THE FEBRUARY meeting of the Airedale Writers’ Circle dealt with animal-related verse.

It began with Martin’s dimly-recalled line “the bold ferocious mien of the mother duck” from his 1950s schooldays, with a poem, Ducks, written in a prisoner-of-war camp by Frederick W Harvey.

Harvey won his Distinguished Conduct Medal partly for “felling one of the retreating Germans with a bludgeon”.

His poem cleverly marries themes of bravery – “for ducks are valiant things (protecting their young against “weasel and fox)” – and humour: “God must have smiled a bit…at the sound that came out of its bill!”.

Then Pat Farley recited her magnificent poem The Dying Lion of Lucerne about a sculpture of a lion “with slackened jaw, head resting on a paw, and, jutting from his side, a broken stave”/

This was carved out of a sandstone cliff as a tribute to the 500 Swiss Guards who died in 1792 defending King Louis XVI during the French Revolution.

Lisa then read The Sea and the Skylark by the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, in which Nature – “the tide that ramps against the shore” – is set against us mortals, whose life “drains fast towards man’s first slime”. It also contains the familiar line “I heard the lark ascend”, borrowed from George Meredith’s 1881 poem of the same name.

Sandra contributed February by Margaret Atwood, a frankly disturbing poem with one unforgettable line – “the cat, a black fur sausage with yellow Houdini eyes” – and deals with the way pets, especially cats, eventually take over our lives.

Joan gave us a seven-line poem about ducks, and verses about shrews from Ted Hughes’ collection The Cat and the Cuckoo.

John followed with more Ted Hughes poems about animals: Horses with the line “Their hung heads patient as the horizons”, and Thrushes depicting birds as efficient, instinctive killing machines.

Rita contributed The Sea by James Reeves which likens the sea to a dog who “hour upon hour gnaws the rumbling, tumbling stones”.

Neil recalled a Second World War photograph of horses ploughing on Iona, which sparked a memory of Edwin Muir’s poem The Horses, written during the Cold War and imagining defunct tractors after an atomic war being replaced by wild horses.

The almost mystical relationship between Man and Beast is celebrated with a wonderful couplet “as fabulous steeds set on an ancient shield, or illustrations in a book of knights”.

The poem ends with the haunting line “Our life is changed; their coming our beginning”.

We finished with a trio of poems by Pat Farley: Something To Love about a little girl walking with her Teddy Bears; Transported on riding a horse; and Eight Points, an arachnophile poem describing a cat bewitched by a spider.

The last poem has the line “the creature danced across the floor, a filigree form in a foreign land”.

The Airedale Writers’ Circle meets on the second Tuesday of each month at 7.30pm in the Sight Airedale building, immediately behind Keighley Library, in Scott Street.

Please come and join us at the AWC for tea, biscuits and lively literary conversation.