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Three Poems by Michael Tolkien

Michael Tolkien was born in Birmingham in January 1943. He was brought up in a rural community in the Chiltern Hills, South Oxfordshire until 1956. Following his father's changes of employment, he returned to suburban Birmingham for two years before moving to the Vale of Pickering in North Yorkshire and to Ribblesdale in  Lancashire. He feels a close and lasting affinity with these two places. He studied for an MA in English Language and Literature at the University of St Andrews, and a B.Phil in Restoration and 18th Century English Literature at Merton College, Oxford. He settled in Rutland and was a secondary school teacher from 1968 until early retirement due to ill health in 1994. Since then he has worked as a freelance lecturer, in adult education, and focused on his own writing and reviewing.


From Refuge (New Generation Publishing, 2012)

Meandering funeral aftermath

finds us side by side

below the comforting splash

of tall, new-leaved limes.

Beliefs and sects creep

into our talk: how some suppose

no breeze can make them totter,

and most don't need to make a stand.

'So what are you now?' I ask.

'Nothing,' you say: assured,

precisely you, leaning a moment

on the chiselled hide of a lime

that knows where it stands,

as you do, gazing clear-eyed

past a blackened tower

to where you stood

and buried two parents,

not two springs apart.


From Exposures (Red Beck Press, 2003)

I light on autumn crocuses:

pale violet petals bursting

from dry shale. They expose

orange hearts, strong as the yearning

that holds me to you across

a continent.


are practical. It's how

you once looked up and spoke

without a word. And now

I feel you here, taking

such careful steps, pitying

the trampled ones who've lost

their chance among the spikes and prickles.


From Taking Cover (Red Beck Press, 2005)

On a corner of the raised pool

you stand poised, head and limbs

stretched from a long, white T shirt,

touching the moon's tips.

You're eleven, plugged into a stereo,

and there's no god; yet thirst

for the unquenchable draws you

to this sliver of light.

Hazing behind vapour trails

it reminds me you were born

with incurable retina, that

seeing's more than sight.

The pool's edge drops into dark.

Your body at its verge

opens to the monthly sign

of blood dark and cleansing light.

You ask me to light a red votive

candle. I let the match speak.

Raising the flame, you fill

The dark between the horns.


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