Friday 25 November 2016


Triple portrait of Charles I,  by Sir Anthony Van Dyck

Unearthly creature! Are you for real
or some fairy-tale Being wholly surreal?
Just look at those sad and brooding eyes
that augur misfortune borne of self-lies,
and I swear that could I but hear your voice
you'd lament the error of future choice.

Still and tranquil at first glance,
and then such turmoil in your stance.
Oh see that leaden gathering cloud
draped about you like burial shroud.
So desperately your mind is reaching out
to escape a destiny forged by self-doubt.

How is that one of such mollycoddled descent -
a Dandy of glittering palaces - be sent
to govern a nation in chaotic upheaval,
one so ill-equipped to deal with evil?
Ha, did you really believe that fable
the "Divine Right of Kings" would keep things stable?

How dare they disobey your will
and so many of your troops kill
that fateful day upon Edge Hill
that the whole of England remembers still?
You could have had it made that day,
but through indecision threw victory away.

Just how many more had to die before
you realised no solution would come through war?
They demanded democracy, you turned them down flat -
you were the King, and that was that.
A King's word had always been law of the land,
until Cromwell and his ever growing band

of followers who became the "New Model Army"
pre-empted your moves and drove you barmy.
Well, along with frustration came childlike tantrum:
no longer would be tolerated this rebellious scum!
Stuttering and cursing these "Enemies of God"
you attempted to over them ride rough-shod.

But, unfortunately for you, it badly misfired:
many of your allies had defected, it transpired,
and now the country had it's King on trial!
Such a thing was unheard of, you were in deep denial.
When they read out the sentence...tyrant, traitor,
and public faced the prosecutor

and made one final attempt to speak.
But they cut you short - your fate now looked bleak.
Just three short days you were granted to prepare
to meet your maker - oh the utter despair.
Then outside Whitehall on that January day
by executioner's axe you were spirited away...

Perhaps there's good reason that the great Van Dyck
painted in triplicate this portrait so like
your tragic countenance that haunts me today:
to the Holy Trinity I'm inclined to pray
and plead for deliverance for this fractured Soul,
that three parts be forged once more into whole.

Thursday 17 November 2016


You could just as easily knit sea-spray
into a fluffy white sweater
or capture the wind in a butterfly net
as banish exquisite recollections
from an overly nostalgic mind
that appears hell-bent
on creating it's own personal Erebus.

You need no electronic picture file
to resurrect once more the angles of his face
in life-like colour, or to preserve in time
desire's frenzied flare for intimate touch.
Emotions eject their darts, dipped in thought's poison:
no matter how you sweat to cling to hope,
disillusion still creeps in.

Now in the early hours his voice
envelopes you. Listen to his ballad of bliss:
a lover's cruel lie, preserved forever
in the archives of bitter experience
for future perusal. You struggle
to conquer gut's wrenching in the eternal now:
that final promise fossilised...haunting...taunting...crushing.

Oh how the two of you once loved!
And how the remembrance of it blows you apart,
as if to recreate from your atoms a new Universe
composed of endless frenzied yearning
to catch and tether those fleeting impressions
that nightly come in racing heartbeats' blazing wake
and within seamless vivid dreams.

But this dawn banishes the ghostly images,
and although searing lust so covets immortality,
last night's fever gradually subsides into apathy.
However fiercely you're in denial,
obsession recoils from the clarity of the rising sun
that highlights reality in stark relief, and blinds
the deluded eyes of the emotionally naive.

Saturday 12 November 2016


On Armistice Day
cheering crowds thronged the streets
and how the bands played!
But those joyous songs the people sang
served only to heighten your sense of sadness,
for they signified for you imminent redundancy.
The last of your boys were finally moving on.

There were no long drawn-out goodbyes,
just a few half-hearted pledges to keep in touch.
You'd been there for them when they'd needed you,
it was as simple as that.
Please remind me again -
how many broken minds did you mend?

Armistice Day
symbolised the end of an era for you.
Armistice Day
secretly filled you with dread.
But, guilt-ridden,
you'd smiled and celebrated with the rest
whilst trying hard to feign euphoria.

Meanwhile, all you could do
was await orders from above,
knowing it was inevitable
that you'd soon be exiled
from your beloved Craiglockheart.
It was unthinkable - you'd invested
heart and soul in that place
that had become so much more than home to you.
How apprehensive and weary you felt -
and your nervous stammer was worsening daily.

But the British Army had no compassion
for a severely damaged psychiatrist
who had become shell shocked by his patients.
You'd served your purpose
and now you were an embarrassment to them.
So they hastily signed your discharge papers
then sent you on your way.
And it seemed to you that not a living soul cared...

But oh how wrong you were!
What of Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen?
Neither of those great war poets ever forgot you -
your name crops up frequently in their memoirs
with unmistakable affection and gratitude...

And now there is me -
an unknown insignificant, I know,
but you will be none-the-less in my thoughts
on this Remembrance Sunday in twenty-sixteen.
Oh Dr. Rivers,
I have read your books and digested your papers,
and have learnt so much from you.
You were a genius of your time.
And I will remember you

William Halse Rivers Rivers