_

I

How will I know you or will you know me?
When every bird has hurtled to the ground,
When every whale and every fish has drowned,
And every beast, engaged in killing spree
Has eaten every one that cannot flee;
When all our merchant ships have run aground
Whose crews, surviving tidal wave have found
On land no respite any more than we

Can find remission in abyssal deeps,
Aloft among the Himalayan steeps,
Long buried in the pure Antarctic snows
Or stranded on remoter polar floes.
Into its scorching core may I be hurled
If so I cannot find you in this world.

X

II

Where will you be at the last trumpet call,
At Armageddon’s final martial blast?
From Babel, Ur and Jericho each vast
And monumental last great city wall
Will fail, the unassailable will fall,
Our ship will sink no matter how steadfast
The helmsman or his years before the mast,
Should hurricane force twelve or worse befall.

Then siren-like the sounds while we count down,
Submerged, how long it takes to choke and drown,
Then strand on foreign sand reborn as we
Upon some lorn sequestered isle and be
The mistress she as I the master of
The raging seas and raging skies above?

X

III

When will I find you at the end of time?
Among our ancient forebears in their graves
With cavemen, longbow men and galley slaves,
And men-at-arms deep in primordial slime.
Those fletchers, coppersmiths, the sweeps who climb
Our chimneys, ploughmen, publicans and knaves;
The bowyer strings his bows, the paviour paves
The pavements and the poet pens the rhyme.

And so much talent, skills long since forgot
Lie mouldering still in peat and claggy soil,
In tons of earth in every garden plot
The produce of our tireless sons of toil.
And bound below each mound deep underground
Profoundly sleeping, talents lie unfound.

X

X

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


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28 Responses

  1. Leo Zoutewelle

    Ah, Peter, the flair with which you bring them forth, these paeans of end and loss… Some day you must exchange them for those of quiet restfulness. Not yet! Not yet, you will know the time. Thank you, Peter, for these special poems!

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Thank you, Leo, for your very kind response to these little verses. Some time ago I wrote, “Can you assign / A time for sorrow, grieving by design,/Precise as lightning, cold as carbon steel,/ As certain as the ceaseless balance wheel/That regulates your beating heart and mine?” At the time I wrote those words the question was rhetorical because I didn’t believe that one could, particularly because in the nature of things we have no exact precedent for our response. But in future I shall steer clear of grief or I shall not write at all.

      Reply
    • Mike Bryant

      Maybe I’m a sentimentalist, or a complete whacko, but I believe love doesn’t start or stop. I believe it exists outside of time. I believe that, because of that, time will end but love endures. You won’t ever have to look for it because you haven’t lost it. It will find you, just like it did before.

      Reply
      • Margaret Coats

        Mike, this is a fascinating comment. Medieval poets would call you an advocate of loyalty in love. The choice is between loyalty and falsity, and the strongest argument against loyalty is that the beloved might die. Most of those poets who made a choice chose loyalty anyway. But here you are, convinced that the choice is made not by the lover, but by love itself, who goes on loving no matter what. Great contribution to that discussion.

    • Peter Hartley

      Mike – That single word says such a lot doesn’t it, and I imagine all of us would like our poetry to be remembered at least somewhere when we’ve gone.

      Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Theresa – thank you for your very kind remark, but I’m glad you can’t see my handwriting as it is today! I think even a doctor would write better with a biro strapped to his ear.

      Reply
  2. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Peter, as ever your poems are impeccably crafted. I particularly admire your use of rhyme (end and internal), especially the grand finale of the closing couplet in “Apocalypse III”. The linguistic images you paint are compelling and affecting. I can see the birds hurtle to the ground. I can see the beasts on their killing spree. I can feel the primordial slime. I feel the sense of futility in the lines; “… so much talent, skills long since forgot/Lie mouldering still in peat and claggy soil…” And I can feel the choking and drowning sensation of grief.

    I also hear the questions, painful questions that plague those torn apart from those they love . Your questions prompted a discussion between me and Mike. Mike’s summed up the conclusion… but, as helpless mortals here on this bleak and often cruel earth, a fairytale ending seems impossible… unless you think that love might well be a miracle… in which case…

    Peter, never stop writing – I say that for purely selfish reasons, of course. Besides, I believe Evan is coming round to the idea that a Tyrolese bugle will elevate the reputation of SCP.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Susan – At the risk of boring the SCP I think Evan might just have a blind all-consuming hatred for any brass instrument with a conical bore as opposed to an instrument like the trumpet which has a mellower tone because it has a cylindrical bore (till you nearly reach the bell). This still doesn’t explain the out-and-out rejection of my gob-iron which has 48 reeds (46 more than an oboe the last time I looked). The disconcerting thing is that Evan won’t even discuss the matter, though he must know my panegyric to the gob-iron is unquestionably the finest thing I’ve ever composed. Many thanks for your kind remarks about the Apocalypse. There were five poems but Evan rejected two on the grounds that certain passages might be difficult or incomprehensible for the unprimed reader without separate explanation, (the equivalent of whatever is the miserable version of an in-joke). You always seem to find things in my poems that I have been aware of only subliminally until you articulate them with such eloquence for me, and I am extremely grateful for that.

