Friday 26 November 2021

Dear Ancestors: Wroth Silver Poem 2021

Dear Ancestors

When I think of you, I do not think of crumbling bones
Slowly returning to the native earth,
Nor the plague pit, nor the cemetery, nor forgotten mound,
I see you dancing & singing on your hills & in your halls.

I do not see the smoke of the funeral pyre
Nor the lost village hidden beneath the fields,
I greet your learning & your wisdom every day:
In the garden, the kitchen, when I take up my work.

When we stand by your stone before dawn,
Old friends & family, some long gone, some unknown
You seem to stand with us
As we acknowledge our shared heritage
In this not-quite-forgotten place.

I do not deny your suffering dear ones,
But I honour & thank you for the sacrifices
You have made for myself & for those with whom I share my world.

My world, of such freedoms & wonders
Which you could never have known;
My world, of such terrors & delights,
Which would have made you shout!

Beloveds I can hear you weep in both sadness & joy,
Likewise I can hear you laugh
In both delight & horror, but when you come to my side
I see that you are smiling, encouraging me to be brave
& wise, as learned, joyful & true as you were;
No more nor less. People of the land, following the path of life.
Should we be spurred by fear, anger, pity, shame or pain?
Or by delight in the depth & richness, complexity & danger
Of the life that we have inherited from you?

This was my eighth year as the poet laureate of Wroth Silver & my seventh performance of my work at the Wroth Silver Breakfast, held for some years now at the Queen's Head in Bretford. Last year I could not attend but I wrote a poem which was read at Knightlow Cross after the ceremony—there was no breakfast due to pandemic restrictions.

To read my previous Wroth Silver poems & find out more about this unique & ancient event follow these links:
2014: Martinmas
2015: The Road of Time
2016: Wheel of the Year, Wheel of the Land
2017: Eight Decades
2018: Ghosts
Throw a Penny in the Hollow of the Stone 

for the benefit of future chroniclers, here is the poem I wrote last year which was read by William Waddilove at the stone.

Wroth Silver 2020

For the benefit of historians of the Twenty First Century
In honour of our heritage, our soul-story
For you colts of the twenty second & beyond, I write!
Friends, it does not matter how or how far
You travelled to join this party through winter-light
But rather that you came to participate & bear witness
To our ancient rite in uncertain, dangerous times.
For we are not an elite, nor are we obliged to come
& even those who came each year for decades
Did so for joy not obligation.

& I am not a land-man in his field
Looking up to see men with spears & shields
Come over the ridge to do their worst
(Not for the last time, nor the first)
Or to see the cordon of the displaced
Marching  through our lanes in rag-bound feet.
Or foe-men coming to cut a swathe
Through our fields & woods for the pleasure of some lord   
To steal your herd, burn your barn
Salt the earth that is your livelihood.

& you are not some yeoman or woman of property
Watching the orchard fail, crops wither
The youth marched off to God knows where
When this will leave your stores & belly empty;
No, we think we’re beyond those old stories of uncertainty
But perhaps we’re not; disease is another terror
Of the ancestral world & once upon a time
People were afraid to come to Wroth Silver
For fear of the Black Death
Though as far as we can tell they came anyway
Just as we did today.

& there we are, gathered around the cross-base
That holds our point of gathering, as if in prayer;
We step out into our mornings with our ancestors at our sides,
The stories of our forebears all around us
Not grieving for the ending of our world,
Adrift in the unfeeling chaos of the cosmos,
Somehow insignificant; but like those who came before us
Unclear of what the future holds, but held
By human warmth within tradition upon the land,
Glad that we came & paid Wroth Silver.

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