Sunday 22 April 2018

The Sunday Poem: Rock Pilgrim - Herbert Palmer

Anthony Cronin’s Personal Anthology

Anthony Cronin. Photo: Tony Gavin
Anthony Cronin. Photo: Tony Gavin

Herbert Palmer was a schoolmaster by profession but gave it up for literature which, in the case of a poet, usually meant reviewing and kindred activities with a lot of fairly hard times thrown in.

He was a religious poet and claimed to have been “slighted and snubbed and boycotted” because of his writing of “religious and Christian verse” and because he had ‘opposed’ TS Eliot, “whom I do not believe in as a Christian poet and whom I regard as a dessicatory, disintegrating influence especially in the technique of poetry”. He quoted with approval the remark of ‘a leading poet’ that “so lean and bitter a trade as poetry should attract hypocrites, but it does.” His poems survive today in the odd anthology. Though they are not all as original in outlook or expression as this one, the survival is deserved.

Rock Pilgrim

Let the damned ride their earwigs to Hell, but let me not join them.

For why I should covet the tide, or in meanness purloin them?

They are sick, they have chosen the path of their apple-green folly,

I will turn to my mountains of light and my mauve melancholy.


Let their hands get the primrose — God wreathe me! — of lowland and lagland;

For me the small yellow tormentil of heath-hill and cragland.

Man’s days are as grass, his thought but as thistle-seed wind-sown;

I will plod up the pass, and nourish the turf with my shinbone.


I should stay for a day, I should seek in high faith to reclaim them?

But the threadbare beat straw, and the hole in my shirt will inflame them.

They are blinder than moles, for they see but the flies in God’s honey;

And they eat off their soles; and they kneel to the Moloch of money.


They have squeezed my mouth dumb; their clutch for a year yet may rankle.

I will tie Robin Death to my side, with his claw on my ankle.

Let them come, stick and drum, and assail me across the grey boulders;

I will flutter my toes, and rattle the screes on their shoulders.


Let the damned get to Hell and be quick, while decision is early.

I will tie a red rose to my stick, and plant my feet squarely.

My back shall be blind on their spite, and my rump on their folly;

I will plod up the ridge to the right, past the crimson green holly.

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