.

Geese on the Moor

On Laddow Moss the April air is cold
And still. A single pair of wayward geese
We find beside a tarn, their nest of fleece
And feather sprigs of springy heather hold
Together. Once we found marsh marigold
Up here but now its meagre straggles cease
Their struggles to increase, stave off decease:
Too cold to let bog asphodel unfold.

The calm and peacefulness at night avails
Us in communion with the earth that fails
Us in the gales of March: listen, give ear:
The constant heartbeat of the earth you’ll hear.
Enwrapped in darkness, lost to human sight,
The geese keep lonely vigil through the night.

.

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A Burial on the Moor

We buried him upon the moss, three feet
It was below the level of the bog,
No need had he for linen winding sheet
Nor woollen shroud to fight the freezing fog.

Forlorn are they and cheerless, cold and bleak,
The moors. The wintry winds shriek down the cloughs
Unleashing constant driving rain. The reek
Of soaking peat pervades the barren groughs,

In places eight feet deep, and when it teems
The crumbling sheer walls of the haggs collapse
Into the grains or rivulets that feed the streams
And change their range and bearing on the maps.

Surviving rain and hail and sleet and snow,
The bog is always deeper where we know
The sphagnum moss and other mosses grow
And turn to peat, the moss of long ago.

The brown hare looks so foolish in its coat
Designed for winter wear, a cynosure
Upon the moss. So too sometimes the stoat
Bears snow-white fur that pads across the moor.

The cairn we built above his grave a guide
For twenty years the icy winds defied
Till one day it was scattered far and wide
Across the moor, across the mountainside.

We built another cairn a few months on
With flatter stones above his bones to pave
What lies below. The birds must know for none
Will ever sing or hop about his grave.

A place to sit and view the wilderness,
We could be anywhere, though close to this
Great teeming wen seen to the west, far less
A city, more a megalopolis.

The humus tang on brumous days would drown
The scent of heather on the moors and still
The sphagnum moss, the tawny, umber-brown
And bitter taste of acid peat would fill

The gales that drive the rain to Manchester,
That drain the sopping cloughs upon the moor.
The fog might linger week on week but there
The dog, a Labrador, would nevermore

Be seen upon the moor. He loved mankind.
He loved the moss, he loved the running free,
The vast horizons, being unconfined,
And he with me as he was born to be

Up on the open moor. He loved mankind.
We took him on the moss, left him behind,
We drowned his body on the sodden moor.
We left his body cold upon the moor.

And brave was he, but then all dogs are brave.
A dog, he wouldn’t know what else to be.
His bravery died with him and his grave
Knows nothing of his trust and loyalty.

And all those years ago his weight was borne
Aloft and buried on the open moor.
His grave is deep and lonely and forlorn:
From breath of life his broken bones secure.

And forty-three years has he lain there hushed,
High on the moss, preserved by acid rain.
And ramblers will come and go, some flushed
With effort, some with pride, and some again

Will linger long but who knows what lies here
Below the tussocks and the quaking earth?
Enshrouded in the icy haze, nowhere
For living life, nor earth for giving birth.

Halcyon days are rare upon the moor
When breezes waft the fragrant scent of ling
Across the moss. We startle grouse before
Us and they clatter off on noisy wing.

Move on in time: do you suppose they chose
To lie here twitching, blasted from the sky?
How Gloriously the Twelfth must baffle those
That did no harm and never hurt a fly.

Bilberry grows along with cotton grass
Upon the plateau’s edge, widespread and dense,
And on the gritstone flanks the fleecy mass
Aflutter, found on every fold and fence.

The moor is silent now and dark and drear,
And seldom will we hear the blackbird sing.
The curlew rarely pipes from pastures here,
Nor skylark thrills with trills upon the wing.

The ouzel scarce on lofty gritstone edge,
The kestrels nest no longer on their ledge,
No whitethroat singing blithely from the sedge
Nor dunnock skulking in its laurel hedge.

And on the moor he lies, so cold is he,
Three feet beneath a weight of sodden ground.
No meadows filled with nature’s harmony
Nor joyous concord of delightful sound.

Held fast upon the lonely moor he might
Have said, “Why leave me here? The night descends.
Your enemies I would have put to flight
But now may God protect me from my friends.”

A dog that loved and was betrayed at last
By humankind. He thought we’d never part,
The status quo immutable, the past
Was past, the future present from the start.

