The Lure: A Prelude

DANIEL GUSTAFSSON has published volumes of poetry in both English and Swedish, most recently Fordings (Marble Poetry, 2020). New poems appear in Temenos Academy Review, Pennine Platform, in several anthologies by Black Bough Poetry, and in Sunken Island: An Anthology of British Poetry (Bournbrook Press, 2022). As an occasional scholar, with a PhD in Philosophy, Daniel has a special interest in William Blake and currently draws much inspiration from A. N. Whitehead. Daniel lives in York. Twitter: @PoetGustafsson   

The Lure: A Prelude

Waking as one, my world and I,
roused from slumber, the reeds shiver
in lapping light. The lake’s astir,
tongue teasingly tugging the shore
to coax me out: calling always,
lure and likeness of life within.
I’m soon vested: sandwiches made,
the rods arranged ready to go.
Eager angler, I’m out the door.
Grass glistening, globules threaded
on limber straws: lines and sinkers.
A spider-spun, spangled network,
its catch of dew caught in the light.
The boat lies wedged, banked and heavy
with last week’s rain. Leaves infuse it,
and dead insects dapple the brew.
Bent to my task, I bail it out,
labour gladly, lungs relishing
the tinctured air: tang of iron
and scent of birch, sweet yet bracing.
Lightened at last, I launch myself,
push the boat out through parting reeds
to wide-open weltering surf.
The lake expands, its long body
roiling in light, rippling silver:
a shade-shifting, shimmering form,
its dragon-scales drawing me out.
An ageing craft’s creaking oarlocks;
the wood weathered, worn to a sheen
where other hands have held their own;
planks though peeling plunging anew.
Facing backwards, I’m born forward
beyond myself: surface yielding
new perspectives, a narrow hull’s
widening wake. World-conjuring,
the more meeting the making eye
builds under me, bowls me over,
and wraps me round. I row gently,
my line trailing, trawling the light
for pike and perch, peace and wonder.
It hooked me once, heart in my mouth,
breath of my breath, this bright expanse.
Those far-reaching, first adventures
out on my own, the elements
drew me closer: the driving wind’s
grandfatherly grasp on my waist
keeping me true through coarse furrows;
wood and water weighing me up.
A featherweight, fledgling pilot
growing my wings, the grebe taught me.
That sleek diver slipped dauntlessly
into darkness, under currents,
to soar again: a sun-crested
anointed one, needling the deep’s
thick hinterlands, threading skylines:
a journeyman joiner of worlds.
The summer-long susurrations
din distantly, disembodied:
screeching bathers, screens chattering,
growl of tyres on gravel roads.
Always turning, tacking eastwards
now westering, the water’s course
flows where it feels. Far from certain,
familiar shores, I moved with it:
nearer something, nameless as yet.
Wheels within wheels, the whirling stuff
spins spiralling, spooling outwards.
Rowing the boat or being rowed,
I’m intimate with ultimates:
pulse and pattern, the pull onwards
out of mundane into mystic
entanglements. Taking it slow,
a two-handed hold on the twin
strands of the world, my strokes braiding
NOW and EVER, I know my way.
Birch on the shore, all bent with years
yet leaf-laden, leaning over
the glimmer-glass. Gliding along,
inching forward with oars lifted,
a fleeting span flexing its wings
holds a moment the heron’s gaze:
protean calm, a present tense
then loosening, launching futures.
A boy again, bending open
my can of worms: cold to the touch,
fingers fumble to fix metal
in squirming flesh; skin finally
barbed and bursting, bodies lowered
to sightlessness, I sit and wait –
my hope ebbing then high again
reading the signs, ripples nibbling –
with bated breath. The bobber goes
and I with it, out of my seat,
a young victim in yearning’s jaws,
wriggling rapture reeling me in.
Hours of this, hours of that,
basking simply in being here.
The lithe lilies, lotus-kindred,
climb from cloudy to clearer skies:
floating candles flame waterborne,
constellations of calyxes.
Remaining yet what youth made me,
loyal to worlds of leaping streams,
of tarns brooding bright and tarblack
on depths above, I dub myself
lover of lakes: these language-games
surfaces play, sounding heaven.
Where mouthing waves weave their music,
overlapping in interlace,
the weft calling, warp answering,
it’s antiphons all the way down.
I cast around, catching a few
damned slippery dazzling moments.
Galled by others that get away,
learn to take what time lends me.
As gusts gather, the golden plane
creased then cresting, I cross for home.
Swill at my feet, swirling remnants
of guts and blood, the gill-filtered
lees of the lake. Late suddenly,
this halcyon, heart-opening
day of dawnings dims to a close.
The un-ageing, ever-flowing
re-arranger revels in change:
a mottled sky’s moving image
shoulders blessings to shrug them off;
a hoard of hoards harbours the lost,
bears our bruises for beauty’s sake.
Altering still, it’s always there:
first of figures, fathering more,
mother of all our metaphors.
A leaden sun sinks in the lake.
Past perishing, I pull with me
the reef-ravaged wrecks of myself.
Now earth looms up, aspens lining
the darkened shore: deep presences
robed in silver, in rapt repose
watching the sky that watches them.
The moon making its milky way
from shore to shore, shedding comforts,
the blue hours blacken at last.
Jetty glimmers at journey’s end.
I moor the boat, making it fast
loosely enough to let it drift.
Close to home now, I climb the slope
heaving my bags, hung with buckets,
gear and tackle; my gifts, my take:
lucky burden, lifting my own
weight in wonder, wanting nothing.
Now scattered lights school overhead;
swooning treetops swim among them.
Flaton the sheets, I’m floating too.
Spent bodily, buoyed in spirit,
my restless dream rocks me to sleep.
This boundless night: a net bursting
with precious catch, a pregnant void
heavy with stars. I’m still hauling,
drawing droplets from dry valleys
and failing ponds, fishing for pearls.
I know it’s here, nursed in the deep,
that grit-cum-grace growing brighter
with hidden strength. The heart’s wellspring,
joy’s genesis, rejuvenates,
daring me now decades later
to re-affirm – rich in salvage,
lapped by other living waters –
the first poem’s first utterance:
this yearning world’s YES to its call.

