Week 2: After The Requested Cremation, by Molly Holden

After The Requested Cremation

A steady north-north-west wind preferably
though an east wind would do as second best
and so my bones’ smoke and innocent ashes
would carry into Wessex or the west.

I’d like my dust to be deposited
in the dry ditches, among the fine grass of home,
on hills I’ve walked, in furrows I’ve watched making
in Wiltshire’s chalk-bright loam.

If not that then Wolverhampton’s chimneys
might send me Severnward: that would do instead.
Those rose-red farms, those orchards, have been precious.
I’d like to fertilize them when I’m dead.

Make no mistake, though, it’ll not come to choosing.
There’ll be a west wind in the week I go
Or else my southern dust will fall on hated highways
and be for ever swirling to and fro.

Well, as I’ll never know, it doesn’t matter.
I’m not, in truth, romantic about death.
Only I’d like the right wind to be blowing
That takes the place of death.

Molly Holden

Molly Holden is one of my favourite poets of recent times. She suffered for many years from multiple sclerosis, and blends a sharp loving observation of the natural world with a kind of wry valour that perhaps finds its finest expression in this poem of wistful acceptance. 

Week 1: Over the Hills, by Edward Thomas

Over the Hills

Often and often it came back again
To mind, the day I passed the horizon ridge
To a new country, the path I had to find
By half-gaps that were stiles once in the hedge,
The pack of scarlet clouds running across
The harvest evening that seemed endless then
And after, and the inn where all were kind,
All were strangers. I did not know my loss
Till one day twelve months later suddenly
I leaned upon my spade and saw it all,
Though far beyond the sky-line. It became
Almost a habit through the year for me
To lean and see it and think to do the same
Again for two days and a night. Recall
Was vain: no more could the restless brook
Ever turn back and climb the waterfall
To the lake that rests and stirs not in its nook,
As in the hollow of the collar-bone
Under the mountain’s head of rush and stone.

Edward Thomas

This seems to be one of Edward Thomas’s less anthologised poems, but is one of my personal favourites. I love the harvest evening with its pack of scarlet clouds, and that wonderful image in the closing lines, even though I would be hard put to explain the exact depth of its resonance.