Monday 28 May 2012

Cut Grass

'Cut grass lies frail:
Brief is the breath
Mown stalks exhale.
Long, long the death

It dies in the white hours
Of young-leafed June
With chestnut flowers,
With hedges snowlike strewn,

White lilac bowed,
Lost lanes of Queen Anne's lace,
And that high-builded cloud
Moving at summer's pace.' 

At the weekend, I performed, after long delay, the gardener's grand transmogrifying task - mowing the lawn. Inevitably my mind turned to Philip Larkin's beautiful little poem - it always does - but this time, as I tried to say it in my head, I realised how shockingly little of it I actually knew. My once retentive memory is woefully unreliable these days. When I had finished mowing, I read it again, all 12 lines of it. Surely, I thought, even I can get this one by heart. I read it through a few more times and I had it. What's more surprising is that I still have it by heart today (I checked) - will I, this time, hold on to it for good?
Cut Grass is set in 'young-leafed' June - it was written in fact on the 3rd of June, in 1971 - but the Lilac is still in bloom and the May in the hedgerows at its snow-like peak. Clearly this is the North of England - presumably somewhere near Larkin's Hull home - as the Lilac and May would be as good as over in the South country. What of those chestnut flowers? Too early, even in the South, for Sweet Chestnut, so these must be the candles of the Horse Chestnut, still in flower in the North, at least in Larkin's time. Since then, the Little British Warming (aka  'climate change') has brought everything a little forward - and nothing more so than the Horse Chestnut, but that is largely in response to attack from the Horse Chestnut Leaf Miner and a fungal pathogen. The Horse Chestnuts come into leaf, flower and fruit earlier each year as they race to get the whole process over with before the attackers gain the upper hand.
At the end of the week, I shall check and see if I still have Cut Grass by heart. I do hope so - it beats This Be The Verse, which stays stubbornly embedded in my memory banks.


  1. Yesterday in the Cotswolds - so nearly in June - the pink horse chestnuts in Barnsley Park were in full flower and the lilacs and may were still going strong (in fact the may was as dazzling as I've ever seen it). However, I think they're about 300ft above sea level, an altitude that usually seems to produce a slight chill compared to the south-east.

  2. The pink horse chestnut's always later Gareth - nasty looking too.

  3. Thanks Nige - you're a mine of information on the chestnut as I know from previous correspondence on the subject. I quite like the look of the pink. However, I'm put off as I believe it can only be grown as a graft, which hits a false note somehow. But is it true, chestnut guru?

  4. I suspect that is indeed true, Gareth - and I suspect also that it's less susceptible to the Leaf Miner etc, but don't quote me. The pink 'un is of course not to be confused with the rather lovely Indian Horse Chestnut.