before breakfast

View across a lake with Queen Ann's lace in foreground
I went for an early walk today. Like the lake, the day had an umbelliferous edging. It also had moon daisies, above and below.

moon daisies

Which is as good a reason as any to post a poem I wrote many years ago:

Before breakfast

When the dew lies cool in the day’s eyes, beyond
the umbelliferous lace of napkin fields
morning horses toss and fret, and rooks stalk
among the stubble. Two iridescent flies
spiral around invisible sweetness, climbing
a barley sugar twist of sunlight. Humbug-shelled snails
hang on an ivied wall and clover speckles
honey promises across the lawn. Under the apple tree,
a prattle of tabby-feathered sparrows anticipates
the flick and snap of chequered tablecloth
signalling their breadcrumb breakfast.


Two general criticisms I remember of my writing at that time were when one reader asked if I was using it to teach prepositions of place – in, beyond, among, around, on, across, under – while another said he felt he needed to go on a diet after reading one of the drafts I had stuffed to overflowing with rich descriptors.

Before breakfast provoked a fair amount of discussion when I presented it for workshopping.

One poet suggested I take all the nouns and move them one place to the right and all the verbs and move them one place to the left and see what happened. He played around with word combinations and came up with phrases like “a snail of sunlight”, “umbelliferous days”, “stubble stalks among the flies”, “an anticipation of sparrows”.

Another took my draft away and returned to the next group meeting with his own piece; it included each and every one of my words, and no others, in a rather different order. I found it among the papers I was sorting recently:

Cool Humbug – by José

Iridescent promises signalling morning lies
twist sweetness across chequered fields,
flick sunlight on invisible eyes and hang
the day’s lace under a breadcrumb.

Two tabby-feathered horses spiral
around the lawn and stubble stalk
their clover breakfast
among the umbelliferous dew.

Beyond the honey tree
and the apple prattle breakfast of
climbing snails and shelled flies,
when sparrows toss speckles of sugar
before the snap of barley anticipates,
the fret of tablecloth in a wall
rooks an ivied napkin.


Neither of my critics was entirely serious that their suggestion would be an improvement: I think they just wanted me to break up some of the clichés and generally shake things up a bit.

If you know Calvin & Hobbes, you may think that “verbing weirds language”, but English allows and encourages us to be creative. Not only can this be enormous fun, it can also produce new ideas and new images, and it can be entirely appropriate as a ploy within the word-game of poetry.

I abandoned the draft of Before breakfast, although years later I pilfered a few images to write Lines as the sun rises above the pine copse, which can be read over on the post Versification on a theme.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

2 thoughts on “before breakfast”

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