May 18th, 2008

The Angel Of The North

On our way down from the Wall we took a very short, curly detour to have a closer look at The Angel of the North. Gormley's a limited artist; he has had one or two great ideas- a bit like Henry Moore- and has worked at them and worked at them- and the Angel is the climax of his life's work- the greatest piece of public sculpture of the age- actually more than that- the work that has revived the worn-out genre of public sculpture and made it exciting and challenging again. Now every region of Britain wants something similar.

It stands on a hillock on the edge of a Gateshead council estrate overlooking the road. As you drive north you see it rising above the low roofs and the lamp posts to greet you. Get close and it's huge. 




The others are drinking

Or snug with their childer;

I hear their babble,

The gull shriek of girls.

That story of Babel,

It bothers me sometimes.

Have we built too high

Will God strike us with fire?

But the moon seems no closer

When viewed from this tower.

God’s in no danger.

Between us and heaven

There’s miles and miles.

Here are my tools

There’s stone that needs smoothing;

I could do it by lamplight.

That’s not why I’m here.

My wife and my childer

Are all in the churchyard.

A solitary man

Might as well spend his evening

Sat on this cliff

Looking out at the sky

And down to the flight

Of the bats and the owls

And consider just how

The wings should be curved

And the feathers lie

Of this angel he’s carving.

Building The Wall, Leaving the Wall

Building The Wall


We needed to draw a line so why not draw it here

Through this empty country only a god could love

Where the heather reaches all tickly up to the knee?

Over here Rome, and over there- some place else.

In theory, of course, our soldiers, hard pressed but hardy

Could have carried on marching north and carried on marching north

Till the land grew too cold to farm, but frankly why bother?

Here was a ridge just right for putting up towers

And setting with fires like the crown of Roma Dea.

With a fall of some fifty feet on the northern aspect.

A walk on the wall is an education in civics.

It braces one in one’s faith to see where things end

And to know that this is as far as even an emperor

Can go with a boy at his side who is dressed like a girl. 

Leaving The Wall

I met with some of the boys under the wall last night.

For a final bevvy.

We’re moving out in the morning, going, oh god knows where.

Ours not to reason.

It’s the vets I feel sorry for. They’ve got a stake in the province-

Native wives, native kids.

Will they hang on now the army’s no longer there to guard ‘em?

Most probably not. .

But Piso, demobbed last year, says he’s seizing the opportunity-

The place will go to the dogs,

The tribes will fight each other, as they’re always itching to do,

It’s in their blood.

And be too busy feuding to guard against the picts or the longships.

Give it a year

Maybe two and the wall will be down, the cities empty, the whole country wide open

Ripe to be plucked.

Give me fifty, no twenty horse -he says- time-served men, seasoned campaigners

And- fuck Caesar-

I’ll sell myself to some new king, make myself indispensable

Work my way up,

Then carve out a kingdom to share with my mates-  raw, bleeding, the very best cut.

I wished him luck.

I’m afraid I like regular meals to much for that sort of game.

Too lazy perhaps.

Whatever, I’ve got no love for this country. I’m sick of police work,

I’ll die someplace else.

Besides we’ve been promised a war. A proper one. Marching in formation, fighting in formation

Like we’ve been taught.

I’m hoping they’ll send us where the woman aren’t all redheads

And you don’t need socks.