Before The First German Summer
FROM spring to autumn, in my mid twenties, I was invited to work in a 12th century corn mill – still grinding away, still turning its wheel – on the banks of the River Bela, in South Cumbria. It was and still is, most memorable. I found – between visitors and school parties – space to write healing poems as well as paint, in the half light, a couple of watercolours. One painting was of a bird; a Roller, (Coracias garrulus.) I remember this clearly because I painted everything but the bird. I was saving it till last. Yet, a colour has still to be found to do justice to its ice-waterblue appearance which belongs to no other bird I know. Some of these past considerations floated through my mind when beginning the selection for this reading on August 10th 2005, in Southern Germany. Yet it was with the emergence of “ The First German Summer, 2003” poem – my strongly articulated theme poem – that made me realize I was now writing from a source hitherto unopened.
Back in the summer of 1980, I had heeded my second mind which said; ‘‘Turn to poems, go back to Moss Head Farm, help with their haymaking. Recover’’. So off I went, back to South Cumbria. (I had lived for a full year on the farm in 1977, drawing and painting mostly.) Soon afterwards, I was to discover the sacred quality of language. Writing every day for the next ten years or more, I thought I had completed my mission. Here is a quote I jotted down recently by the composer and musician, Michael Hedges:
‘‘You can’t make music good. You can’t try
to be good. You can try to be present and you
can try to remain open, so that what is going
to speak to you can speak through you.’’
This really helps me on, for words are also music to my ears. The Roller’s “elusiveness” made me realize that not everything wishes to be completed directly. Yet it pleases me all the same to figure this out and if in doubt . . . write a poem.
Stephen with a feather
The First German Summer (2003)
1. Let us work through the night, selflessly sleep the day.
Let the ferocious sun in his jealous sky blaze and burn his way
into all four corners of our crumbling persona.
Despondent in vexation. Harassed in anger.
Tormented by these phantom houseflies, pervertedly spreading
conflict from weak to strong and strong to irritable.
Deprived of the arrogance of the “freedom” to
endlessly take now . . . pay later, we are all contradictory
in who’s to bless and who’s to blame, for what is more or less
an inevitable manifestation of unfinished business.
For the tone of a lark seldom heard,
was the tongue of that bird on the table.
The autumn no longer waits till summer is through,
by the first week of August, she is well established.
Notice if you will, how birch leaves all along the forest edge,
prepare to disconnect. If we ignore them – with discord and apathy,
or the opinionated perplexity of an ant’s nest of politicians, –
then we are still learning the game, and the longer the lesson,
the greater the reluctance to reverse the damage.
Yet water is here, as cool and as lasting as we are perishable.
2. The ghosts of Hornisgrinde and Mummelsee
still quench their thirst by moonlight, even though the
last few sultry nights have broken all previously established
temperatures in Southern Germany.
In such a hothouse, hotels appear half abandoned.
The “freedom of the road”, instantly loses it’s appeal
and the voice of a 90 year old woman be mistaken over the
telephone, for that of a little girl.
With raging forest fires in France, Italy, Portugal, Canada,
America… isn’t that enough or must we invent a way to
enlarge the list so that all the world is burning?
3. Frantically searching for an exit, bluebottles will smash
repeatedly at the windows, ceiling, walls.
Wood ants bisect the forest path in such a stream of purpose
that not to stride over them, carrying the bicycle,
would be an act of hot-blooded, cold-blooded murder.
As a brook trout rises for a big drop of water,
I no longer refill my fountain pen beside a waterfall.
4. As a five-year-old, out walking with my father,
a good distance from home, his old-fashioned solution
to my thirst for water was, “suck a pebble”.
It’s the same time-honoured answer for a cold living room,
“light a candle”, and funnily enough it works!
But yet this summer, I’ve never sweated so much in my life!
There will be less of everything at harvest.Less grain, less fruit and vegetables.
Apples will be left to roll down the road.
Only the cherished grapes will have succeeded;
a vulnerable plant and likewise the most labour intensive.
But I never see myself as the lucky one, feeding
dispassionately on such a situation.
Together with half the city of Munich, I could surrender
to their weekend exodus into the alps.
Yes, I do have the possibility . . .
at this moment in time . . .
or suck a pebble for the rest of the drought.
Suddenly, I realize as the day wears on;
you can turn water into wine but you
can’t turn wine into water.
All our loveless initiatives will be brought into line,
and like vulnerable seeds, success be measured in
By way of introduction, what lies ahead
may be unthinkable
but the more we do not think and act
from the wellspring of our hearts,
the greater we endanger our embryonic home.
5. Dear mother earth, this is not something
I intended to ask forgiveness for, nor if you will,
my personal draft of “The Declaration Of
Just for the record, we are frugal with our lives.
The number of insect bites testifies to our daylong walks
and fruit picking from Klotzberg Hill to Mehliskopf and beyond.
We’ve covered so much ground from June to August,
to open a new day is exhaustive.
What good is a ruined paradise, when her unity
of time-honoured silence is swept away?
Dear father time,
this is not something I intended to address;
there are lesser known lands in less of a mess than this.
If we are waiting for grass to become green,
for some machine to manufacture a favour,
for our sons and daughters to bask in the fruits of our labour . . .
then please, read no further.
by Stephen Radnedge
1. This World Morning (A hymn to creation) 2.31
2. Dear Form 1.22
3. The Homeward Impulse 1.23
4. The One That Helps Me On 1.53
5. Song From Bühlerstein 1.00
6. How Long The Final Autumn 0.40
7. A Child’s Picture 1.04
8. This Floor Was Once A Forest 1.12
9. Animal Kingdoms 0.54
10. Thaw 0.45
11. That Part Of Your Dream 1.30
12. The First German Summer – 2003 5.39
13. Wild And Rounded 1.23
14. Waterfall Girl 2.23
15. Watermeetings 0.43
16. Molimo Songs For Madyadya 0.44
17. The First Year Swallows 1.54
18. Motherlode 2.08
19. From Island To Island 0.55
20. Snowdonia And The Lakes 0.52
21. Beautiful Insect 1.26
22. Chalk Blue 1.47
23. Dear Little Fox 2.44
24. You Have A Lot 1.32
25. Song Poem 1.25
26. For Nathan 2.55
27. Milk, Sleep And Love 2.0
This poetry album is dedicated to my mother and father, who also funded this recording.
Thank you dear Andrea, Renate, Alfred, Brigitte, Mara, Gyöngyi, Guido, Marion, Jeremias, Samuel, Rosa and Sandra.
Poems written and spoken by Stephen Radnedge. Cover drawing: Stephen Radnedge. Recorded and produced by John Gooding, April, 2006, at Whitby Avenue, York, England. Typing: Lara Werner.
Design: Mark and Stephen Radnedge.
Printed in Germany by System-Kopie Eckerle, Baden-Baden-Steinbach.
Wild Imaginations Music and Poetry © 2007. All rights reserved.
Total playing time: 40 minutes 37 seconds.
This CD is available for 15EUR plus postage.
Please do not hesitate to contact me.