‘Anchoress’ and other poems by Julie Sampson

 

A Woman is About to Break

'Leave yr streams for to come hether/make haste say have noe delay
here that's above the weather/A flower of May is prung today'

Gaps in the hedge beside the silent river and 
round the corner Tawstock's Tudor gatehouse birth-
frames the canal to another world; left behind
plane and mower thrum, rook kerfuffle, traffic buzz.
In the field Friesians swoon summer's late afternoon heat.

The church is gravely cold,
sun's cross-beams refract
stained light from glass, 
splash monuments, stream
a river of blood along nave's inscribed stone-slabs,
until, at the vanishing point,
it seeps from floor into crypt beneath.

A woman is about to break out of her marble abstraction, 
begin to breath again; in this version, 
merry new bride, 	
she steps from her carriage; bells 
tintintabulate across Taw's happy valley,
hum-tones loop with Maypole's rainbow braids
cascading chiming confetti over her white dress brocade.
           Pearl rising, falling, at her neck.
 
Imagine; Dramas; Masques; reputation 
wedged sometightplace between Shakespeare, Webster, Milton.
Shut in the strict enclosure of the entrenched canon, a 	
woman is about to break free; in this version, they say, 
the abuser, her husband, determined
vicissitudes of her lettered fate; thus,
body, papers, rescued from the repository, 
still gasping for the light of day
only after scholars,
carving space for contemporary daughters, decided to uncover,
then decipher, cross-dressings, followers of Comus,
with after-lives of Shakespeare's girls - 
Bianca. Viola. Sylvia. Julia. 
	If, that is, they had a voice.



Note: Rachel Fane, Countess of Bath, 1613-1680, spent her childhood at Apethorpe Hall, in Northumberland, where she wrote sophisticated pastoral masques, including May Masque at Apethorpe. When she was 25, Fane married Sir Henry Bourchier, 5th Earl of Bath, and moved to Tawstock, in Devon. Nine months after Bourchier’s death, in 1654, Fane married Lionel Cranfield, but the marriage didn’t last; in 1661 Rachel was granted legal separation on the grounds of cruelty and desertion. Ironically, it may be due to acrimony apropos the divorce proceedings that Fane’s writings survived; kept by Cranfield, her papers were later discovered in the ownership of a descendant. A white marble statue in Tawstock church commemorates the Countess, who retained her title after her second marriage, and after death was returned to Devon for interment. Quotation, from May Masque at Apethorpe.

Footloose, Fancy Free


for Sylvia Plath

They think I'm beneath the cold slab
high in the footloose winds
under York's barren moors.

When they despoil the grave
do they not know -
but for spring-tails, brittle-bones, worms -
how empty it is inside?

Do they not realise
how many air-miles a waft of breeze will
carry the dormant seed -

be it daisy, dandelion,
grass green with life in gravestone crevice,
or willow-herb at the edge of the field?

But, I'm none of these.
Look instead in the pallid face
of the paper-white narcissi.

Every little seed hooks
to every other little seed,
criss-crossing our country's patternings
and boundaries - fields, lakes,
motorways, woodlands and mountains.

Admittedly, it took a while
to get to this, my final destination -
still black-faced sheep, occasional
trailers on the lane.

From above, on garden's east,
we are sheltered by the wise tree
tasting darkest history and her

brood of otherworldly wings.
She's our and their mother.
Like children, we look up to her.

She stretches her limbs to the tips of her twigs
straining to pick up hidden writing
rising from her roots across the woodwideweb.

A clutch of doves from the east
settling in their nest post-flight
discarded us in the sphere of seeded grass,
that was a few years
after setting its mud-caked prints
in the snow the fox hooked us up in its paw -
we were expelled on a southern heath.
That was almost ten years
after the shrew regurgitated us on a motorway verge
with the beetle she'd devoured in the pile of autumn leaves
two decades or more after a gust of ghost-wind dispersed 
its disclosing fruits.

They'd matured inside the capsule's green fuse
from stems of flowers sprung up
on grave's earth during the years following
that first winter's blackest season.
On Whitehorse Hill

Godgifu. 
      Eadgifu.
        Aelfgifu.
	 Aelfthryth.

	Reel the names a-
way  aural sliding into slip-shod 
Anglo Saxon history, away,
like iconic eastern dolls
they recede, expanding into distant pasts
	the way a-
way,  they remind us of 
the blue-grey layers of  Dartmoor's mists and tors.

The last of these - later,
       Queen of our Lands,
	Aelfthryth,
    weaving her own fairy-tale -
                left   

        following the before-day, a
    way day beside her mother's recent grave
      at the abbey on moor's western edge,

stole away for a lange day
  and another  
from the place of her birth,
pursuing yole-ways to seek new tracks - 
criss-crossing paths to the north,
lych-ways on the tracks of the forking droves.

Up past the cleave, over Bellestam	    where are the Nine Maidens
she took up with Tola,
     daege, on the summerlands at the gentle green coll -
churned milk plashing to pail -
at dusk, sleek cows slumbering,
they eat meatonastick,
sleep in the hut
raised from earth 
under stars on a green-rush and black- 
sedge floor.




Sun up, up and
   a-way 
early 
Aelfhryth leaves the cows on butter-hill's 
  dew-covered down
wanders along drift-lanes
gathering seedsofgorse
beside purple-heather and green-
  light fern,             crosses	     the steps by Cullever 
		
			       
up as far as the Winter Tor,
		  she climbs     overthestone by the brook 
			         & over the ford of the Taw
			         to the stile beside the gorge
		
		
    as far as 
Steeperton          then 	   over the clapper & beyond
   upthetop
to Whitehorse Hill
near where her mitochondrial mothers came
from the highest, wildest moorland tors.

