From View With a Grain of Sand, Selected Poems, Faber, 1996, translated by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh
I am almost over my horror of fungi.
This autumn has been extraordinary in the rich variety of mushrooms coaxed up by the rain, but I will never be tempted to eat any of them again.
This particular mushroom cap was thin and as smooth as porcelain. The edge was lined, as if it had shrunk back with delicate avoidance of the falling leaves pattering down all around it.
The aspen leaves were yellow and then black – no warming russets or browns to lull you – they know winter is coming and lay down to die with minimal fuss.
They only leave behind an unexpected perfume without the slightest a hint of decay . Something soft left lingering in the air.
The autumn raspberries are always small.
My fingers fumble for them amongst the yellowing leaves.
There has been just enough sun to ripen a few hard green knots into fragrantly
soft fruit, bowed down now in easy reach of the gleaming slugs.
And now the rain.
A benediction of mist in a quiet grey sky
Makes slippery the sticky handle of the little basket.
My fingers close lightly and tug to loosen the wet fruit from the white stipe
But the raspberry crumbles, the droops bleed juice and rain onto my hand.
I should have picked them long ago.
Summer rain, washing away the dust: cleaning and cooling the clouds and leaving grey sheets of warm perfumed air in its wake.
Butterflies shelter in the vine dry against the house wall.
The lavender is curved down by the wet weight of its own heavy loveliness .
Pale hollyhocks cup bees circling the stiff stigmas untroubled by the slanting rain.
The cat leaves off hunting sparrows sheltering on the bird table, in order to cringe from the low thunder.
Now it is glittering sunshine, now black towering clouds, now the suffocating perfume of budliea breathing through the saturated air.
Will there ever be a day like this again?
I saw this wonderful graffiti this week near a hydroelectric dam on the Rhine river.
I was thinking of it as I watched the sky light up over Basel in celebration of Swiss national day this evening.
There are places to watch stars and places to watch fireworks – both are beautiful and both are transitory.
Watching fat flanked trout flick in a clear stream as evening fell, reminded me of the lines from the Kipling poem The way through the woods:
“when the night air cools on the trout ringed pool,
where the otter whistles his mate,
(they fear not men in the woods because they see so few..)”
I love the repeated oo sound, which makes the line so wonderfully peaceful and elongated like a sigh of satisfaction.
As with all poems worth loving, you should read this aloud to yourself, just to feel the words roll in your mouth. Enjoy!
The Road through the Woods.
THEY shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.
Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few.)
You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods.
But there is no road through the woods.
Walking by the edge of an old duck pond , the shadowed earth between the grass shivered. A tiny vibration of stalks and a sense that the ground was spotted with raindrops falling upwards: the frogs had emerged.
Great lumbering things that we are, we minced and high footed our way, conscious at once of our potential to massacre with each clumsy foot fall.
This single froglet rested momentarily in an outstretched hand. Its pin prick heart beating blood around around this minuscule body; nerves registering our heat, eyes wide to the boundless ocean of our enormous flesh.
Two animals together for a single heartbeat next to an old duck pond in the July shade.
Today was the sound of kestrels learning to fly, keening, crying , mewing, mewling, over and over as they flopped and fell and soared and swooped for the very first time out of crowed malodorous nests in dark church towers out, out into the wide blue sky flying with clouds and martins and jackdaws and the clacking of stork bills and the unrepeatable perfume of lime trees in flower for the first time, the first time, the very, very, first time in to the new world.
Heavy rain brings quiet mornings.
Snakes of pine needles on the path show where water flowed in the night.
Poppies are slow to open in the cool hours and there is time to watch them shrugging off their sepals to expose their dark hearts to the hungry bees.
Droplets cling to the folds of lady’s mantle leaves – the name from the shape of the folds in the Virgin Mary’s cloak.
And the birds: such a rich waterfall of music from the birds, as they take the cloudy day for dawn and sing each fresh washed note over and over again.
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.
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.
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 firsfists to unfurl.
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 Kathleen 1929 – 31st January 2019.
Snow at the end of winter
High heaped, brittle,
Chaffinches fiddling for grain
In stunted grass.
And then –
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.
“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 –
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.