Tuesday, 18 July 2017

A Summer's Evening

Six friends we invited
for dinner.
Wine they brought
and beer we made
filled glasses laid ready
and we drank to the summer.

Wood pigeons not invited
called from the roof,
scratched in the trees,
perched on the fence
with intent to drown out
our quiet conversation.

'Enough,' you said, rose
from the garden table,
took up your iPad
and found a buzzard call.
Better than a gun
it scattered pigeons
in all directions.
Quiet wafted over us
like the sudden fragrance
of honeysuckle on the air.

©Janet Henderson 18th July 2017

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Villanelle for a Still Born

Ah, baby mine, you were scarce born but still
and taken off in arms that were not mine
and from that day some part of me rests ill.

For you had nestled near my heart until
the fateful day when we had reached our time,
ah, baby mine, you were scarce born but still.

As never did I so desire or will
that those nine months alone should us define
then from that day some part of me rests ill.

I'd gladly give all beauty, gold and skill
and you just one hour in my arms entwine,
ah, baby mine, you were scarce born but still.

Ne'er guessed I how intense my breast would thrill
with mother's love, a yearning near divine,
no, from that day some part of me rests ill.

All you awoke in me one day fulfil,
our bond to memory tender I consign, 
ah, baby mine, you were scarce born but still
and from that day some part of me rests ill.

©Janet Henderson 12th June 2017

Monday, 12 June 2017


Emily Dickinson 1846/7
from a daguerreotype
held by Amherst College Archives, Massachusetts

Oh Emily,
you could not step outside your crinoline
to see the world as from beyond
and so you dived into your soul's deep space,
your life girt round, circleted with
domestic chores, parochial joys
and hopes soon dashed of finding more,
the final beauty of your life to teach
your friends with generosity
to live more fully in the present time,
to see with faith and feel with care
the narrow pains of all our loves that stretch
our vistas wide preparing us for truth
                                            beyond this life.

©Janet Henderson April 2017

Inspired by the American poet, Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

The Ballad of the Double Bass

The day they gave out instruments 
at school was very frought,
she meant to get there early - 
she'd given it some thought.

A clarinet was what she craved,
she fancied playing jazz;
Benny Goodman was her hero,
his playing had pzazz.

But alas! She missed the bus
and found she was too late,
'The clarinets have gone, my dear,'
the teacher told her, straight.

He must have seen her face fall
and heard her breathe, 'Oh no,'
'Does it have to be a clarinet?
Why don't you learn oboe?'

'My aim's to join a jazz band,
play Take Five like Brubeck.'
'Then just a moment,' said her guide,
'I'll only be a sec.'

He dived into a cupboard,
produced a double bass,
its bow was tipped with ivory
and it had a shiny case.

Although the rain was pouring down,
she went home on the bus
with a satchel and a gym bag too - 
the conductor made a fuss.

'I ought to charge you twice,' he said,
'with that great thing in tow.
It's not for girls like you to play,
it's bulky and too low!

'You ought to find a lady-like
fiddle or flute or harp.
Now move along, don't block the way,
and when we stop, look sharp.'

And so it was throughout her life,
just like that first time trip,
her bass became a talking point, 
the butt of many a quip.

Today she's played across the globe
in orchestras and bands
and music's made her many friends
at home and in foreign lands.

It's hard to find an instrument
as versatile or rich
in tone or with such range of voice
an audience to bewitch.

©Janet Henderson 31st May 2017

Friday, 26 May 2017

Manchester May 2017

God, be with all who grieve, 
wait with all who are at their wits' end searching for a loved one, 
watch with all who sit beside a hospital bed not knowing what tomorrow will bring, 
calm all who cannot get the images, questions and 'whys?' out of their minds, 
help the broken hearted feel the warmth of love that holds them despite their pain,
and send us all out to shape a more generous, respectful, caring world 
so that the shadow of this dark tragedy will not darken into night
but, through our tears and outrage,
be turned into a search for the kinds of justice and understanding
that remove the scourge of terrorism from this and every nation.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017


It's hard to grasp Pentecost,
how that one moment
changed lives for ever.

Does it happen now
as it happened then
to Peter, Mary, John

and Matthias*, the new one,
chosen that day
to join the twelve?

A scared bunch they were
before that moment
then, wow!

A burning within
lighting up countenances
that shone so others saw,

a bursting forth in words,
a deep-down confidence,
with sudden courage to speak out.

'They're like a bloomin' lot of drunks,
you can't shut 'em up
or calm 'em down!'

Does it happen now?
This urge to tell the tale
and, laughing, dance and sing,

Peter in the market place,
James and John on the road,
Mary among her friends?

