In The Nature Of Summer Thoughts

Rivers, rocks, air and rain

The Chained Swan

Beyond Watersmeet there’s a chained swan.
Above the thundering river, dipper-dipped,
heron-pierced, grey-wagtail flittered,
boulder-bounding down from Watersmeet,
an oasis of cream-teas at the fishing lodge,
yes, way above that densely oaked ravine
there’s a crowned swan in chains.

Beyond the pied flycatchers, flitting from
the oaks to stab the air on invisible strings,
the birches thin to a rising meadow where
crows congregate at cowpats and a path,
cresting the buzzard-cruised meadow,
descending to a dell and a church, leads
to an angry swan biting her chains.

Beyond the isolated church of Countisbury
the coastal path drops from Butter Hill,
high above the sea, balancing through bracken,
airy, loose and steep, towards the Lyn’s mouth.
Raven calls black-flap below. But from that church
echo the distressed cries from a medieval bench-end
of a swan chained to the crown slipped down her neck.
Countisbury church chained swan
The chained swan in St John the Evangelist Church, Countisbury, Devon.
The Singing Bus

for Clifden Community School, Connemara

passes the rising tide on its port side
along the rounding shore road,
whistling the otter’s lament,

bowing the strings of yellow kelp,
plucking at pink crayfish,
sounding the base of the turf,

its dark storied heat of hearts
and tears at the hearth,
beating always with flying feet

the bounce beating back against rain,
those ever changing clouds
that do not know how to end

their raindance the way school ends,
a lesson ends, a journey ends
in the singing bus until tomorrow’s

new sharing session in the old bus
of airs and songs of cart roads,
drove roads, sea roads, songlines.
Relics From My Father’s Greenhouse

Wood tamped earth flat over seeds
secure in their pencil holes, gently
watered by a can from the rain-butt:
flat wood, cracked along its grains
like old skin, as though eaten by sea,
has been screwed to new wood for
holding like a reduced board-rubber.

Stone broke earth for replanting:
sea-shaped stone for my father’s
fingers to fold around for his
potting-on after the pricking-out
of plants rooted in holes from
this dull pebble, its pointed end
whitened by fertilizer’s good wishes.

We’d joked that clearing his shed
of a lifetime of piled rusting objects
would be our grieving nightmare, but
my sister paid to pre-empt our pain.
From his greenhouse I have only his
two Neolithic tools, of aching wood
and that carefully selected cold stone.

How I write – by Terry Gifford

My notebook is essential. It’s hardback, pocket-sized and covered in waterproof tackyback because I write outdoors in it.

I’m a great believer in rewriting and rewriting to find the poem’s form. I try out my work-in-progress at a monthly workshop with fellow poets and I’m hugely grateful for their responses.

Every landscape, every flower, every tree, bird and animal are threatened in some way and climate breakdown and my own culpability are always at the back of my mind. My poetry needs to address this if it is to be more than personal therapy. I try to hint in an indirect, undidactic, way. I believe that the slow drips of poems can make something happen, accumulatively, communally, in the dialogue between writers and readers. 

Terry Gifford has published eight collections of poetry and is author/editor of seven books about Ted Hughes. His most recent book is D. H. Lawrence, Ecofeminism and Nature. He is Visiting Research Fellow in Environmental Humanities at Bath Spa University, UK, and Profesor Honorifico at the Universidad de Alicante, Spain. His most recent book is D. H. Lawrence, Ecofeminism and Nature. See

Terry Gifford poet

Poems © Terry Gifford, 2023.