For he lived in the here and now with me
And nor could I, by nature or design,
Live on in any other’s memory
As his has been immortalised in mine.

.

grough (pronounced “gruff”): a deep steep-sided gully or channel found in upland peat moor.
clough (pronounced “cluff”): is a steep-sided ravine or valley,
ling: another name for the plant commonly known as heather
hagg: a relatively dry upstanding island of peat.

.

.

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


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30 Responses

    • Peter Hartley

      Dan – Many thanks for your kind remark about both poems. These are my local moors, over which I have roamed for over forty years and I do have a strong affinity for them, as you can probably tell!

      Reply
  1. Jeff Eardley

    Peter, as one who walks weekly in the high country of the Peak District, I can identify with every wind-blasted, curlew-fluting, sodden walking-boot word of these two most moving pieces. You had me reaching, again, for the Thesaurus for, “cynosure” and “brumous” for which I thank you. Most enjoyable to read today Peter. Best wishes to you.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Jeff – Many thanks, as always, for your kind comments. I believe your local moors will be the “White Peak” area of the Peak District, with which I’m not so familiar. The “Dark Peak” I know very well, and they have the finest bogs I have ever had the pleasure of nearly drowning in. Wainwright, the famous writer and walker over these moors, (and the northern Pennines and Lake District) admitted that Black Hill (1908ft) contains the only bogs upon which he once seriously feared for his life! The footpaths have been considerably tamed over the past few years by the laying down from a helicopter of hefty gritstone flags over an under-carpet of heather.

      Reply
      • Jeff Eardley

        Peter, how right you are. My stomping ground is the White Peak but I certainly remember many happy, bog trotting days on Kinder, Bleaklow and Saddleworth. I have never had a desire to cross Black Hill which is a bog too far. These days, I am happy to stand on the lofty summit of Shutlingsloe or the Nabs, high above Dovedale with a panorama of hills to die for.

      • Peter Hartley

        Jeff – You must be my nearest neighbour in SCP. I have never walked up Shutlingsloe but I have a map of the County Palatine of Chester (Cheshire) dated 1671 which has a stylised etching of the hill making it looking more like the Matterhorn.

  2. Brian Yapko

    Peter, both of these are splendid poems. “Geese on the Moor” has wonderful imagery — especially “the heartbeat of the earth” But it’s “A Burial on the Moor” that really captured my heart. The bittersweet tone and images are so evocative but even more compelling is the deep love and loyalty expressed between the poet and the companion he has laid to rest. “Immortalised” for sure. Both are a wonderful read.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Brian – Thank you very much for the kind remarks about these two poems, and certainly the “Burial on the Moors” cost me the most to write. These moors, despite their proximity to the huge urban sprawls of Manchester, Sheffield and Barnsley, are remarkably inimical to life, which is why much of the “Dark Peak” is literally bare peat. Much of it is far too acid even for acid-loving vegetation like rhododendron and erica to grow

      Reply
  3. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Peter, these two poems are a triumph of linguistic artistry, vivid imagery and heartfelt beauty. Do I also detect a whisper of philosophy? My favourite of the two is “A Burial on the Moor”. You capture the moors in all their blustery bleakness and wondrous wildness. Your knowledge of flora and fauna are impressive and I appreciate the way you weave their magic influence throughout the lines, especially the image of the hare. On the linguistic front, these lines are a masterclass in alliteration; “on the gritstone flanks the fleecy mass/Aflutter, found on every fold and fence” – I love it!

    When I mentioned a “whisper of philosophy”, I meant this particular stanza:

    A dog that loved and was betrayed at last
    By humankind. He thought we’d never part,
    The status quo immutable, the past
    Was past, the future present from the start.

    I had never thought of the sin of Adam and Eve being responsible for the death of everything, including our beloved pets. I may have interpreted the stanza incorrectly, but what I read into it has touched me immensely. It is so obvious to me now… but, it has never been up until now. My heart is heavy with the knowledge. I honestly feel the urge to go and apologize to our much-loved, furry, purry and cuddlesome George Lionel.

    Peter, your poems are, as ever, a treat to read. Thank you very much!

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Susan – George Lionel doesn’t sound like a cat to me and hence I would happily excuse him quite a lot of feline felonies. He sounds more like a nineteenth-century prime minister.