Here's a thing;
one moment shaped 
a future,

not by books or cleverness
or works of art or monuments,
not by heroic deeds retold,

but by shining lives
gripped and shaken,
fanned and set ablaze

by Divine touch
that draws from despair 
a soaring hope,

that will not be hushed
ignored or trampled
but leaps free.

It happened then,
it happens now,
a mysterious surge within

so friends ask,
'What's up with him?
He's different!

There's something
indestructible, indescribable,
new in the way 

he treats us.
He's himself, more so
than previously.

Have you seen
his words and actions
seem to sit more comfortably**

as though he's living from
the very depths of his soul
and speaking truth

that can't be gainsaid?
And her! She's like
one renewed

with hope that dwells 
on what's possible,
does not forget the past

but draws strength
from memories
that once wounded sore

as though she's 
been set free to choose
her frame of mind?'

These people are
the Lord's disciples
now as then, then as now

and always 
the Spirit lives on 
even to the end of time

effervescent, bubbling
up and over

into life's strange mix,
making mischief
for whoever deals in evil.

For that which is of God
within each heart
outlasts all else

and slowly increases
like yeast in beer fermenting,
expanding, pushing out 

so whatever confines it
at length explodes
in riotous preparation

for a party, a feast,
the dance of those
marked indelibly by joy***.

©Janet Henderson 20th May 2017 

* Acts 1.26 Matthias is elected to join the apostles.
** Mahatma Ghandi, 'Always aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed.' (Women and Social Justice 1945 edition.)
***Teilhard de Chardin S.J. 'Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.'

Sunday, 14 May 2017

On Not Buying Heather

I stand in Durham's market place
and feel a touch upon my arm
'Some heather, dear, you'll buy some, please?'
Her voice conveys sharp-witted charm.

I hesitate just long enough
to let my skepticism show
but not put off, persistent, she
refuses to take for answer, 'No.'

Her shrewd eye softens as she steps
closer to take my hand in hers,
a sudden kindness warms her face.
Suspicion in my heart now blurs

with urge to meet this reaching-out
and trust is met with equal trust
as, stiff, she lays her basket down,
rejects the coin that I thrust

toward her in embarrassment,
conflicted in my own intent,
caught out by generosity,
an offer that appears well-meant.

'Don't worry, be at peace, you'll see
the very thing disturbs you most
will cease to be of much import.
Open your eyes and clear the coast

for opportunities unsought
and ease for that which causes pain;
don't stint to give of all you have,
for every loss expect rare gain.'

I'm shocked to hear the words she speaks;
loud in my head echoes the phrase,
'He told me all I ever did.'
She holds a like power to amaze.

Unusual perspicacity
to see behind the sham veneer
worn to obscure a broken heart
and make normality appear

bright as the May morning, right as
the teeming city life around,
where student cafes, market stalls,
banks, businesses and pubs abound,

where it would not be difficult 
to but pass by a passer by!
Unselfishly she's stopped to use  
her mysterious gift to prophesy.

©Janet Henderson 31st May 2015 

An abundance of heather on the moors
above Pateley Bridge ©Janet Henderson


Slumber's Edge

In the frayed ends
between wakefulness and sleep
loom myriad tapestries,
conversations woven
with people long-dead 
and today's work-place colleagues
insinuating their hue
like thread across
the half finished embroidery hoops
of the mind's eye.

In these night-time hours
of fitful drowsing
the mad scenes
of a healthy subconscious
are drawn up toward mindfulness,
mingling with the filament
of yesterday's affairs,
illuminating images
stored for future scrutiny
by the mind's many-layered microfiche.

©Janet Henderson 14th May 2017


The sea, the sea, I see the sea!
It glistens in the sun,
it's really rather cold in May
but an awful lot of fun.

You can run and splash and look for crabs
as long as you don't go far.
Your Mum will bring the sandwiches
and wait for you by the car.

You can search for ships against the sky,
make mud pies in the sand,
you can clamber up across the cliffs
to survey the far off land.

You can visit the little rocky pools
with your bucket and a net,
study the minnows and the crabs - 
see how many kinds you get.

And when your mother says it's time
to dry off and go home,
you can smell the salt and seaweed still
and a hint of ocean's foam.

©Janet Henderson 30th April 2017

Monday, 10 April 2017

Toad Crossing

Slither of silver
springtime moonshine night sky,
toads crossing in pooled light
beneath magnolia buds
and fallen almond petals
shaken from early blossoming
by unseasonal warmth
of noiseless breeze.

Unswerving they come
impelled to crawl by
scents as old as hills
across the quiet Beck's course
t'ancestral breeding ponds
spawn of spawn about to spawn
in shallow limpid pools
hidden at Oxton's heart.

