Gunpowder Plot by Vernon Scannell

For days these curious cardboard buds have lain
In brightly coloured boxes. Soon the night
Will come. We pray there’ll be no sullen rain
To make these magic orchids flame less bright.

Now in the garden’s darkness they begin
To flower: the frenzied whizz of Catherine-wheel
Puts forth its fiery petals and the thin
Rocket soars too burst upon the steel

Bulwark of a cloud. And then the guy,
Absurdly human phoenix, is again
Gulped by greedy flames: the harvest sky
Is flecked with threshed and glittering golden grain.

‘Uncle! A cannon! Watch me as I light it!’
The women helter-skelter, squealing high,
Retreat; the paper fuse is quickly lit,
A cat-like hiss, and spit of fire, a sly

Falter, then the air is shocked with blast,
The cannon bangs and in my nostrils drifts
A bitter scent that brings the lurking past
Lurching to my side. The present shifts,

Allows a ten-year memory to walk
Unhindered now; and so I’m forced to hear
The banshee howl of mortar and the talk
Of men who died, am forced to taste my fear.

I listen for a moment to the guns,
The torn earth’s grunts, recalling how I prayed.
The past retreats. I hear a corpse’s sons –
‘Who’s scared of bangers!’ ‘Uncle! John’s afraid!’


Date: 1957

By: Vernon Scannell (1922-2007)

2 Comments to “Gunpowder Plot by Vernon Scannell”

  1. Misprint on the last word of the third stanza. It should be shifts, not shots. In “Lurching to my side. The present shots,”

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