Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Cork oaks and Holm oaks

The cork oaks didn't have many acorns, but here is one.

The local pines.

Young cone.

Holm oak. The other local oak.

Cork oak bark.

Cork oak recently stripped. It's done every seven or nine years.

Shelling chickpeas.

Cork oak leaves, with lupin seedling.

Holm oak bark, cracking into oblong plates.

Holm oak acorns.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Aire de Saugon


Sparrows. Moineaux. 

We're in Europe. Only scatty posts for a while!

Le long des golfes clairs ...

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

if sages had this world begun


So. One of the ancient wise men -- by accident, of course -- managed to say something very smart: "Love and hunger rule the world." Ergo: To rule the world, man has got to rule the rulers of the world. Our forebears finally managed to conquer Hunger, by paying a terrible price: I'm talking about the 200-Years War, the war between the City and the Country. It was probably religious prejudice that made the Christian savages fight so stubbornly for their "bread"*. But in the year 35 before the founding of OneState our present petroleum food was invented. True, only 0.2 of the world's population survived. On the other hand, when it was cleansed of a thousand years of filth, how bright the face of the earth became! And what is more, the zero point two tenths who survived . . . tasted earthly bliss in the granaries of OneState. 

* This word has come down to us only as a poetic metaphor. It is not known what the chemical composition of this material was.

[From Yevgeny Zamyatin, We (written 1920-1921), Record 5, translation by Clarence Brown (1993).]

Thus writes D-503, still very much signed up to OneState's narrative. As for Love, there is a system of Sex Days, organized by pink ticket.

I expect I'll write a lot more about We in other posts. But for now, let's stick to love and hunger. 

The ultimate origin of the saying seems to be the ending of Friedrich Schiller's 1795 poem "Die Weltweisen". The title means "The World-Wise". In English, it has usually been translated as "The Philosophers". The poem is essentially a satire on philosophers who only say what everyone already knows. In the meanwhile it's Nature who drives the world forward, as ever, through Love and Hunger.  

Here's the German text, interleaved with Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton's lively but not very literal translation in The Poems and Ballads of Schiller (1844). (His version of the end of the first stanza is contentious, as he explains in a note, but I'm not including that here.)

Die Weltweisen   /   Philosophers

      Der Satz, durch welchen alles Ding
Bestand und Form empfangen,
Der Nagel, woran Zeus den Ring
Der Welt, die sonst in Scherben ging,
Vorsichtig aufgehangen,
Den nenn’ ich einen großen Geist,
Der mir ergründet, wie er heißt,
Wenn ich ihm nicht drauf helfe —
Er heißt: Zehn ist nicht Zwölfe.

                    To learn what gives to every thing
                      The form and live which we survey,
                    The law by which the Eternal King
                    Moves all Creation's order'd ring,
                           And keeps it from decay --
                    When to great Doctor Wiseman we go --
                    If help'd not out by Fichté's ego --
                    All from his brain that we can delve,
                    Is this sage answer -- "Ten's not Twelve."

        Der Schnee macht kalt, das Feuer brennt,
Der Mensch geht auf zwei Füßen,
Die Sonne scheint am Firmament,
Das kann, wer auch nicht Logik kennt,
Durch seine Sinne wissen.
Doch wer Metaphysik studiert,
Der weiß, daß, wer verbrennt, nicht friert,
Weiß, daß das Nasse feuchtet
Und daß das Helle leuchtet.

                    The snow can chill, the fire can burn,
                      Men when they walk on two feet go ; --
                    A sun in Heaven all eyes discern --
                    This through the senses we may learn,
                          Nor go to school to know !
                    But the profounder student sees,
                    That that which burns -- will seldom freeze ;
                    And can instruct the astonish'd hearer,
                    How moisture moistens -- light makes clearer.

        Homerus singt sein Hochgedicht,
Der Held besteht Gefahren;
Der brave Mann thut seine Pflicht
Und that sie, ich verhehl’ es nicht,
Eh noch Weltweise waren.
Doch hat Genie und Herz vollbracht,
Was Lock’ und Des Cartes nie gedacht,
Sogleich wird auch von diesen
Die Möglichkeit bewiesen.

                    Homer composed his mighty song,
                      The hero danger dared to scorn,
                    The brave man did his duty, long
                    Before -- (and who shall say I'm wrong) --
                            Philosophers were born !
                    Before Descartes and Locke -- the Sun
                    Saw things by Heart and Genius done,
                    Which those great men have proved, on viewing,
                    The possibility of -- doing !

        Im Leben gilt der Stärke Recht,
Dem Schwachen trotzt der Kühne,
Wer nicht gebieten kann, ist Knecht;
Sonst geht es ganz erträglich schlecht
Auf dieser Erdenbühne.
Doch wie es wäre, fing’ der Plan
Der Welt nur erst von vornen an,
Ist in Moralsystemen
Ausführlich zu vernehmen.

