Some Recent Poems

I have been reading The Ode Less Travelled, a book about writing poetry by Stephen Fry. It is really good. Some day, I might do a post about it, but today I am just publishing some of my recent poems.

I have been experimenting with some different forms. The poem below in written in a pastoral Italian form he talks about in the Ode Less Travelled – a ‘villanelle’.

The Sea 

Changing as the seconds fly

Ever dappling rippling light

Steady while the years go by

 

Ever the wave’s retreating sigh

And the fair-foam frothing white

Changing as the seconds fly

 

Ever the pale-sand blanching dry

And the pale-winged sea birds’ flight

Steady while the years go by

 

Ever the cawing sea-gulls’s cry

And the sunny wave-top bright

Changing as the seconds fly

 

Ever the silvery waters lie

At the dropping of the night

Steady while the years go by

 

Still they lie – close to the sky

In the softly fading light

Changing as the seconds fly

Steady while the years go by.

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Melted

Flakes and more flakes

Dropping – dropping

Softly – quickly

Carry on the air –

Dumb air of Winter

One little moment

Twirls them by – so

Large and soft

Indefinable

So many hundreds

Gathered in a sky!

How can it hold them?

Vast as it is!

Melted away now

Melted.

In this I tried to capture the endless, soft, unreal feeling of snow falling softly.

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The Woods in March

 The trees in silent sober beauty stood

Pale tree-trunks rising smooth from dead

And drying bracken – tawny gold – the wood

Half-bathed with moist sunshine. “See, tread

With softness lest the slightest stir you make

And all the golden sleeping woodland wake

Let not one fallen brown leaf rustle – break

No twig – be quiet and kick no stone.” Said she

So with most scrupulous care went we

And passed around a slender smooth-barked tree.

We saw two kinds of catkins lately out

The pussy willow, grey with her soft, soft touch

And hazel too before we turned about –

And they were cleanly yellow green. So much

Of beauty in that little wood

Wearing Springtime’s hood

Were she and I stood.

February Rain

Grey light – grey from a gray sky –

Cold as an empty hearth

Down the window crawl wet snakes

Joined by dashing drops.

Millions land in the blink of an eye – and

Have I thought for each?

Just the same as flitting fancies

Each insignificant speck

Joins five more, and grows into a

Drop. Through the pane

Febuary’s first pale crocuses lie flattened.

Full Moon

Smoother than a woman’s brow

With ghostly pearl perfection

Silvery was her gown of cloud – how

Silvery her complexion!

In the bleak and blasted sky

Of Winter – in that vast

Drifting waste of cloud – high

Over the blurred mountains – cast

In a perfect mould.

The lines in this fluctuate between four stressed beats (tetrameter) and only three. This is the way ballads are generally written.

The Eternal Yew 

The charms we wove about the trunk

Will stand the test of wearing time

They’re braded – mingled into the branches

And strung from leaf to leaf to leaf

The knots pulled tight the ends entwined

About the wandering shadows

 

The wavering trembling whispering shadows

That darkly dance about the trunk

Around the bow their ends entwined

Where they will linger through all time

Far longer than the words on the leaf

Of a book – or memory on the branches

 

Dark branches of your mind – dark branches

Of the tree last longer far. Where shadows

About the sagging dream-green leaf

So many leaves, so thin, and round the trunk

Lie dusky and timeless, their ends entwined.

While roll on time and time and time

 

And if it ever faltered, time –

Then live these darkly mighty branches

On through emptiness – their ends entwined –

Then live and endlessly live on through shadows.

Then live and endlessly live on that trunk

Hung round with ribbon-like green leaf

 

The torn green fragments of a secret – leaf

On leaf like deeply layered time

That dance around the ghostly trunk

Of memory, and the strong dark branches

Of the mind. The shadows are entwined.

The wavering trembling whispering shadows.

 

You mighty roots that grasp round shadows

Of earth – you mystic hanging leaf

You shadows, shadows – the ends entwined

Where you will linger through all time

You great time-wielding lasting branches

And you, the heart of all – the trunk!

 

Keep living, dream-green leaf and branches

Live all through time, your ends entwined

And live the spell about the trunk of shadows.

