Michael Tolkien
No Time for Roses




...I'd celebrate the roses of Paestum that flower twice a year... (Virgil: Georgics IV: 119)
...he made for the rose-gardens of sunny Paestum...
(Ovid: Metam. XV: 708)

For Ruth, recalling a visit to Castle Howard in 1991

July’s claws fix us. Needing a change

from burnt skin and sandy crotches,

we join a glinting cavalcade that rolls

over switchbacks towards the Great House,

once founded on trade, now buttressed

by trusts to open as a drive-in shrine.

                Is this where gardens of roses

                burst their buds twice a year?


Obelisk raised to a wily duke’s campaigns

and the founder’s glorious heritage

parts the straight road. We give way

at gatehouse arches, inhaling velour

and plastic as the ‘noble prospect’ towers

and expands in a haze of heat and fumes.


Cars graze a flattened paddock. We sweat

in a blazing queue of leisure wear

towards sash-windowed livery stables.

Turnstiles crank us in. Grounds Only

for me and my youngest. I’d sag with facts.

She loves space and nosing into flowers.


Not timed past ropes and arrows, pilfered

art, red rooms of state,  glass-locked porcelain,

we cross manicured gravel where lord-

and-lady peacocks pick at their demesne.

Ranked limes drench us with shade.

We bathe under canopies of bees and leaves.


Scampering after birds my child leads me

to uncut grass hedged  by lopped yews,

dances with butterflies, splashing her summer

stripes round a plinth and urn. I read




Here too a lost son of the house

is mourned and I read from his crumbled

tribute, darkening our talk as we pass

through a thick grove of laurels. Deep

in their shade sculptures pale as new

mushrooms, writhe and leer in twisted postures.


There spreads the south front’s ochre mask.

Its fifty steps once fell to four-season

gardens, patterned like a Persian carpet.

Round the Palladian gable triumphal

chariots, banners, plumed helmets moulder

behind moss and scaffold taped red for danger.

                 Where are the gardens of roses

                 that burst their buds again?




The first three parts of No Time for Roses explore various kinds of illusion in our formative experience and in our emotional, artistic and spiritual lives. The final part celebrates the power of love and mature perspectives over negative influences such as the loss of circumstances, objects and people we are attached to.


Some of these poems appeared in Ambit and in annual editions of Behind the Scenes Workshops, a Leicestershire Literature Development project. "Elegy at Pantasaph" won second prize in the Bedford Open Poetry Competition 2007 and featured in The Interpreter's House 37. The author owes much to members of Inky Fish with whom he has workshopped countless poems since 1994, and in particular to Robert Hamberger and Pam Thompson. Their detailed reading of this collection provided crucial perspectives for its structure, content and text. Thanks are due also to Gordon Braddy. His perception rescued several poems from being laboured or obscure. And the personal and professional support of Darin Jewell (Inspira Group Literary Agency) has been indispensable.


'...He sulks, snorts, preaches new art forms...But there's enough space for all, new and old: why do we have to wrestle?'
(Chekov: The Seagull, act iii)

'It may come to the notice of posterity... that this our age ran wild in the quest for new ways to be new.'
(Robert Frost: Introduction to King Jasper, poems of E.A. Robinson, 1935.)




This book can  be obtained from Forest Books,  from St Mary’s Bookshop, Stamford from Poetry Salzburg Online,or direct from the author (use Contact page)

A5 soft covers    

80pp, monochrome illustrations