Monday 16 March 2009

'I like this place very much...'

A glorious sunny day, so I took the opportunity to make my first foray of the year to Box Hill. The brimstones (pictured) were flying - and these too were my first of the year. I also had the joy of seeing a couple of red admirals, a couple of peacocks and a comma, all looking silky fresh from their hibernation and basking blissfully on the ground. On the bird front, much strenuous singing by robins and great tits, but no sound or sight of the chiffchaff (I blame global warming). The mistletoe gets more abundant by the year - there are trees all but covered in it - and the lichens, those other indicators of clean air, also thrive. The light had the wonderful clarity of early spring, so sharp in the wood margins and coppices as to flatten perspective, giving an almost hallucinatory Richard Dadds-like effect.
Keats stayed at the Burford Bridge hotel at the foot of Box Hill in 1817 when he was writing Endymion:

'I like this place very much. There is Hill & Dale and a little River--I went up Box hill this Evening after the Moon--you a' seen the Moon--came down--and wrote some lines. Whenever I am separated from you, and not engaged in a continued Poem--every Letter shall bring you a lyric--but I am too anxious for you to enjoy the whole, to send you a particle.'

Oh why stop there? He goes on:

'One of the three Books I have with me is Shakespear's Poems: I neer found so many beauties in the Sonnets--they seem to be full of fine things said unintentionally--in the intensity of working out conceits. Is this to be borne? Hark ye!

When lofty trees I see barren of leaves
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And Summer's green all girded up in sheaves,
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard.

He has left nothing to say about nothing or anything: for
look at Snails, you know what he says about Snails, you know
where he talks about "cockled Snails"--well, in one of these
sonnets, he says--the chap slips into--no! I lie! this is in the
Venus and Adonis:1 the Simile brought it to my Mind.

Audi--As the snail, whose tender horns being hit,
Shrinks back into his shelly cave with pain
And there all smothered up in shade doth sit,
Long after fearing to put forth again:
So at his bloody view her eyes are fled,
Into the deep dark Cabins of her head.

He overwhelms a genuine Lover of Poesy with all manner of abuse, talking about--

"a poet's rage
And stretched metre of an antique song."

Which by the by will be a capital Motto for my Poem, won't it?--He speaks too of "Time's antique pen"--and "april's first born flowers"--and "deaths eternal cold".--

By the Whim King! I'll give you a Stanza, because it is not material in connection and when I wrote it I wanted you to--give your vote, pro or con.--

Crystalline Brother of the belt of Heaven,
Aquarius! to whom King Jove hath given
Two liquid pulse-streams! 'stead of feather'd wings--
Two fan-like fountains--thine illuminings
For Dian play:
Dissolve the frozen purity of air;
Let thy white shoulders silvery and bare,
Show cold through watery pinions: make more bright
The Star-Queen's Crescent on her marriage night:
Haste Haste away!-- '

Did ever any poet's letters give a more vivid and immediate sense of being alive in the world and in the language and in the living tradition of poetry?


  1. How appropriate combining Keats and butterflies. It reminded me of the epigraph to Keats' 1817 collection of poems, taken from Spenser's Fate of the Butterfly;

    "What more felicity can fall to creature,
    Than to enjoy delight with liberty."

  2. "By the Whim King!" That's a good expression.

    Nice post, Nige. Very Springish, very English. A little bit Anglo Sabi.

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