Robert Peters: Connections: In the English Lake District, a verse suite

Copyright 1972 Robert Peters

Contact address for permission to reprint and distribute:

Anvil Press Poetry
69 King George Street London SE 10

or contact the author at

for Douglas Oliver


Fox Blood
Domestic Scene
...With Rapture Thrills
Above Ullswater
Coniston Water
Coniston Water: In Memory of the English Speed-Boat Racer Donald Campbell


It is / the
that astounds us
that creates the
valleys jewels,
the green plush
mountain setting
for cataracts and
streams, that
transforms the bracken
into shades
of heather, as
streaming clouds
rush through the dales
and weep weep
upon these lakes.



"The best place to be during a thunderstorm is in a large metal or metal-frame building ... Flying a kite in a thunderstorm is an invitation to getting electrocuted."
- National Geographical School Bulletin (May 1, 1967), p. 453.



We race
over the mountain
up the mountain,
huddle against
the green slate-slab fence
as rain
whistles into snow
as lightning
flails its brash
thunder disjoints
the bones, synovial
fluids fall
into whitish treacle
icing the sheep
fields, soaking
thighs and knees
creeping congealing
into shoes.

"What's here?"
Ducats of sheep's dung.
"And there?"
Marsh slugs; hornless, black
white and slime and suet.
"And there?"
Seedling firs.
(The high fence
we can't climb over
protects them).
Shiver and wait.
Separate! A bolt. A flash.
And who would find us here --
claws burned to the
fencewire, jaws frozen open
(smoked-salmon hued,
speckled, rotting)
breath of an old virgin,
or of a fox fragrant
chewed by the hounds
left to melt
by the Coniston Hunt;
from shiny tip of nose
to tip of tail
feast for ravens  crows...

Who will fetch the news?



"But is a picture of spring the essential creation, the expressive form itself, or do [Swinburne's] references to grass and flowers and rain and birdsong serve a different semblance? What is the motif?"
- Susanne K. Langer, in Problems of Art: Ten Philosophical Lectures (New York, 1957), p. 158.


Fox Blood

The keepers
lead the hounds
to the van, and urge
them in, the dispirited
hounds. The fox
has escaped again,
flicked his heart,
has eluded them --
in the gelatinous dark
panting his eyes black
as mouse eyes
immediately after
the trap has sprung
stunning, bulging
them. The hunt
rides on.



Even in inclement weather Wordsworth would compose poems, writing them down on crag faces with scraps of shale. His sister Dorothy, or his wife Mary, followed after, copying them off on to foolscap, or into notebooks. Wordsworth's attachment to the district, to its hills, rocks, crags, flowers, fishes, leaves and sheep was curiously feminine.
- Author's journal walking tour (May 6,1967,) with Douglas Oliver.


Domestic Scene

Dorothy shells peas
hangs out the washing
bestows threepences
on beggars at her door
elicits their stories
before she permits them more,
suffers headachs; works hard
in the garden in the sun
observes William
fishing on the lake
wonders what form his
new poem will take -- some
simple annal of the poor?
or, better, scraps
of his past life,
wild strawberries
in a bowl -- before
windiness sets in
crumbles perceptions
into philosophy:

"William stayed behind
me. I threw him the cloak
out of the window. The
moon overcast. He came in
sleepy, and hurried to bed.
I carried him
his bread and butter."


. . . With Rapture Thrills

These lakes
are for the mind.
One leaps towards them
from eminences above them --
Winderemere, Coniston,
Thirlmere, Derwent Water.

Sheep, small urine-
colored yaks,
feed and nibble
nibble romp and provide
spots of anchorage
for the enamored eye.

savoring these lakes
one ignores
the daffodils,
the fritillaries,
the finches skittering
by. One neglects
the churchyard
where great and small
in wet cold loam --

the heart leaps up.



From Dorothy's entries on the woodgathering excursions of her brother and the servants one concludes that the astonishing neatness of the Lake District, even the remotest reaches, dates from their industriousness. - Author's Journal (May 7, 1967)


Above Ullswater

These are the
most unanthropomorphic
mountains I have seen,
despite the christenings.
Old Man is not old man to me.
He is slate and granite.
And Skiddaw there, can you
equate him with a face,
or a titan, a broken angel?
Frightened, in a stolen
boat Wordsworth
met conscience
in these rocks, an abstract
doom, human.
The pathetic fallacy
rarely works. These
mountains are
sheer grit congealed, adorned
with trees, shrubs, and
rock, softened by eons of
rain, drizzle, patter,


Coniston Water

"Coniston Lake a fine mixture of the aweful & the pleasing Simple ... it is beyond all the other lakes perfectly intelligible -- Conceive a crescent of Hills, or rather a crescent hill, enfolding the first mile of water / this hill of various height & various outline, but no where high / above this hill at the head of the Lake, but chiefly somewhat to the Left of it (as you ascend the lake) high mountains of a remarkable sternness & simplicity, one-colored, as seen at a distance, & darkcolored / its boldest parts are first, the Bell and the Scrow, two black Peaks, perfectly breast-shaped & lying abreast of each other, the whole Bosom of a Brobdignag Negress..."
- S.T. Coleridge, Notebooks, August 1802.


