• This Turning Tree

For some reason, a poem by Charles Causley sprang to mind today.  He lived less than ten miles from where I do now, but he died in 2003, before I moved back to Cornwall.  A good few years ago, I composed a song on his verse, this turning tree, and the MS is still languishing somewhere in a trunk of like-fated pieces!  I was taken by its subject matter – the death of a sailor – not least because one of my great-great-grandfathers, a master mariner and captain of a ship that sailed out of St Ives to and from the Mediterranean and Black Sea, died on a voyage off Salonika.  More particularly, I was captivated by Causley’s gnarled language and terse syntax.

Grave by the Sea

By the crunching, Cornish sea
Walk the man and walk the lover,
Innocent as fish that fare
In the high and hooking air,
And their deaths discover.

Beneath, you said, this turning tree,
With granite eye and stare of sand,
His heart as candid as the clay,
A seaman from the stropping bay
Took to the land.

Once this calmed, crystal hand was free
And rang the changes of the heart:
Love, like his life, a world wherein
The white-worm sin wandered not in.
Death played no part.

Wreathed, and with ringing fingers he
Passed like a prince upon the day
And from its four and twenty towers
Shot with his shaft the haggard hours,
Hauled them away.

So he set from the shaken quay
His foot upon the ocean floor
And from the wanting water’s teeth
The ice-faced gods above, beneath,
Spat him ashore.

Now in the speaking of the sea
He waits under this written stone,
And kneeling at his freezing frame
I scrub my eyes to see his name

And read my own.


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