone concede:
Their own affliction’s still the very worst
With which a human soul was ever cursed.



Peter Hartley is a retired painting restorer. He was born in Liverpool and lives in Manchester, UK.

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17 Responses

  1. Leo Zoutewelle

    Peter, these your sonnets were a pleasure to read, indeed!

    • Peter Hartley

      Leo – I am very glad to hear that, and thank you for your kind remark.

    • Peter Hartley

      I had meant to imply the difficulty of carving the wet wood of a yew. However to CAST it, I imagine, would be utterly impossible, which is more the idea I wanted to get across.

  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    In “Winter,” line seven breaks the iambic-5 pattern. Try something like this or similar:

    Than carve the dripping churchyard’s wizened yew

    In any case, another foot is required.

    The maintaining of an ABBA rhyme scheme in the octets of these poems is a hard thing to do, but you have managed it quite well.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Hi ,
      Your right about the meter, of course; but a “dripping churchyard”?

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        You can take it to mean “a churchyard that is heavy with rainfall.”

    • Peter Hartley

      I appear to have an exceptional talent for dropping feet as my creations near their conclusions. Your remarks taken in conjunction with the comment below suggest to me: “Than cast in bronze the churchyard’s wizened yew”. Evan, are you able to oblige?

      • Peter Hartley

        Evan – Many thanks indeed for performing the necessary.

  3. David Watt

    Peter, your sonnets are consistently evocative. The lines which particularly struck me in “Autumn” were:
    The martins from their cradles in the eaves.
    The thorns still barb the rose that’s shed its leaves

    • Peter Hartley

      David – Thank you for the compliment. In Macbeth the martins’ (or martlets’) nest is also described as a cradle (“Pendent bed and procreant cradle”) but the similarity is so obvious that I thought it would bear repetition.

  4. Monty

    Good stuff again, Pete.
    But such highly-accomplished work from you has now become the norm; it’s expected, dare I say it. What a command you’ve got of our language.

    • Peter Hartley

      Monty – Thank you once again for your kind words and encouragement. To answer your questions I went to Nepal in December 2007, to Kathmandu, Nagarkot and Pokara. . During an Everest flypast we were so sorely tried by an excitable Polish man with pointy elbows and a 60-inch zoom lens that when we returned and complained we had another flight free when we were given a view of Everest through the front of the plane while the S Korean ambassador and his entourage had a view of the starboard wing. The rats in the airport were legion and vast, insouciant and urbane.
      Knowing the nuts and bolts helps in our understanding of poetry but you don’t need to know what a proceleusmatic foot is to know that Keats’s Endymion is a good bit of verse (or indeed to enjoy it), and an outstanding critic does not need to know every last rule of prosody. And outstanding critic you are,too with cleverly reasoned argument and command of the language, a quirky idiosyncratic literary style and not just because you like my poetry (although we all like our own work and believe that everyone else should too, otherwise we wouldn’t do it.

      • Peter Hartley

        Sorry a lot of the above is garbled. I wrote it on a bumpy tram.

      • Monty

        So, we discovered Nepal around the same time; I first went in ’05 (and been back every year since). What’s more.. you’ve been to Pokhara! That’s where I live in the winters. How long were you in Pok?

  5. Peter Hartley

    Monty – Only about four days I think. I had tried to visit on a package holiday a couple of years earlier but a vehicle in front of us on the M6 involved in a crash with a lorry on its way to the abattoir left 150 dead and dying sheep scattered across the motorway and we missed our Heathrow flight by half an hour. Our second attempt to see Nepal was a happier one. We got there and we saw Annapurna, Daulagiri and, I think, Machapuchare from Pokhara; and Makalu, Cho Oyu, Everest and Lhotse during that short flight in the Kumbu Himal. I would never have been interested in climbing them – too expeditionary and far too expensive for me. My real climbing was restricted to the European Alps. How did you end up in Nepal?

    • Monty

      India . . that’s how I ended up in Nepal. From the late 80’s onwards, I used to winter in India most years. But India started to change about 20 years ago – all the Bollywood shit came in, and suddenly India started watching TV (never a good sign for a nation).. and hence became just that little bit more westernised.
      So one year we just said: “Right, let’s try Nepal next year” . . and of course when we got there, it was so deliciously primitive and backward: just like India used to be back in the 80’s.

      I’ve also never done any climbing – too expeditionary and expensive for me, as well. Plus, I’m not there for all that. I’m satisfied with just living in the serenity of Pokhara . . and occasionally going on an 8-10 day trek to heights of 3 or 4,000 meters; spending the nights with little mountain-tribes who live a day’s walk from the next nearest such tribe.. talk about remoteness! There’s no electricity: no phone-signal: no running-water: no nothing . . one can simply forget one’s own name for a few days, surrounded by the warmest of humans who’ve got no concept of how to dislike someone.

      And after such treks, what a joy it is to get back to Pokhara for some electricity (most of the time) and a warm shower.

      I’m glad you’ve seen Machapuchare (which means ‘fishtail’ in the Nepali, due to its shape). When I open my curtains in the morning, Fishtail is the first thing I see (cloud-cover permitting).

      It’s been years now, Pete, since I realised that I’m gonna die in Nepal! At some stage in my 60’s, I’m gonna move there for good. And I’m 56 now, so not too long. Get me out of this western mess!

  6. Peter Hartley

    Monty – I hope you do manage to die in Nepal but not any time soon. I must say that of more than sixty countries I’ve visited India and Nepal have given me the greatest culture shock (in a nice way). It’s hard to believe, for example, if you haven’t been, that there can be more pigs and cattle wandering the streets of Jaipur than humans. The human spirit can be uplifted to the skies one moment by the generosity and kindness of a people who own very little, then dashed to the ground by the grinding poverty epitomised by a stone-breaker at the side of the road. But you know about this better than I. And I agree that universal television ownership, (a great leveller) is not a good sign for a nation and will no doubt make its contribution to India’s slow but inexorable decadence and decay. And as for those “…warmest of humans who’ve no concept of how to dislike someone…” perhaps you should make what would amount to only a very small transition (from prose to poetry) and compose more of your own. I suspect that it might be quite good.


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