That was a Sentina – a really complicated form which repeats the ‘hero words’ (the words at the end of the lines) in a special pattern. My hero words (repeated all through the piece) are branches, shadows, leaf, trunk, entwined, time.

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Spring Behind the Hedge

It may be some mistake of mine –

For people call it winter still

And Christmas is but lately passed away

With all the rest of the old year, to where

The bygone days all go – and yesterday

I looked out on the garden, and

It darkly glowered back, with a wet

Face under a furious sky. Though t’were

Midday, the light was cold and dim.

And yet I still believe that on

A day in January, not long ago

When some thin golden sunlight had made

Its quiet way out of the prison of

The clouds, I thought I heard the voice of spring

A-whispering in the sodden grass, and saw

Her face, as it peeped shyly through

The bare and dripping silvery hedge.

A Poem

The First Sun of the New Year

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Not long ago the sun has risen

Late and unwilling from a dark bed,

All clothed in crimson cloud, to be wed

To the washed-out sky. And now, it is up.

First it touches the chimney, till it glows

Warm red against the pale, and now it’ll expose

By casting its slanting beams,

The grass that yet grows green

Beneath the stiff and silvery frost – and seen

And softly caressed by the sun is her child –

A lonely snowdrop bud, quite faint and mild

And the sun she thaws the frost and leaves her tears.

Ways to enjoy your garden/surrounding countryside

Five minute ways to relax in warm weather 

  1. Lie down upon a patch of warm moss, or dry grass if there is none, and shut your eyes, turning your face to the sun. Listen to the sound of the birds sining, and the trees rustling – even the swish of cars on a road can become a sweet sound while you lie in the sun. Then sniff – sniff in a huge draught of air, and see what it reminds you of. You may recall all the other Spring days, and sweeten and sober your mind with memories. It can be sad to remember, sometimes, but always sweet too. Doing it always reminds me of the  William Allingham ‘Four ducks on a pond, a grass bank beyond, a blue sky of Spring, white clouds on the wing; what a little thing to remember for years – to remember with tears.’
  2. Sit on a swing, close your eyes, and imagine you are a bird flitting through the blue sky, or a fish through the blue sea. Open your eyes and throw your head back, so that you see the world spin and turn below you. It is a wonderful feeling and vision.
  3. Make a daisy chain. It is a very simple thing to do, but it is a lovely spring or summer occupation. If you don’t know how, I will tell you – pick  daisy, and slit a loop in the stalk with your thumb nail. Then thread another through that slit, and slit the stem of the one thread through the slit in turn, and so on. Deck yourself out in daisies – make a daisy bracelet, a daisy necklace, a daisy crown, even daisy belt or hairband, or a little rings of daisies to hang round your ears.
  4. Climb a tree. It is so lovely to see the sunlight shining through the leaves like stain glass, and falling in golden splashes on the trunk. Try to reach the very top – it is such a wonderful feeling to emerge from the leafy canopy into empty air with the blue sky above, with the wind blowing in your face. The view is also always grand from the tops of trees.
  5. This is an occupation mostly for late Summer, or early if the weather has been especially warm. Go into the garden, and gather the petals of the over-blown roses as you hand them into the basket. You can also gather sweet smelling herbs,and throw in some tangerine peel, and them put the mixture in a pretty pot in your house to scent the room.
  6. Make a salad out of the herbs in your garden. I have written about this and will be posting it soon – after I have done so I will add a link on this post to that.

 

A little bit more ambitious

  1. If you don’t have a swing to use for  idea 2, try making one out of a straight stick and some ropes. They can often swing straighter than bought swings.
  2. Try keeping a nature diary. Get a blank exercise-book/notebook/clutch of paper or anything else of the sort, and keep a dairy of the garden wildlife and plants. Even ordinary things can be written down, like the sighting of a frog, interesting lady-bird, especially fat bumble-bee, or the first butterfly of the year. I put a few lines of poetry describing the day at the beginning of each entry.
  3. Have a little flower bed to yourself. Buy a packet of seeds, or transplant some flowers not wanted in the other beds of the garden into a little hidden away patch, and steal some soil from the compost or another bed, and plant them in it.
  4. Eat breakfast in the garden. See my post about it Here.

