Saturday, 2 December 2017

The Odyssey

This poem was inspired by W. H. Auden's Night Mail. Written in 1936 to accompany the documentary film of the same title, Auden's poem concerned a London, Midland, and Scottish Railway (LMS) mail train traveling from London to Scotland. The poem was set to music by Benjamin Britten and was read toward the end of the film.

The rhythm of Auden's poem matches that of the train on the track, and a reader can certainly get the feel of the train chugging along (don't forget, it would've been a steam train), especially in the first part, made up of eight rhymed, four-beat couplets. There are elements of personification in Auden's poem as the train is identified as 'she' and 'her' and said to be snorting noisily.

My poem follows, closely and respectfully, the meter and rhyme scheme of Auden's poem, which also lends itself to the rhythm of cycling. In the case of my poem, the only person involved is me, albeit I too have been known to snort noisily as I climb the hills (nothing as grand as Beattock Summit down here I have to admit) around Bedfordshire. Enjoy!

The Odyssey

I
This is the bike that I'm riding the Shire,
cycling the roads and the pathways on tyres.

Riding on the bike, riding where I choose,
north and go south, either side of the Ouse.

Sharpenhoe Clappers, a helluva climb,
the gradient's steep, but I'll make it this time.

From Streatley on down to Barton-Le-Clay,
huffing and puffing up Pulloxhill brae.

Greenfield, Flitton, Wardhedges by dark,
on towards Silsoe, nearby Wrest Park.

The blast of a horn as it overtakes,
I swear at the car, pull hard on the brakes.

A dog in the street, a nuisance to meet,
a dog on a lead, I stay in my seat.

In the towns that I pass, no-one cares
and few people see my Facebook shares.

II
Protein bars and gels consumed,
back on the bike, I'm off again,
onwards, on and on and on, riding down the miles,
riding down the roads and lanes, past mills and rustic stiles,
past sights and sounds, urban, rural, quaint pastoral.
All Bedfordshire is there to see:
from high on Downs through basined vale
o'er longest Ouse.

III
Pedals and cranks, cambers and banks.
Lycra for shorts, stripes on your flanks.
Helmet on head, with no hesitation.
Wear fingerless gloves for the worst situation.
With energy drinks for dehydration,
a litre an hour for preservation,
summer fruits flavour; expectoration.
Togged out practical, riding tactical.
Cycling with hands on the handlebar drops,
cycling with eyes on the fields and the crops,
cycling through villages, hamlets and towns,
cycling from home to Dunstable Downs,
cycling past coppices, warrens and parks,
riding too far on our countryside roads,
wary of lorries and heavier loads,
on tarmac, on gravel, on concrete, or cobbles,
the threat of the latter, the menace of wobbles,
asphalt, metalled, tar and chip,
the speed of your progress depends on the grip.

IV
We are thousands alike,
traversing the roads around Bedford,
on evenings in groups or alone on a weekend or sunny day:

Riding a Boardman got cheaply from Halfords,
riding a Raleigh from the GoOutdoors chain,
or a road bike in carbon from Evans again,
to carry the dream of the Tour and the Giro,
clinging on tight to the Peloton's heels,
pumping piston-like knees on the Pyrenees,
between Clophill and Haynes in the teeth of a breeze.

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