Elegy from an overlooked hill

Please note: This poem contains references to the history and geography of Worcestershire and Warwickshire (UK). There are explanatory notes here.

If truth, as has been said, is old as hills,
Then truth and I are brothers, standing together
In common purpose, our enterprises
Twinned; his role to be the arbiter and aim
Of reasoned human discourse; mine, to serve
As mark to steer by, or as journey’s end,
A place of safety, and a vantage point.
I’ve raised a home for Neolithic tribes,
a Roman fort, a castle’s keep. But then
Squire Parsons’ folly was to raise me up
By nineteen more to make one thousand feet.

The Malvern brothers, from across the valley,
Will tease me with their greater height; amused
By posing darkly ‘gainst the setting sun,
Inviting strangers in the east to think
They are the front ranks of a company
Of peaks – the undiscovered Hereford Alps.
Yet when their play is done, full light restored,
They stand in single line to take a bow.
Now truth’s revealed: a row of popinjays
And drama queens with prissy names like
Perseverance, Sugarloaf and Summerhill.
No soldiers these, but British Camp indeed.

I matter not for height, but for location.
Here sited at the entrance of the vale
Of Avon, I am a softly rising mount, a uvular
Against the Severn’s throat that forms a mouth
At Bristol. I like my company this side:
To south, my unassuming cousins
Dumbleton, Alderton and Woolstone sit;
Then Nottingham, at Cotswolds’ corner,
So cowed by domineering father Cleeve
He’s hardly recognised or shown on maps.
Good Meon keeps my back as best he can,
Though vexed by phantom hounds that haunt his slopes.

Since ice withdrew I’ve watched the aeons pass,
The valleys tranquil ‘til the humans came
To write their history in a diary of war.
I turned to watch when royal armies marched
To cleanse a second infestation of
The barons, catching them at Evesham,
squashed by Edward’s thumb against the river’s curve,
De Montfort’s body dumped at Pershore Abbey,
His testicles across his nose, a hint the barons
Had be tter not attempt a third. I watched
As men fought men, and walls and water too,
At Worcester, Powick, Tewkesbury, and more.
And, once, in twilight I looked east, above
The wallowing valley mists that served to hide
The bloody debris of a long day’s battle;
Saw, at valley’s head, on Burton Dassett hill,
A beacon, flickering, uncertain what the news
Should be to send from Edgehill on to Ivinghoe.

These days most traffic stays on motorways,
Where metal boats on tarmac rivers flow
Intently onward, eyes ahead and down,
Indifferent to slope, and stream, and beauty.
The songs of air, wind-rustled leaves, and birds,
Surrendered to the drum of wheels on road.

The age of battles ended, I watch alone,
A silent witness now to lesser dramas.
There’s floods again at Upton, Friday traffic
Stalled at Strensham; a hastening ambulance makes
A blue dashed line down country lanes at dusk.
I see few people, though their hand is everywhere:
The ever-moving cars, the wind turbines;
The transatlantic red-eye flights that etch
Their contrail stripes against the rising sun;
Fields made for crops to answer human needs,
Their boundaries marked with walls, where stone is found,
Or else the breaches filled with hedge and fence.
And yet, unseen, another pattern forms.
The stitches that have so long tightly held
The fabric of this land are frayed, undone.
The walls of truth knocked down, hard stones of fact
Lie lost in mud, while mud is used as stone.
The hedge of faith that used to fill the voids
Has died, and duty’s last unyielding post
Is broken, tossed aside, unrecognised.
The crops that grow are poison and discord.

Ancient churches, islands in a heathen sea
Hug close the tombs within their ivied boundary walls.
Here lies what’s left of lord, of maid, of clerk,
The unschooled Milton’s bones, an average Alexander’s dust,
No longer visited by those they loved,
The mason’s work undone by moss and frost.
Thus, unremembered and un-named, they merge
At last with earth, and then they cease to be,
As if they never were. But rock and earth
Is all I ever was. And I will live
While I can say my name; and I’ll repeat it
Until rains, and streams, have ground and washed me
To the valley floor. My name is Bredon.
My name is Bredon. My name is Bredon.

Yes, blank pentameter verse. I’d have to agree that this is exactly the sort of thing you’d expect from  a novice poet raised on Shakespeare.  And it’s true – this was very early in my poetry-writing efforts. I found it a pleasing and relatively undemanding form.  When it’s working well, little fragments of rhyme form on their own like crystals.   My only defence for using this old fashioned form would be that it feels appropriate for the voice of a hill that has stood watching humanity for thousands of years. I wanted this hill to have some dignity.
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