Slow Emotion

This edition was first published in 2014.

Regular readers will know how I am plagued by mood swings, especially sharp bursts of irritability.  Ironically, one of the most stressful activities for me, given the name of this blog, is fixing a puncture. I have written about this before, you can read what I have had to say about what punctures mean for me by reading the 2 posts below that I wrote back in the Spring

Last  month I suffered 2 punctures. The first one was when I was in the centre of town – no repair kit to be found in my panniers  ( will return to this point shortly.) Frustrated, annoyed, mystified (the puncture occurred while my bike was locked up outside my doctor’s surgery, which is to say, stationary. I wheeled my bike to the nearest bike shop, and for a princely sum, they fixed it. Stress levels reduced thanks to my finding a solution quickly – as in the past (see blog posts above) I found someone who could fix the puncture.


The next puncture was what we call a slow puncture. It’s not immediately apparent. I discovered it one morning as I cycled away from my house. Right from that moment my reaction to what had happened – and what I would have to do – was different. The bike went back into the garage, and I walked. I worked out there and then that I wouldn’t have time to fix it for a couple of days. I didn’t fret, I wasn’t preoccupied by the thought of doing something I find very stressful, that I am not very good at.

That was new.

But since I wasn’t fretting about it, I didn’t give it any thought at all. I failed to notice any difference in my reaction to having a puncture to fix. Before I actually got down to fixing the puncture I made a Plan B in case I just couldn’t fix it, couldn’t get the damn tyre off, or the hole was too big to patch up. I looked up the bus schedule (I had to get to the train station the following morning  to go to work.)

That was new.

Only then did I set about preparing to fix the puncture.

I assembled everything I needed, took the wheel off … you get the picture. The hole was so small that I couldn’t find it. Still no grinding of teeth, throwing of tools. I then took the next step and put the inner tube in some water – the bubbles showed me the spot immediately. I applied the patch, slightly inflated the tube and in one go eased the wheel and tube back in place. I put the wheel back on the bike, pumped up the tyre and cycled round the block a couple of times to make sure the patch was doing the job.

Then it hit me. What had happened? I had been totally relaxed; I behaved, well, like a bike mechanic. But I couldn’t understand why. The puncture had happened at an inconvenient time. I had had a couple of days to stew over having to do something I find stressful and still I had acted as though I did this sort of thing every day.

One thing I knew – it stood as evidence. Proof that I do have the capacity to act in a calm collected manner even when in a stressful situation.

Since then I have discussed this episode with my psychiatrist. He suggested that I log my outbursts. I agreed that I would draw up a chart and note down what happened to provoke my flashes of irritability. True to form I haven’t done so yet – but I haven’t noticed any outbursts yet, either.

While it is still a mystery to me as to why I was able to fix the puncture without going red in the face and having a tantrum, I do have a theory: is it possible that all this preoccupation with wanting to control my irritable outbursts (I think about it every day) has somehow contributed to a calmer me?

A Little While, a Little While

A little while, a little while,
The weary task is put away,
And I can sing and I can smile,
Alike, while I have holiday.

Where wilt thou go, my harassed heart–
What thought, what scene invites thee now
What spot, or near or far apart,
Has rest for thee, my weary brow?

There is a spot, ‘mid barren hills,
Where winter howls, and driving rain;
But, if the dreary tempest chills,
There is a light that warms again.

The house is old, the trees are bare,
Moonless above bends twilight’s dome;
But what on earth is half so dear–
So longed for–as the hearth of home?

The mute bird sitting on the stone,
The dank moss dripping from the wall,
The thorn-trees gaunt, the walks o’ergrown,
I love them–how I love them all!

Still, as I mused, the naked room,
The alien firelight died away;
And from the midst of cheerless gloom,
I passed to bright, unclouded day.

A little and a lone green lane
That opened on a common wide;
A distant, dreamy, dim blue chain
Of mountains circling every side.

A heaven so clear, an earth so calm,
So sweet, so soft, so hushed an air;
And, deepening still the dream-like charm,
Wild moor-sheep feeding everywhere.

