The Old Grey Man of Lancashire

He wears twigs for antlers,
a long wolfish face
and smile or grimace
trapped somewhere between.

His coat is staring and grey
as something dead for years.

A bottomless cloak
covers what he’d call his feet.

When he moves, he sways
like something blown in on the wind.

He staggers,
tilting like a chess piece,
holds out a black pad with yellow claws,
unable to unlock heavy jaws,
mumbles, “beri, beri, beri.”

His words are grey as the melting moor
fading with the sense
of his request or question.

Does he want berries,
or does he want me to bury him?

He shivers with the hills,
passes away into a crack of light.


I wrote this poem in July after a vivd dream where I saw the sketchy image below, there labelled ‘an old grey man of lancashire,’ in vivid purple on a black computer screen. After waking, I scribbled it in my dream journal.

The Old Grey Man of Lancashire





In the space between waking and dream before my alarm clock went off the scene in the poem came to me. Fans of Ted Hughes may recognise that I was immersed in ‘The Remains of Elmet’ at the time and this colours the imagery.

A couple of days later, planning a walk, I had an impulse to visit Brinscall. Getting the map out, I noticed nearby was Old Man’s Hill, which became the destination on a suitably grey Lancashire day. I encountered a ram beside a strangely rooted hawthorn but nothing extraordinary happened and I received no clear answer to my pondery.

Brinscall and Old Man's HillSheep, Brinscall MoorsOld Man's Hill

6 thoughts on “The Old Grey Man of Lancashire

  1. Blau Stern Schwarz Schlonge says:

    Ah the Old Grey Man of Winter. If we met him in the city we would walk to the other side of the road thinking him eccentric and drunken. But out on the moor he is but a ghost of winter coming….. That is one strangely rooted Hawthorne, almost looks like tree root gnomes pushing together in rugby…. Blessing.

  2. crychydd says:

    Fascinating how the intersections between dream, reading and landscape can throw up such images. As well as Hughes I’m reminded a little of Wordsworth’s ‘Leech Gatherer’ on the lonely moor: “Like one that I had met with in a dream”.

    • lornasmithers says:

      I hadn’t read Wordsworth for a while but recently was reading his sonnet beginning ‘Though narrow be that old Man’s cares’ for an entirely unrelated reason- in relation to the Seven Whistlers and Gabriel Hounds…

      Yes, there seem to be lots of intersections with Wordsworth’s ‘Leech Gatherer’ too:

      ‘The whole Body of the Man did seem
      Like one whom I had met with in a dream

      The oldest man he seemed that ever wore grey hairs.

      While he was talking thus, the lonely place,
      The Old-man’s shape, and speech, all troubled me:
      In my mind’s eye I seemed to see him pace
      About the weary moors continually,
      Wandering about alone and silently

      this Man, not all alive nor dead,
      Nor all asleep -in his extreme old age’

      Thanks for sharing. If I’d read this poem I didn’t remember it.

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