When, from the water’s quiet mirror,
A mist floats off like a carpet
And the moon, wrapped in its undulations,
Revels in its haunted, haunting play,
Then we are pleased as children;
Watching it lift up the mountain,
Deepen and then spread,
Bar after bar, to become the sort
Of lowering sky that can go either way:
Soak us or pass on, overhead.
And if from there it should be raised
Up to a thinner atmosphere
How firmly based, how crisp it seems,
Towering, gathering all its splendour
For a proclamation on the plenitude of power
(Since what we fear may well be our fate).
We tremble in the shadow of its threatening.
Say it climbs higher still;
The threat now utterly removed
Into a heavenly lightness,
A mere something there that dissolves
Ever so softly; less than a patter of fleeces
Moving, deliciously combed,
Upwards from below, towards
Their Shepherd, into his lap and hand.
Yet all must be brought down
By the weight of our world.
Pierced, when dense and very large,
The stack must thunderously
Discharge, as armies do that roll out
In splendid array only to disintegrate;
The earth then receiving their remains.
But keep the eye on where it frays,
Describing what comes down while feeling
That it’s upwards we should always gaze.
After Goethe – stratus, cumulus, cirrus, nimbus
HOMAGE TO HOWARD
Holy mountain, realm of seem.
Goaded by a breeze, it sways,
As if some flimsy palanquin
Whose gathered gauzes drift apart.
It glories in continuous metamorphosis,
Now immobile, now a dream:
Can you see it and believe your eyes?
Trust to the strength of your own projection,
Choosing to define, while the indefinite
Ramps a lion or unfurls an elephant
Or turns a camel’s neck into a Jabberwock
– Until the army of barmy
Images wrecks itself on a rock.
The trumpeter heralds his own dissolution
Well before a judgement can be sounded.
Yet Howard gave us an instrument
For getting the airborne grounded
By latching on to the gone, and firming up
The ephemeral. He was the first to hold it fast
By naming drifts, compactions,
Dispersals and descents,
For which the planet offers thanks.
Luke Howard, Namer of Clouds (1772 – 1864) – after Goethe
At least we’ll have clouds
We don’t often gaze at clouds.
We look at the sky, but that’s different.
Maybe a helicopter, even a comet –
Something exciting or noisy.
Instead we stare at our phones.
Clouds are always changing
In colour, shape and direction.
They meander, they drift,
They amble, they race.
The fast almost cover the slow.
There’s always something in decline:
Loss of meadows and trees;
Loss of ice caps and species;
While nothing much is gained,
Except concrete and plastic.
But we’ll always have clouds.