THAT was the scene, I knew it well;
I knew the turfy pathway’s sweep,
That, winding o’er each billowy swell,
Marked out the tracks of wandering sheep.

Could I have lingered but an hour,
It well had paid a week of toil;
But Truth has banished Fancy’s power:
Restraint and heavy task recoil.

Even as I stood with raptured eye,
Absorbed in bliss so deep and dear,
My hour of rest had fleeted by,
And back came labour, bondage, care.

Emily Bronte (1818 – 1848)

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Yemen of the Mind

I was reading about racing cyclists in Yemen recently.  As you might imagine resources for the sport in a country that has been described as a ‘failed state’ are scarce.  The national team find it nearly impossible to fund participation in international cycling competitions.  The last time they were able to compete on the international stage was at the Arab Club Championships held in Egypt in 2006.  At home the small team of riders wearing faded sun – bleached lycra and riding bicycles that are in varying states of repair, cycling at altitudes of over 7,500 feet in Sana’a the country’s capital – higher than some parts of the French Alps.

But lack of oxygen and funding are not the only challenges facing these riders.  Attitudes towards them among the general public are hostile, to say the least.  These lycra – clad cyclists routinely face verbal abuse and worse.  They are seen as different, strange and therefore alien.  Riders have to contend with more than being cut up by a stressed out driver on the commute to work.  Dodging rocks being hurled at them, lorry drivers running them off the road are frequent challenges they face as they ride round the capital – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As remote from my surroundings as this country situated on the Arabian Peninsula is, I was struck by similarities in attitude that people with mental health problems are faced with.  It may be relatively rare that people with mental health problems (in the developed world) are attacked in public, but there are still attacks of a diiferent kind that we face every day.  People may not throw stones at us, but they can, and do run us off the road with silence, thoughtless quips and the lazy use of terms such as ‘mad’, ‘manic’, ‘depressed’.  They run us off the road with low expectations, impatience and the inability, or unwillingness to listen to us.

If my tone sounds angry it is because I am.

For some one for whom mood swings are – to put it mildly – a problem, sometimes my feelings are just that: feelings.  I’m not angry because sometimes my mood can spike sharply from relaxed to shouting and swearing in a moment, I’m angry because the attitudes I am describing here (and not for the first time) cause so much pain.

Now that he’s got that off his chest he’ll feel a whole lot better, right?

Sometimes it’s not me who needs to change my attitude.

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Robert Frost (1874 – 1963)

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Bicycle Thieves #3

To mark the theft of the front wheel of my bicycle this weekend, I repost this edition first published in 2011

What more dispiriting experience is there for a cyclist than discovering that their bike has been nicked?  This has happened to me twice.  The first time it was the first bicycle I owned as an adult.  I had been given it by a friend who lived in London who had been put off riding in the capital after a friend of his was knocked off his bike. The second time it happened was last Friday, which is what prompted me to reblog  this edition.

The first time it happened it was stolen from right outside where I  lived back then.  I used to chain it to the railings at the front of my house.  The chain I used was no match for a handy pair of bolt cutters, apparently.  That bicycle had particular meaning for me. Apart from being my first bicycle, it also accompanied me in what I was going through at that time.  It was the bike I owned when I was first diagnosed with depression.  I never rode very far on it. Before I recognised that I was depressed I used to get up early and cycle down to the beach before going to work in London. I would cycle along the seafront watched by homeless people who  sleep on the benches, and in shelters that dot the beach front, as they were waking up.

I was signed off sick for 3 years starting in the summer of 2002. It was around that time that I put my bicycle  out of sight in the shed at the bttom of the garden.  It stayed there for a year, while I hibernated in bed, barely able to function. I remember the first time I took it out  and tottered around the block on it, riding on the pavement, before putting it back in the shed once more and retreating inside to recover…for months.