Heresy, Catacombs, Birch – three poems by Daniel Gustafsson

DANIEL GUSTAFSSON has published volumes of poetry in English and Swedish, most recently Fordings (Marble Poetry, 2020). New work appears in Ekstasis, The York Journal, Fare Forward, Amethyst Review and elsewhere, and is forthcoming in Temenos Academy Review. Daniel lives in York. Twitter: @PoetGustafsson  


The faults accrue. Our first,

and least original of sins, is this:

a lapse into analysis,

dissecting forms of life,

divesting blazing trees of flame

and foliage. This knife

is how and what we know.             

Forgetting light, we call the shadows true,

observing things at one or two

removes. This heresy

of paraphrase pervading all

we do, we fail to be

fully attuned. Around

us now, the ground displays the marks of war,

the martyrdom of metaphor

beneath our tongues of clay.

The muted boughs are stripped of plumes;

their song, explained away,

is nowhere heard. We’re left

with this: the canopy’s collapsing nave

dispersed in piles of broken staves           

beneath a squandered sun;

a mutilated multiverse,

a kingdom come undone.


Just here, the latest de-

construction site is raised, a treeless grove

of girders, glass and glitz, a trove

of trivialities.

Here settlement is sacrificed

for appetite, to please,

for now at least, our all-

consuming selves. Its glaring voids respond

to vacant eyes alone. Beyond

this light-polluting stuff

and all the false advertisements

the dark is real enough.

Here, then, the surface trail

goes cold. We live the afterglow of him

who led the way; his glory dimmed,

his golden hoard inhumed

in trite idolatries, we seek

it now in catacombs

between the lines, beneath

what occupies this disenchanted space:

the omnipresent marketplace,

its palaces of prose.

We’ve no abiding city here,

this much the poet knows.


I saw. A single form

dissevered. Shorn and scattered leaf from limb,

the storms had racked and shaken him

until our street was strewn

with guttered gold. With any blade

available, we hewed

with glee, not grasping yet

the harm our hands could wield. I saw that bole

of alabaster fall: his whole-

ness halved then halved again,  

the skywards reach, the widening 

cut short across the grain.    

