Monthly Archives: August 2010

A Present (a Pipe) and a poem to go with them

I just spent a wonderful afternoon in the Orchard in Granchester with a group visiting from the Kiln’s CS Lewis’s Oxford home and now a center for Lewis Studies. Among the party was the celebrated Lewis scholar Jerry Root. As conversation deepened and turned to poetry Jerry and Kim Gilnett dug out their pipes and lit up. I ferreted in my pocket and found I had left my trusty Peterson at home when lo and behold Jerry produced a “spare”; a really beautiful old Peterson made in pre-republican days. It drew beautifully, sweet as a nut, and I gave it the care and attention it deserved. but you could have knocked me over with a smoke ring when Dr Root said ‘I can see you apreciate it why dont you keep it!’ A spontaneous act of generosity which perfectly embodied the idea we had been discussing which was the parodoxical  combination of a love for the manifold things of this world but at the same time a sufficient detatchment from them all to keep us alive to our yearning for eternity. We had been quoting the lovely mediaeval couplet with which Jack Bennet, who taught me, had concluded his encomium of Lewis (who taught him):

Love God, your neighbour and be merry

And give not for this world a cherry”

It was great to see that spirit alive in a fellow Lewis scholar. He had himself recieved the pipe as a gift and sometime, at the right moment, I shall pass it on to another amazed and appreciative pipe lover. Anyway this all prompts me to re-post the little poem I wrote about Tolkien and his Pipe, so here is the pipe: :

And here is the poem:

Tree and Leaf

Tolkien is leaning back into an oak
Old, gnarled, distinct in bole and burr
As, from the burr and bowl of his old pipe,
Packed with tightly patterned shreds of leaf,
The smoke ascends in rings and wreathes of air
To catch the autumn light and meet such leaves
As circle through its wreathes and patter down
In patterns of their own to the rich ground.

He contemplates again the tree of tales;
The roots of language and its rings of growth
‘The tongue and tale and teller all coeval’
And he becomes a pattern making patterns,
A tale telling tales and turning leaves,
From the print of thumb and finger on his pipe
To the print and press and pattern of his books
And all their prints and imprints in our minds
Out to this grainy patterned photograph
Of ‘Tolkien, leaning back into an oak’.

Thanks Jerry


Filed under christianity, imagination, Inklings, literature, Poems, Theology and Arts

first fruits of the Gretchen Peters’ workshop

I had a great time at the Cambridge Folk Festival, but a real highlight was a Sunday Morning songwriting workshop with Gretchen Peters. She was wonderfully down to earth and unnassuming and full of really helpful nd thought-provoking comments, many of which she illustrated by singing her own songs. One of her key ideas was to tell stories through small vivid details and minute particulars rather than grand sweeps and she illustrated this with a fine song called Five Minutes, about five minutes in the life of a waitress on her cigarette break during which we get glimpses that add up to a whole life. Reflecting on that tight focus and the deliberate restriction of the window through which you see things, I suddenly saw a way of telling a story I’ve been meaning to tell for a while, so I went down to my woodshed and wrote this song today:


It took two loving bodies,
And their comfort through the night,
And two hearts beating faster
To bring Billy to the light,
About a thousand kisses
Saw that baby on his way,
But it only took one finger
To blow it all away

It took one mothers labour pains
And a skilful midwife too,
Two grandmas knitting double-time
Those clothes of baby blue,
It took years of love to raise him
With room to grow and play
But it only took a second
To blow it all away


We cannot count the multitude
Who made us what we are
The many friends who formed us
And carried us this far;
A hundred acts of kindness
That no one can repay
One finger, and one trigger
Can blow it all away

It took that teenage boy awhile
To find his own two feet
And he took his best friend with him
On that sixteenth birthday treat
The two boys took a shortcut
Down a darkened alleyway
And walked into the crossfire
That took Billy’s life away

I don’t know how the gunman
Tells the story of that day
He was ‘taking care of business’
When some kid got in the way
We make it hard to grow up right
And hard to make things pay
But we sure make it easy
To blow everything away

It took forty-seven minutes
For the funeral to pass
Though it felt like we were crawling
Over miles of broken glass
I saw it all in front of me
When I closed my eyes to pray:
The finger, and the trigger
And the life they took away


Filed under imagination, Music, Songs