Friday, 26 September 2014

Beach Picnic at Sunset


There was no wine.

But a woman in fine shoes

And ornate earrings unpacked

A tiny box of jewelled, fragrant

Rice that she pecked with

Chopsticks though they’d never

Seen The Orient.



No-one brought music.

But a man who’d traipsed

From some dismal Scottish isle

Whistled a tuneless take on

‘Amazing Grace’ as he offered

Shortbread and giant slabs

Of cake rich enough to unite

A kingdom.


My share was a poor thing -

Just weak tea and shrivelled rolls -

So the lady organiser pursed her lips

And kept them sternly under wraps.


DSCF1667aLater, seeing me apart,

Left wondering at the pain

In the heart of the dying sun,

The woman  who liked Chinese

Took away my hurt with a 

Sudden gift of large, sweet grapes

That we shared in the untroubled

Silence of the ripening dark.

© Natalie Wood (26 September 2014)

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Writ on Water, Far Too Soon ….

I dislike the growing trend for immortalising celebrities while they are still alive, most especially those who announce they are suffering a terminal illness.

Am I the only one who considers the fashion morbid; reminiscent of a parodical deathbed scene in which a family gathers around a dying person anxious to learn how they’ll be remembered in the will?

I first complained about this last year following news that the Scots writer, Ian Banks had been diagnosed with cancer. When he died barely two  months later, the fulsome obituaries were almost redundant.

I return to the theme following the publication of a valedictory poem by the multi-talented writer and broadcaster, Clive James whose work I’ve enjoyed since he became The Observer newspaper’s excoriatingly witty television critic in the 1970s.

I understand that Japanese Maple first appeared in The New Yorker magazine but has since been republished many times elsewhere.

It is a lovely piece and makes one reflect what a great loss James’s eventual passing will be to all who cherish good writing.

Everyone can recall times of great physical or emotional pain that have been relieved, even for just a moment, by a glimpse of great natural beauty.

James evokes that feeling with the same quiet force as former Poet Laureate, Cecil Day Lewis whose final work, At Lemmons, was published after he died. I first discovered the poem in Slipstream, the autobiography of novelist, Elizabeth Jane Howard. She included it because Day Lewis wrote it at the house she then owned with Kinglsey Amis.


Kingsley.Amis.Elizabeth.Jane.Howard“At Lemmons  -  C Day Lewis


“Above my table three magnolia flowers

Utter their silent requiems.

Through the window I see your elms

In labour with the racking storm

Giving it shape in April’s shifty airs.


“Up there sky boils from a brew of cloud

To blue gleam, sunblast, then darkens again.

No respite is allowed

The watching eye, the natural agony.


Cecil.Day.Lewis“Below is the calm a loved house breeds

Where four have come together to dwell

-            Two write, one paints, the fourth invents -

Each pursuing a natural bent

But less through nature’s formative travail

Than each in his own humour finding the self he needs.


“Round me all is amenity, a bloom of   

Magnolia uttering its requiems,

A climate of acceptance.  Very well

I accept my weakness with my friends’

Good natures sweetening each day my sick room”.


“Japanese Maple – Clive  James        Clive.James

“Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.

So slow a fading out brings no real pain.

Breath growing short

Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain

Of energy, but thought and sight remain:

Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever see

So much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls

On that small tree

And saturates your brick back garden walls,

So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?

Ever more lavish as the dusk descends

This glistening illuminates the air.

It never ends.


“Whenever the rain comes it will be there,

Beyond my time, but now I take my share.

My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.

Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.

What I must do

Is live to see that. That will end the game

For me, though life continues all the same:

Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,

A final flood of colours will live on

As my mind dies,

Burned by my vision of a world that shone

So brightly at the last, and then was gone”.

© Natalie Wood (23 September 2014)

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Recalling Film’s Great Laureate

There was a distinctly old-fashioned English air to a charity film show in Karmiel on Sunday.

This was no surprise as the event, arranged by the Keren B’Yachad group, was a tribute to the late film actor-director, Richard Attenborough. Richard.Attenboroug.Poster

What’s more, the screening of Richard Attenborough – A Life In Film concluded just how I’m convinced our hero would have loved – with the presentation of 1,000 shekels – about £180.00 - to local people in need.

