“Dusk and shiver”

The Lady of  Shallot      by Lord Tennyson 

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro’ the field the road runs by
To many-tower’d Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Through the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

…….

In the summer a stand of aspen trees quiver, their leaves dusk and shiver in the slightest breeze and I always think of these lovely lines from Tennyson’s famous poem. I saw the first wild cherry blossom today in a sheltered bend in the river, but we are still a long way from leaves, so I thought I would share a photo of the unexpectedly bright green catkins of the aspen sharing a branch with mistletoe, as winter and spring swap places.

 

 

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Dancing with Kites.

 

Over the garden a red kite mewling like a kitten, so close I could reach out my hand and brush the polished perfect feathers.

Kite silhouette again the racing  blue sky, the cat crouches low and the bird is gone, piping and laughing into the clouds.

And now another and another.

They twist around each other, wings touching the roof tops delighting in the fitful wind, hail flung after them and the sunlight chasing them.

Flame forked tails angle and the birds turn, quartering the spring sky into slabs of changing colour. Four birds over my tiny garden, calling to each other for the whole spring day.

Flirting, testing partners, laughing: dancing.

 

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Spring on the kitchen table.

TS Elliot said « April is the cruelest month » as it stirs dull desire, but I dont think he was a gardener. Shoring up the ruins of Western civilisation in his poetry must have left him little time  to appreciate that March is a far crueler month, as the anticipation of spring is so sharp it hurts.

I am impatient by nature. After the first snow drops and catkins prove winter is dead, then I want full leafed, green pulsing life back in my garden and in the fields and fast! I want long grass and swaying trees, butterflies, birds and moths, but must make do with worm casts and buds that seem clenched as tight shut as a fist.

To compensate I turn to the garden centre and buy spicey perfumed pinks and heady jasmine to speed things along. I know they will languish before long for lack of light, but for now I can bathe in thier perfume between the pepper pots and salt cellar, as I wait for the fists to unfurl.

Yes!

What a shout! What a yell of life and light, after so much winter!

Spring is wonderfully early, the sky is scoured blue and burnished in sunshine.

Catkins of expanding hazel are pulled out in the unexpected heat and the bees appear from no where.

Pollen clouds of sherbet yellow are  thrown up into widening, widening, wonderful opening sky!

For Mum.

For Kathleen 1929 –  31st January 2019.

 

 

Snow at the end of winter

High heaped, brittle,

Chaffinches fiddling for grain

In stunted grass.

And then –

Flight –

Strong, short wings,

A sound of flight

A movement of the air

A flash of complicated colour.

Blue, blue, bright sky

A flat,  simple palette of love

Lightens their escape.

 

“Flashing like tinsel” – for Mary Oliver.

“There’s Oliver, still standing around in the weeds. There she is, still scribbling in her notebook… but at the center: I am shaking; I am flashing like tinsel.”

Little Owl Who Lives in the Orchard

by Mary Oliver

His beak could open a bottle,
and his eyes – when he lifts their soft lids –
go on reading something
just beyond your shoulder –
Blake, maybe,
or the Book of Revelation.

Never mind that he eats only
the black-smocked crickets,
and the dragonflies if they happen
to be out late over the ponds, and of course
the occasional festal mouse.
Never mind that he is only a memo
from the offices of fear –

it’s not size but surge that tells us
when we’re in touch with something real,
and when I hear him in the orchard
fluttering
down the little aliminum
ladder of his scream –
when I see his wings open, like two black ferns,

a flurry of palpitations
as cold as sleet
rackets across the marshlands
of my heart
like a wild spring day.

Somewhere in the universe,
in the gallery of important things,
the babyish owl, ruffled and rakish,
sits on its pedestal.
Dear, dark dapple of plush!
A message, reads the label,
from that mysterious conglomerate:
Oblivion and Co.
The hooked head stares
from its house of dark, feathery lace.
It could be a valentine.

“There will come soft rains…”

It has been raining here. Wind in the fir trees, wind rattling the shutters and soft, almost incessant rain.

The summer and autumn were long, hot and dry. The neighbours were noisy and open windows let in little cool air and plenty of racket; so when the temperature finally dropped it was a pleasure to close the windows and listen the gentle drum of rain on the roof.

