Merrivale


Merrivale is a complex of Bronze Age megalithic monuments on the west side of Dartmoor in Britain, including a double stone row of approximately 250m length, a stone circle and an imposing 3.8m standing stone. You can read more about it here.
The image above is a version of the photograph here – I’ve tried to find the photographer, but can’t. Do let me know if it’s one of yours…





1.
Between stones, over hill,
I am stretched out fully,
To a great and impossible height.

My fingers touch the horizon;
My face presses heaven;
My back is all green grass and rock.

This is my rite of night-surrender
To this moorland Earth and the dark, dark sky:

I am insubstantial and immense,
Like a cloud or a wish or a song.

The sky is a bear’s mouth.
It is blacker than ink or oil, or
A pool of dead water in a dream.

Its black lip surrounds the whole
Circle of the world, vaster
Than time and all my ancestors.

It leans to me and eats all that I am:
Blood and breath, boy and man,
Everything between.

The thin wind spins me.
Starlight pins me.
Great Bear, I have come home.

Hail, Merrivale, full of grace.
Time, tide, nor all the burning trees
Will take me from you now.

2.
Speak to me in the language of
Stone and Moss: the brook and
Fox-den know well my mother-tongue.
Let us be clear:
This Moor-language sings sweeter
In my ear than all the songs
I ever heard from angels,
Clear and beautiful as they were.
I tell you no lie,
Not here.

This dark Moor-water
These rain-stacked stones,
Oaks both mighty and small.
That stream-crouched May
Beneath which I sleep
And forget and remember…

Here is a stone avenue;
Here is the sky above Earth;
The parallel lines
In which the Ages live, not
Forgotten, by me, at least,
Not quite.

The Bear is stalking my life.
Sweet as a knife,
Warm as night,
Kind as a wounding.

3.
Once or twice,
When my spine was made of birch,
When the fire in my head
Was a fire in my belly,
I fell up into the sky of trees
And there among the green
Leaves of oak and ash,
I found the ogham.

Because of this good fortune,
I know my rightful name,
Though the fortune was not
Easily won and the road is,
Indeed, a difficult path
Of hunger and solitude.

But see, now,
Am I a bird or a song
Or a stone-bound dreamer?
In truth of a kind
I am a swallow in flight;
I am a dour man of England;
I am the river-stalker,
And I am both the blacksmith
And his chains.

I cannot read the Galaxy,
But I know the language of tree,
Leaf and the cross-branched sky.
I know the speech of secrets;
I know the stone-lined path.
I know the way home.
This is who I am.
My brow-star is only just
Beginning to rise.

Show me who you are
When the Great Bear has
Eaten all your words.

4.
This, then,
Is the calling I ignored,
The enemy with whom
I would not engage.

This is the place I remembered,
But to which I would not go.
Now, Merrivale, I’m home.
I pray:
Hold me tight enough
That memory returns;
Returns and stays.

My seven sisters wait, wiser
Than my brothers in star-Lore,
But not that of stream or tree
Or of the grey stones, now as
Fixed in my geography
As a coast or a grave.

I was at the battle,
I led the army:
Help me recollect precisely
The weapons we employed then,
The banners to which we rallied,
The way we found hope
Enough to take to the field
Though our enemies were myriad
And stronger.

How did we face the dark
And our death?

Hail, Merrivale, full of grace.
Time, tide nor the flooding sea
Will keep me from you now.

5.
It was me, I recall, who burned
The bridges and the tower.
Not fate or history,
Nor another I might blame.
I slew my kindred,
Wrought havoc,
Writhed in the ties of my life.
The Bear watched.

All I have hurt,
All I have wronged,
All I have betrayed.

All I have loved,
All I have gone to aid,
All whose trust I held.

What story is this?
I believed in unending flying,
Fleet-footed,
Bright-winged,
Weightlessly
Becoming
God.

Or another story.
An agent of the dappled, light-
Flecked, dark-cracked jackdaw.
One foot in Heaven,
One foot on Earth.
Some elegant conceit,
Some third place for those
Uncomfortable in their skins?

Look,
Instead I have
Made a history of chaos,
A havoc in the shadow
Of my flight, become a hawk
Not of light, but the thin
And easily-broken promises
Of the lost.

My trickster years.
As if I could choose to
Which Power I belonged
In this bright field.
Perhaps closer to God through
My mistakes than my triumphs,
Though who’s to say?
Not me.

A hawk, far above, cries out.
The water in the thin leat sings.
This is what I know.

The Great Bear reaches out one dark paw –
Stinking, vast, impossible:
And all our battles will be won.

6.
It was a dark day, that Easter
And our child, unborn, our first.
We sat in your shadow,
Adrift in our distress.
We climbed King’s Tor,
Knew the world was good,
Though we could not feel it.
Aged with grief,
Cut out of innocence,
We were bereft.
I don’t know another place
That could have held us.

Hail, Merrivale.
This time, I will not forget.

7.
Three horses,
A skewbald foal as fresh as dawn.
A score or so of sheep
Bleating in the hill-dew.
A wagtail on a finger of rock.
An immense Bear asleep
Neither above nor below the hill.

Utterly mortal,
I feel the chill wind cut,
The hard ground bite.
The coalescent mist
Becoming rain.

The high moor is calling;
They have uncovered the queen
With the knotted hair,
And the king is sleeping
In the black bird’s eye.
Now is not the time for silence.

There is a mystery
Far greater than all
My words, far greater
Than anything you or I
Can say.
On my finger,
A brown insect –
I do not know its name –
Is the herald of that mystery
And the day.

I rise and make one step
Towards my life,
Beginning to believe that
Not everything that is
Worth loving is lost.
Another star is rising,
The Great Bear turns away.

Hail, Merrivale.
You have me,
I remember,
We begin.

8 thoughts on “Merrivale

  1. It is difficult to say something, anything, a word, a sentence, that might reflect back to you the depth of soul offered here.

    This is exquisite Tom. Thank You.

    I agree with Morvah, they ripple the veil.

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