Poem: Wild flowers

This is the first poem I posted on my website. Something like it had been in my mind from visits to Crete and Pembrokeshire, but it was really prompted by my daughter Emma. She was celebrating Peter Renwick’s birthday today and wanted a poem for the occasion. She and I had been visiting the Rex Whistler works in a temporary show at Salisbury Museum and his room at Mottisfont Abbey. Afterwards, we went for a walk on Stockbridge Down, our first there.

Wild Flowers
For Sam’s dad, 31 August 2013

I would like to be the man the weeds need,
like Jamieson on Dowrogg Common
whose cattle make a harvest of flag iris and marsh orchid,
among the chattering streams
I can’t quite jump
and grass you have to wade through.

I’d like to be the sort of man
who really heeds the weeds on that common,
where there is a square, plain stone
reminding anyone who cares to note it
of the boy who became an airman
in a roaring British bomber
and loved that field
and perhaps died thinking of it.

Pilot Officer Evans, aged 34,
can’t teach me to love wild flowers,
but he makes me want to do it better.

You don’t have to know the rules.

A poet might love the devil’s bit scabious
on Stockbridge Down,
and not know its name.
A philosopher might know the point
of the mythic and golden Euphorbia
rolling round a Cretan hillside,
but not notice much.
A scientist could plot the moment
when the hidden bluebell nation
needs the help of billhook and flail,
of human sinew and hydraulics,
to complete the workings of the April
harbinger of a summer,
but not make much space for the flowers
when they do arrive.

But I want mostly to just slow down
and open up and let the wild flowers in.

I like it best when I’m not alone.
Hiking along the Pembrokeshire coast path
with Val and Alfie,
when everything seems to want to fly
and thrift and foxglove are gorgeous and sober
beside the burning, dazzling, show-off gorse.
Then it’s the wind and the rabbits
have done the shaving and trimming
that let the flowers thrive.
And everyone you pass seems to want to say
they can’t believe the sheer glory of it all.

And up on Stockbridge,
the chalk gleaming through the long-lawned pathways,
an old boy wheezed up,
his trousers rolled a turn or two over Cotton Trader loafers
and hot red ankles.
I had been stretched out
amongst the self-heal and the knapweed,
small and almost furtive as they were in that huge scene,
where the hills seem to shake us toward heaven,
like boys being bumped in sheets.
None of us were sure he’d make it up the hill
but he wanted to try
and I said it might not be the worst place not to make it,
and we laughed and parted
and I thought of him and his stick
dead amongst the harebells.

It had been a busy, happy day
and now it was harvests from horizon to horizon
and time to jive the traffic and catch trains,
and I was a little nearer letting the flowers in.

I hope they’ll plant themselves in me
and find my rhythms have been tuned to suit them.
And, mostly, I want to get out of their way.

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Publication date

01 September 2013


RDN's poems