My favourite stream in the woods has been dry for months, but after so much rain I felt sure it must be running again.

Today we squelched up passed the bare trees and luminous moss to find clear water running over scoured rocks.

The sound was deliciously simple and clean. The great sponge of the forest had soaked up enough rain to allow the stream to flow above ground again, sweeping away the dark autumn leaves of the bed to reveal the bright pale limestone beneath. The rain patered on the brim of my felt hat. The harts’ tongue ferns glowed green in the winter gloom; a whirl of chaffinches shook water from the smooth beeches and the ravens laughed high over head : “there will come soft rains…”

 

There Will Come Soft Rains

Sara Teasdale, 18841933

(War Time)

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground, 
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

From The Language of Spring, edited by Robert Atwan, published by Beacon Press, 2003.

Nothing Gold can Stay

Robert Frost

Nothing Gold can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.

“…running through my hands”

 

The Seed-Shop

By Muriel Stuart

HERE in a quiet and dusty room they lie,
Faded as crumbled stone and shifting sand,
Forlorn as ashes, shrivelled, scentless, dry –
Meadows and gardens running through my hand.

Dead that shall quicken at the voice of spring,
Sleepers to wake beneath June’s tempest kiss;
Though birds pass over, unremembering,
And no bee find here roses that were his.

In this brown husk a dale of hawthorn dreams;
A cedar in this narrow cell is thrust
That shall drink deeply at a century’s streams;
These lilies shall make summer on my dust.

Here in their safe and simple house of death,
Sealed in their shells, a million roses leap;
Here I can stir a garden with my breath,
And in my hand a forest lies asleep.

 

I love this poem, especially the last stanza, though I never see seeds as ashes or shrivelled, just glossy and plump with potential for the next year.

After such a glorious autumn the sleet and cold wind of this weekend are reminders that the first days of November arrive this week. I went out in the sleet to pick the last flowers and filled my pockets with the seeds I have been meaning to collect all  month. In my trouser pocket I found a black acorn I had picked up under a local oak tree earlier. The path is meely with crushed fallen acorns, every single one regulation brown except this perfect black seed. A genetic variation that will maybe heat up faster in the spring ready to germinate, or maybe it is less palitable to squirrels or mabe just unusual enough to be prized by a passing human and planted somewhere new…. “ and in my hand a forest lies asleep.”

Blink.

Today was hallucinogenic lace. Threads of nothing from branch to no where and then gone. Lines across the eyes that lift and leave and we feel that it meant something, but it couldn’t, it wasnt there.

The spiders were balloning. Fine autumn weather and wolf,house and crab spiders take to the air throwing out gossamer lines to launch the next generation on the wind. Such wonderful faith in the future, they throw themselves on the hallucinary beauty of the breeze. We blink our slow eyes and almost miss the marvellously minute migration in the air all around us.

Apple.

Eve reached up,
The tree was small and her arms were long and strong.
The dry stem snapped between her fingers
And red fruit fell plump into her outstreched hand.
She inhaled the perfume, felt the cool skin against her warm cheek and
The first bite was deep.
The knowledge bitter,
But the taste was so, so sweet.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood….”

 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost.

 

I thought of this much anthologised and loved poem as I walked in the woods today.

Frost wrote this poem in 1915 and sent it to his great friend the English poet Edward Thomas. The American and the English man were walking in the woods in Gloucestershire, as they often did. They were talking about the war that was engulfing Europe and wondering which path to take, both literally and metaphorically. A game keeper challenged them with a gun and an altercation ensued that continued at the game keeper’s cottage and saw both poets threatened. Frost laughed it off and used the event to inspire this poem, which he sent to Thomas. Thomas saw the poem as a gibe about his indecision about  if  he should enlist as soldier or not. This poem was apparently instrumental in his final fatal decision to sign up .

Thomas signed up and was sent to France. Two months later he was dead, killed in the terrible slaughter of Arras.

