It seemed like a good day to write about this.


Bearn: born in a barn, a bairn, a cry in the night,
an almost inaudible moan on the wind. Leaking
like methane escaping from landfill. There’s always a child
half-awake, half-aware that comfort has vanished.

Treow: a true line. A tree line. Heartwood, hill’s heart,
spore-home, flame-home. Hwaet: wait, wheesht,
hold your tongue. Branches creaking, rip
at the grain. Trees hold tight their scars:
longdraggle rubble-years, small fires on hillsides. Birch
dwarfed by metal, pigeons on phone masts, fenced-off,
fortressed. Eaxlegespanne: eagle-span, wing-
span, lifespan. A crossbeam, arms splayed over this heap
of a city, its trafficless crossings, crossings-out.

In rain-anchored nightwood above streetlight glint
a homeless man scales a scarp, stares from a concrete plinth
at bedded confinement below. Moisture jewels his eyes.
Threading through rivered streets, a gem-glow of blue lights
ferries a pulsing load to bright rooms with white walls.

Julian Dobson


So much to say, so little space to say it in. I’m wondering if this poem works (as well as it does for me) for readers who haven’t wandered into the miracle that is Old English poetry? For me this poem is delicious, it’s poet a genius. It took me back to the poem in its title, ‘The Dream of the Rood’ and forward into the realisation that I’d never properly read it. I love the way the language mimics the original, the tough alliteration, the wide caesuras, the way the second half of a line shines an oblique light on the first half. I love that the poet translates the Anglo-Saxon ‘Hwaet’ as ‘Wheesht’ ( I once had a record of Owen Brannigan singing ‘The Lambton Worm’ which has as a refrain ‘Wheesht lads hauld yer gobs’).

The Old English poem tells the story of the Crucifixion from the point of view of the cross (The Rood). The ‘message’ is hope from death: the ‘message’ in Julian Dobson’s poem is hope from birth – the triumphant last couplet. How clever to translate an ambulance into ‘a gem-glow of blue lights’… and who do you think the ‘homeless man’ who ‘scales a scarp’ is? In amongst it all is that one a.m. sense of reading half asleep, when reality and dream muddle up.

This is just one of many excellent poems in The Rialto 101.

Michael Mackmin

Image: Sheffield Cheese Grater (not at 1a.m.) © 2011 Nick Stone