                    Strength in this life prevails and sways --
                      Bold Power oppresses humble Worth --
                    He who can not command obeys --
                    In short there's not too much to praise
                          In this poor orb of earth,
                    But how things might be better done,
                    If sages had this world begun,
                    By moral systems of their own,
                    Most incontestably is shown !

        „Der Mensch bedarf des Menschen sehr
Zu seinem großen Ziele;
Nur in dem Ganzen wirket er,
Viel Tropfen geben erst das Meer,
Viel Wasser treibt die Mühle.
Drum flieht der wilden Wölfe Stand
Und knüpft des Staates dauernd Band.”
So lehren vom Katheder
Herr Puffendorf und Feder.

                    "Man needs mankind, must be confest --
                      In all he labours to fulfil,
                    Must work, or with, or for, the rest ;
                    'Tis drops that swell the ocean's breast --
                          'Tis waves that turn the mill.
                    The savage life for man unfit is,
                    So take a wife and live in cities."
                    Thus ex cathedrá teach, we know,
                    Wise Messieurs Puffendorf and Co.

        Doch weil, was ein Professor spricht,
Nicht gleich zu Allen dringet,
So übt Natur die Mutterpflicht
Und sorgt, daß nie die Kette bricht
Und daß der Reif nie springet.
Einstweilen, bis den Bau der Welt
Philosophie zusammenhält,
Erhält sie das Getriebe
Durch Hunger und durch Liebe.

                    Yet since, what grave professors preach,
                      The crowd may be excused from knowing ;
                    Meanwhile, old Nature looks to each,
                    Tinkers the chain, and mends the breach,
                           And keeps the clockwork going.
                    Some day, Philosophy, no doubt,
                    A better World will bring about :
                    Till then the Old a little longer,
                    Must blunder on -- through Love and Hunger !

[German source: . Translation source. ]

Here's another, more literal, translation:

  The Philosophers

   The principle by which each thing
    Toward strength and shape first tended,—
   The pulley whereon Zeus the ring
   Of earth, that loosely used to swing,
    With cautiousness suspended,—
   he is a clever man, I vow,
   Who its real name can tell me now,
   Unless to help him I consent—
   'Tis: ten and twelve are different!

   Fire burns,—'tis chilly when it snows,
    Man always is two-footed,—
   The sun across the heavens goes,—
   This, he who naught of logic knows
    Finds to his reason suited.
   Yet he who metaphysics learns,
   Knows that naught freezes when it burns—
   Knows that what's wet is never dry,—
   And that what's bright attracts the eye.

   Old Homer sings his noble lays,
    The hero goes through dangers;
   The brave man duty's call obeys,
   And did so, even in the days
    When sages yet were strangers—
   But heart and genius now have taught
   What Locke and what Descartes never thought;
   By them immediately is shown
   That which is possible alone.

   In life avails the right of force.
    The bold the timid worries;
   Who rules not, is a slave of course,
   Without design each thing across
    Earth's stage forever hurries.
   Yet what would happen if the plan
   Which guides the world now first began,
   Within the moral system lies
   Disclosed with clearness to our eyes.

   "When man would seek his destiny,
    Man's help must then be given;
   Save for the whole, ne'er labors he,—
   Of many drops is formed the sea,—
    By water mills are driven;
   Therefore the wolf's wild species flies,—
   Knit are the state's enduring ties."
   Thus Puffendorf and Feder, each
   Is, ex cathedra, wont to teach.

   Yet, if what such professors say,
    Each brain to enter durst not,
   Nature exerts her mother-sway,
   Provides that ne'er the chain gives way,
    And that the ripe fruits burst not.
   Meanwhile, until earth's structure vast
   Philosophy can bind at last,
   'Tis she that bids its pinion move,
   By means of hunger and of love!

[Translation (translator's name not supplied), from here: .]

I think Sigmund Freud credited Schiller's poem with giving him the idea of the two drives described in Civilization and Its Discontents (1930). 

In fact Schiller himself had a theory of drives, according to this intriguing page of jottings (Encyclopaedia of Human Thermodynamics, etc.). In the same place, I found this:

“Hunger and love are two fundamental forces that reign in the living world, they are the primary source of all phenomena, mental and social.”

— Leon Winiarski (1899), Essay on Social Mechanics . (Leon Winiarski (1865-1915) was a Polish sociologist who taught at the University of Geneva.)

So Zamyatin might have been alluding to Winiarski rather than Schiller. 

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Friday, September 09, 2022

The Burton Way

Powdermill Wood, Battle, E. Sussex, 3 September 2022.


