The English Names for Wood

Outside, the bleak monochromatic snow

Blinds equally the wicked and the good;

Inside, a family of Eskimo

Endures the bitter winter as it should,

Recalling Inuit myths of long ago,

And conjuring the English names for wood.

If trees are clustered, whether large or small,

The poets celebrate them all.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Our journey starts, and now come into view

Delightful bowers, to solace lovers true,

And here and there are pleasant arbours pight

That shield us from the slowly strength’ning light –

Two lovers whispering by an orchard wall

Awaiting what will be the greenery’s call.

We pass long fields of barley and of rye,

That clothe the chilly wold and meet the sky;

We wander on, and casually flush

A wren or robin from the spiny brush;

The blackbird whistles from the thorny brake,

Attentive to the noisy steps we take

Advancing deeper in the clump of wood,

Where oft the bitch-fox hides her hapless brood,

Reserv’d to solace many a neighb’ring squire,

That he may follow them through brake and briar.

Our senses follow everything that moves,

When frosts have whiten’d all the naked groves;

Where doves in flocks the leafless trees o’ershade,

And lonely woodcocks haunt the wat’ry glade.

In brushwood and in fernshaw we go far,

Encountering a reed-rond or a carr;

Fit for the thickets and the tangling shrub

We plant our footprints in both bush and scrub.

In undergrowth, within the prickly grid

The deadlie Screechowle sits, in covert hid.

Among the scrogs, or in the dreary thicks

A thrush or startled starling feebly flicks;

Some to the rude protection of the thorn

Commit their feeble offspring night and morn,

Close hidden underneath the greenwood shaw.

There is a polecat in his gloomie hawe;

It slyly rises from its leafy bed,

And slips the coppice gemm’d with green and red.

When shaws beene sheene, and shradds in truth full fayre

It lets the underwood conceal its lair.

The wind in dusky holts and shady greaves

A murmur makes among the boughs and leaves,

A whispering peculiar and treen.

We know each lane, and every alley green,

Dingle, or bushy dell of this wild wood;

Each copse, each bosk and spinney has withstood

The winter’s harsh and predatory blows.

And still the ever-courteous forest shows

So just conceived joy, that from each hurst,

Where many a goodly oak had oft been nurst,

The Sylvans in their songs their meeting tell

Both in the tufty frith and  mossy fell.

But running from this sweet sylvestrian hum

Through this laund anon the deer will come;

Beside a hanger springs a wily hart

Discovering a den to Limpsfield Chart,

Then crost the common into Darnley chase

And through the sylvage into broader space,

Beyond the outwood to some distant crags

It sets a stubborn trail past holts and hags

Through thorns and bushes scant our legs we draw,

And move our bodies from the boscage floor.

We take our breath, and view these graceful lands:

A growth of old and oaken timber stands

And throws its shadow on the neighbouring field

That stretches far along the gentle Weald.

Beyond, a neat plantation or a park

Shows how a human hand has left its mark,

While thick around the woodland hymns arise

To cast their holy music to the skies….

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Inuit drift off to sleep.

Homogeneous, the snow lies deep.        (Antony Percy, April 2012)

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