I may have mentioned once that only when I left school at 16 did my proper education begin, because then I learned about the things which really interested me. When I was 20 I enrolled in a correspondence course (English Literature) intending to further my education and become a journalist. Well, I never finished the course, and I never became a journalist, but I have never lost my love of literature, nor my love of writing. I was going through my poetry books recently and came across “Ten Twentieth-century Poets” by Maurice Wollman, last printing 1972. Some of the poems in it are firm favourites of mine, others I am only encountering properly now, as the book sits by my computer keyboard, opened whilst I wait for the broadband connection to actually connect . . .
In this way, I have, belatedly, discovered Andrew Young. He was born in 1885 and was still alive at the time this book was published (though long dead now, one assumes). Born in Elgin, Scotland, he became a Canon of Chichester Cathedral in 1948, and Vicar of Stonegate, Sussex, in 1941. He wrote with the air of someone who spent long hours just standing and observing nature, a real countryman, whose knowledge came from intimate acquaintance with the outdoors in all weathers, at every time of year. I hope you will enjoy him with me for a while:
I made myself as a tree,
No withered leaf twirling on me;
No, not a bird that stirred my boughs,
As looking out from wizard brows
I watched those lithe and lovely forms
That raised the leaves in storms.
I watched them leap and run,
Their bodies hollowed in the sun
To thin transparency,
That I could clearly see
The shallow colour of their blood
Joyous in love’s full flood.
I was content enough,
Watching that serious game of love,
That happy hunting in the wood
Where the pursuer was the more pursued,
To stand in breathless hush
With no more life myself than tree or bush.
This is SO beautiful and speaks to me of the ancient hollow-ways I too have known:
Years and years and man’s thoughtful foot,
Drip and guttering rains and mute
Shrinkage of snows, and shaggy-hoofed
Horse have sunk this lane tree-roofed
Now patched with blossoming elder,
Wayfaring-tree and guelder;
Lane that eases the sharp-scarped hill
Winding the slope with leisurely will.
Foot of Briton, formal Roman,
Saxon and Dane and Sussex yeoman
Have delved it deep as river-bed,
Till I walk wading to my head
In air so close and hot
And by the wind forgot,
It seems to me that in this place
The earth is breathing on my face.
Here I loiter a lost hour,
Listen to bird, look on a flower.
What will be left when I am gone?
A trodden root, a loosened stone
And by the blackthorn caught
Some gossamery thought
Of thankfulness to those dead bones
That knit hills closer than loose stones.
Just one more perhaps, as I used to live in Wiltshire and love the downland and the larks singing:
The cuckoo’s double note
Loosened like bubbles from a drowning throat
Floats through the air
In mockery of pipit, lark and stare.
The stable-boys thud by
Their horses slinging divots in the sky
And with bright hooves
Printing the sodden turf with lucky grooves.
As still as a windhover
A shepherd in his flapping coat leans over
His tall sheep-crook
And shearlings, tegs and yoes cons like a book.
And one tree-crowned long barrow
Stretched like a sow that has brought forth her farrow
Hides a king’s bonesLying like broken sticks among the stones.