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Midday in Stoke Churchyard

So here we are, entering the month that's half way through the year.

My poem for this month shares that half-way point, having been written when the sun had travelled half its long day's journey – was at the top, at midday.

A church yard isn't an original place to sit and write a poem, what with all those prompts of mortality, picturesque views of church and landscape beyond, with a bit of peace and quiet favouring rest and reflection. Traditionally perhaps one expects the poet to write their churchyard poem in the evening, with darkness imminent... but in my case, it was the brightest of times – one of those lovely summer days when the contrast between light and shadow was at its strongest, walls radiated warmth and life felt as though it was between breaths.

Midday in Stoke Churchyard

The tower tips, propelled by clouds,

travelling its own way, away from the sea.

Someone is mowing.  Here on a stone

lichens have dropped, spreading their circles

of silvery skin on top of each other,

crinkled and torn-edged like clouds.


Before me slate slabs are ordered in lines

presenting upright backs.  All of them

nameless from here where I am sitting

on the steps of the stile in the wall.

Circling crows are drawing a ring

round the tower, which may hold it firm.


A fly rotates. The mowing has stopped.

Across the path dark rungs are thrown,

each stone a gnomon, each one on its own. 

My shadow ladder to the tower starts fading

as new-grown clouds spread over the sun.

I hear a bark and the ring of a phone.


The stone behind my back is warm

now I’ve settled below this toppling tower.

It’s quiet once more. I grow aware

of the many here, where lichens grow,

sounds die, clouds fly and we attend

as little things come and go.

Stoke Church at Hartland is famous for its graceful Late Perpendicular 130 foot tower, which being visible from many miles, was said to be an important landmark for sailors.

My position was close though – comfortably installed on a stile in the churchyard wall, looking up at those four stages placed against a moving cloudscape, giving that vertiginous sensation of a structure toppling.

But above all enjoying the warm mid-summer, mid-day sunshine, with so many contrasts... light and shadow, the large and small, noise and silence, solitariness and company, warmth and chill. and, of course, since it is after all a churchyard, life and death.



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