Story Poem

Ullswater Requiem

By Mike Smith

Photo provided by Mike Smith
Ullswater Requiem

I Dies Irae: The Anger of the Water

Here’s where I stand. I read the lake each day.
Beyond our reach it changes endlessly.
Sometimes it’s dark as ice. Sometimes it’s broken glass,
sometimes like metal streaked where boats have passed,
sometimes with ripples regular as sound.
Sometimes it’s like a sky: Sometimes a pit.
Sometimes it’s white capped, rough.
Sometimes there’s barely breeze enough
to drown the mirrored image of the trees.
It mirrors all moods, given time.
Today the water’s still and black. Call it
sullen if you like. It cannot mind.

And there’s a pebble beach that waves have cut
driven by storms against the mountainside.

II Tuba Mirum: The Bringing of the News

Whatever moves above it or below
disturbs the surface: Writes its passage: 
weight: speed: bulk: hull: body: keel and fin:
the changing pressure of the wind.
A drowning man will tell his tale
as clearly as a fishing heron can.
Today it’s briefly mute: What lives below 
is motionless. The wind is starved of breath.

Here three boys died a few yards from the shore,
where the wave cut platform tips sheer down
the steep slope to deeps that glaciers carved.
So cold at depth it strips you to the bone.
That shock of cold will take your breath away.
Only shallow water over stone’s not cold.

III Recordare: Memory

You remember once yourself slipping off 
the narrow shelf of Ullswater.
You were no swimmer at all and had waded out like them
beyond the glimmer of sunlight on rocks below,
walking on a cliff edge in a mist,
and only when you felt the stones begin
to slip and shift knew you were on the lip
of some commencing underwater fall.

You had rowed singing over the water
like fearless Vikings to the shingle beach,
bringing your gear: striped blazer, straw boater,
a camping stove for the picnic, scones,
a gramophone and old seventy eights.
You danced on stones before it drew you in.

IV Quod sum miser: The Bereaved

Crossing a mountain stream once in bare feet
you could not keep yourself from crying out,
sliced by that scalpel cold, burned by its ice.

An avalanche of cold enfolded them.
Only an inch or two beneath it’s cold
as graves. Stone cold where the sun can’t penetrate.
Rivers of cold run deep along the lake.

Perhaps it helps to have a faith, belief;
Something to make sense of grief, to bring relief
from pain: insubstantial as breath.

We are taken from each other every way.
By fire and water, earth or air, broken
by illness, old age, accident of place
or time, seemingly without rhyme or reason.

V Lacrimosa: Weeping

I did not witness this. I saw the lake.
Ripples run towards me every day. 
I cannot read them all. The steamer makes
eight beats per second by my clock, no more.
Yet I must speak or what’s the watching for?
My words must face you square and eye to eye.
We are each other’s strangers of goodwill.
Tears bind us; the sky; mountains, and fire.

Tomorrow they’ll be singing from their boats once more
and paddling in the shallows by the shore.
Their waves will reach me soon. Make no mistake 
who knows the depth and coldness of a lake.
The shoreline trees cast shadows where we tread.
The living must keep vigil for the dead.

VI Lux Aeterna: A Celebration

The sky’s sheet ice, the blood of sunset drained away.
Clouds are gathered in like nets at the horizon.
Rose petals of last light are floating in
an awkward angle of the bay. Crows are
Litter whirled in a corner of the air.
The steamer’s wake has met itself returning.
Some say this is the old day’s dying, as if
no dawn will break; but not me. I see a star.

This moment holds the world still in my eye.
A perception of the vastness of planets,
of the unimaginable distances
of space. In the turning of the day
that hemispherical shadow of
yesterday and tomorrow coming to pass.

VII Libera me: A Prayer

Let me drop a pebble to that surface
and watch its ripples run out perfect
and see a fish rising from the depths,
a pebble cast by water into sky,
and those two rings meeting, interfering,
intermingling, intersecting but still perfect,
each still unbroken in its way:
A criss-cross message of place and time.

Believe. We shall not be alone whatever
faith we hold or understanding reach.
Hold to it that the circles of our lives
shall in their intersectings bring us peace:
That we shall write ourselves upon the water
and learn to speak the languages of waves.


Dies Irae: A Latin hymn sung in a Mass for the dead.

Tuba Mirum: Part of both Verdi and Mozart’s requiems on death.

Recordare: Remembering, Spanish

Quod Sum Miser: That I am wretched, Latin

Lacrimosa: Our Lady of Sorrows, part of Dies Irae.

Lux Aeterna: Eternal light, Latin, from a hymn.

Libera Me: Deliver me, Latin, from a hymn.

Mike Smith lives on the edge of England where he writes occasional plays, poetry, and essays, usually on the short story form in which he writes as Brindley Hallam Dennis. His writing has been published and performed. He blogs at 



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