The day after that bicycle was stolen my wife drove to work and came home with  a new bicycle for me.  I clearly remember coming out of the house and crossing the road to where her car was parked with the new bicycle strapped to the bike rack.  It felt like a symbol of hope that I could find my way back to who I was, and what I wanted to become; someone had faith in me that I could  find my way back, and recognised what I needed to do so. When I told her what had happened last Friday she immediately reminded me that I had turned down her offer of a new bicycle for my birthday last July, saying that I was happy with my bicycle and that I had a strong emotional attachment to it. I have been to the bike shop that I have been visiting since 2000 and I have my eye on the bike I want. Like the the first bike I had that was stolen, this bike had a very strong emotional connection for me. I wrote about it in a previous post which you can read here:

Back in the autumn of 2010 I was riding that bicycle when I took a tumble taking a corner too fast and before my left knee had hit the tarmac I knew that something was seriously wrong. Not long after that I was diagnosed with Bi Polar Disorder (I much prefer the old moniker Manic Depression, mind you.)

I took the title of this instalment of my blog from the title of the Italian film of 1948 ‘Ladri di Biciclette’.  The film revolves around the main protagonist’s search for his stolen bicycle which his wife had pawned their bedsheets so that he could redeem it from the pawn broker and  secure a job putting up posters around the city. Although the film ends on a despairing note, as he tries unsuccessfully to steal a bicycle, the film resonates with me because of the idea that the bicycle offers him hope of a better life.  For me, it highlights the sacrifices, and the lengths that we need to go to attain that goal.

Earlier that same year Gino Bartali won the Tour de France for the second time (he also won the King of the Mountains jersey that year).  It was the Italian’s second win after a gap of ten years.  The length of time between those victories also carries a message of hope for me.  In the 1948 race Bartali was on the point of giving up, but inspired by a phone call from the Italian prime minister that a victory would reunite a country on the brink of civil unrest, he rode on to victory.

It is possible to return to our best selves and reach our potential – even after a long gap, even when we feel like giving up on life, it is possible to succeed in whatever we choose to do.

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
By John Masefield (1878-1967)
(English Poet Laureate, 1930-1967.
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One Train, Two Buses and a Bicycle

These days I’m doing the short miles. A 3 mile round trip to the station 3 times a week  to get the train to go to work. Most weeks a 6 mile round trip into the centre of town. Urban, utilitarian, purposeful miles. Even then, they lift my mood. Even these short distances that hardly register a heart beat or trouble my lungs, are good for me. I know I need to be clocking up the miles, climbing the hills and enjoying the descents in the countryside that sits on my doorstep. I’ve stopped telling myself that I should. ‘Should’ doesn’t help. ‘Should’ sits on my shoulders and harms my posture. ‘Should’ wags its finger at me and reminds me of my failings.

These days, however the short downhill trip to the station on my way to work is full of dread. It’s not my job I dread, but the certainty that my journey home will be a trial.

For those of you blessed not to live in, and rely on trains to get you about, in the south east of England a little background is necessary. Since around the middle of April the trains in the south east have been – how can I put this? – erratic. Cancellations, delays and many more broken down trains than usual. Announcements of fires in signal boxes scarcely raise an eyebrow. And, yes, delays caused by ‘a body on the line.’ Replacement bus services’ are propping up my homeward – bound journeys.

Image result for a train, a bus and a bicycle

This chaos is mainly caused by what the station announcements describe as ‘staff sickness.’ This is code for unofficial strike action. This week, at least, they made it official and there is a 5 day strike. I’m working from home. Here is not the place to delve into the staff grievances, the poor performance of the train company and the passenger protests at stations in London and Brighton, however.

What I am writing about here started on 17 October 2000 just outside Hatfield, a town north of London. A train came off the tracks resulting in the death of 4 passengers and injuries to a further 70.

The Hatfield disaster.

I wasn’t there, I have never been there. Never travelled through there, and, most probably, I never will. I didn’t know anyone on the train, either. But the events of that day echo still for me. Back then I was commuting to London by train. No bike ride to the station (it was a 5 minute walk.) But there was an underground train and a bus ride after that to get me to the mental health service I was running back then. The impact that the Hatfield disaster had on me was a significant factor in the onset of my mental health problems that were first recognised by me and my doctors the following March.

