Friday, 13 March 2009


It's blackthorn time here in southern suburbia. Every patch of waste and scrub is suddenly white with these joyful early blossoms. It's the only time we notice this otherwise undistinguished shrub with its spiny black branches (hence the apparently contradictory name), unless we go picking sloes for sloe gin. Blackthorn, so abundant in the hedgerows of the farmed and hunted midlands, seems to me very much a Geoffrey Hill kind of shrub. Here it is in In The Valley of the Arrow, from Without Title:

... the singing iron footbridges, tight weirs
pebble-dashed with bright water, a shivey blackthorn's
clouded white glass that's darker veined or seamed,
crack willow foliage, pale as a new fern,
silver-plated ivy in the sun's angle - .

What an eye the man has - and what a vocabulary. Shivey, in case you're wondering, is wool cloth full of dark burrs and splinters (yes, much like Hill's verse).


  1. Actually, looking around today, I realise it's pretty much over. I must get out more. Seems to be plenty of wild plum around though...

  2. Commenting on your own posts is the first sign of blog madness, Nige.

    I blame Geoffrey Hill.

  3. Nige, never mind the spring flowering, wait for the berries, sloe gin is one of the favourites up here. We have a Victorian recipe book with a section on sloe gin making, it starts...
    Take 5 gallons of gin...

    The Victorians knew a thing or three about binge drinking.

    The pond is full of frogs this morning, frog spawn time again.

  4. What's the second sign Brit? Ah commenting twice I suppose...
    Malty - I had an eccentric great aunt (long dead) who used to mix up a potent blend of various liqueurs and spirits in her bath, bottle it and flog it to le tout Bayswater. Made her a handsome living apparently. Got the recpipe somewhere... Oh and sloes are in Paxaran too aren't they? Lovely stuff. Glad your frogs are coming along. They're having a hard time down my way , what with the herons and magpies and crows and now egrets....

  5. Just got back from a quick jaunt to Florida and the Philly area still looks dreary. Perhaps it's because it's an overcast day here and tomorrow I'll see more of a soupcon of spring. J'espere. (sorry, no accents available here)