Almost as soon as my brother awoke from his afternoon nap -- if he'd had one; even the neighbors would pray he'd have one -- I was waiting for Dad to come home. I'd sit on the chair in the bay window and hold vigil, staring along the rough, pot-holed road that was The Terrace. I'd see the bus hove into view and slow down opposite Pete Eldridge's garage -- which had once been stabling for the Duke of Kent pub -- and then I'd be up and out the door, running along the street and into my father's arms. As soon as he'd had a cup of tea, we would be walking across the fields with the dog, come rain or shine, snow or hail, daylight or darkness. Walking across the fields at dusk in winter was my favorite time. There was something mystical about it, feeling the frost crunch under my feet. There was always something to see, always something he'd show me, kneeling at my side and raising his paint-stained hands -- those knobby, flat-thumbed worker's hands -- and pointing so I knew where to focus my gaze, perhaps to see a rabbit, or a fox. And there was also the long slide down the Burton Way to dread. 

I'm always curious about how places come to have names, often linking people to something that happened long ago. We'd walk down the footpath at the side of the house, then along the track to Five Acres, the big field before we reached Robin's Wood. We'd pass the stinky place where overflow sewage from septic systems came out -- our community would not have a main sewer line until I was seventeen years of age. At the far end of the field was a stile and from the stile there were two paths -- one to the left, a steep descent, and one to the right, which was more of a meander through the woods. My father always liked to take the path to the left; it was probably because hardly anyone ever went that way and my father liked to assert his independence by taking the path less traveled. I think choosing the trail with a challenging gradient was a variant on pitching his tent on the wrong side in Germany -- he did things his own way. But so steep was the path, I always fell down, often ending up caught in brambles. The first time I tumbled, my father said, "Oh, you've gone for a burton there, my girl!"

Going for a burton? If you search online, "Going for a burton" originated with the RAF and meant you were going to die, or you'd had an accident. Interesting. And here's why it's interesting -- the locution was common in South East London, and there is a belief that it originated to describe the effects of Burton Ales. So, if you fall down, you've "Gone for a burton." My father would never have used any phrase that might link his child to a sad demise, and given that he'd used the term since boyhood I can only think that the internet is wrong in this case, though I can believe RAF pilots would co-opt the phrase "Going for a burton" to describe a fall from the skies following an altercation with a Luftwaffe Messerschmitt.

That aside, from the time of my first fall, I always asked Dad, "Are we going the burton way this time?" So that path became the Burton Way. Years later I was walking near the old house, long after my parents have moved away, and I heard some children shouting to each other, "Let's go down the Burton Way!" I smiled and watched as they ran off, gamboling down the track, past clean sweet-smelling woodland where the sewage used to come out, and on towards Five Acres and Robin's Wood. 

(Jacqueline Winspear, This Time Next Year We'll Be Laughing: A Memoir (2020), pp. 104-106. Jacqueline's parents were a fiery working-class couple who abandoned London after WWII for a semi-vagrant life in rural Kent.)

Some sort of Russula. Powdermill Wood, Battle, E. Sussex, 3 September 2022.


... I remember that, in the course of our conversations during these walks, on several occasions she surprised me a great deal. The first time was when she said to me: "If you were not too hungry and if it was not so late, by taking that road to the left and then turning to the right, in less than a quarter of an hour we should be at Guermantes." It was as though she had said to me: "Turn to the left, then bear right, and you will touch the intangible, you will reach the inaccessibly remote tracts of which one never knows anything on this earth except the direction, except" (what I thought long ago to be all that I could ever know of Guermantes, and perhaps in a sense I had not been mistaken) "the 'way.'" One of my other surprises was that of seeing the "source of the Vivonne," which I imagined as something as extra-terrestrial as the Gates of Hell, and which was merely a sort of rectangular basin in which bubbles rose to the surface. And the third occasion was when Gilberte said to me: "If you like, we might after all go out one afternoon and then we can go to Guermantes, taking the road by Méséglise, which is the nicest way," a sentence which upset all the ideas of my childhood by informing me that the two "ways" were not as irreconcilable as I had supposed ...

(Marcel Proust, Time Regained (translation by Andreas Mayor and Terence Kilmartin, revised by D.J. Enright), p. 3.)


Sweet Chestnut trees (Castanea sativa). Powdermill Wood, Battle, E. Sussex, 3 September 2022.

Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.

(Jeremiah 6:16)

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:

Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

(Matthew 7:13-14)


Now, did you ever think, or do you believe, that the fact of a course of conduct, or of an opinion, being the conduct or the opinion of a majority, is pro tanto against it? 'What everybody says must be true,' says the old proverb, and I do not dispute it. What most people say is, I think, most often false. And that is true about conduct, as well as about opinion. It is very unsafe to take the general sense of a community for your direction. It is unsafe in regard to matters of opinion, it is even more unsafe in regard to matters of conduct. That there are many on a road is no sign that the road is a right one; but it is rather an argument the other way; looking at the gregariousness of human nature, and how much people like to save themselves the trouble of thinking and decision, and to run in ruts ...

(from Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), "The Two Paths", exposition of Matthew 7: 13-14. Source: .)


Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) or something of that sort. Powdermill Wood, Battle, E. Sussex, 3 September 2022.

A week after the holidays began, my father was summoned to the office of the General Manager of Schools. There he was informed that he was being transferred to Ho, as headmaster of the Catholic school there. Teachers employed by the Mission had absolutely no voice in the decision as to where they would be posted. They would be sent anywhere in the diocese, and transferred at a moment's notice. This has always led to a lot of dissatisfaction, and been the cause of hardship and separation. Teachers were also transferred to other schools in the diocese as a punishment for reasons no made known to them. My father had only been headmaster of the Tegbi school for a couple of years, his family settled there, and his wife's trade was flourishing. It would mean a lot of inconvenience and financial loss to go. He was not pleased.

But the general manager was tactful and explained the position carefully.

"We are very pleased with your work here," he told Nani. "We see that you understand how to rule with a firm hand; we see that you give as much thought to the training of your children's characters, as you do to teaching them the three Rs. Your own little boy, now, we see how firmly you have set his feet upon the narrow path. You are the sort of man we need in Ho. There is a new school. It has only been opened a year. And now the headmaster, a really excellent man, has suddenly died -- God rest his soul. What shall we do if we cannot find another strong man to take his place? The school is in a town where superstition and witchcraft abound. We may lose many young souls, my dear headmaster, if you let us down."

The Reverend Manager paused. His words sank in. My father's resentment and annoyance died down, and was replaced by pride and enthusiasm. 

"I shall not let you down," he answered. "When shall I go?"

(from Francis Selormey (1927 - 1983), The Narrow Path: An African Childhood (1966), Chapter 6.  Semi-autobiographical novel of Kofi's childhood on the coast of Ghana, and his relationship with his stern, righteous father.)


Dried up plants of Wood Dock (Rumex sanguineus). Powdermill Wood, Battle, E. Sussex, 3 September 2022. 

"O see ye not yon narrow road,
So thick beset with thorns and briers?
That is the path of righteousness,
Tho after it but few enquires.

"And see ye not that braid braid road,
That lies across that lily leven?
That is the path of wickedness,
Tho some call it the road to heaven.

"And see not ye that bonny road,
That winds about the fernie brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland,
Where thou and I this night maun gae.

[Source .]

(from the ballad "Thomas the Rhymer" as it appears in Walter Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (2nd edn, 1803). In some other versions the lilies really are on the heavenly path, e.g. the fragmentary Child 37B:

‘It’s dont ye see yon broad broad way,
  That leadeth down by yon skerry fell?
  It’s ill’s the man that dothe thereon gang,
  For it leadeth him straight to the gates o hell.
‘It’s dont ye see yon narrow way,
  That leadeth down by yon lillie lea?
  It’s weel’s the man that doth therein gang,
  For it leads him straight to the heaven hie.’

[Source .]


The choice of paths is a natural image for life choices, especially moral ones. It expresses a belief in the importance of the choice before us, and in the conviction that once we take a certain path it rapidly becomes impossible to change our minds. (A conviction that may be false, as Marcel discovers.) 

And in fact while the preachers appeal to our sense of other people's courses being grimly determined (especially the mindless majority on its broad way), they also seem to assert that our own moment of choice still lies before us and is still amenable to exhortation. Now, as in childhood, we are still standing where the paths diverge, and we can still make a different choice.

But not all choices are moral or apparently of mortal importance. Winspear, like Proust before her and like so many children, sees meaning in the seemingly unimportant leisure choice of which walk to do today. Every way has its different character, and the more times we take it or think about a particular path, the more distinct its character becomes. It is a choice that doesn't seem to lead to consequences: the daily walk is pre-eminently not about achieving a target or performing a task; for some it might the only part of the day that's entirely free of that burden. One might see a hare or a planet, but that's as may be, it is not one's rightful expectation and it is not the point of the walk. Instead there's a relaxation of utilitarian and moral pressure, but this relaxation, far from eliminating meaningfulness, actually seems to endow it. For, in hindsight and even in shadowy foresight, the familiar ways of our youth did carry meanings, though we can never fully read them. Without our knowledge the choice of paths, like the flap of a butterfly's wing, was giving shape to our individual experience, it made us who we have become. 

Powdermill Wood, Battle, E. Sussex, 3 September 2022.

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Thursday, September 01, 2022

The col in London

London Waterloo is where west meets east for train travellers. For more than two hours my morning train had wound mazily through the chalk of southern England, from Frome to Westbury, then switching direction to go via Warminster down the Wylye valley to Salisbury, then switching direction again to head north-east to Andover, Basingstoke, Woking and various other sleepier places that conveyed no meaning to me. Then Clapham Junction and finally Waterloo. And then, by a kind of miracle, you can skip London altogether,  with just a latte and croissant from a stall, a five-minute stroll through an elevated walkway, and a glimpse of the dome of St Paul's dwarfed by today's monuments to science and capitalism, and suddenly, like the moment when you finally reach a col in mountain country, here you are in Waterloo East and facing out on an entirely different horizon, among the trains to Hastings and Ashford and all points south east.  