“The Road not Taken” by Robert Frost  is a great favorite of mine and so is “Adlestrop”

https://cathysrealcountrygardencom.wordpress.com/2018/03/20/and-for-that-minute-a-blackbird-sang/

by Edward Thomas, but ( “telling this with a sigh” ) one poet lived a long and productive  life and the other died young. Hopefully not all of our choices have such profound consequences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Water

I peered into the water butt and thought of Seamus Heaney’s great poem about looking down into ourselves, into history and into myth to find poetry.

Personal Helicon

As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.

One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.

A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
A white face hovered over the bottom.

Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall

Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.

Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.

Lurid

« Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room. »

I thought of those opening lines from Sylvia Plath’s Mushrooms when I saw this wonderful boletus mushroom pushing up unexpectedly on the edge of the field. It has been hot and crackling with electricity here, as storm after storm explodes over the countryside.

The plants are tropically lush and the mushrooms early and plump with rain.

This lurid boletus seemed sturdy enough to push a tree aside. A scrape of the turgid yellow flesh revealed red pores which turned  bight blue as they instantly oxidised in the stormy sky.

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Thursday 2.35 pm

The Girl

One day life stands

gently smiling like a girl

suddenly on the far side of the stream

and asks

(in her annoying way ),

But how did you end up there?

 

By Lars Gustafsson              translated from the Swedish by John Irons

printed Essential Poems Bloodaxe books 2012

Starting Afresh.

The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Phillip Larkin

 

from The Collected Poems (Faber, 1993), by permission of the publisher, Faber & Faber Ltd.

 

 

The world is racing ahead.  The sky is sliced open with spring light and into the space  bird song is pouring. There doesn’t seem time to understand it, to count it, to measure it. This is the blood in the veins . This is life.

 

 

” And for that minute a blackbird sang”

As there is nothing to do in the garden except morn the flowers buried under the snow I thought I would share a poem instead.

Adlestrop

By Edward Thomas
Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
Source: Poems (1917)

This is a great favourite. It is a poem about nothing; about a delicious absence of unwanted noise and movement and about the great beauty of the sound of blackbirds.

Blackbirds are the first to sing in the morning and the last bird to chuckle down to sleep in the evening.  Gardens are plotted and mapped out by the territories of singing blackbirds  :  ” all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire” and all the places beyond are the kingdoms of blackbirds.

 

 

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How I fell in love with WH Auden. (Sorry for the blank!)

By Susan McDonald:    reblogged from the Guardian Newspaper 25.12.17.

Sorry for the initial blank. I trusted in technology. I imagined all I needed to do was push the WordPress button the Guardian  website, but it just blogged the title.

Many thanks to Maria for spotting the silence!!

—————————————————————————————

I first read his poetry in my late teens. He can be difficult but the images he conjures are concrete and recognisable
WH Auden said “poetry must be entered into by a personal encounter, or it must be left alone”. His poems have been personal for me for 30 years; they’re a touchstone I use now and then to take the measure of my world. There’s just something about him: the stars he sees align with mine. I can trace my own journeys – political, psychological, philosophical, spiritual – along the routes he has mapped.

I first opened Auden’s Selected Poems in my late teens. I’d taken it off my mother’s bookshelf – I knew his name and his fame; I thought I should be reading him. I started with the shorter, less obscure poems. Sometimes my eye even darted between poems, reading a stanza here, a stanza there. I felt I had to ease in slowly – graze around the edges of the feast.

Auden can be difficult, “Audenesque”: that complicated, sometimes terse, syntax. He liked to boast that he had written a poem in every metre but I was oblivious to that achievement; and I had to consult the dictionary frequently (my daily lexicon has never included dapatical, osse and olamic).

But the images he conjured were concrete and instantly recognisable. “Only the hands are living,” he wrote of gamblers in a casino. Of nursing home residents: “All are limitory, but each has her own/nuance of damage.” “Geese podge home.” The moon is a “Presence to glop at”.

How I fell in love with country music | Martin Farrer
As Clive James said, Auden could make anything sound truer than true.

But the form was in the employ of the meaning – and that too has rung true for 30 years.

I was in the middle of an arts degree, trying hard to avoid thinking about getting my first job, when I read The Average, with its allusion to “those smart professions that encourage shallow breathing”. What timing!

