The challenge

The challenge

What creatures break the silence of the fells,
or humble dwellings nestle in the valleys?
Away from Suffolk he lacked the usual props
to signify familiar homestead, cosy hearth.
No church tower rises between gracious trees,
No cattle plash and paddle in the shallows.
No farmer with his hay-wain fords the stream,
no sun-soaked mill-wheel churns by placid meadows.
Here’s only the rain among wind-bitten crags,
and roaring ghylls, and bitter mountain becks
forcing their way through gullies.

Did the mountains ‘oppress his spirits’, as he said?
He was a man possessed, an artist haunted.
For three weeks he drew and painted stone,
filling his paper with rapid sketches: Esk Hawse
in mist, Saddleback stretching into cloud,
the vast solitude from Honister Crag,
the desolate barrenness of precipices…
An ocean would be more hospitable than this.
Only the weather was his friend, only the sky
peopled the high lonely places.
He hunkered down among wet bracken, rock.
Water for water, carbon grit on grain:
the elements at war, and stringent affinities.

The challenge
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