Old Sarum Poetry
Abandoned Communities ..... Poetry
Joan Barton ... A House Under Old Sarum: do you see ghosts there?

This poem comes from Joan Barton’s collection A House Under Old Sarum: New and Selected Poems, Harry Chambers / Peterloo Poets, 1981.

The custodian bars the gates
to the excavations;
the summer gloom
blanches the chalky tracks along the walls,
velvets the trees; the dog-walkers call off
their perambulations,
the picnickers go home,
the children sounding for echoes on the ramparts
follow faint and far;
red on the highest bastion of the fort
the aircraft beacon glows,
a human eye where now no human dwells:

as all that earlier life that crammed you once
old grass-grown town
centuries before six centuries ago
has gone long since,
as burial hoards to succour the unknown,
as marching steps between the posting stations,
as those who quit the waterless wild hill
to anchor in warm meadows down below:
no shadow left. By your rough flanks this house
is sheltered: time exerts
no presence and no pressures now,
there are no ghosts especial to the place.

Only the ghosts presentient to each one
make entry here, gyrate
between the eyes and sleep,
breed the authentic chill
of spectral air;
the fly-by-nights that ride the elderly,
phantoms of love not given, not received,
the lonely apparitions of regret,
extinct once violent selves, the lives unlived,
and spiral loss that forms
the narrowing circle;
And that last fear -- not death but how it comes.

Yet on this summer night
when windless light flows down
over hay and barley field
and laps into the room
as wide and cool as mercy is
and floods it to the brim,
then from the long-deserted grassy town
close on the ring of time the experienced dead
made passionless
are here and seem to speak:
All passes; peace will come;
be still, be comforted.