Sweet In Her Green Dell the Flower of Beauty Slumbers

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Song

‘Sweet in her green dell the flower of beauty slumbers,
   Lull’d by the faint breezes sighing through her hair;
Sleeps she and hears not the melancholy numbers
   Breathed to my sad lute ’mid the lonely air.
Down from the high cliffs the rivulet is teeming
   To wind round the willow banks that lure him from above:
O that in tears, from my rocky prison streaming,
   I too could glide to the bower of my love!
Ah! where the woodbines with sleepy arms have wound her,
   Opes she her eyelids at the dream of my lay,
Listening, like the dove, while the fountains echo round her,
   To her lost mate’s call in the forests far away.
Come then, my bird! For the peace thou ever bearest,
   Still Heaven’s messenger of comfort to me—
Come—this fond bosom, O faithfullest and fairest,
   Bleeds with its death-wound, its wound of love for thee!’ 

Darley

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I have, in my garden, a certain ‘green dell’ (though as to whether I am the ‘flower of beauty’ I don’t know). Down at the bottom of the lawn, the ground falls, leaving a wide ditch between the grass and the fence. This place we have transformed from a muddy nettle ditch edged with scrabby leylandii (I realise scrabby is not a real word and would not use it in any book, but it is the best I can think of to describe them), to a paradise of fruit trees and foliage.

I found myself a little clearing, edged on one side with an arch of raspberries, and placing a chair therein, sat down to read some poetry.

A blossom fell from a bough above and alighted on my book, pure white with with a gentle cheek-pink leaking into it, and fluff-pollen yellow in the centre.

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The Smell of Woodbine

She reclined, conscious of nothing but the springy turf under her, the golden sunlight as it streamed through the glowing green foliage and fell dappled about – the molten gold joy of the fairies. She had watched them arise each morning, clad in the pale skirts of the dew b’pearled primrose, with wings like the Chrysopa perla and scatter it, the happiness, the content.

She could smell – or at least she knew the smell was there, and was conscious of it as much as she was conscious of anything – the heavy, dream scent of the woodbine, and feel how its sleepy arms had wound her, wrapping her round with the feel and the smell of it like a blanket round a child. And she lay, lull’d by the sound of the faint breezes sighing through her hair. 

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And then she thought something came to her, breaking through the soft muffle of scents and sounds; pulling it aside, as the blanket might, when morning came, be pulled off the child, so that it lay exposed to the chill air of morning; a sound, or a feeling, she could not quite tell, for in this place two were as mingled as sunlight and shade, and blurry as dusk sky. And she remembered something, something which she ought not to have remembered; it was coming back to her, as a dream comes back to a waker, though here dream and waking were reversed, flashes of memory appearing for a minute in her lulled mind, and disappearing before she could identify them.

But she was dimly conscious, through the woodbine smell, that she was not so happy as she had thought she had been; that Life lay behind her, like a forgotten path through the wood newly uncovered; that there was one walking down it who longed for her to turn and re-trace her steps to join him. Would she? Could she?

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That which I just wrote made me feel rather odd. I am happy I can enjoy sitting under the arching boughs without ‘Life’ behind me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breakfasting in the company of Spring

While I am working on the present posts, I thought I would publish this one, written a while ago, which I forgot about.  

Here is another entry with raptures on the garden in it!

When I drew up the blinds yesterday morning, I looked out upon a garden bright with Spring and bathed in sunshine. It made the garden look glowing and green, and it shone upon the rough bare trunk of my friend the Copper Beech.

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Mum suggested that Tassy and I take some snacks out into the garden and breakfast outside. She made us some toast spread with peppery tasting cheese, some little packs of nuts, fruit, seeds and sweets, and a large jar of hot rooibos. To celebrate the warm wether, I wore one of two summer dresses made out of a thin, silky materiel covered with a flowery print, and very pretty, which I had got for christmas.