©Janet Henderson 10th April 2017

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Ceridwen's Child

Where beauty fails to manifest
mother's love yearns to compensate
bestowing a poet's spirit
on Morfran. As Gwion Bach tends
inspiration's bubbling cauldron
it seems maternal care cannot
so readily be exercised
by proxy. A fatal error.

by Christopher Williams 1910

Awen's shining face of wisdom,
shekinah in a Celtic guise,
blinds Morda and causes Gwion's
young hand to tremble, a bard's fear
stirring, baleful, within his gut
as he licks the golden liquid 
clean - potion that seeds a lifetime's
toil chastening words to lyric flow.

Dropped kettle, the fire extinguished
beside Llyn Tegid's fertile shore,
catastrophe for progeny 
of Tegid Foel, Ceridwen's mate.
Dashed hopes and hastening feet proclaim
disturbance of the natural realm; 
hare, fish, bird, grain of corn pursued
by greyhound, otter, hawk and hen.*

What cosmic madness here at play?
Freakish mutation churns the air,
Ceridwen agitatedly
transformed again from hen to dame,
brings forth a child so fair of face
that all intent to seek revenge
for Gwion's theft of Morfran's draught
is stilled and soothed and lulled away.

How so? Not fickle mother-love
but hormone-drenched discovery 
accompanying every unsought birth,
love's copious elasticity
surprising least welcomed, most
unplanned gestation. She wavers,
conflicted by first loyalty 
to Morfran, tender for this child.

Dark despair, solicitude, self  
doubt and shame or shrewd ambition
to cast this son upon the sea?
A second womb of coracle
lends leathery shelter to the boy
whose fearful voyage bears him south
to Aberdyfi's treacherous coast, 
Elffin ap Gwyddno's sanctuary.

Strange birth! Muses' conspiracy
evading natural law to gift
Wales her Ben Beirdd Taliesin,
an accoucheuse with subtle powers
to weave a cloth of words that sing
a nation's tales down centuries,
whose shining brow* cascades wisdom
ancient, mysterious, luminous.

©Janet Henderson May 2016

* Ceridwen and Gwion (after tasting the potion) possessed the power of metamorophosis. To avoid Ceridwen's wrath (because he had tasted and therefore stolen Morfran's inheritance of wisdom), he changed successively into a hare, a fish, a bird and a grain of corn; she turned into a greyhound, an otter, and a hawk to pursue him and finally she became a hen and gobbled up the grain of corn. In her belly, it turned into a child and she became pregnant and gave birth to Taliesin.

** Taliesin means 'shining brow'.

This poem explores the birth of the Celtic poet Taliesin, a historical figure who lived, possibly, in the 6th century and whose poems capture struggles between rulers of the kingdoms that preceded present-day Wales, Scotland and north west England. He has also captured hearts and imaginations down the ages.

Ceridwen - Taliesin's mother variously portrayed as goddess of birth, transformation, 
                   poetic inspiration and sorceress  
Morfran - Ceridwen's ugly son to whom she wishes to give the gift of wisdom as
               compensation for his looks
Awen - the name given, in mythology, to the cauldron containing the magic potion that
            inspires poets and gives rise to wisdom
Shekinah - Hebrew word for the glory that accompanies the presence of God
Morda - the blind servant left in charge of Awen
Gwion Bach - the young servant who stirred Awen and licked his thumb clean of a few
                    drops of the magic potion (the first three drops contained the gift of wisdom
                    but the rest of the potion was a deadly poison)   
Tegid Foel - Ceridwen's husband
Llyn Tegid - a lake in North Wales
Elffin ap Gywddno - son of Gwyddno Garanhir, rule of Cantref Gwaelod, a lost kingdom
                             now under the sea (Cardigan Bay around Aberdyfi). Later a prince in 
                             his own right and patron of Taliesin
Ben Beirdd Taliesin - a Welsh title for Taliesin meaning 'Chief of Bards'

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Swarthmoor, Easter 2016

                           We arrive, 
                           see the grey walls of the hall
                           unrelieved by the dappling of afternoon sun.
                           Later we walk down the garden, 
                           drawn by the evening light
                           and, suddenly,
                           a heavenly burst of purple,
                           rich, royal and reminiscent
                           of a saviour's walk,
                           a field of blazing crocuses
                           set amid stone walls
                           and yellow grass
                           summoning us toward
                           a hill
                          where shadows and glory 

© Janet Henderson 2016

Swarthmoor Hall was the home of Margaret Fell and her husband, George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends. It is now a Quaker retreat, visitor and conference centre situated near Ulverston in the Lake District www.swarthmoorhall.co.uk