      Reply
      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Peter, George Lionel is a nineteenth-century prime minister crossed with a Buddhist monk in feline disguise. He weighs the problems of the household and has devised a plan for betterment – food and water are always abundant and the atmosphere is cordial and productive, with him reaping the main benefit, of course. He also adores the creatures around him and frequently brings in a cicada or a mouse in the soft of his mouth to release for his amusement. When the show is over, I return them to their natural habitat. Peter, you have him pegged.

      • Peter Hartley

        Susan – An aristocrat among cats! George, Lord Lionel or George Lionel, Bart. Both titles have a ring to them, and crossed with the Dalia Lama, a noble cat with a touch of asceticism and Mrs Beaton’s grasp of household management (or at least as pertains to itself). Now that is a cat and a half!

  4. Peter Hartley

    Susan – Thank you as always for your perceptive remarks about some of the poetry I have written about one of my favourite places on earth. I don’t do philosophy very well although it will be pretty obvious that I am more of a Schopenhauer than a Pangloss or a Pollyanna. By the dog being “betrayed” by humankind I wasn’t thinking of the wages of original sin so much as the fact that our pets we tend to put down rather than allowing them to suffer in their dying, and this in itself, from the animal’s perspective, and although carried out for the most laudable of motives, is a form of betrayal. Thank you for your praise for my alliteration. Coming from the mistress of alliteration that is praise indeed. I am very fortunate that so many of the words I like to use begin with the letter B, barren, bleak, bare! For me, it seems, a landscape cannot be beautiful unless it is melancholy too

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Thank you for putting me straight, Peter. Such is the beauty of poetry – when the author isn’t heavy-handed on the telling front, it leaves room for readers like me to bring something of themselves to the interpretation and gain a little extra from the words; although, I must say I had never considered putting down an animal to be anything but a kindness. I can now see exactly where you’re coming from. Your poem is not only rich in language, it’s rich in meaning and spirit. I love it all the more for your explanation.

      Reply
      • Peter Hartley

        Susan – I was very very far from trying to put you straight, a fatuous endeavour indeed. I am always delighted to find another reader (especially if that reader is an accomplished poet him- or herself) can come up with new and fresh interpretations of my verses, especially when those reinterpretations are cleverer than my own. Your take on any part of my poem becomes my alternative interpretation too, and I can kid myself that it was always intended to be there for the finding. So I will always be far more grateful for your interpretative abilities (as also your honest appraisal) than I could possibly be disgruntled that they do not accord precisely with my own. And I do believe that most poetry, unless it is strictly narrative, or maybe comic verse, is all the better for its being, whether deliberately or adventitiously, “polysemous” too. Thank you for your contribution to my, and others’, understanding of what I wrote.

  5. Margaret Coats

    Both poems build up the description of the moor the way moss grows, with plant material expanding bit by bit to meet other growing things, all fitting themselves over the hard edges of the landscape, more or less securely as time goes on. And Peter, when you had to leave your Labrador, you didn’t do so badly by him. He loved the moss, the running free, the vast horizon, being unconfined . . . No pet cemetery could offer all that. And clearly, his spirit has stayed with you. Now that you’re a city chap, hope you can sometimes enjoy a drive out to the moors, especially while the weather is warm. You have inspired me with the wish to drive through the area again. Thanks for posting this work well done!

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Margaret – Thank you very much for the comment above and you have made me look at the moors in a new manner, to think of the way that sphagnum moss grows upwards and sideways over its initial spores to pad and to cushion the pebbles and stones that it overlies, in the same way as in macrocosm the thick blanket peat covers the moor as a whole, and in places eight feet deep to the gritstone bedrock. And it is a clever thought that the moss takes the hard edges off the rugosities of the landscape. It has often occurred to me while out walking on the moor that despite the difficulty of the terrain it would be extremely difficult to break your neck because there is always a soft landing, whether this be the living moss on the boulders or the dead moss of the thick peat.I have been walking these moors now for nearly sixty years but I’m afraid to say I have never yet found a bog-man. Wouldn’t it be delightful to find a bog body’s tannin-reddened hair or a bulbous yellow-brown nose sticking out of the side of a hagg underneath eight feet of peat!

      Reply
  6. Allegra Silberstein

    Dear Peter,
    I can tell you restore paintings for in your poems you have painted vivid pictures of the moors for me. Thank you for your gifts of poetry.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Allegra – Thank you for the the comment and I am very pleased if my writing brings our English Peak District moors to life for you (in a dead sort of way!).