I had a few minutes to spare, but not enough to make my way outside to where I might grab a smoke, so instead I opened my guitar case and played "A Matter of Time" and "La Mer"*, for the most part inaudibly, due to the hissing and squealing of trains. And I thought once more about how paying £12 to get a strap button fitted to my classical guitar was the best purchase I've ever made, and the most stupidly belated. 

* Songs by David Hidalgo/ Louie Pérez and Charles Trenet, respectively.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Bank Holiday weekend

Marram (Ammophila arenaria) and Sand Couch (Elytrigia juncea) from Sand Bay, 28 August 2022.

So we went to the seaside, of course. These photos are from Weston-super-mare and especially the dunes at nearby Sand Bay, which you reach by an exciting open-top bus ride. 

Weston-super-mare, 27 August 2022.

Saltwort (Salsola kali). Sand Bay, 28 August 2022.

Saltwort (Salsola kali). Sand Bay, 28 August 2022.

Saltwort (Salsola kali). Sand Bay, 28 August 2022.

Sea Rocket (Cakile maritima). Sand Bay, 28 August 2022.

Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum). Sand Bay, 28 August 2022.

It usually grows on rocks and cliffs, but sometimes (as here) on sand.

Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum). Sand Bay, 28 August 2022.

Sea-buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides). Sand Bay, 28 August 2022.

Turkey Oak (Quercus cerris) from Clarence Park, Weston-super-mare, 27 August 2022.

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Monday, August 29, 2022

Notes on "I Stood Tiptoe..."


Part of Keats' draft of "I Stood Tiptoe..."

[Image source: . Charles Cowden Clarke cut Keats' draft into thirteen fragments and distributed them to friends. This particular fragment sold for £181,250 in April 2013. See end of post for an image of both sides of the fragment. The side shown above is lines 181-195 (the beginning of the Endymion section); on the other side is lines 157-173 (Syrinx and Narcissus).]

The poem we call "I Stood Tiptoe" had no title when it opened the Poems of 1817. Keats himself seems to have referred to it as "Endymion", until he conceived his larger poem. Leigh Hunt says "this poem was suggested to Keats by a delightful summer-day, as he stood beside the gate that leads from the Battery of Hampstead Heath into a field by Caen Wood" (Lord Byron and Some of his Contemporaries (1828), I, page 413). In fact the references to violets, bluebells, hawthorn, laburnum, etc generally imply a day in mid-May.  However there's some intrusion from slightly later flowering seasons; honeysuckle, and especially evening-primrose. (Keats is usually said to have begun the poem in Margate in August 1816. He completed it in November.)

I stood tip-toe upon a little hill, 
The air was cooling, and so very still. 
That the sweet buds which with a modest pride 
Pull droopingly, in slanting curve aside, 
Their scantly leaved, and finely tapering stems,       
Had not yet lost those starry diadems 
Caught from the early sobbing of the morn. 
So I straightway began to pluck a posey 
Of luxuries bright, milky, soft and rosy. 

(Lines 1-7, 27-28. Text from Poems (1817), by John Keats, on Project Gutenberg:  .  I've yet to track down an image of this page in the original 1817 edition, so I don't know if the full stop at the end of line 2 is an old mistake or a new one.)

Keats doesn't name the plant with the "sweet buds", nor is it clear if his "posey" is a literal one and refers to the same plant. But taking them both together, I'm thinking of Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa), whose stems taper and have only a single pair of leaves. Also, the buds "pull droopingly", though the stems become erect when the flowers open fully. It's one of the common spring plants that you might well be inclined to gather a posy of, and "milky, soft and rosy" could describe the petals, flushed with pink on the outside. 

The buds are still dewy; dew is one of the images that keeps recurring in Keats' early poems, like the moon and swans. The poem begins here, well before noon presumably. By line 107 it will reach evening, but this is not a steady progress through a day. Neither time nor place stay fixed for very long. There is a fitfulness and spontaneity to Keats' early poetic; he writes about writing narrative, but he doesn't do it. Anbd there's a basic incompleteness to all the poems in Poems 1817. With Endymion he set about writing something complete: and he duly completed his task, but immediately un-completed the poem with his dismissive comment on it. 

A bush of May flowers with the bees about them; 
Ah, sure no tasteful nook would be without them;         
And let a lush laburnum oversweep them, 
And let long grass grow round the roots to keep them 
Moist, cool and green; and shade the violets, 
That they may bind the moss in leafy nets. 
A filbert hedge with wildbriar overtwined,         
And clumps of woodbine taking the soft wind 
Upon their summer thrones; there too should be 
The frequent chequer of a youngling tree, 
That with a score of light green brethen shoots 
From the quaint mossiness of aged roots:       
Round which is heard a spring-head of clear waters 
Babbling so wildly of its lovely daughters 
The spreading blue bells: it may haply mourn 
That such fair clusters should be rudely torn 
From their fresh beds, and scattered thoughtlessly         
By infant hands, left on the path to die. 