The reason for the derailment at Hatfield was that there were cracks in the rails. Train companies could not simply stop running services while the entire network was checked. But what they could do is have the rains running at half the speed they would do normally. So my ride to London was reduced to a 30mph speed limit, doubling the length of an already long trip – there and back. Trains were cancelled, station concourses teemed with despairing passengers in varying states of despair and resignation. I can clearly recall being unable to even get into the station for the crowds of people waiting more in hope than expectation that a train would arrive to (eventually) take them to where they needed to be. Finding a seat on a train was no guarantee either. I can still recall like it was last week finally sitting on a train that would take me home after somehow having done a day’s work only to hear an announcement to say that that train would not be going anywhere and that the train 3 platforms away would be leaving for home right then. I remember running to get there only to join crowds 3 deep waiting for a train, any train, to appear. And then there was another announcement about another train on another platform … and the crowd surged again. I can’t recall what happened next, but you get the picture. This situation continued for weeks, months as the tracks were checked and repairs made.

There have not been any derailments, no passengers killed or injured. But the same uncertainty and unpredictability is there, coming back in waves every working day. And all this and I only have to travel 3 days per week. And it’s not a busy commuter line on the scale of those journeys to London that I used to make 5 days per week.


Yes, I remember the place –

The station. One dull afternoon

The train drew up there



Before the town was reached

From the windows I saw

The usual picture-postcard scenery.

The sheep – cropped fields revealed


Not a hint of catastrophe.

A few passengers looked up,

And jolted from a Sunday doze

They saw the place name and froze.


Opposite me a woman wept.

Some people came aboard,

And passed on the baton of heir grief

To those who left. The place’s name


Was not observed by all.

Noses stuck in books some read on

As car parks, new housing. dull fields,

Were quickly passed then gone.

Brian Patten (1946 – )

Here is a link to the historical background to the poem:



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Not Disco

So, the 103rd edition of the Tour de France has come to an end.The riders conquered mountain passes in the Alps and the Pyrenees before the procession to Paris. Kilometre after kilometre of climbing as the air thins, the oxygen supply diminishes. And they are racing. This is not a sponsored bike ride with rest stops and an opportunity to relax along the way. This is hard. But the riders do everything to drag themselves up mountain passes and retain control of the road as they descend at speed, as fast as cars.

As they do everything physically possible to make up into the clouds the riders rise up off their saddles and push harder still on the pedals, their bodies swaying from side to side as they seek to employ their core strength and even the muscles in their arms and shoulders. They call this ‘dancing on the pedals.’ This not aerodynamic, smooth, metronomic pedalling we see when a lone cyclist takes on the challenge of cycling round a track to see how far s/he can go in exactly 1 hour. No, climbing the Pyrenees, in a race, involves swaying and twisting, a lot like on a dance floor.

I went to a Jewish wedding recently. A lot of dancing is involved. Not the dignified waltzing newly weds kind of dancing, No one is asking to have the next dance. It’s circle dancing, men and women dancing separately (in this particular case the two groups were separated by a curtain.) And before you ask – there’s no space here to delve into the whys and wherefores of the cultural practices of orthodox Jews celebrating at weddings. I raise it here because that wedding represented a significant positive shift for me.

In the past I have written about the impact of genocide, in particular, the Holocaust on me. In that post I wrote that ‘the Algerian/French philosopher Albert Camus (1913 – 1960), the only footballer – he played in goal for Racing Universitaire d’Alger – ever to have been awarded the Nobel Prize (for literature, 1957) wrote in ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’: ‘revolt gives life its value.’ What is the connection between mass murder, an existentialist philosopher and dancing at a wedding? It’s like this: My upbringing, especially my idiosyncratic religious practice, is heavily influenced by what happened to my family in the years of European infamy (1933 – 45).

For me, observing Jewish religious rites has been a long series of acts of revolt. The most potent of these  has been dancing at weddings. Why is it that my creaking gyrations on the dance floors of assorted ballrooms, Jewish community venues and synagogues is steeped in such energetic meaning?  Back in the 1980s I read a book called ‘Hassidic Tales of the Holocaust.’ It is a series of short of accounts of the experiences of members of the myriad of Hassidic groups during that deadly era. In one account it is recalled how a survivor of the terrors of one of the death marches that took place in the months before the end of the war, who, despite missing toes from frostbite, made it his practice to dance at weddings despite the physical pain that doing so caused to his feet. This response to such suffering pierced me. It has stayed with me. It lives in me as an outstanding feat of resistance, a positive response to his pain, sorrow and loss. At  a distance of 0ver 70 years my response has been to dance … vengefully. A  revolt against annihilation.

