The frost is touching everything before the sun:
each blade has a pencil nudity that makes
the yolk-like orange seem already old,
each flatness reached, brick-like,
as though all cold was urban.
Sheep crunch its windscreen splinters,
horses’ heads are glued to it down the blue
flanks of shade. Each leaf is a sucrose flake.
Its intimacy is more exhausting than light.
Morning’s sepia, like medieval photographs,
has to fight its way through every scattered grain.
I had not heard of Herbert, born 1961 in Dundee until I recently came across this poem in Ruth Padel’s instructive collection; The Poem and the Journey -60 Poems for the Journey of Life. It appeals to me very much and I am asking myself just why.
These first eleven lines interweave the process of getting up for breakfast with the contrasts in the outside landscape. Being cold and having no clothes on and breakfast itself – perhaps “Frosties” (crunch sucrose flake) and perhaps a suggestion of tiredness or exhaustion. The gradual awakening takes place with engaging contrasts as Padel makes clear in her own interpretation. There is cold sharpness against and before the sunlight. There are contrasting colours orange-yellow with the blue flanks of the horses. An image which might suggest the paintings of Franz Marc.
Then there is the poet’s usage of engaging tropes like “cold was urban” and “sepia…medieval photographs”. These encourage the reader to use his imagination. It is interesting too that the latter photo image reinforces the element of time which is clearly passing along during the course of the poem.
More about W.N.Herbert can be read at https://poetryarchive.org/poet/W-N-Herbert/
and I recommend “Talking Water Blues which you will find on that page