Posted by: John Looker | 23 August, 2009


This might look like a nature poem at first; but it is not; it has something else to say.

Photo by Tom Stevens, taken with permission from his website for photographs.


Beneath the snow, where roe deer pick their way
As silhouettes against the palest sun,
Below the birches and the charcoal grey
Of hawthorn hedge where badgers make their run,
          lie concealed
the varied greens of grass and moss and ivy, plus
the occasional shock of colour where bulbs
have unlocked the land.

Before the camera lens is opened wide,
Until the moment when the film may host
An image, though inverted, of the bride
Pretty in black, the groom bleached like a ghost,
          there’s a scene
of colour and motion : of hats and flowers, of loud air-kisses,
of small children lost behind the long dresses,
squeezing confetti in their hands.

And so it is with Print. Since Caxton’s day,
When stained fingers set the moveable type,
Unwary minds have seen the Truth displayed
Incontrovertible in Black and White;
          between the lines
are swept : the witnesses not called; the dispossessed;
the sage; the saint; and those who have never wished
to run or bay with the pack.

© John Stevens


  1. A nature poem that is, as you say, about much more than nature. A great poem if I might be so bold as to give high praise. I wish there were a favorites library on this site (as there is on another I puruse) so I could save this in my personal archives.


    • This is very generous of you and enormously encouraging. Thanks! It just happens that I was browsing your website again a few days ago and finding much that I liked there (at ). I appreciate the way you have a wide range of themes. I’ll visit again and maybe leave a comment too.


  2. Beneath, before, and so it is, John. This is a complex poem. We move from nature to photography to a discussion of print and Caxton. There is colour “where bulbs
    have unlocked the land,” and
    “of hats and flowers, of loud air-kisses,
    of small children lost behind the long dresses,
    squeezing confetti in their hands.”
    leading to another kind of colour,
    “the witnesses not called; the dispossessed;
    the sage; the saint; and those who have never wished
    to run or bay with the pack.”
    and all of this is “A Study in Black and White,” the title seemingly referring to the black and white of photographs and print that are human as compared to the richness of nature.
    This is an interesting, interesting poem, John, although almost as challenging as the poems on ExtraSimile.


    • Many thanks for your continued reading in my blog. I’m not sure what I make of this particular poem now. I suspect it’s a bit too introverted and dispassionate but at the time I was content with it.


  3. I’ve come back to read this poem several times, John, and likely will return. I wonder, now that so many of the younger generation are not print oriented, will videotic “Truth” in living color be even more acceptable to the unwary? Such an enjoyable and thought provoking poem.


    • That’s really good of you Cynthia – thank you. I suspect you’re right about the young and print – and of course camera film is outmoded now too.


  4. I come to this poem again with the “new eyes” that happen with re-reading after a time lapse. The poem is the same, but I am not as I was, reading it for the first time.(Exactly to the point I think this poem is trying to make.) Today it speaks most eloquently about the black/white, yes/no duality and structure of life at the conventional level as a stopped thing–necessary, of course, to civilized social life–versus the flow of life in its true uncertainty. Maybe this comes to me because it’s just after writing my “Disappearance of Two O’Clock”, but now I can see how this poem relates to your “Brought Down”–both poems on a theme after my own heart.


  5. Thank you for these thoughts. I’ve not defined my theme exactly in these “True North” poems but it is broadly an exploration of how we are often so misguided: we simplify, we don’t know we’ve done so, we can’t cope with subtleties, we don’t perceive our own prejudices or the depth of our own ignorance, etc; we think we know where we are travelling but our entire compass is slightly off course (picking up magnetic north, not the real thing).
    I’ve gone back to reread your “Disappearance of Two O’Clock” and of course it is much more than a poem about the change of the hour, isn’t it? I also remember your “Sharp and Inconspicuous” which as I read it was an angry and frustrated observation about social blinkers – as is my Black and White poem, I hope.


  6. This has been a very good discussion….sometime to be continued, perhaps. Thanks, John, for being such a good blogger-poet-friend….such as are few and far between.


  7. Just browsing around…I still love this poem, John…and this true north/magnetic north idea…


    • That’s kind of you Cynthia. Slowly, slowly this section will develop!


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