      Reply
  7. D.G Rowe

    Ah, the eerie mystical vastness of the British Moor-lands.

    Always a primeval treat for me, close by as I am to the verdant rolling chalk hills of the Chilterns.

    Was up in Cumbria a couple a weeks ago for a camping trip. Brilliant.

    Cheers, Peter.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      DGR – Thank you for the comment, and I’m pleased to find somebody else who is uplifted (spiritually) by the higher regions of the British Isles. The Chilterns are no good though if you really want to experience bog at its deepest, broadest and best. If you like experiences to die for, and I mean “die for,” then you just can’t beat the bogs of Kinder Scout, Black Hill and Bleaklow. The black stuff you’re scraping off your boots for a month afterwards is called “clart” up in the north but “slutch” describes it better. I described in a poem recently a parson getting lost on the Saddleworth Moor. A search party discovered his hat on the surface of the bog and then found him underneath it, still sitting on his horse.

      Reply
      • D.G. Rowe

        I shall take note of your recommendations, Peter, as I have yet to see the Peaks and sample their mires.
        Speaking of Haggs, I remember being in Glen Kingie one time and found myself eye-to-eye with some whopping bloody great things. Ha!

        The poor ol’ parson, eh! I have been to Dartmoor, and tales abound of similar unfortunate episodes.

        Cheers for the heads-up.

      • Peter Hartley

        DGR and Mike – Before anybody tries to carry out any “in-depth” research over the incident involving the parson on Saddleworth Moor I must confess what you will have already suspected, that it was a complete fabrication on my part in a pathetic attempt to swell tourist figures for the region. DGR – the finest (ie the deepest) bogs in the Peak District are to be found on Kinder Scout, and no self-respecting bog-trotter would want to give these a miss.

  8. James A. Tweedie

    Peter,

    Your moorish geese sonnet may be one of the finest poems you have written to date. Both poems masterfully and vividly exude melancholy while successfully managing to transcend mere trite sentimentality. The sense of place in both poems equals (or, indeed, exceeds) that which I have so admired in your Harris/Lewis settings. Since reading these two poems my house has actually acquired some of the distinctively fresh, pure, brackish-acid-hoary-leaden-musty-mouldy high-land peat-boggy smell I have experienced in Ireland but have thus far managed to avoid in my six (or is it seven?) visits to England (not counting my skirting such regions by train in North York, Yorkshire, and Dartmoor).

    Keep ’em coming. If they were served entrees Michelin would reward the restaurant with three stars.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      James – an amazing accolade from one of THE leading lights of the Society, if I may say so, and a remark that I shall treasure. The Geese on the Moor, by the way, was an actual experience of mine in the Peak District. Although they stay together it is always the female who brood the eggs while the gander just sits by the side of the nest looking stupid. And it is true that the bog asphodel appears to be in decline up here. It is probably far too boggy. Thank you again for the generosity of your comment.

      Reply
  9. Paul Freeman

    Wow. In A Burial on the Moor, the peatiness, the bogginess and the eerieness all come across as vividly as the moors that were the backdrop to Wuthering Heights.

    These poems have affected me all the more (moor!) since I’ve just got back from the desert after two years marooned by Covid-19 and am seeing substantial greenery for the first time in that long as well as experiencing a climate other than hot and sunny.

    Thanks for the reads. They make quarantine go so much faster.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Paul – Many thanks for your comment, and I’m basking, however fleetingly, in the thought of having the descriptive powers of Emily Bronte. If only I could sustain it for a few hundred pages and not just twenty-five short verses! And it is very refreshing to find that to somebody, at least, the bog and the wind and cold and the louring skies can be a welcome reminder of home and not just something that must be endured by anyone who has the misfortune to be born and brought up in the north and west of the U.K.

      Reply
  10. David Watt

    Peter, both of your poems are splendid! “A Burial On The Moor” combines atmosphere, detailed description, and a lovingly told story. I really appreciate your incorporation of less common English words, including ‘cloughs’, ‘grouphs’, and ‘haggs’. This provides a distinctive, Burns-like regional richness to your work.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      David – Thank you so much for your kind comment about my two poems. The haggs and groughs are, as far as I know, unique to the Peak District and the Cheviots, although similar formations must be found in upland peat moors elsewhere in the world. I suppose that is why in the north we need our own specific words to describe them, as the peculiarly tenacious mud of the region we call “clart.”

      Reply

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