The morning air was cool and fresh. It smelt of deep, rich, damp soil, of fresh green things, of shade and sunlight, of the early morning – and of something else, too, something more difficult to describe – it smelt, almost, of memory. At least, it brought back memories; memories of a hundred other days, other springs. My dress fluttered in the wind as I ran down the path to the lawn, and sudden splash of golden sunlight would fall sometimes upon me, for the path was in dappled shade. There was a light and joyous feeling in me as I stepped off the half-shaded path into the bright light that shone upon the happy lawn – I feel I will remember that moment for ever after. Tassy came skipping along behind like a mischievous little pixie.

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I chose our picnic spot carefully, settling at last upon a dry, springy patch of moss in one corner of the lawn, in full view of some beautiful golden daffodils nodding their heads in the soft breeze, and backed by a rhododendron bush. There is a certain trick of the light that happens sometimes when you stand in the right place looking at a patch of moss in bright sun – it seems almost to glow. This had happened with the patch I chose, and I took it as a sign from Spring that is was there we should eat our breakfast. Tass thoroughly approved, though he did say he would rather it a little nearer the daffodils. I persuaded him we could see them very well from here, and we sat down and began the feast.

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We then scoured the garden for herbs, and laid out on the cheese a selection of hawthorn, salad burnet, garlic, sweet cicely, lovage, and sorrel.

When we were about half-way through, I suggested that we lay on our backs and just listened and dreamed, and enjoyed ourselves. So we lay down side-by-side and did just that, though Tassy was too restless to do it for long, and after a moment he was after some more dried fruit from the packs.

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As I lay upon the warm moss, I could hear the wind as it rustled in the branches of the great beech above me, and the songs of the birds about me. The sunlight flowed in through my half closed lids, giving the impression of a waterfall of shining light. It made me think of the lines from Margaret ‘What lit your eyes with tearful power, like moonlight on a falling shower?……. A tearful grace, as though you stood between the rainbow and the sun.’ And of another Tennyson line too,’The maiden spring upon the plain, came in a sunlit fall of rain’. The feeling of the sunlight rushing down onto my face, and the gentle wind sweeping past me, gave me such a feeling of unutterable delight, that I felt as if I might have been lying in the Elysian Fields. I could almost imagine the sweet singing of the birds turned to the playing of a harp – and I felt, at that moment, that this was the happiest moment of my life, for it was then, I felt, that I felt the touch of nature in all her loveliness. And I pity all those, who, sitting in a darkened room watching their televisions, while Spring calls to them in vain outside, may never feel that joy. And in this world of computers and cities, there are too many who will not.

It Is the First Mild Day of March

Yesterday, was ‘the first mild day of March’ i.e, the first warm day of that season, which we always celebrate by reading aloud Wordsworth’s poem, which goes

‘It is the first mild day of March, 

Each moment sweeter than before, 

The redbreast sings from the tall larch

That stands beside our door. 

There is a blessing in the air, 

That seems a sense of joy to yield, 

The the bare trees and mountains bare, 

And the grass in the green field.

And so on. I know there are some people who would claim that Spring does not begin until near the end of March, but every novel, piece of poetry, or garden, for that matter, is against these people – and I am too. At least –  I am against them in the sense that I do not believe early March is never Spring, nor do I believe it is always so. I believe that when green bulbs are shooting up from the ground – when the sky is blue without a cloud, when the bare trees are budding and primroses grow round our feet, it is Spring. It is this which defines when that lovely season comes – not any number on the calendar. The poem which brought us onto this topic itself argues this, and clearly with the disputed right March has to be often called the first month of Spring in mind –

‘No joyless forms shall regulate

Our living calendar:

We from to-day, my friend, will date

The opening of the year’

Let me continue – we had a lovely day. Mum and Granny brought out some little plastic cases for plants with parcels of compost that puff up when you put warm water on them inside, and we put planted some vegetable seeds in in them. I made some labels to stick on the top of the plastic lids so we knew which plants were which. It is so exiting to think it will soon be Summer again, with the garden as lush and green as Paradise, or the Elysian Fields.

I will take this opportunity of copying in a part of A Macclesfield Maiden (a semi-autobiography I am writing) that describes the garden in the months of May and June, for I think it is necessary for the readers of my blog to get some idea of what it looks like.

