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 the 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 

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 the 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'

Saturday, 25 July 2015


Look out for the Nidderdale Literature Festival in and around Pateley Bridge, this weekend! Includes Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, reading this afternoon.

For the programme of events click  Niddfest Events

Glorious Nidderdale from Middlesmoor in May