Wednesday, 23 May 2012

In the Garden with T.E. Brown

At last the weather has relented, the sun is out, the air is warm, and last night I was able to enjoy that supreme expression of the suburban idyll - sitting out in the garden in the cool of the evening as dusk comes on, watching the wheeling swifts and enjoying the song of the blackbirds. The swifts have finally taken possession of the skies again, after a long hesitant period when they must have been wondering if they'd overshot and ended up somewhere near the Arctic Circle - and the blackbirds were in fine full-throated voice. How we'd treasure the blackbird's song - and indeed the beauty of the bird - if it was more of a rarity, like the nightingale, instead of a familiar of every garden... At some point in these garden evenings, one of us - I or Mrs N - is always liable to come out with the line, 'O blackbird, what a boy you are! How you do go it!' A regular presence in older editions of the ODQ, it comes from a poem called Vespers by T.E. Brown, the 'Manx national poet':

'O blackbird, what a boy you are!
How you do go it!
Blowing your bugle to that one sweet star -
How you do blow it!
And does she hear you, blackbird boy, so far?
or is it wasted breath?
'Good Lord! she is so bright
To-night!'
The blackbird saith.'

More of an exclamation than a poem perhaps, Vespers has a certain robust charm - at least it avoids the vapid lyricism of many Victorian apostrophes to our feathered friends. Despite his status as Manx national poet, Brown, a considerable scholar, spent most of his working life as a much-loved master at Clifton College, before retiring back to his island home. He died on a return visit to Clifton, having just mounted the podium to address the boys. T.E. is also responsible for this effusion, titled My Garden:

'A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!
Rose plot,
Fringed pool,
Ferned grot--
The veriest school
Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not--
Not God! in gardens! when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign;
'Tis very sure God walks in mine.'

Hmm. The first line of this can also be rendered as 'A garden is a lovesome thing? God! What?!'  

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