Mournful Poetry and the power of despair

This is a poem that came out of a number of things. I think it makes sense without the explanation, but I also think the explanation is interesting in its own right, so here we go. The content for this poem came out of two lunatic walking expeditions, one which took me over, the other under a motorway. In both cases, the increasing impact of the motorway sound on what else I could hear was quite a distressing experience, and on one walk produced a great sense of horror in my son. Most people only get near motorways when driving on them, which reduces this horror considerably. To stand in a field and hear it roar, is a whole other thing, and not pleasant at all.

Thing number two was an article about how you can hear the absences in ecosystems, and that any listening orientated science is hearing the hush descending on the non-human word. A deathly hush of absence.

Thing number three is Miserable Poet’s Cafe, which I went to last night and for which I needed material. This is the one I did not end up reading – there is a glimmer of hope at the end – and there wasn’t time. Still, I did win a bottle of very cheap wine.


Silence falling

Allow me to render you unquiet, and unhappy

For there are uneasy truths I would inflict

Of deathly silence falling on ecosystems

No dawn chorus but a quiet straggle.

I invite you to be glum, to despair.

Have you heard the fox at midnight?

No wolf will howl for you, not on this shore.

Have you heard the haunting crane call?

Or the bittern boom at the edge of viability?

Owls and orcas, nightingale and narwal

Passing into myth on our watch

For future generations to place beside unicorns.

Have you heard the roar of motorway

The ever busy sound wound carving

Its angry self into land and air,

Always hungry, raging over miles to eat up

The subtle songs of hedgerow dwellers.

Have you heard the fevered squeal of late night

Just having a laugh at 80 would be racers

Thunder of aircraft tearing the sky, the insidious whir

Of fans, coolers, air conditioning, the sound

Of life being stolen from the future,

One loud pluck at a time.

I invite you to hear the ruined world song

And despair.

Only in grief will there be hope.


(*and yes, I know there are people trying to reintroduce wolves to the UK, but I’ve never heard one here and most of us never will.)


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

4 responses to “Mournful Poetry and the power of despair

  • angharadlois

    Perfect description of the motorway, that “ever busy sound wound carving / Its angry self into land and air” – your description of the walk evokes two memories, really strongly. The first is of walking an old pilgrim trail in Sout-East Spain, and how strange it was to get on a bus and speed into a town after a whole week spent at that slower pace. It struck me that, while we were walking, most of the buildings we encountered were small, organic, in tune with the landscape; only when we got back onto the roads and started rushing by did we see tower blocks again. They were so jarring. Without being too Prince Charles about the issue, there does seem to be some kind of link between sympathetic architecture and the intimate knowledge of the landscape gained by walking.

    The second memory is of walking the South Downs Way, which I have done a number of times. The first time, I was determined to get to know the landscape as it really is, motorways and all. Descending the small trail from the high downs to be confronted with that monstrosity was a defining moment in my opinion about this country’s transport infrastructure. We should grieve for what has been lost; only then will we feel its value.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    I dislike human caused noise, even small noises of our civilization, such as the fan near my bed and the sound of my refrigerator which is also near my bed. So I refuse to add to them. I don’t watch TV, I don’t listen to the radio, nor do I play music. Even the sound of the keys on my keyboard are remarkably loud to me.

    But I can hear the sound of the birds, often a great many birds in my feeding area that I call the Seed Vulture Cafe. I can hear the neighborhood dogs on occasion, the coyote, and occasionally those of the cranes when they seasonally pass nearby, for they are very noisy. I can often hear them even when I can not sport the with my weakening eyesight. I can hear the rattle of a rattlesnake, though I notice they make noise less and less, perhaps learning that that noise can be their death warrant in the human encroached desert that I live in. There is the rare sound of rain, hail, thunder, and even the rarer sound of running water. There is the sound of wind, the sound of it through the overhead wires the rattling of steal doors, the squeaking front door as it has no latch, and the creaking and moaning of a long disused wind mill.

    There is the occasional noise of y cat, be it a meow, the sound of it landing after a jump, or the sound of something falling, knocked to the floor by a cat who is not concerned about such things. There is the sound of his scratching as he sharpens his claw or the noise of him forcing the front door open to come back inside. Normally he has quieter ways to get my attention and tell me of his needs such as a paw on my back, shoulder, or face, sometimes with claw extended, or jumping into my lap or jumping onto my desk, walking across my keyboard and hopping on top of my printer. There is a folded towel on top to protect the working of my scanner and fax machine from cat hair. The cat thinks it is for his comfort.

    There is also the occasional noise of a passing car, occasionally a passing truck, or a passing motorcycle. There is the sound of an occasional helicopter, sirens in the distance, occasionally I hear the trains passing in the distance. But these are but occasional sounds, and I rarely listen for them. Lastly there is the sound of the few people whom I deal with each day.

  • Sue Marsh

    Beautiful and evocative piece of poetry…thank you so much for this.

  • lornasmithers

    This is so resonant for me at the moment facing the threat of a new piece of by-pass over the river where lapwings turn and call, herons fish, where for now it it is peaceful.

    In grief is a lesson of what is lost, and hope lies in what can we learn from it. The impulse not to let history repeat itself.

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