It was apring, and the garden was leafy, green and blooming. The white paint of the old Georgian house was radiant amid its leafy trimming, and the large bay-windows glinted in the morning sun. The rose shrubs were dotted over with blooms of every shade of pink, and glossy leaves shone in harmony with the polished windows. The mossy lawn was all sprinkled with daises and speedwell, and little clover. The buttercups looked like tiny golden cups of radiant sunlight. Above the lawn was a patch of grass which would later in the year blossom into a wild meadow, white with oxeye daisies and dotted with the pink of ragged robin and red champion. Then the whole thing would be a tangle of bright, loose, flowing flowers and grasses. Now, before the stage of flowery glory, it had a softer beauty; one could see the deferent shapes of the leaves; ferny vetch, bitter salad burnet, common clover, and the tiny, delicate little leaves of the honey-golden birds foot trefoil. And here and there among the delicate leaves you might find a little treasure; a small flower, burning with brightest colours. The meadow in its early days looked very much like a detail of grass around the feet of the three graces in the Primavera. The painting shows with so much detail the grace of the ferny leaves and long-stemmed tiny flowers that grow amongst them. 

At the top of this flowery patch of ground was a wide cobbled place. If you turned off this area to the left, you were in a parterre hedged with box and rosemary, with gravel paths, and a monument edged with time and topped with a grecian stone vase. If you continued straight a head, you entered into another garden, walled by somewhat crumbling yorkshire stone, and slightly shaded by the overhanging branches of the elm trees. The sun shone through the green elm leaves so that they looked like pale stained glass in a church window. Two beds edged this garden, both full of rich soil, and full of many plants. At the top of the garden was a small stone area with fruit trees growing along the wall at the back of it. But now we must travel back down the garden, and turn our faces once more to the green lawn, for it is there that we will find our heroine. Do you see the bright lawn once more, with its rose bushes and herbs, and the great white house behind it?

On a little grassy hill, with her head just under a branch of one of the taller rose bushes, a little girl sat, quietly reading. She had crisply curling shoulder-length hair of deep brown, the colour of fresh, rich garden soil, and the sun was shining upon it so brightly that it gave it a bright sheen like polished copper. Her eyes were of a clear sky blue; they looked just like the sky. She lowered her book, and looked around her and bright, shining garden.

Now, can you all picture the garden round my house?

Hear are some photos of yesterday

And

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That low wall in front of the grassy hill is where the girl in the story (me) was sitting. Notice the rose bushes.

Is not that crocus exquisitely lovely? Look at the delicate stripes up the petals – a bit like leaf skeletons, or like the topmost branches of the copper beech when they seem to net together.  That crocus, and another one which is shown in the ‘featured image’, are actually as old as the copper beech. I mean, of course they haven’t had flowers on them all through those many winters, but their bulbs are as old as the copper beech. There used to be lots and then someone dumped a load of earth on top to make the ground flatter, and only these have managed to grow through. It is astonishing how much people these days seem to like covering up beautiful things. I didn’t mention it in the post, but Steve and Julie told us that the beautiful old oak door which I described in ‘Bronte Country’ used to be covered in chip-board, and they had to scrape it all off. Can you believe that! And when we first came to our house, people had put tarmac all over the old cobbles, and gravel over the paving stones. I do not think it is fair to the people who lived long ago to cover up all their work – or to nature to cover up her work.

I do not wish to end this entry with complaining, so I will make one more description of the loveliness of our day.

It  is truly incredible in how bright a mood a bright day can put me – the sunlight in the air seems to flow inside and light my very soul. I am truly blessed to have such a wonderful garden, however much people may have tried to ruin it with tarmac and gravel. How lovely it is to roam about it, looking at the primroses and the daffodils and snowdrops and crocuses, and to sit upon the soft, spongey moss that grows amongst the grass.

Note for those who are impatient to hear more about Bronte Country: I have not completely neglected the story of our trip to Ponden Hall – I am actually writing another entry about it. But I will not be posting much of anything for a few days, because I am trying to get the second half of the art essay done for my art course. When I do, I will publish that on here.

Poetry and Photographs

Today I’m posting a poem I’ve written about this time of year, with some photos of the garden to go with it. Here it is:

The air is crisp and frosty, with sharp edge,

The sunlight shines full golden on the ground,

It melts the frost, and bares a greener hue.

