Selected Poems

All poems © WJC Hilsdon

The Rectory Oak (2016)

English Oak, Quercus Robur;
These words alone enough to stir
A patriotic sentiment,
And standing under mighty boughs
I feel the weight of history
And grow proud.

Enduring strength and grandeur I admire;
How could England have achieved her feats
If not for English oak from English shire?
And somehow, comforting to know
That deep within, round every season,
A tree-heart slowly beats.

Plagues, revolutions, wars, she does not heed,
But breezes through old lullabies,
The songs of a survivor.
On wild days with joy she roars
When half a million leaves hold fast,
Stretching every fibre.

A dozen Kings and Queens have reigned
And in the little church nearby
A dozen generations prayed 
While here, upon the parish map,
In cellulose the past’s been laid;
The future waits in rising sap.

Isn’t this what life is all about?
Seeking to cherish earthly things?
Natural things that bring us
Moments of pure bliss.
And if it is, how could I imagine
Greater living majesty than this?

The Healing (2018)

A Poem to my Great Uncle, William James Hilsdon

At different times you and I
Have both looked up at the end of a day
Spent working in these fields and seen
Rooks flying home across the evening sky.

We were satisfied when, in time with the season,
Good husbandry had been achieved.
Our destiny was rooted in the soil,
And, as with our fathers before us, this simple truth
Was central to all we believed.

But nature’s grip upon the land
Can sometimes be a cruel thing.
We have both longed for mercy and healing
During the hardships of a wet harvest
Or a dry spring.

My mind seeks the places where your mind
Can be reached, going back over old ground.
It finds them here, amongst the woods and hills.
It is in the language we share that the old names
Of these fields can still be found.

You were master of a fine team at home,
And skilled enough at the forge with shoes to fashion.
In foreign fields they made you unofficial farrier
To the regiment; amid the turmoil horses knew the calm
Of your compassion.

In time, my love and I followed you to Flanders.
We saw young barley rippling in the breeze,
Tractors busy working that rich soil
Into level stretches of neat potato ridges,
Sunlight on blooming cherry trees.

I found it hard to reconcile that landscape
With grainy photographed scenes
Of mud-filled craters, fractured trees; the Menin Road
Strewn with the bodies of soldiers and horses
And broken war machines.

Slowly, uncertainly, we came;
Searching for a grave we feared we might miss
Among the multitudes of headstones
Standing shoulder to shoulder, shining in the sun;
I was ill prepared for this.

Simple beds of flowers fringed the graves
As though assigned to their safe-keeping.
After a while we found your place quite easily;
Silence fell between us. There was no sound,
Apart from birdsong and weeping.

All my life I’ve known that grief transcends generations,
And though they told us you were gone
Thirty years before I was born, I felt our kinship
Burning through my tears that day, and pride
In knowing that among your many namesakes, I am one.

Old wrongs will never be forgotten,
And buds of healing take an age to grow.
The up-turned horse shoe lifted by the plough
Evokes remembrance; a sense of loss, reminding me
Of everything I owe.

Spring has been late and cold this year,
And rain has soaked the dear old clay and loam;
The land you loved remains too wet for planting.
All we can do is wait, and watch the sky,
While families of rooks come flying home.

Summer Storm (2019)

‘Oh what a dreadful shame it is!’
The trees all seem to be saying;
‘For we must bear a brutal force
That causes much bending and swaying.
And our fresh young leaves, so silky and soft,
Will be weathered all too soon
By the gusting wind and the driving rain
On this stormy night in June.’

The trees endure a wild, wet night,
Besieged by the wind and the rain.
Their leaves are beaten and bruised and rinsed
And battered and rinsed again.
But the voice of the trees makes a comforting sound
Which enters our consciousness deep,
And the pattering rain and the sighing wind
Lulls everyone to sleep.

I Plant These Trees (2020)

To spend a little time in life for things that will outlast it
Seems a worthy aim,
And so I plant these trees.
It will not matter if people they give pleasure to in future
Might not know my name,
It will still sigh, this breeze,
It will still bring its verdant legacy.
I plant them trusting they will catch the wind and seed it
With the faintest trace of me
Before it takes my dreams
Wherever they may blow to.
I plant them for my grandchildren, and for those I love
But sometimes can’t be close to.

Apple Blossom Time (2020)

The apple trees are blooming now
And April sunshine warms the air,
A pleasure to at last be free
From winter’s rainfall, dull despair,
As temperatures begin to climb.
But there’s a threat we can’t ignore,
A curse, in apple blossom time.

The atmosphere is fresh and clear,
No vapour trails traverse the sky;
But mute, unseen, a menace seeks,
Where people pass each other by,
To bring the country to its knees,
But apple blossom’s lovely now,
And birdsong carries on the breeze.

We can’t drop by to see our friends,
Can’t shake hands like we did before,
A ruthless killer’s on the loose;
Stand well back from your neighbour’s door.
Grim news each daily headline shows.
But apple trees bear scented clouds
Of snow-white blossom tinged with rose.

To war-zones hospitals have turned
With health workers on double shifts
But far from the front line am I,
I go where harmony exists
And there’s no need for masks or shields,
I feel the pulse of nature beat
And count my blessings in the fields.

And when this tyranny has passed,
Life will have surely changed for good
And everyone will come again
Together, in the neighbourhood
In gratitude, as church bells chime
That we survived a fearsome plague
That blighted apple blossom time.