The Coming-Down Time
by Robert Selby

Shadows on the Barley
by Robert Selby

(from 'The Coming-Down Time')

When our train goes over the river

sending all the bridge bats aquiver

into the pink evening;

 

when the poplar’s shadow on the barley

is not wanting for company

and the castle turret is gleaming,

 

it’s time for that part of the day,

a few hours at least, that we can say

are ours. The train slows down

 

into the freedom beyond the tunnel,

into the redbrick commuter town

where we can peel off our office flannel,

 

excited like kids home from school,

flinging windows wide, excitable

for the kettle’s click, the shower,

 

for the can’s nozzle in every flower;

then you, in your PJs already,

post-shower bob a glorious melee,

 

feet up on the kitchen table reading

the paper you didn’t get to

on the morning train because, again,

 

we had slumped together in sleep,

in a jerking, dribbling heap,

dreaming of shadows on the barley.

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Praise for The Coming-Down Time

'Vivid, precise and stamped with a very English restraint, these poems deftly connect people and place across the span of a long century. There are images, echoes and correspondences here that resound as truthfully and as poignantly as a village church bell.'

Melissa Harrison

'... a marvellous anatomy of English life over the past century, working outwards from its gripping evocation of a family centre in East Anglia by a writer who is at once poet, local historian and naturalist. The book focuses on the extraordinary development of war experience into the familiarity of the period which is 'now and England' showing in its final part how everyone's personal life is in direct descent from the personal lives of ancestors.'

 

Bernard O'Donoghue

'War and peace, past and present, love and death: The Coming-Down Time has a large reach, but makes its themes feel intimate by catching them in language that is at once simple and capable of wonder. It's a striking achievement: moving and intelligent and memorable.'

 

Andrew Motion