Coniston Water: In Memory of the English Speed-Boat Racer Donald Campbell


I had caught
a piece of Donald Campbell's
jaw in Coniston Water.

The lake, calm,
seemed firm enough
for walking upon,
weighted and still.
Skeletal fingers
in the silt
had drawn the surface
water taut.

But on retrieving it
with a stick
I saw that it was
part of a ram.

Touched with bracken
mountains rise like
camels about to be broken
over Coniston Water.

The rain is icy,
shoots channels
forming streams and
wind falls. The lake
is cinders fallen.

I imagined the spray
as Bluebird III
burst aloft that
January day, jet engine
propelling her away
3000 miles per hour
            over the lake.

And I saw his kodakpicture
('34) standing with his father
facing Windermere,
fantastic speed dream
already there
irritating the gum line
of a forward tooth.
Career. Father to blonde son.
Record to be broken.
Son to father.


citizens declare
that divers found
his helmet with his head
intact -- but nothing else.
British newsmen joke, "Can
the water, Campbell Soup."
The search goes on,
transpires in smoke.
The press is dumb
silent on skull
jawbone, femur, thumb.

by the rocketing, fish
quiver (the lake is deep);
their throats brush leaves
decaying turning
to mulch; fish hover,
may never ascend
again, may never spawn.

That morning
when his helmet clicked
shut he knew, they say,
that he had struck
on the fatal hour (fine
trial run), felt
in his spine, the earlier
chill of hearing that his
father was dead, in his
own boat.

Is daring suicide?
Is it degree that matters
swaggering before
the skeletons of others
while doing the same?
To live is to stand
with ankles bare
and tendons bare.

The skull guards the brain,
the ribcage the lungs
and wheezing heart.

Enter a street, drop
hand to lake water,
cast a stone, collect
the mail, lift fork
or knife to mouth,
press tongue to
incisor -- rehearse for
suicide! A diamond
has its price, its fire.
A witch squeezes a toad
to her dug, begs it
suck -- as dogs chew
on one another, calves
gouge other calves
with horns, and women
naturally abuse their children.
The fact
       of wanting to live
       a desire to die.

O, Campbell,
drifting, wavering
where there are no
plants, lice, scum,
where tinted scraps of
bluebird shake, grate
soundless, roll, turn, and
roll . . .



And then the twilight
s o f t l y
through the
evergreens and elms
at night
individual shapes
of boulders, the turmoil
of rooks and jays
in the trees,
as we,
seen from the back
pause to learn
to speak again
from the depths
below us
depths shot with
haze,mist drifting in,
bounding stream,
night animal scream.



One is nearly restored here:
"O Beautiful Place!"
all of the clanking
of spoons on tables,
"Dear Mary, William.
The horse is come . . .
So I must give over."
rattle of exhaust pipe,
screams of civilians and
soldiers. "William
is eating his broth.
I must prepare to go."
Snorts and needlings,
broken thermos bottles.
"The swallows, I must
leave them, the well,
the garden, the roses, all."
-- these and more,
butter under jam,
appear then disappear;
"Dear Creatures!!"
bread scraps on calm water
are siphoned off by
swans. "Well, I must go.


Distributed by Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.
SBN 900977-44-2

Fifty numbered copies of this edition have been signed by the author

Printed in England by Latimer & Co. Ltd., Whitstable

By the same author


Songs for a Son (1967: W.W. Norton, New York)
Pioneers of Modern Poetry, with George Hitchcock (1967: Kayak, San Francisco)
The Little Square Review no. 2 (1967: John Ridland, Santa Barbara)
The Sow's Head (1968: Wayne State U.P., Detroit)


The Crowns of Apollo: Swinburne's Principles of Literature and Art (1965 : Wayne State U.P.)


Victorians on Literature and Art (1961 : Appleton Century Crofts, New York, and Peter Owen, London)
America: The Diary of a Visit, Edmund Gosse, with David Halliburton (1966, English Literature in Transition, Lafayette)
The Letters of John Addington Symonds, with Herbert M. Schueller (1967-9, Wayne State U.P.-three vols.)

[text from the back cover]


This sequence was written in 1967 after a year's visit to England on a Guggenheim Fellowship, when the author was completing his edition of the letters of John Addington Symonds. Robert Peters' books of poetry are Songs for a Son (Norton, 1967), Pioneers of Modern Poetry, with George Hitchcock (Kayak, l967) and Tbe Sow's Head (Wayne State, 1968). He is currently Professor of English at the University of California, Irvine.

Cover portrait of the author by Kiethen Carter

Back to the CAPA homepage