(lines 29-46)

May flowers: Hawthorn blossom. 
Filbert: Hazel.
Wildbriar: Dog Rose. (In contrast with "sweet briar", line 135)
Woodbine: Honeysuckle. Flowering generally starts in June. 
The youngling tree and its light green breth[r]en: "Any body who has seen a throng of young beeches, furnishing those natural clumpy seats at the root, must recognize the truth and grace of this description" (Leigh Hunt in The Examiner).

... Something like this (but these are Sweet Chestnut, not Beech). Powdermill Wood, Battle, 3 September 2022.

Blue bell: The plant now known as Hyacinthoides non-scripta has been assigned to various genera. The fact that one of its names is Endymion non-scriptus is a total coincidence, I suppose: it only acquired that name in 1849 (Garcke). At the time Keats wrote "I Stood Tiptoe", the bluebell would have been Hyacinthus non-scriptus (Linnaeus, 1753) or Scilla non-scripta (Hofmannsegg and Link, 1803). Torn-up bluebells scattered along a path is still a commonplace sight each spring; they are the kind of plant that attracts childish hands. Like the non-native plants it's a reminder that Keats' nature has a pervasively urban quality. His personification of the spring-head has a certain jocularity, but perhaps also a certain credibility, because it lies so close to a great metropolis. At any rate this image of man's agency will be followed by renewed emphasis on the agency of plants and animals. Nature is all in motion:  marigold flowers spread to the sunlight, sweet peas catch and bind, evening-primrose buds flip open for the moths, minnows switch position in response to a shadow, goldfinches skim over the water to sip and sleek their feathers. 

Open afresh your round of starry folds,
Ye ardent marigolds!
Dry up the moisture from your golden lids,
For great Apollo bids
That in these days your praises should be sung
On many harps, which he has lately strung;

(lines 47-52)

The flowers of Calendula open in bright daylight. The first allusion to the poets mentioned in the epigraph ("Places of nestling green for Poets made") arrives with a couple of trimeters that evoke something like Lycidas; the only other trimeter is line 184, near the start of the Endymion section.

 The tension of the "strung" harps is carried through into the lines about the sweet peas, which like this poet are on tip-toe; we're in fact no longer securely located on the little hill of the opening lines, but are already taking a flight. In the midst of the next scene (the stream with its minnows and sipping goldfinches), Keats says "Were I in such a place" (93). We have been transported to a scene of imagination, not record.

What next? A tuft of evening primroses, 
O’er which the mind may hover till it dozes; 
O’er which it well might take a pleasant sleep, 
But that ’tis ever startled by the leap         
Of buds into ripe flowers; 

(lines 107-111)

A striking phenomenon, if you ever happen to sit beside an evening-primrose plant in the evening. There are various YouTube videos showing the buds "leaping" into flower. Here's one by BocaJoe:

These North American plants had been introduced into Britain in about 1600. Maybe Keats was familiar with them from his apothecary studies. The flowers lead us into twilight, to moths and to another transforming moment, the moon. 

Of buds into ripe flowers; or by the flitting
Of diverse moths, that aye their rest are quitting;
Or by the moon lifting her silver rim
Above a cloud, and with a gradual swim
Coming into the blue with all her light.
O Maker of sweet poets, dear delight
Of this fair world, and all its gentle livers;
Spangler of clouds, halo of crystal rivers,
Mingler with leaves, and dew and tumbling streams,
Closer of lovely eyes to lovely dreams,
Lover of loneliness, and wandering,
Of upcast eye, and tender pondering!
Thee must I praise above all other glories
That smile us on to tell delightful stories.
For what has made the sage or poet write
But the fair paradise of Nature's light?
In the calm grandeur of a sober line,
We see the waving of the mountain pine;
And when a tale is beautifully staid,
We feel the safety of a hawthorn glade:

(lines 111-130)

This is also about agency. Does nature play an active role in making poetry? If nature is evoked when we read, is it evidence that nature also played a part in creating the poetry? Keats thinks so, and after several more lines about the audience's feeling suddenly switches to the author's feeling and finally to the characters' feelings:

When it is moving on luxurious wings,
The soul is lost in pleasant smotherings:
Fair dewy roses brush against our faces,
And flowering laurels spring from diamond vases;
O'er head we see the jasmine and sweet briar,
And bloomy grapes laughing from green attire;
While at our feet, the voice of crystal bubbles
Charms us at once away from all our troubles:
So that we feel uplifted from the world,
Walking upon the white clouds wreath'd and curl'd.
So felt he, who first told, how Psyche went
On the smooth wind to realms of wonderment;
What Psyche felt, and Love, when their full lips
First touch'd;

(lines 131-144)

And flowering laurels spring from diamond vases

I abandon with regret the thought that Keats might have meant the mountain laurel Kalmia latifolia, native to the eastern USA and introduced to British gardens in the eighteenth century. (As it happens Kalmia's attractive flowers have their own special dynamic feature: their stamens are tensed, so pollen is flung onto visiting insects.) Anyway, from what I can see all previous uses of "flowering laurel" are American and refer to Kalmia.  (I think we can ignore Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus); the blossom isn't very beautiful and it has a piercing scent; bringing it indoors is a recipe for a nasty headache.) 

