Quaker Poetry Group

Theme for March is flight

Last month's poems


by Olivia Fitzroy WRNS

'Good show!' he said, leaned his head back and laughed.

'They're wizard types!' he said, and held his beer

Steadily, looked at it and gulped it down

Out of its jamjar, took a cigarette

And blew a neat smoke-ring into the air.

'After this morning's prang I've got the twitch;

I thought I'd had it in that teased-out kite.

His eyes were blue and older than his face,

His single stripe had known a lonely war,

But all his talk and movements showed his age,

His jargon was of aircraft and of beer.

'And what will you do afterwards?' I said.

Then saw his puzzled face and caught my breath.

There was no afterwards for him but death.


Magpies in Picardy

By T.P.Cameron Wilson

The magpies in Picardy
Are more than I can tell.
They flicker down the dusty roads
And cast a magic spell
On the men who march through Picardy,
Through Picardy to hell.

(The blackbird flies with panic,
The swallow goes with light,
The finches move like ladies,
The owl floats by at night;
But the great and flashing magpie
He flies as artists might.)

A magpie in Picardy
Told me secret things—
Of the music in white feathers,
And the sunlight that sings
And dances in deep shadows—
He told me with his wings.

(The hawk is cruel and rigid,
He watches from a height;
The rook is slow and sombre,
The robin loves to fight;
But the great and flashing magpie
He flies as lovers might.)

He told me that in Picardy,
An age ago or more,
While all his fathers still were eggs,
These dusty highways bore
Brown, singing soldiers marching out
Through Picardy to war.

He said that still through chaos
Works on the ancient plan,
And two things have altered not
Since first the world began—
The beauty of the wild green earth
And the bravery of man.

(For the sparrow flies unthinking
And quarrels in his flight;
The heron trails his legs behind,
The lark goes out of sight;
But the great and flashing magpie
He flies as poets might.)

The Windhover

Gerard Manley Hopkins 1844-1889


I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
    dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
    Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
    As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
    Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
    Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

   No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
    Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.




Judith Wright


Knowing too much altogether about beetles:

Latin names, classifications, numbers - six legs, four wings,

Thorax, antennae, eyes, segmented abdomen,

I stoop, cut off his light like a thunderstorm

Or bird of prey.  My interfering finger

Chases this hurrying black-clad person,

Turns him over.  Earthquake.  This beetle can scream!

Heaving and bellowing, world turned upside-down,

He begs and curses.  Given a stick to fasten

On, he clasps it, click, like a pocket-knife,

A mechanical clown.


After that mutual surprise

Suddenly his whole shape turns to blur and buzz,

He’s off, wholly at home in air, in life.


I’ve no idea what beetle is.

Beetle never recognised me.  Nevertheless,

It was a double event, a wild encounter.


Hummingbird by Milton Acorn

One day in a lifetime
I saw one with wings
a pipesmoke blur
shaped like half a kiss
and its raspberry-stone
heart winked fast
in a thumbnail of a breast.

In that blink it
was around a briar
and out of sight, but
I caught a flash
of its brain
where flowers swing
udders of sweet cider;
and we pass as thunderclouds or,
dangers like death, earthquake, and war,
ignored because it's no use worrying....

By him I mean. Responsibility
Against the threat of termination
by war or other things
is given us as by a deity.

Flying Down Wales by Philip Goss


The wind bucks
but it doesn’t refuse us
— does us no favours either,
no more than it would a moderately
successful bird.
The land, though, gives little away

from bird height.
(Swans, calmly rowing,
aren’t unknown at 20,000 feet.)
Not dark yet, but the edges of things
begin to blur
as age will loosen our grip first on names,

nouns, days,
then on all definition…
We track down the knobble-
back spine of a difficult country —
surly wrinkles
in the grey, the sun withheld, till all at once

and suddenly
every tarn, stream-
capillary, oxbow and stippling
reed-bed, each least bog-seep is gold-
tooled script,
is fire-spill from the smelting furnace. Or

say: we see
what the birds see
with their thousand miles to fly
and steering by the flicker-compass
in the genes: the stateless
state of water, on the frontier between day and night.

Extract from Ovid's Metamorphoses

Still, it was done at last, and the father hovered,
Poised, in the moving air, and taught his son:
“I warn you, Icarus, fly a middle course:
Don’t go too low, or water will weigh the wings down;
Don’t go too high, or the sun’s fire will burn them.
Keep to the middle way. And one more thing,
No fancy steering by star or constellation,
Follow my lead!” That was the flying lesson,
And now to fit the wings to the boy’s shoulders.
Between the work and warning the father found
His cheeks were wet with tears, and his hands trembled.
He kissed his son (Good-bye, if he had known it),
Rose on his wings, flew on ahead, as fearful
As any bird launching the little nestlings
Out of high nest into thin air. Keep on,
Keep on, he signals, follow me! He guides him
In flight—O fatal art!—and the wings move
And the father looks back to see the son’s wings moving.
Far off, far down, some fisherman is watching
As the rod dips and trembles over the water,
Some shepherd rests his weight upon his crook,
Some ploughman on the handles of his ploughshare,
And all look up, in absolute amazement,
At those air-borne above. They must be gods!
They were over Samos, Juno’s sacred island,
Delos and Paros toward the left, Lebinthus
Visible to the right, and another island,
Calymne, rich in honey. And the boy
Thought This is wonderful! and left his father,
Soared higher, higher, drawn to the vast heaven,
Nearer the sun, and the wax that held the wings
Melted in that fierce heat, and the bare arms
Beat up and down in air, and lacking oarage
Took hold of nothing. Father! he cried, and Father!
Until the blue sea hushed him, the dark water
Men call the Icarian now. And Daedalus,
Father no more, called “Icarus, where are you!
Where are you, Icarus? Tell me where to find you!”
And saw the wings on the waves, and cursed his talents,
Buried the body in a tomb, and the land
Was named for Icarus.

Flying Crooked by Robert Graves

The butterfly, the cabbage white,
(His honest idiocy of flight)
Will never now, it is too late,
Master the art of flying straight,
Yet has — who knows so well as I? —
A just sense of how not to fly:
He lurches here and here by guess
And God and hope and hopelessness.
Even the aerobatic swift
Has not his flying-crooked gift.


Bowland Beth by David Harsent

That she made shapes in air

That she saw the world as pattern and light
moorland to bare mountain drawn by instinct

That she’d arrive at the corner of your eye
like the ghost of herself going silent into the wind

That the music of her slipstream was a dark flow
whisper-drone tagged to wingtips

That weather was a kind of rapture


That her only dream was of flight forgotten
moment by moment as she dreamed it

That her low drift over heather quartering home ground
might bring anyone to tears

That she would open her prey in all innocence
there being nothing of anger or sorrow in it

That her beauty was prefigured

That her skydance went for nothing
hanging fire on empty air

That her name is meaningless
your mouth empty of it mind empty of it

That the gunshot was another sound amid birdcall
a judder if you had seen it her line of flight broken

That she went miles before she bled out