Sanctuaries – a poem by Tim Miller


At some point the landscape was not enough,
or it was so necessary that we
were prompted to respond with our own hands:

boundary of stream and pool, frame of mountain
and forest, horizon of lake and plain.
And so, in a place to see it all best,

dig a ditch to enclose and to widen out,
post and wall and a roof over the central pit,
offerings as much to the underground

as to the wide sky and the deep valley.
Hang old weapons from the entrance, from the walls,
shields of rotting wood and leather, and swords

all broken and rusted, bent and dismantled –
even the embalmed heads of enemies,
and even the heads of offered cattle

become corroded skulls up in the corner.
What we erected had to rhyme with the land,
even though our clutter of offerings

and objects could never match the simplest
grove or lakeside, plateau or hollow or
the wordless, most unassembled spread of oak.

But we did our best with gold offerings
and the feast, with wine drunk and ritually spilled,
with every tribal action preceded

by some gift and question about the land,
about another war or more travel.
What we made by ourselves was a reminder

of our own bewilderment and ignorance
but also of the clues left us, the love,
the seasons and their mighty moods, the land

and its inclinations, the animals
and their whims and tempers and emotions.
Knowledge makes none of this any easier,

but meaning is meaning for being hard.

Tim Miller writes about religion, history and poetry at This poem is one from a larger collection on (mostly spiritual) life in prehistoric Europe, the entirety of which will appear later this year from The High Window Press. Other poems from this collection have appeared in Crannog, Londongrip, The High Window, Poethead, Cider Press Review, Cumberland River Review, Isacoustic, The Big Windows Review, The Basil O’Flaherty, Albatross, The Journal (Wales), and others.


  1. David Redpath says:

    Thanks Tim.
    Your poetry stirred up
    ancestral memories
    of long summer days,
    now past,
    upon the sacred isles
    of Orkney.
    From Skara Brae,
    erecting the standing stones
    of Stenness
    to the Great Spirit,
    in supplication
    for a peaceful harvest.


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