      Reply
      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Peter, Evan’s out-and-out rejection of your panegyric to the gob-iron is a step too far for me. I am set to protest, poetically of course, with an ode to a rejected gob-iron. I’m off to compose it, and, assuming this won’t be rejected by Evan, your panegyric should follow suit at the top of an SCP page where it belongs!

      • Peter Hartley

        Susan – You can never know just how grateful I am to have the society’s most prolific (metaphorical) heavyweight campaigning on my behalf. I feel that under such pressure he is sooner or later almost bound to succumb.

  3. Margaret Coats

    Peter, I’m glad you said these poems are three out of five, because I find the first two a coherent pair. Your descriptive ability in all three is splendid. Number two is special for the unheard word at the end, namely, “love.” You offer two perfect rhymes for it, and the question mark at the end of the poem seems to ask for it. After all, “how long” is not really a question here, so you must be seeking something else. Good intrigue.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Margaret- you are absolutely on the ball (again). I am always loth to use the word love in poetry or in prose (and seldom do) in the way that a prepubescent boy might be, who thinks the whole subject to be somehow effeminate or “soppy” or for some arcane reason taboo while searching blindly lost in that no-man’s-land between innocence and experience. And on the practical side it is true that there aren’t many rhymes for love.

      Reply
  4. C.B. Anderson

    Jesus, Peter. are things as dark as that in Great Britain? Only if Britannia is part of the real world, but the world right now is not a great place in which to put a country.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      CBA – yes, right now it seems quite an appropriate time to be writing about Armageddon, the Apocalypse and all things eschatological, doesn’t it? And right now could the world get any worse? Of course it could and it will.

      Reply
  5. Jeff Eardley

    Peter, I was reading these yesterday as I waited in the darkness of a hospital car-park waiting for my wife to return from one of her many appointments. On the blackness of this most depressing news day, I was enthralled by your ability to encapsulate my mindset at that moment. All three are excellent but III is a masterpiece. The sublime imagery of our forbears lying under our feet is extremely moving. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Jeff – Thank you so much for letting me partake, in a way, of that experience, and I truly believe that if it helped you, to remind YOU that your feelings and experience are not endured alone, then it was worth the writing; and I do hope that your wait was rewarded by good news from your wife.

      Reply
  6. BDW

    Why I don’t like most sonnets is because it seems like colouring in between the lines. I’d rather have a painting free from that form. Nor do I find Mr. Hertley’s sonnets flawless. But their quality is good and the voice is utterly remarkable. I’ve never heard this particular voice @ SCP before. It is the most Keatsian (touched with Milton) I have found here.

    Although I have learned much from Keats; I am not Keatsian. In fact, from Keats in his odes (along with other pre-free-verse poets, like Blake, Coleridge and Shelley) I actually moved from the sonnet to other forms, all the time writing literally countless sonnets (my interest more in Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne, and Milton. [I do thank Wordsworth for reviving the form, even if I am not fond of it presently.]

    Although these sonnets lack the texture and richness of the sonnets of Mr. MacKenzie, and their arching themes, the profundity of Mr. Harley’s sonnets is amazing. Mr. Harley, in these poems, has bumped (inadvertently?) into a larger vision, one I had not thought existed anywhere in the New Millennium, especially in the British Isles. I wonder what he might do with that power, or if it is sustainable. Is it climbing up Parnassus, gazing at the vista , and then coming down? Whatever this is, it is not Shelley @ Mont Blanc; and I am thankful for that.

    Reply
  7. Peter Hartley

    BDW – Many thanks for your critical appraisal of my work and for placing me in such very distinguished company. The only poets I have studied in any great depth were Virgil, Chaucer, Coleridge, and Keats (because I was told to), and E B Browning and G M Hopkins (by choice) but I can’t tell how much or if they have influenced me at all, having only started writing my own a little over two years ago. I have a blinkered aversion to anything from the c20th, so apart from the odd poem by Noyes, Masefield and the war poets anybody seeking influences for my work would have to draw a blank there. Shelley is OK but at least I climbed Mont Blanc before I wrote my poem about it.

    Reply
  8. David Watt

    Peter, although your trio of sonnets are bleak, the third sonnet acts as a more uplifting counterweight. The image of ‘profoundly sleeping’ forebears, each having carried their particular talent to the grave, is highly effective.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      David – Thank you for your comment. A few others have liked that poem, and it is a strange thought that, as matter can neither be created nor destroyed (well it couldn’t when I was studying physics – it probably can now) every last atom that made us is still floating about somewhere out there.It was an easy poem to write as you can imagine because I had a vast choice of occupations to consider for rhymes, and yet I still managed to use the word “pavement” when most of SCP don’t.

      Reply
      • Peter Hartley

        Evan – in poem II could you please change L3 of the sestet to: Then strand on foreign sand reborn as we… [Many thanks]

  9. Peter Hartley

    Mike – Thank you very much, that is spot-on. It was the version I thought I’d posted to Evan but I didn’t notice anything wrong with it until I suddenly remembered I had the word “reborn” in the final draft and wondered where it had disappeared. Dworr?!?

    Reply

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