Song in the Wood
This way, this way, come and hear
You that hold these pleasures dear;
Fill your ears with our sweet sound,
Whilst we melt the frozen ground.
This way come; make haste, O fair!
Let your clear eyes gild the air;
Come, and bless us with your sight;
This way, this way, seek delight!
Recently I stumbled across this old poetry book, hidden in a box wedged under my bed. But I recognised it straight away. It was given to me by an older lady who I used to live next door to as a kid – Mrs Shelton. She lived with her brother and they had a big, clumsy looking caravan that spent most of its time on their drive with bricks wedged against the wheels. But I desperately wanted to play in there and have it as my secret place, so, as only a kid could, I wrote her a letter asking her about this and posted it through her letter box.
All credit to Mrs Shelton, she wrote back to me and said she didn’t wish me to play in there on my own (!) but that she would happily spend time in there with me whenever I wanted. Mostly we just pretended to cook and I rearranged her caravan cushions a lot. But on one occasion she gave me the old brown poetry book, ‘This Way Delight’ and sometimes we sat and read it together. I loved it from the beginning, partly because it smelled like ‘old book’ and had that musty, yellowed, age-old wisdom look about it. But mostly because it suggested magic and mystery by its title and was full of charms and chants that conjured thoughts of hidden fairies and secrets, if only you could see them. 20 years later I still find this book sort of whisperingly magical, a pathway through a thick hedge into a world I always suspected was there. Here are some of my favourite verses that conjure untold stories and images, beginning with ‘The Listeners’……….
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret, Above the traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door a second time; “Is there anybody there?” he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller; No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes, As he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners, That dwelt in the lone house there
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight, To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair, That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken, By the lonely traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness, Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved cropping the dark turf, ‘Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even louder, and lifted his head:-
“Tell them I came, and no one answered, That I kept my word”, he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners, Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup, And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward, when the plunging hoofs were gone.
-Walter De La Mare
(I must admit, I see myself as Anne of Green Gables reciting ‘The Highway Man’ so dramatically when I read this!!)
We went down to the river’s brink
To of those clear waters drink
Where the fishes, gold and red,
Ever quickly past us sped.
And the pebbles, red and blue,
Which we saw the green weeds through
At the bottom shining lay:
It was their shining made us stay.
– Richard Hughes (aged 7)
I so understand where Richard was coming from!
Nymph nymph, what are your beads?
Green glass goblin, why do you stare at them?
Give them me.
Give them me, give them me.
Then I will howl all night in the reeds,
Lie in the mud and howl for them.
Goblin, why do you love them so?
They are better than stars or water,
Better than voices of winds that sing
Better than any man’s fair daughter,
Your green glass beads on a silver ring.
Hush. I stole them out of the moon.
Give me your beads, I want them.
I will howl in a deep lagoon, For your green glass beads, I love them so.
Give them me. Give them me.
Lady will you come with me into
the extremely little house of
my mind. Clocks strike. The
moon’s round, through the window.
as you see and really I have no
servants. We could almost live
at the top of these stairs, there’s a free
room. We almost could go, you
there is but if so or so
slowly i opened the window a
most tinyness, the moon (with white wig
and polished buttons) would take you away
–and all the clocks would run down the next day.
-E. E. Cummings
Do not fear to put thy feet
Naked in the river sweet;
Think not leech, or newt, or toad,
Will bite thy foot, when thou hast trod:
Nor let the water rising high,
As thou wad’st in, make thee cry
And sob; but ever live with me,
And not a wave shall trouble thee!
Very old are the woods; and the buds that break, Out of the brier’s boughs, when March winds wake, so old with beauty are – oh no man knows, through what wild centuries roves back the rose.
Very old are the brooks; And the rills that rise, where snow sleeps cold beneath the azure skies, sing such a history of come and gone, their every drop is as wise as Solomon.
Very old are we men; our dreams are tales, told in dim Eden by Eve’s nightingales; we wake and whisper awhile, but, the day gone by, silence and sleep like fields of amaranth lie.
-my old friend, Walter De La Mare
Whose woods these are I think I know, His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here, to watch his woods fill up with snow.
my little horse must think it queer, To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake, The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake, To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep, of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.
The Way Through the Woods
They shut the road through the woods seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again, and now you would never know, there was once a road through the woods, before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath, and the thin anemones. Only the keeper sees, that, where the ring-dove broods, and the badgers roll at ease, there was once a road through the woods.
Yet, if you enter the woods of a summer evening late, when the night air cools on the trout-ringed pools, where the otter whistles his mate, (They fear not men in the woods, because they see so few). You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet, and the swish of a skirt in the dew, steadily cantering through the misty solitudes, as though they perfectly knew, the old lost road through the woods………
But there is no road through the woods.
Thank you Mrs Shelton. I wonder where you, your brother and your caravan are now?