When I was Poet in Residence at the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere, I became fascinated by a certain dry-stone wall which seemed to go on forever, really, and have a reputation, and I wrote a poem about it; and the lines are very, very short, one word, two, three, four at the most - they are usually short ones when they're four. And so it looks a little bit like the wall, though you won't hear that when I speak it.

Cumberland Wall


this wall

between nothing

and nothing,

air and air

that scrambles

crazily across

the hills,

not stopping

for outcrops

but staggering

on over them:

xylophone vertebrae,

skeleton of an

extinct beast,

mythologocal, even,

skinned dragon

of the crests

and valleys,

tottering on

through time and

distance, stone

on stone, poised

one on the other

by hands now bone

or dust, on and on

over rise into dell,

lichened, mossed,

gappy, showing

wedges of sky;

fossil holding

fossils, as it

clings and stumbles

determinedly forging

a ramshackle way

over the green

hillside, still

to be doing it

after the last

weapon has been

launched, the last

breath breathed,

the last promise

broken; perching

on humps of hill,

separating nothing

from nothing, air

from air, marking

a forgotten dogma

treading stonily

among buttercups;

shackling the slopes

where raven

and buzzard quarrel,

where skylarks swoop;

heavy necklace

of grey rocks

adorning the marshy

fields and daisy

constellations, strung

out to the sky edge.

from In Wordsworth’s Chair (Flambard, 1995), © Gerard Benson 1995, used by permission of the author.

Gerard Benson in the Poetry Store

The free tracks you can enjoy in the Poetry Archive are a selection of a poet’s work. Our catalogue store includes many more recordings which you can download to your device.