I read Moon Landing (“It’s natural the Boys should whoop it up for so huge a phallic triumph”) not long after the space shuttle Challenger disaster. I remember that Rorschach-test explosion in the sky; knew what Auden meant by the “squalid mess called History”.

Then, Musée des Beaux Arts described perfectly the way I had started to feel about moral responsibility; about suffering’s “human position; how it takes place/While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along”.

Unseen WH Auden diary sheds light on famous poem and personal life
In Auden’s world it is part of the human condition to have “promises to keep”: there’s a moral imperative to political, as well as personal, choices.

Why spend money on space travel, for instance, when people are dying of hunger?

I sought out the more directly political Auden as the 21st century dawned. I remember watching the twin towers come down on 9/11. My kids were little – I had one in my arms and the other was playing around my feet, and I had to turn off the TV.

It was too much to contemplate. It was my children’s world now and it was spinning in the wrong direction. I was angry; feared what the US would do next. I wasn’t in one of those “dives on Fifty-Second Street” of Auden’s September 1, 1939, but I stood:

Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade

(Auden was writing about the 30s but his words fit.)

And Refugee Blues mirrored what I considered Australia’s “low dishonest decade” (and more) of asylum seeker policy:

Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors:
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

War, refugee policy and climate change inaction have charged my political frustrations for most of my adult life and Auden was able to distill the target of that frustration – the wilful blindness of the powerful – with a single line: “The little natures that will make us cry”; and his description of a tyrant needs no explanation in the Trump/Kim Jong-un era:

When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

But I was always looking for more from Auden. I wanted him to make sense of it all. He was unflinchingly honest about death, about the tyranny of time, the folly of the modern world – but could he offer any hope? His answer was always love:

I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,

Auden was a contradictory man about his Christianity and revisionist about some of his poetry. But that only reflected reticence, a dialectical manner of thought and a great reverence for the world as it is.

In Tonight at Seven-Thirty, Auden says “the funniest mortals and the kindest are those who are most aware of the baffle of being”. I agree – that’s why I’ve read his poems for the past 30 years.

 

Reading the holidays

We have been off visiting and the birds have abandoned the garden after just a few days without seed, grain or bread crumbs.

So, there is nothing to look at, but plenty of books to read in this blissfully quiet time of year. So what am I reading? Well as usual, I am reading lots of things at once, which is confusing only when the characters meet in my dreams in an after lunch snooze.

Firstly, I am reading “A Visit to Don Octavio” by Sybille Bedford which is a wonderful piece of period travel writing in which two American  women explore Mexico and discover its lush delights and also that, as Don Octavio says, “You will be very uncomfortable and not at all happy”, if they stray from his elegant hacienda.

I am also reading “William the Outlaw”by Richmal Compton and “William the Bandit” as the pitch perfect vignettes of 1930s Britain, with their caustic line drawings which could not have been bettered  by PG Woodhouse and are definitely wasted on children.

To keep me sane on the plane, I escaped in wonderful Muriel Sparks’ “The  Mandelbaum Gate” and the turmoil and intrigue  of the Israel and Palestine border was as heady in 1960s as it is in 2017. I still don’t know what happened to BarbaraVaughan and must read on.

I have just picked up Oliver Rackham’s “The History of the  English Countryside” and am already captivated by his photos of the long lost elm trees of England and for interludes I am savouring the perfect poems of Sasha Dugdale in her collection “Joy”.  “ How my friend went to look for her roots” is more toothsome than a  hazelnut cluster!

 

 

 

Second Sunday in Advent and Pixie singing.

5FE41AE6-C8F1-4A53-B449-0A34B1E91BF6It was wonderful that many readers enjoyed Louis MacNeice  “Sunlight on the Garden” and it made me bold enough to share his even greater poem “Snow”. I hope you like it .

Snow

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay window was

Spawning snow and pink roses against it

Suddlessly collateral and incompatible:

World is suddenly than we fancy it.

 

World is crazier and more of it than we think,

Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion

A tangerine and spit the pips and feel

The drunkenness of things being various.

 

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for word

Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes-

On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one’s hands-

There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

 

Louis MacNeice