Annihilation. A revolt against suicide, the ultimate destruction of the suffering that is life. It is my decision to act in the present moment, to risk celebrating the continuation of the life cycle in public, to stand up and dance on the pedals.

This Room

This room is breaking out,

Of itself, cracking through

Its own walls

In search of space, light,

Empty air.


The bed is lifting out of

Its nightmares

From dark corners, chairs

Are rising up to crash through clouds.


This is the time and place

To be alive:

When the daily furniture of our lives

Stirs, when the improbable arrives.

Pots and pans bang together

In celebration, clang

Past the crowd of garlic, onions, spices,

Fly by the ceiling fan.

No one is looking for the door.

In all this excitement

I’m wondering where

I’ve left my feet, and why

My hands are outside, clapping.


Imtiaz Dharker (1954 – )




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The Wrong Bus

Yes, despite what the title seems to suggest, this is a blog about cycling and mental health.

So why the reference to public transport all of a sudden? I took a bus yesterday – a couple of them, in fact. I didn’t see cyclists pedalling along through the rain – streaked windows. I wasn’t musing on the fluidity of movement that cycling brings in comparison with the shuddering, groaning and wheezing of that most asthmatic of vehicles – the bus.  No, I wasn’t thinking, in any depth, about anything at all. Nothing Mindful about that; just so many rivulets of skull – based activity that eventually settled into a pool of flaccid, of soon to be forgotten, angst.

I caught the wrong bus. I misread the arrivals board, or the number on the front of the first bus that arrived, just as I made it out of the rain and into the bus shelter. It took about 20 minutes before it dawned on me that I had jumped on the wrong bus.

For those of you reading this in Barbados or Equatorial Guinea it may be difficult to understand, but this British ‘summer’ has been very, very wet. When it should be, well, what we like to call barbeque weather. I like to call myself an all weather cyclist. Actually, I’m fast becoming a no weather cyclist. I have been driven away from doing the one thing that best promotes my good mental health. And it’s been going on for a while now. I volunteered to help marshal the London to Brighton sponsored bike ride (a life – changing 60 mile event that I rode 10 times in 11 years between 2001 – 20011.) Came the day, and I just didn’t show up. I knew that they were short of volunteers, and I still stayed away. I’ve volunteered a couple of times to make sure riders don’t take a wrong turning, calling out encouragement to the most ragged looking of the trailing pack. But not turning up this time round didn’t so much as create a ripple on the calm waters of my conscience. That afternoon I found myself in the passenger seat of my wife’s car going for drive in the countryside. A drive? This something we never do. We had to change our route. A couple of roads were closed …. to allow for the sponsored bike ride that I had ridden 10 times in 11 years, and that day had not bothered to help organise.

Amid all the fanfare of my going back to work this week after 4 weeks off sick with depression, catching the wrong bus yesterday reminded me just how far in the wrong direction I have allowed myself to stray these past few weeks. It feels like I am in such a poor state that I can’t even get it right when I am recognising that I can’t do the things that are good for me, that I love. Yes, that’s cycling I’m talking about. It’s like my psychiatrist increasing my dose of Quetiapine (a mood stabiliser) as he did a few weeks ago, and my not swallowing the extra pills. Actually, I have been taking the extra pills. I’m treating them like they’re working. If not chemically, then mentally, at least. If you think this post is rambling and drooling, you might just be right.

Today I took another bus. This time I checked and checked again, that it was the correct bus before getting on. Little did I know there was a diversion. After a while I looked out of the window and I saw unfamiliar sights. The wrong bus … again! I staggered to the front and sked the driver. He told me about the diversion, and that, yes, this was the bus I wanted.

I haven’t cycled – even a short trip in and out of town – for a few days now. But today, despite everything that I am going through, I did take the right bus.