Anyway, Keats means Sweet Bay (Laurus nobilis), the classical laurel of poetic triumph (also the bay-leaf of aromatic stews). Compare:

O Poesy! for thee I grasp my pen
That am not yet a glorious denizen
Of thy wide heaven: yet to my ardent prayer,
Yield from thy sanctuary some clear air,
Smooth'd for intoxication by the breath
Of flowering bays, that I may die a death
Of luxury, and my young spirit follow
The morning sunbeams to the great Apollo
Like a fresh sacrifice; or, if I can bear
The o'erwhelming sweets, 'twill bring to me the fair
Visions of all places ...

(Sleep and Poetry, lines 53-63)

The emphasis on flowering is odd; flowering had not usually been regarded as an important element in the plant's iconography. Sweet Bay flowers are very small, but a spray with this golden bloom might be considered pretty enough to go in a vase. Perhaps the Sleep and Poetry passage accounts for it by implying that the plant's aroma is at its most overwhelming when in flower.  Leigh Hunt picked up on Keats' insistence on "flowering" laurel when he wrote his sonnet "To John Keats":

'Tis well you think me truly one of those,
Whose sense discerns the loveliness of things;
For surely as I feel the bird that sings
Behind the leaves, or dawn as it up grows,
Or the rich bee rejoicing as he goes,
Or the glad issue of emerging springs,
Or overhead the glide of a dove's wings,
Or turf, or trees, or, midst of all, repose.
And surely as I feel things lovelier still,
The human look, and the harmonious form
Containing woman, and the smile in ill,
And such a heart as Charles's, wise and warm,--
As surely as all this, I see, ev'n now,
Young Keats, a flowering laurel on your brow.

This was in early December 1816 (Keats first met Hunt in October 1816). A laurel crown was given to the winner of Hunt's sonnet-writing competitions, and indeed Keats did go on to win one, as recorded in Keats' sonnet "On Receiving a Laurel Crown from Leigh Hunt". 

Keats later came to regret his involvement in these Huntian pantomimes and laurel crownings, when they were derisively seized on by hostile critics.


Perhaps the "flowering laurel" phrase had a brief vogue at this time. It shows up in these somewhat cloudy lines:

Few, happy few, whose soul inspiring course
Has proudly centered in that sacred source,
Whose flowering laurels shade the idol'd fane,
And Fame, and Wit, and Worth, and Honour reign.

From Robert Waln, Jr (1794 - 1825),  American Bards, A Satire (Philadelphia, 1820), quoted in a review in The Analectic Magazine, 1820. The author, son of an eminent and wealthy Quaker, was first a satirist and then a social historian: you can read more about him in this 1952 article by William S. Hastings: . Short-lived like Keats, he never found the key to literary immortality, but I should like to read more of his work. 


sweet briar (line 135). 

Rosa rubiginosa, a wild rose, also known as eglantine, that in my experience crops up much more often in English literature than in real life. It's native to chalk and limestone country. It is "sweet" because the leaves and stems have apple-scented glands. If Keats knew the plant directly, it might be as a garden plant, in contrast to the "wild briar" of the opening lines on Hampstead Heath (Dog Rose, Rosa canina). But "sweet briar" might equally have come to Keats out of the pages of Spenser or Thomson. In this passage he is after all talking about the sensation of reading "luxurious" poetry, not directly describing nature. Here sweetbriar combines with jasmine and laurel to envelop us in fragrance, along with bloomy grapes and dewy roses to suggest a quasi-sexual transport.

So felt he, who first told, how Psyche went
On the smooth wind to realms of wonderment;
What Psyche felt, and Love, when their full lips
First touch'd; what amorous, and fondling nips
They gave each other's cheeks; with all their sighs,
And how they kist each other's tremulous eyes:
The silver lamp,—the ravishment,—the wonder—
The darkness,—loneliness,—the fearful thunder;
Their woes gone by, and both to heaven upflown,
To bow for gratitude before Jove's throne.

