Monday, 6 July 2020


Tall nettles cover up, as they have done
These many springs, the rusty harrow, the plough
Long worn out, and the roller made of stone.

As I look from my study window across the lane to the rusting semi-derelict barns on the other side of the field I'm reminded of these lines from 'Tall Nettles' by Edward Thomas.  The solstice has passed and summer's empire of tall plants is on the march.

Usually by now the verges of even the most minor lanes have been cut back hard, with a destructive effect on plants and animals.  But this year the Council have only cut back where safety is important.  And it shows. 

Willow herb, tattered cow parsley, hard knobs, ragwort, foxgloves with a few lingering fingers, and bracken predominate.  The climbers and twiners are growing rapidly - honeysuckle, brambles in full blossom, the white trumpets of convolvulus.  Other plants muscle in where they can get a stem in edgeways - yarrow, spires of wall pennywort, powder blue scabious.  Red campion stems seek the light, mixing pink flowers and rattling black seed heads.

I've been re-reading Joseph Brodsky's Summer Eclogue.  Sinister allusions lie half-hidden like broken bottles in long grass: 'the scruffy, whittled // thistle's heart looks like a land-mine which is / only half exploding', the 'sedge's sheathed blades';  'wheat and shabby darnel' are both sown by the 'same windy sower about whose humors / the place is still rife with all sorts of rumours', burdock has 'a crumpled / epaulet, showing us that it always / ranked just a private.'  

As the poem goes on there are more overt political references - to Stalin and Khrushchev, the Polish border, to China.  But there is a lightness of wit too - the 'seamless / flora's clear penchant to sunder / its ties with a botanist' or 'the white parts of bathers / mooning' as they wring out their swimsuits.   

Brodsky's wide-ranging poem begins from the profusion of summer:

I hear you again, mosquito hymn of summer
                                              ... The rosebays'
overgrown derricks - knee-deep or ankle-
deep in the couch-grass and bindweed jungle.

Joseph Brodsky 'Eclogue V: Summer' (translated by George L Kline and Joseph Brodsky) from To Urania: Selected Poems: 1965-85 (Viking 1988). 

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