Posted by: John Looker | 7 May, 2013

Ancient Woods

Oldbury Wood, Kent, England

Ancient woods in springtime:
silver and luminous green,
old ghosts in new clothes.

© JohnStevens 2013

This haiku is a slight thing: really no more than an accompaniment to the picture, which my wife took at Oldbury Hill, in Kent, south east England.

This is the site of one of the largest iron-age forts in Britain. There is archeological evidence of Neanderthal occupation during the last ice age; the huge fortifications were constructed by Kentish tribesmen and taken by the invading Roman army in the first century CE; the site is criss-crossed even today by the line of an ancient trackway to the coast and a later route, a east-west carriageway, used until a turnpike road was built to the south in the 1760s. A beautiful place.


  1. I think it’s absolutely beautiful! And you really make me want to see that place!


  2. gorgeous


  3. Hi John, a lovely poem and photo!


  4. Reblogged this on Spontaneous Creativity.


  5. Well, this “haiku” as you call it has features and qualities exemplary of any good very short poem. (A haiku has a torque caused by the distance between the single line and the two-line section.) Chief among these features for me is the sound-scape of the poem, and i mean nothing metaphysical by that, rather the interlocking sounds and rhythms which bind or blend the three lines which each have an independent rhythm.

    Ancient woods in springtime:
    silver and luminous green,
    old ghosts in new clothes.

    The first line has a fine falling rhythm nicely complicated by the near spondee of “springtime” (my ear has the first syllable slightly more emphatic). The falling rhythm concludes with the colon: and in a sense pushes through the porous aspect of this ‘full stop.” Catching the rhythm (and the imagery) is the second line, which opens with an echo of the trochee of the first word, then picks up a more iambic rhythm — and LUM — followed by a shimmering sound in “inous GREEN.” The long sound “green” holds that imagery of the first two lines. If this were a haiku, the “cutting word” (in Japanese, often “ya”) would go here; in English, a dash. Then the final line, with its own very emphatic and self-enclosed soundscape: OLD GHOSTS in NEW CLOTHES. The semantics of this single line recapitulates the meanings of the first who lines in a kind of meaning-echo, and the distance between the palettes of the first line (pretty plain, could be a caption under a newspaper or magazine photo) and the second (sensuous description) is collapsed in the conceptual chunks of the closing line. This closure is emphasized by the rhythm echo in the spondaic sound of SPRIINGtime and new clothes. “New clothes” is a phrase sound, a sort of nominal phrase; we aren’t meant to question how new? New balances old in an AB AB sequence.
    So this wee jig is quite satisfying. A little dance by a shy poet caught off guard by a seeker after form. Apologies all round. Then drinks.
    Many will doubt the usefulness of such minute inspection of details in a three line poem which even the author seems to apologize for. But I could go on and analyze the sound patterns composed by the syllables, starting with one of my favorite sounds, the short “i.” And . . . .


    • I know you have written extensively about the form of the haiku on your own blogs, Tom. Your commentary here is most instructive and packs a lot into a short space; thank you. In the West we have a fascination with the haiku, don’t we? But few of us attempting it realise how exacting the conventions are, or just how great a wealth of literary culture has been distilled in its seventeen sounds. Next time I try it, I’ll look again at your remarks.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I enjoyed your haiku. I envy your location where you can visit such ancient spiritual sites.


  7. Reblogged this on bearspawprint.


  8. I know, I know. I just can’t leave anything along—but consider this poem with one teensy word changed.
    Ancient woods in springtime:
    silver and luminous green,
    old ghosts like new clothes.
    Now, my idea is not to steal your poem, John—in a lot of ways the Poundian injunction to ‘make it new’ has evolved into ‘make it you’—and perhaps this is a good thing in a time when poetry is not in the vital center of our culture, but has drifted off into politeness and elegance, so we’ll leave your poem alone, just use my little tweak to do what is always a good idea with a John Stevens poem: see what is not there.
    Turns out, what is not in the haiku is all around it. Example one: are we meant to see the description following the poem as part of it—or is it extraneous to it, just a little explanation not really necessary to the poem? And, example two, there is the picture—it reminds me of the The Burghers of Calais, by the way, the sweep, the composition created by the ‘placement’ of the trunks. To say the haiku is a mere accompaniment…well, why not say the piano merely accompanies the voice in your typical lieder? These things are cleverly placed near at hand, waiting for us to read the poem carefully enough to find them. Example three: what John Ruskin called the ‘pathetic’ fallacy: we are not druids, are we? We don’t think the ancient woods particularity likes or dislikes its new clothes…yet, ghosts are invoked. We don’t believe in them either, except as metaphors. Thus we may have some ‘torque’ here after all, hidden in that ‘in’ (which I’d like to think my ‘like’ reveals). Ancient woods, old ghosts…April is the cruelest month…Spring vanishes the scraps of winter[.] Why should there be any question of returning or of death in memory’s dream? (This last bit from Wallace Stevens). Enough torque to turn the season into spring. Enough said? Well done, John.


  9. Your proposal is intriguing, Jim. It would make a significantly different poem through changing one word, and that sets my mind playing with other possibilities – e.g. “not new clothes” … “but new clothes”, “fear new clothes” … so many possibilities!
    Is the descriptive paragraph part of the piece or extraneous? Well, I saw the poem as an extrapolation from the picture (thinking of Chinese art + poem + calligraphy); the history lesson or travel guide is a further extrapolation. You’ve really opened a hidden door with this observation.
    And are those ghosts real or metaphorical? I’ll let the reader decide (I’m giving the ghosts away free with the poem).


  10. I enjoyed this poem, too, John. I’m glad to see you writing “slight” things ; )


  11. Wonderful –

    The picture mostly, but the poem too 🙂



  12. At the Zuni Mountain poets’ meeting on Sunday Red Wulf Running Bare told the gathered poets about an alligator juniper on top of a mesa that you can get to only by climbing an extremely steep slope with an imposing cliff just below the mesa’s rim. It is the biggest alligator juniper in New Mexico, according to Red Wulf and has an imposing shape and majesty that reflects back over 2,000 years of life. This haiku reminds me of Red Wulf’s story. I enjoyed both very much.


    • Wow! That’s a dramatic landscape and an imposing scene of the sublime! Thanks so much for recording it here, Thomas.


  13. Very nice…


  14. Ancient woodlands always under threat by corporate interests. Just like rainforests, you can’t replace their hundreds of years of creating its own plant life and eco-system.

    In front of my old apartment in Bradford-on-Avon was a Lebanon that never ceased to put me in awe.

    invisible crows
    the lebanon tree echoes
    its call of three caws

    Alan Summers
    earlier version:
    Award Credit: Honourable Mention, Only One Kagoshima Tree Haiku Contest (Japan 2015)

    warm regards,

    President, United Haiku and Tanka Society
    co-founder, Call of the Page


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