One of the documentary interviewees commented that Attenborough’s marriage  to Sheila Sim was so long and comfortable that it was almost a reflection of a John Betjeman poem. John.Betjeman

Sir John was British Poet Laureate from 1972 – 1984.

I’ve chosen the poem below as I think it’s a fetching description of an area I knew well when I lived in Sheffield during my teens.

“An Edwardian Sunday, Broomhill, Sheffield

“High dormers are rising
So sharp and surprising,
And ponticum edges
The driveways of gravel;
Stone houses from ledges
Look down on ravines.
The vision can travel
From gable to gable,
Italianate mansion
And turreted stable,
A sylvan expansion
So varied and jolly
Where laurel and holly
Commingle their greens.

Serene on a Sunday
The sun glitters hotly
O'er mills that on Monday
With engines will hum.
By tramway excursion
To Dore and to Totley
In search of diversion
The millworkers come;
But in our arboreta
The sounds are discreeter
Of shoes upon stone -
The worshippers wending
To welcoming chapel,
Companioned or lone;
And over a pew there
See loveliness lean,
As Eve shows her apple
Through rich bombazine;
What love is born new there
In blushing eighteen!

Your prospects will please her,
The iron-king's daughter,
Up here on Broomhill;
Strange Hallamshire, County
Of dearth and of bounty,
Of brown tumbling water
And furnace and mill.
Your own Ebenezer
Looks down from his height
On back street and alley
And chemical valley
Laid out in the light;
On ugly and pretty
Where industry thrives
In this hill-shadowed city
Of razors and knives

(See more at:,-Broomhill,-Sheffield#sthash.R02jpi0v.dpuf)

© Natalie Wood (16 September 2014)

Friday, 5 September 2014

Be Happy – Sing ‘Adon Olam’!

Adon Olam, among the most popular hymns in Jewish liturgy,  is supposed to have been composed by Solomon ibn Gabirol, one of the great figures of the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry.

Gabirol trained as a philosopher but wrote more than 400 poems before  dying aged only 37 in 1058.

Solomon ibn GabirolThe Jewish Virtual Library explains that the lyrics speak about God’s greatness and all-empowering existence. Countless melodies have been written to accompany them.

The penultimate lines request that God watches over one’s soul as one sleeps and the poem ends by mentioning God’s presence and  His ability to bring reassurance to His people. So it’s not surprising that it also forms part of bedtime prayers and is recited on one’s deathbed.

Pahrrell.WilliamsBut this is Sabbath eve and Adon Olam is joyful, so I’m posting a version sung to a cover of American singer-songwriter, Pharrell Williams’s Happy by the Listen Up! A Cappella group featuring Shayna Elliott, Eli Nathan Taylor, Steve Singer and Freddie Feldman.



Ibn Gabirol’s words are below in transliterated Hebrew and then in English :

“Adon Olam – Master of the Universe

“ Adon olam, asher malach,
b'terem kol y'tzir nivra.
L'et na'asah v'cheftzo kol,
azai melech sh'mo nikra.

“V'acharey kichlot hakol,
l'vado yimloch nora.
V'hu haya, v'hu hoveh,
v'hu yih'yeh b'tifara.

“V'hu echad, v'eyn sheni
l'hamshil lo, l'hachbira.
B'li reishit, b'li tachlit,
v'lo ha'oz v'hamisrah.

“V'hu Eli, v'chai go'ali,
v'tzur chevli b'et tzarah.
V'hu nisi umanos li,
m'nat kosi b'yom ekra.
B'yado afkid ruchi
b'et ishan v'a'irah.
V'im ruchi g'viyati,
Adonai li v'lo ira”.


“The Lord of the Universe who reigned
before anything was created.
When all was made by his will
He was acknowledged as King.

“And when all shall end
He still all alone shall reign.
He was, He is,
and He shall be in glory.

“And He is one, and there's no other,

to compare or join Him.

Without beginning, without end

and to Him belongs dominion and power.

“And He is my God, my living God.
to Him I flee in time of grief,
and He is my miracle and my refuge,
who answers the day I shall call.

“To Him I commit my spirit,
in the time of sleep and awakening,
even if my spirit leaves,
God is with me, I shall not fear”.

© Natalie Wood (05 September 2014)