The atmosphere is bright and brilliant blue;

Nestling among the grass, a million water drops,

Like little diamonds glisten, shine, and flash.

And not one snowy cloud does blot the sun,

By bite of cold the day is not undone.

 

 Spring comes, she melts a path though ice and sleet,

Upon the ground she scatters flowers and light,

Though through the trees the harsh cold wind does blow,  

Still, up from stark bare ground, the snowdrops grow

So pure, so fair, with silver needle leaves.

Then straight stand daffodils, with yellow dresses bright,

And crocus-cups, filled up with slanting sunlight show,

And in the breeze they wave, they dance; they blow.

Now  for the photos:

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‘And crocus cups, filled up with slanting sunlight show’

IMG_7885Still, up from stark bare ground, the snowdrops grow

So pure, so fair, with silver needle leaves.

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‘Then straight stand daffodils, with yellow dresses bright’

 

 

Nestling among the grass, a million water drops,

Like little diamonds glisten, shine, and flash.

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‘Upon the ground she scatters flowers and light’

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These dew drops are not on grass, so are not actually related to the poem, but they are so pretty I decided to put them in anyway

 

 

 

Comparing two lovely pieces of spring poetry

My two favourite spring poems are, I believe, ‘To my sister’ by Wordsworth, and ‘Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere’ by Alfred Tennyson. My favourite parts of both are the first few verses;

 

‘It is the first mild day of March:

Each minute sweeter than before

The redbreast sings from the tall larch

That stands beside our door.

There is a blessing in the air,

Which seems a sense of joy to yield

To the bare trees, and mountains bare,

And grass in the green field.’

 

 

And,

 

Like souls that balance joy and pain,

With tears and smiles from heaven again

The maiden Spring upon the plain

Came in a sunlit fall of rain.

In crystal vapor everywhere

Blue isles of heaven laugh’d between,

And far, in forest-deeps unseen,

The topmost elm-tree gather’d green

From draughts of balmy air.

 

Sometimes the linnet piped his song;

Sometimes the throstle whistled strong;

Sometimes the sparhawk, wheel’d along,

Hush’d all the groves from fear of wrong;

By grassy capes with fuller sound

In curves the yellowing river ran,

And drooping chestnut-buds began

To spread into the perfect fan,

Above the teeming ground.’

 

There is, however a great different between these two lovely poems. Take the first few lines of each, for instance. Compare

 

‘It is the first mild day of March:

Each minute sweeter than before

The redbreast sings from the tall larch

That stands beside our door. ‘

 

 

With

 

‘Like souls that balance joy and pain,

With tears and smiles from heaven again

The maiden Spring upon the plain

Came in a sunlit fall of rain.’

 

The first has a simple, natural sound, it depicts the plain, unsophisticated charm of nature. It sounds fresh, pure, and real. The second is full of similes, metaphors, and sophisticated language, difficult to read and to understand, but intricate as carving in the gold of a palace wall, or as silken embroidered hangings. It has not nearly so fresh and pure a sound, therefore it is perhaps less suited to describing spring, which is naturally a pure and unsophisticated season. However, there is a charm also in the more sophisticated and difficult language of Tennyson; he finds a lovely description for everything, especially in the beautiful lines

 

‘In crystal vapor everywhere

Blue isles of heaven laugh’d between’

 

To Wordsworth it would seem that there was enough beauty in the sky as it really was without having to depict it as ‘blue isles of heaven’. He would probably think it gilding the lily to describe it in that manner. I think however that it is a lovely description, in a different way. Yet to single out another lovely line of spring poetry, Wordsworth this time,

‘To the bare trees, and mountains bare,

And grass in the green field.’

it does seem that the joyful simplicity of ‘To my sister,’ suits the season better.

 

Somebody comment and tell me which they prefer.

First signs of spring

These photographs were taken in the garden yesterday, on a January evening. I was out with my brother playing, and as the evening was beautiful I borowed my dad’s phone and took some photos. The smallish brick house with the sun and shadow on it and the plant pots by the door is where I live, and the doorway of the larger house with the fanlight above the door is my grandmother’s house. Both houses share the shame garden. The little boy walking up the lawn in the picture of my house is my brother, Tasgall.

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