(lines 141-150)

The story is told at length by Apuleius (2nd century CE) in The Golden Ass, though there are artistic representations that are much older. Keats' emphasis here is on their kisses, as, more subtly, in the Ode to Psyche (lines 17-20):

      Their lips touch'd not, but had not bade adieu,
As if disjoined by soft-handed slumber,
And ready still past kisses to outnumber
       At tender eye-dawn of aurorean love:

Somehow that Keatsian emphasis made its way down to Arthur Donnithorne, as he takes hold of Hetty Sorrel:

Ah, he doesn’t know in the least what he is saying. This is not what he meant to say. His arm is stealing round the waist again; it is tightening its clasp; he is bending his face nearer and nearer to the round cheek; his lips are meeting those pouting child-lips, and for a long moment time has vanished. He may be a shepherd in Arcadia for aught he knows, he may be the first youth kissing the first maiden, he may be Eros himself, sipping the lips of Psyche—it is all one.

(George Eliot, Adam Bede (1859), Ch. 13)

Title page of Keats' Poems (1817)

The epigraph shown here (but missing from my copy of Keats' Complete Poems) is 

"What more felicity can fall to creature,
"Than to enjoy delight with liberty." 
                           Fate of the Butterfly. -- SPENSER.

Also missing is this note, on the reverse of the title page:

[The Short Pieces in the middle of the Book, as well as some of the Sonnets,
were written at an earlier period than the rest of the Poems.]

The top of the first page looks like this: 


"Places of nestling green for Poets made."
                           STORY OF RIMINI.

I stood tip-toe upon a little hill,
The air was cooling, and so very still.
That the sweet buds which with a modest pride
Pull droopingly, in slanting curve aside,
Their scantly leaved, and finely tapering stems,
Had not yet lost those starry diadems
Caught from the early sobbing of the morn.   ... etc

Endymion on the left, Syrinx and Narcissus on the right


I learned a lot from the splendid site Mapping Keats's Progress: A Critical Chronology , by G. Kim Blank of the University of Victoria (Canada). At first I was a bit misled by its uncluttered interface; don't make the same mistake! To drill down to the rich detail you need to click first on a year (e.g. 1818), then a month (e.g. JUN), and finally a post title (e.g. 22 June 1818: Keats's Northern Expedition Begins). 

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Monday, August 22, 2022

Dry August


Leaves of Small-leaved Lime and English Elm. Frome, 16 August 2022.

Robinia seedling in a dry lawn. Frome, 5 August 2022.

A second brood: young larvae of the Large Rose Saw-fly (Arge pagana), feeding on a wild rose. Frome, 15 August 2022.

Housing estate verge with dropped leaves. Frome, 15 August 2022.

Verge with leaves of Italian Alder. Frome, 15 August 2022.

I've been doing some busking down by the river in Frome. Here are some of the tunes I've been playing. The links are to my Soundcloud recordings. 

The Weight                   (the Band's first single)
Always On My Mind    (late Elvis classic, but I learnt it from the Willie Nelson version)
Celluloid Heroes          (song by Ray Davies from about 1972)
You Don't Miss Your Water (I learnt this and the next two from the Byrds' "Sweetheart of the Rodeo")
You're Still On My Mind
Hickory Wind
Sjösala Vals                          (by Evert Taube: )
Summer Night                      (by Evert Taube, in my translation)
Calle Schewen's Waltz          (by Evert Taube, in my translation)
Get Set For The Blues           (a jazz blues song I heard on Julie London's "About The Blues")
Marie                                      (by Randy Newman)
Please Help Me I'm Falling     (country standard by Don Robertson and Hal Blair, recorded by Hank Locklin and many others)
You Wear It Well                     (Rod Stewart classic)
America                                   (by Paul Simon: )
Our Last Summer                    (the Abba number)
Baby I'm Feeling It Now           (my song)
Wide Open Road                       (David McComb, from The Triffids' "Born Sandy Devotional")
Preludes in F, F# Minor, C Minor      (my compositions)
Cowboy Tune                            (tune with no real title -- my composition)
French Tune                               (ditto)
I Won't Let You Down                (by Albert Lee)
A Matter of Time                        (the Los Lobos song)

Kerb with elm leaves. Frome, 15 August 2022.

Housing estate. Frome, 16 August 2022.

English Elm. Frome, 20 August 2022.

Not Dutch Elm disease, in this case. Just a tree trying to keep going with a severe shortage of water.

Really big trees, with mysterious access to water, are doing OK (but still dropping leaves). It's the small trees and shrubs  that are most threatened. The young beeches near Sainsburys have dropped 80% of their leaves.

Beech leaves. Frome, 22 August 2022.

Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus). Trowbridge, 24 August 2022.

I was going to write that cherry laurels appear to be unaffected, and to comment on how well the glossy leaf surface reduces water loss. But then I caught sight of this specimen, in the sensory garden in Trowbridge. At least it's still alive, unlike two of its neighbours, a holly and a dogwood. 

Silver Lime pollards damaged by fire. Frome, 21 August 2022. 

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