Knowing her true destiny 
is far  a-way
from here,
she's come to bid farewell
to her ancestor,
foremother, 
on the White Hill,
she who went to ground a
thousand years or more, 
the stories they tell
round these moor parts,
a legend passed on by word of mouth
down the daughters' line -
    the procession, 
                wailing in the wind.

Hands opening high to sky
they brought her here
fall of the year when ferns
waved like arms of fear,
laying their Bronze Princess
gently on the pyre to rest
   decked
in her bedazzled dress
amber bead bling fixed at the nape of neck.

After fire's embers died a-
  way,
wailing, 
they swaddled her ash
within the pelt of bear 
bound up with 
a knotted woven sash 

then, on agnysse min, laid her
beside the basket,
nested inside it, a cow-hair band,
the rings, still glistening tin,
two spindle-wood studs once hung from her ears.
At the time of setting sun,
they settled her in the cist. 



When sun's down, 
Aelfhryth
turns west, 
leaves 				by way of the peat pass
				at Taw and East Dart source
				as far as the great lime tree
				over Black Ridge Way

blue graze of sea in the distance				
      granite-clitters
          spilling down
            over the descending	
                 fringe of moor
	
	
  she	                             skirts the bog
	                             by the right side of the stream
                                     at the bondstone
marking the two Great Hills,			 

                        crosses	         stepping-stones by the Lyd
climbs over  Nodden,
                        finds               the Chi-Rho stone
                                            & the ancient L stone, 
					    by Bridestowe boundary,


then, fairy-tale settling with her again,
before the next day 
of the fresh path of her new life a-
way in faraway lands, reaching the Green vale
Aelflryth looks down to where is the Way of the Dead 
and her own home, from on the High Down above the Olde town.  

Note:  

Ælfthryth (c. 945 – 1000 or 1001, (also Alfrida, Elfrida or Elfthryth), who was probably born at Lydford castle, just below Dartmoor, in Devon, became an English queen, the second or third wife of King Edgar of England, mother of King Ethelred the Unready and a powerful political figure in her own right. Godgifu, daughter of Etheldred the Unready, was Aelgifu’s granddaughter; Eadgifu was daughter of Edward the Elder, King of Wessex. Aelfgifu was a popular name; she might be Aelfgifu an Anglo-Saxon saint, whose relics are in Exeter Cathedral of Normandy, or Emma of Normandy, wife of Ethelred the Unready and daughter in law of Aelfthryth. Bellestam in The Domesday Book is Belstone. The ‘Bronze Princess’ is named after the important recent archaeological find of a prehistoric cremation burial within a cist at Whitehorse Hill, on northern Dartmoor.  

Lange (Anglo-Saxon/Old English), ‘long’; on agnysse min,’ sorrow’/’anguish’; daege, dairy-maid.


 Anchoress 

Closed  within   a    breath    
        her sin             a countryside   hollow of  moss    her fingers close round
                          the  Book of Hours              held open on her lap
    margins                                   
    full of flowers                                 prayers and swirls
she plays its music in the keep of her mind 
 the leaves crisp   her heart in this cell cold   colder than the blackest medieval night
                   where owls                     and moon  
           and those who wander in grey outside in the sanctuary of     garden                 
green  arches             holly oak beech take you                with her to the centre
 the heart that never stops to the garden that closes round around her heart and 
yours and takes us to that beat at its very centre       where the roses and the 
sacred arts and the  woman looking out at the winter that has gone with the 
whitest snow turns to her new manuscript begins to script the notes 
                          black upon its stave l’amour 
                                    l’amour de moi

L’Amour de Moi, usually translated as My Lady’s Garden, a C15 French Chanson.

At JacobStowe

I could take you with this poem and this photo back one hundred and more years to 1898, when Annie, just 16, maternal Grandmother, pupil-teacher in the village – the one second from back on the right – had to tell Will Stone the young delectable rector (who she thought hot) the bad news – Bessie her eldest suavest sister would not be at the altar after all, was jilting him,

or, we might travel westwards on the road to others where once 
holy sites the sacred well lies in  hollows near damp grasses in the 
hedge next the wildflower patch where children own hidden designs 
whose colors hide the deep space of beyond. 
   But I won't.

instead, I'll gather these flimsy lines up with her other belongings -
  collections of trochees, prosody & half rhymes, 
  her intricate imagery & end-stopped lines
 
and  after locking the photo back in its darkness between the pages of 
lost years in the family book
we'll remain here within the origamic folds of the church where
the crypt of the ancient found apse
limns its semi circular curve
	and outside
keening lavender steals in with its rooted essence under the fence from 
a nearby garden

Julie Sampson’s poetry is widely published, most recently, or forthcoming, in Shearsman, Molly Bloom, Allegro, Dawntreader, Ink Sweat & Tears, The Journal, Noon, Poetry Space, Algebra of Owls, The Lake and Amethyst Review. Her work has been shortlisted or placed in several competitions, including erbacce, Wells Festival of Literature Poetry Competition and The Page is Printed. Her poetry collection Tessitura was published in 2014 (Shearsman Press) and a non-fiction manuscript was short-listed for The Impress Prize, in 2015.


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