We stacked the stumps on high.   

Soon fire crept along the bed of straw      

then, smarting, licked its leering jaws

and set to work. It seared

my sockets then, to see the blacks            

amass, the bark his bier

assailed by plumes of smoke.

Even now, signs of something breaking clean

from marbled boughs, though freshest green,

can sting unguarded eyes

with memories of sulphurous

and sepia-tinted skies.

Beacons – Brands – The Loki Stone

DANIEL GUSTAFSSON has published volumes of poetry in both English and Swedish, most recently Fordings (Marble Poetry, 2020). Much inspired by the beauty and history of both his native and adoptive shores, exploring themes of cultural and spiritual regeneration derived from Blake and Scruton, among others, Daniel’s increasingly formal work also shows an interest in alliterative verse. Recent related work appears in The North American Anglican and in Black Bough Poetry’s Deep Time Volume 1. With a PhD in Philosophy, Daniel also makes occasional contributions to academic journals and conferences. He lives in York. Twitter: @PoetGustafsson  


We saw it come. The low,                           

lengthening shade emerged at summer’s close   

to stalk the hogweed, stem the rose,

and leech the commons clean 

of light. Through meadows, mown, and fields

with little left to glean,


the prey was run to ground.

We saw the once unchallenged sun beset;

his trailing robes, resplendent yet

though stained with ochres, snag

on bramble-thorn; his even course

begin to list and lag. 


We knew what darkened lanes

ensued, yet saw the sparks enkindled there;                      

how, birch to quickbeam, beacons flared

to raise the late alarm,        

presaging pathways lined with rust

and ash: a call to arms


for each of autumn’s sons

to carry fire, linking lanterns, hips

with crimsoned haws; an ill-equipped

and self-defeating quest

to halt this great diminishing

that haunts the waning west.


The streets are overrun

with marchers; banners climb the righteous tide;

while those who err on caution’s side

remain some way apart,

upholding those unflagging words

the crowd won’t take to heart. 


We’ve seen it all before: 

how slogans, slander, slag of language, smear

the public square. Even so, here    

in this beleaguered town,

a moneyed mob, brought up in arms

to tear its elders down,


declares the end has come,            

the zero sum of all offending years:

the stakes are raised to frenzied cheers

as strawmen take the blame.

Though fury is the fashion now

and all are fans of flame,


this too will fizzle out;                                

through smoke of sleepless nights’ utopian dreams,

the slanting rays and broken beams

when dawning crawls around        

will find us less enlightened still               

for loss of common ground.


(Fragment of a 10th Century Anglo-Scandinavian cross-shaft;

Kirkby Stephen, Yorkshire)   

While this stone is standing,

still untoppled, pillar                             

guarding grace and order;

guileful Loki yoked here, 

finely patterned fetters

foil him, sinuous coils of                       

bramble; horned-one humbled,           

hate’s designs frustrated;   


threads not loosed yet; these en-

thralling drystone-walls and                     

hog-backed ridges, hedgerows

hooping, bindweed looping, 

braiding streams and bridges;

bands of lore, a landscape’s                  

tropes of love entrap him,

trothless, bound to nothing;


till these tethers wither,

torn at last, unfastened,

reins of roots and vines un-

ravelled, freeing havoc;

columns, ash and elm, up-

ending, arches rending;

rock of ages racked though       

raised for glory; praise it.  


This poem is composed of three dróttkvætt stanzas. Essentially each stanza contains eight lines with three trochaic feet in each line. The odd-numbered lines have two alliterating staves which alliterate with the first syllable in the even-numbered lines. Within the odd-numbered lines, two of the stressed syllables share half rhymes (of consonants with dissimilar vowels; stone-stand, pattern-fetter); while within the even-numbered lines, two of the stressed syllables rhyme (though not necessarily at the end of a word; still-pillar, foil-coils). In the case of both odd- and even-numbered lines, the second partial or full rhyme always falls on the penultimate syllable of the line (the stressed syllable in the third trochaic foot).