Lines of poetry are permanently lodged in my head. They take shape magically from the inner mist, just when I need them. A recurring line in my later years is from that beautiful, wistful Robert Frost poem “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” (1923): ‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep……’
I have been thinking about woods more than usual in the last couple of weeks. Here in Scotland there have been some recent nights of squally storms: vulnerable trees in my beloved local park have been torn down. There are broken twigs and branches littered over nearby streets. UK – wide protests are gathering momentum as we discover that swathes of our precious woodlands are being sold off to private developers. Locked gates are already appearing round some local woods in England, generating fury amongst nearby residents.
My recent encounter with my friend and poet Sophie Agrell was therefore most timeous! She too is a tree and woods lover. She gave me a poem, newly written, about woods.
Sophie writes: Knole is a huge seventeenth-century mansion, now owned by the National Trust, set in a 1000-acre medieval deer park in Sevenoaks in Kent. It was the childhood home of Vita Sackville-West and forms the setting for Virginia Woolf’s Orlando.
I grew up in Sevenoaks. Knole, with its gentle, bracken-covered slopes and woods, unchanged in many ways for 400 years, is my favourite place.
I took my first steps in a sheltered valley under an oak tree and wept when the woods, especially the ancient stands of beech, were ravaged by the 1987 hurricane. I know every path and tree, in every season, as it was and as it is. Sometimes when I think of Knole past and present, spring and autumn merge in beauty. Here is the poem I recently gave to Anne:
At night I walk in sunlight
Through wind-felled beechwoods yet upright.
My booted feet kick and scamper
In drifts of russet leaves, ever crisp.
I inhale autumn,
Tinged with smoke, wet deer and damp,
And look up at pale, translucent green,
A spring cathedral, roofed with living glass.
25 i 2011
Sophie describes herself as “…. an escaped medievalist who watches the world, delights in its beauty, and grows roses…..”
400 words copyright Anne Whitaker/Sophie Agrell 2011
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