Angels and Harvesters / Set Text: Philoctetes

James Harpur is an interior poet with a fascination for spirituality. Angels and Harvesters is taken from his published collection of the same name, a collection that displays both human tenderness and an otherworldly wonder. Set Text: Philoctetes is a new poem. This is its first publication.

Angels and Harvesters

As thoughts arrive

From god knows where,

Or sun breaks through

A fraying cloud

Emboldening a patch

Of trees, or grass,

They just appeared

From nowhere

Among the harvesters

The field a world

Of cutting, gathering,

Cutting, gathering.

Their outlines sometimes

Flickering brighter,

They walked between

The bending figures


Pausing to watch,

Like ancestors

Almost remembering

The world they’d left,

Or foreigners

Amused to see

The same things done.

They moved around

Unseen by all –

Unless one glimpsed,

Perhaps, light thicken,

A glassy movement,

As air can wobble

On summer days.

And then they went

Walked into nothing

Just left the world

Without ceremony

Unless it was

The swish of scythes

The swish of scythes

Set Text: Philoctetes

i.m. Seamus Heaney

‘You know how your heart lifts when you think of home?
Seamus Heaney, The Cure at Troy

At first he seemed so pitiful – cast out
on Lemnos by his shipmates bound for Troy
because his septic foot stank out the boat.
But I grew fond of him, and he of me;
I read at night, he hunted food each day,
and we enjoyed our mutual company.

The seasons changed, but we remained close souls.

Then Neoptolemus arrived to snatch him
away to Troy – I was shaken by his howl

‘I need to see my father – take me home!
Do not abandon me, half-starved and rotting.’

They left to join the war; I stayed, alone,

a boarder dreaming of a world beyond,

a small white sail that breaks
the long horizon.

© James Harpur

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