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Homage to Charles Tomlinson

Homage to Charles Tomlinson

I

Winter Encounters

House and hollow; village and valley-side:
The ceaseless pairings, the interchange
In which the properties are constant
Resumes its winter starkness. The hedges’ barbs
Are bared. Lengthened shadows
Intersecting, the fields seem parcelled smaller
As if by hedgerow within hedgerow. Meshed
Into neighbourhood by such shifting ties,
The house reposes, squarely upon its acre
Yet with softened angles, the responsive stone
Changeful beneath the changing light:
There is a riding-forth, a voyage impending
In this ruffled air, where all moves
Towards encounter. Inanimate or human,
The distinction fails in these brisk exchanges—
Say, merely, that the roof greets the cloud,
Or by the wall, sheltering its knot of talkers,
Encounter enacts itself in the conversation
On customary subjects, where the mind
May lean at ease, weighing the prospect
Of another’s presence. Rain
And the probability of rain, tares
And their progress through a field of wheat—
These, though of moment in themselves,
Serve rather to articulate the sense
That having met, one meets with more
Than the words can witness. One feels behind
Into the intensity that bodies through them
Calmness within the wind, the warmth in cold.

The ‘encounters’ here are a mixture of the permanent and the transient and are perhaps best captured by the phrase ‘shifting ties’. Ties are those connections we feel towards each other as well as the way one thing is linked by complement to another. The solidity of ‘House’ is tied with the vaguer and more echoing ‘hollow’ and the human group of habitations in ‘village’ is tied with the landscape of ‘valley-side’. The way everything is linked together in this poem is held by the pairing of one thing with another and although the ‘properties are constant’ the way the pairing is perceived is dependent upon the fluctuating and shifting quality of light and season. The tie of one thing to another is seen as a parcelling and a meshing, itself a criss-cross weave of connections. At the heart of the poem there is a steady permanence with the phrase ‘The house reposes’. That reliable permanence of peaceful existence is delightfully caught by the relaxed meaning of repose and is given a solidity of structure by the geometrical presence of ‘squarely upon its acre’ and yet even this solidity is shown as dissoluble by the effect of ‘the changing light’ and one is aware that all the landscape is moving ‘towards encounter’. Distinctions fail because of course they don’t remain static and the ever-shifting encounters register life moving. However, even in this world of movement there are those reliable certainties which allow the mind to ‘lean at ease’ and one becomes aware of the attractive repetitive conversation between farmers as to the likelihood of rain, of the effects of tares growing wild in the field of wheat. ‘Calmness’ taking up from ‘repose’ has a settled strength which throughout the poetry of Charles Tomlinson becomes a matter of expressing a dearly held set of moral values, a code of mutual dependencies between man and his landscape which owe something to that measured world of urbane generosity which one comes across in Ben Jonson’s ‘To Penshurst’ or ‘To Sir Robert Wroth’.

Ian Brinton, 24th August 2015

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