Cold autumn, wan with wrath of wind and rain,
Saw pass a soul sweet as the sovereign tune
That death smote silent when he smote again.
First went my friend, in life’s mid light of noon,
Who loved the lord of music: then the strain
Whence earth was kindled like as heaven in June
Three months bade wane.
A herald soul before its master’s flying
Touched by some few moons first the darkling goal
Where shades rose up to greet the shade, espying
A herald soul;
Shades of dead lords of music, who control
Men living by the might of men undying,
With strength of strains that make delight of dole.
The deep dense dust on death’s dim threshold lying
Trembled with sense of kindling sound that stole
Through darkness, and the night gave ear, descrying
A herald soul.
One went before, one after, but so fast
They seem gone hence together, from the shore
Whence we now gaze: yet ere the mightier passed
One went before;
One whose whole heart of love, being set of yore
On that high joy which music lends us, cast
Light round him forth of music’s radiant store.
Then went, while earth on winter glared aghast,
The mortal god he worshipped, through the door
Wherethrough so late, his lover to the last,
One went before.
A star had set an hour before the sun
Sank from the skies wherethrough his heart’s pulse yet
Thrills audibly: but few took heed, or none,
A star had set.
All heaven rings back, sonorous with regret,
The deep dirge of the sunset: how should one
Soft star be missed in all the concourse met?
But, O sweet single heart whose work is done,
Whose songs are silent, how should I forget
That ere the sunset’s fiery goal was won
A star had set?
Autumn and Winter, by Algernon Charles Swinburne
I haven’t the foggiest about what was supposed to be in this picture – the lone flower in the middle was probably not it. Why do I like this nonetheless? The texture of the background (or possibly foreground). Those swirling out-of-focus branches breaking the yellow of the background into something almost resembling a stained glass window.
I love these budding leaves, sweet, sticky and full of promise. Soon, soon! the summer will be here.
I have been struck down by a writer’s block lately. More things than just this blog have been consequently neglected – letters have gone unanswered, and evenings have been spent watching TV and feeling slightly guilty. It’s the hardest stretch of spring. The evenings are longer, but not so much that it would make a difference yet, and so I havent’ quite come out of hibernation yet.
I’m also not entirely sure about what to write about these photos – even if I do look at some of them and think, “you know what, that’s not a bad photo”. In January and February, I went walking. Quite a lot, actually. January was mild (and sometimes sunny), February brought winter flowers. There was no snow, but the air was often crisp and the light beautiful. Just being outdoors has been a delight in itself. The glories of the English landscape is just a bonus.
The first stop: Blenheim Great Park (a photo set of my summertime visit to Blenheim is here). The house was closed for the winter, but there were still plenty of delights to have in the park, and we headed over the lake towards the Great Avenue and the Column of Victory. Sheep aplenty. Magnificent trees.
I feel like I too rarely venture outside the Oxford/London axis these days so that this day trip to Great Malvern felt like a treat. The town isn’t perhaps as its best in February, nor is it consciously tourist-friendly, but it had its interesting corners. And the glorious backdrop of this range of hills! – I climbed the North Hill, saving the Worcestershire Beacon for the next visit; I am told that on a clear day one can see 13 counties, three cathedrals, Welsh mountains and the Bristol Channel from the Beacon, and the views from the North Hill are not too shabby either…
The third field trip was to Welford Park in Berkshire, famous for the Great British Bake-Off and snowdrops. It’s a private house, very pretty, owned by a rather nice lady whom we talked to briefly at the gift shop, a bit far from everything, and the weather was not great, but the snowdrops! I have been to a bluebell forest, and have always wanted to see snowdrops like this, so this was really a dream come true.
I first visited Blenheim Palace in my first year as undergraduate in Oxford. That was eight years ago, and I only went back few weeks ago now. It is an interesting place – the house is impossibly grand (think Downton Abbey, multiplied by six and then turbocharged), and by now it resembles an “English country house theme park” more than a private, lived-in house with its champagne bars and visitor centres. But leave the house to walk the park, and even in a bank holiday weekend, magic happens. Not many people venture into the far corners of the park, and we had a bench by the lake all for ourselves. We sat there for a long time watching the birds and listening to the slightly menacing noises of the woods. The whole park a marvel – it was redesigned by Capability Brown in the 1760s, who built the (by British standards) huge lake with its waterfalls and planted the enormous trees. There’s something uplifting about the idea that 250 years ago, he set out to create something he knew would not reach its peak until many generations after his death. I’m not sure if I’ll ever visit the house itself again, but I definitely want to go back and sit on that bench again.
Go, sit upon the lofty hill,
And turn your eyes around,
Where waving woods and waters wild
Do hymn an autumn sound.
The summer sun is faint on them —
The summer flowers depart —
Sit still — as all transform’d to stone,
Except your musing heart.
How there you sat in summer-time,
May yet be in your mind;
And how you heard the green woods sing
Beneath the freshening wind.
Though the same wind now blows around,
You would its blast recall;
For every breath that stirs the trees,
Doth cause a leaf to fall.
Oh! like that wind, is all the mirth
That flesh and dust impart:
We cannot bear its visitings,
When change is on the heart.
Gay words and jests may make us smile,
When Sorrow is asleep;
But other things must make us smile,
When Sorrow bids us weep!
The dearest hands that clasp our hands, —
Their presence may be o’er;
The dearest voice that meets our ear,
That tone may come no more!
Youth fades; and then, the joys of youth,
Which once refresh’d our mind,
Shall come — as, on those sighing woods,
The chilling autumn wind.
Hear not the wind — view not the woods;
Look out o’er vale and hill —
In spring, the sky encircled them —
The sky is round them still.
Come autumn’s scathe — come winter’s cold —
Come change — and human fate!
Whatever prospect Heaven doth bound,
Can ne’er be desolate.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Lyric night of the lingering Indian Summer,
Shadowy fields that are scentless but full of singing,
Never a bird, but the passionless chant of insects,
The grasshopper’s horn, and far-off, high in the maples,
The wheel of a locust leisurely grinding the silence
Under a moon waning and worn, broken,
Tired with summer.
Let me remember you, voices of little insects,
Weeds in the moonlight, fields that are tangled with asters,
Let me remember, soon will the winter be on us,
Snow-hushed and heavy.
Over my soul murmur your mute benediction,
While I gaze, O fields that rest after harvest,
As those who part look long in the eyes they lean to,
Lest they forget them.
All day I have watched the purple vine leaves
Fall into the water.
And now in the moonlight they still fall,
But each leaf is fringed with silver.
The moon has set
and the Pleiades;
it is midnight,
the time is going by,
and I sleep alone.