Let me do my work each day;

and if the darkened hours of despair overcome me,

may I not forget the strength that comforted me

in the desolation of other times.

May I still remember the bright hours

that found me walking over the silent hills of my childhood,

or dreaming on the margin of a quiet river,

when a light glowed within me,

and I promised my early God to have courage

amid the tempests of the changing years.


Spare me from bitterness and from the sharp passions of unguarded moments.

May I not forget that poverty and riches are of the spirit.

Though the world knows me not,

may my thoughts and actions be such

as shall keep me friendly with myself.


Lift up my eyes from the earth,

and let me not forget the uses of the stars.

Forbid that I should judge others lest I condemn myself.


Let me not follow the clamour of the world,

but walk calmly in my path.

Give me a few friends who will love me for what I am;

and keep ever burning before my vagrant steps the kindly light of hope.


And though age and infirmity overtake me,

and I come not within sight of the castle of my dreams,

teach me still to be thankful for life,

and for time’s olden memories that are good and sweet;

and may the evening’s twilight find me gentle still.

Max Ehrmann (1872 – 1945)







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Atlas Shrugged

These past few weeks, the skies above my head have been belligerent. Normally an all – weather cyclist this British summer has turned me into a 6 miles rider. The longest trip is an urban – to and from the centre of town. The traffic lights, the pedestrian crossings, the cycle lanes have left me sweat – less. That’s not much to be going on if I’m going to post a new edition of my cycling/mental health blog now is it?

Or is it?

The weather analogy has served these pages well enough in the past, and so I will call upon them again today. On Thursday 26 May I saw my psychiatrist for my regular appointment (around 4 times a year) and it took him a mere 15 minutes of that 30 minute appointment to sign me off work for a fortnight. 2 weeks later when he saw me for a follow up appointment he signed me off for a further fortnight. And it is from there that I write to you today. I was confident that this was just a blip. I would bounce back after that first 2 weeks and so I made a plan of how I would return to work. Adjust my hours, do 2 days a week, rather than my usual 3, for a bit. Ease myself back in by attending this meeting, skipping that one. Spend a carefree afternoon working from home trawling through emails. I emailed my boss with the plan. She sounded positive. I sent her my Fit Note signing me off for a fortnight. And that, I supposed was that.


But by the time I came to be sitting in my psychiatrist’s office a fortnight later we both knew I wouldn’t be going back as soon as I had planned. I felt relieved, disappointed, guilty and a whole lot of confusion about all those feeling as they jostled for my attention. I knew that I wasn’t going back to work the following Monday because I had failed (yes, that is the right word here) to do what I had needed to in order to drag myself up the hill and out from under those skies. Cycling? Not so much. In and out of town. It made for variety in my otherwise cumbersome days. 12 hours of sleep most nights, and even then the mornings were blurred with fatigue. Upping my dose of mood stabiliser, my most trusted friend in these circumstances, failed to show up.

And so it goes. This week will be different. I will lurch back onto my bike, heave those cycle routes books and maps out of that draw and set off somewhere – anywhere – that is not here.

But then again I might not.

Those skies are on my shoulders, I move and they will surely fall. But amidst all that aching responsibility, all that effort it takes to breath as I sit, my feet still. I sigh, I cry out in frustration and I hold my breath. And then, when all is lost, I shrug my shoulders and I’m ready to let the skies come crashing down.

These days, these nights, this sleep, this waking. The colours of the sky outside, the wet, the dry: its like all the times preceding this I will trust the skies once more. And that is all the hope I have.


Stay near to me and I’ll stay near to you –
As near as you are dear to me will do,
Near as the rainbow to the rain,
The west wind to the windowpane,
As fire to the hearth, as dawn to dew.
Stay true to me and I’ll stay true to you –
As true as you are new to me will do,
New as the rainbow in the spray,
Utterly new in every way,
New in the way that what you say is true.
Stay near to me, stay true to me. I’ll stay
As near, as true to you as heart could pray.
Heart never hoped that one might be
Half of the things you are to me –

The dawn, the fire, the rainbow and the day.

James Fenton (1949 – )


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