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Lay for the Day
16th November

1934: the birthday of Ronnie Wathen, poet, mountaineer and piper. He died on 5th September 1993. See also the Lay for 22nd January.


He sets up pipes
and elbow, knee,
stiff fingerpads
begin to play,

to work the air
and forge it, twist
with quick digits
and precise wrist

the air from it,
which jigs and reels
like a spun top
that speeding stills.

and introvert,
and noise can hurt

man and music,
but no tittle
nor jot can harm
nor belittle.

Nursed in corners,
this old rigour,
born of bog and
rock, is bigger

than outlouding
now, finally.
While, shinily-
packed, the present

thing is dull at
core, this scintil-
lates. Time and stout
wet its gullet.

* * * *

The well-read chant
of a Saxon
who got the tune
stones stood up to,

psalms and laments
of megalith-
builders’ descent,
grasped the myth that

roped on ice-cliff
or rock, easing
up a v/diff,
he groped and craned

to confront, some
expanding from
exposure and

stillness, far range
and near cranny,
from freedom and

John Gibbens
from Characters: You & I

The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar