My land had no customs. Habits, tricks
of the slow tongue, leading beasts to grass,
roads slape with rain, or answering
weddings and deaths in a dry voice
scurfy as dust in the village square,
boys’ names carved into the old stocks;
these—but no customs. Unless you count
the old men making one stretch of wall
the place for their backs, spring sun
blinking their eyes; or the way all
was marbles one day, the next tops,
in the road alongside the brick school.
Certain inevitables there were: the rub
of hands on apron at house door
to speak to strangers, the mild horse
surging the plough at a harsh roar
of ritual violence, the long silence
before speech. And these were
known and unknown. The land stood
somewhere inside them. A phrase missed,
a nod too easy, and boots dragged
at embarrassed cobbles. Two miles west
it was shallower, lighter. I once saw
a man there run for the town bus.
But no customs. In a way stronger
for that, I think. There was no need
Robin Skelton (12 October 1925 – 22 August 1997) was a British-born academic, writer, poet, and anthologist.
Born in Easington, Yorkshire, Skelton was educated at the University of Leeds and Cambridge University. From 1944 to 1947, he served with the Royal Air Force in India. He later taught at Manchester University where he was a founder member o ...