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

Gwyn Portrait, April’s End

The huntsman has ridden all night, following the brilliance of the spirit roads- the shining tracks that criss-cross the island of Britain. Instead of returning home he remains here for dawn, listening to the idiosyncrasies of each bird’s song, watching dew form on blades of grass, on petals of hawthorn blossoms and may flowers.

He is and is not the mist, riding through damp meadows over hills, mountains and moors on a pale horse accompanied by a hound of the same complexion. He is and is not each sun-lit cloud he travels with, the touch and whisper of the wind.

He cannot stay here long, for this world we see as the land of the living is not his. He must return home to Annwn, the Otherworld, to prepare for a battle that cannot be won. To fight for a maiden he shouldn’t have loved, shouldn’t still love… in bluebells and forget-me-nots, emerging greens and white and yellow flowers he sees her colours.

For a moment he is possessed by memories of their passion, and the crimes it drove him to. A glimpse of his blacked face in a reed strewn pool shows no amount of war paint can mask his guilt, which he must live with for as long as there are people to sing his songs.

He searches for a sign. What is Judgement Day? When is it? Although he knows the language of the trees and plants, the tracks of every wild creature and the flight of birds, these questions are beyond his power to divine. When the worlds end, will Creiddylad and I be together again?

May Flower, Penwortham