Poetry and Prose

Parks, gardens and green spaces are consistently recurring subjects, settings and backdrops in literature, poetry and song, interweaving our written culture as they do our villages, towns and cities. From, to mention just a few, the Garden of Eden in the Bible, Homer, Pliny, Persian, Chinese and Japanese poets, Shakespeare's plays, John Milton's Paradise Lost, Jane Austin's Mansfield Park, Alexander Pope's Epistle to Burlington, the poems of Dylan Thomas to the songs of Blur, Courtney Barnett, Ghostface Killah, Beach House and Feist

Elegy for a Park

 

The labyrinth has vanished. Vanished also

those orderly avenues of eucalyptus,

the summer awnings, and the watchful eye

of the ever-seeing mirror, duplicating

every expression on every human face,

everything brief and fleeting. The stopped clock,

the ingrown tangle of honeysuckle,

the garden arbour with its whimsical statues,

the other side of evening, the trill of birds,

the mirador, the lazy swish of a fountain,

are all things of the past. Things of what past?

if there were no beginning, nor imminent ending,

if lying in store for us is an infinity

of white days alternating with black nights,

we are living now the past we will become.

We are time itself, the indivisible river.

We are Uxmal and Carthage, we are the perished

walls of the Romans and the vanished park,

the vanished park these lines commemorate.

 

Jorges Luis Borges

The Tarrying Garden

 

Here are no vistas, Piece by piece unfolds.

Stand by the rock. The lotus and the fish,

In still pale yellows, greens and fluid golds

Startle the sky. Or if you wish

Stare at a single slab of cursive script

Sealed in the whitewash, passionate, bone-strong

Crafted, uncrafted, singular, and stripped

Of all superfluous charm. Or walk along

The covered walks, the courtyards and the pools,

The zigzags of embodied hesitation,

A strict game where, within given rules

You may throw dice or follow inclination.

The tarrying garden, piecemeal or entire;

Meander, tarry, amble, pause, admire.

 

Vikram Seth

 

The Hunchback in the Park

 

The hunchback in the park

A solitary mister

Propped between trees and water

From the opening of the garden lock

That lets the trees and water enter                          

Until the Sunday sombre bell at dark

 

Eating bread from a newspaper

Drinking water from the chained cup

That the children filled with gravel

In the fountain basin where I sailed my ship

Slept at night in a dog kennel

But nobody chained him up.

 

Like the park birds he came early

Like the water he sat down

And Mister they called Hey Mister

The truant boys from the town

Running when he had heard them clearly

On out of sound.

 

Past lake and rockery

Laughing when he shook his paper

Hunchbacked in mockery

Through the loud zoo of willow grove

Dodging the park keeper

With his stick that picked up leaves.

 

And the old dog sleeper

Alone between nurses and swans

While the boys among willows

Made the tigers jump out of their eyes

To roar on the rockery stones                                                                                    

And the groves were blue with sailors

 

Made all day until bell time

A woman figure without fault

Straight as a young elm

Straight and tall from his crooked bones

That she might stand in the night

After the locks and chains

 

All night in the unmade park

After the railings and shrubberies

The birds the grass the trees the lake

And the wild boys innocent as strawberries

Had followed the hunchback

To his kennel in the dark

 

Dylan Thomas

 

In Golden Gate Park that day

 

 

In Golden Gate Park that day

                          a man and his wife were coming along

        thru the enormous meadow

                       which was the meadow of the world

He was wearing green suspenders

                              and carrying an old beat-up flute

                                                     in one hand

        while his wife had a bunch of grapes

                              which she kept handing out

                                                     individually

                                             to various squirrels

                                                                    as if each

                                                     were a little joke

 

And then the two of them came on

                                      Thru the enormous meadow

which was the meadow of the world

                                           and then

        at a very still spot where the trees dreamed

               and seemed to have waiting thru all time

                                                               for them

                       they sat down together on the grass

                                                     without looking at each other

                           and ate oranges

                                          without looking at each other

                                                                    and put the peels

                           in a basket which they seemed

                                                     to have brought for that purpose

                              without looking at each other

 

And then

           He took his shirt and his undershirt off

        but kept his hat on

                              sideways

                                         and without saying anything

               fell asleep under it

                                      And his wife just sat there looking

at the birds which flew about

        calling to each other

                              in the stilly air

               as if they were questioning existence

                                      or trying to recall something forgotten

        But then finally

     she too lay down flat

                       and just lay there looking up

                                             at nothing

yet fingering the old flute

                           which nobody played

               and finally looking over

                                      at him

without any particular expression

                              except a certain awful look

of terrible depression

       

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

The Park

 

Why would he come
Back through the park
You thought that you saw him
But no you did not
It's not him who'd come across
The sea to surprise you
Not him who would know
Where in London to find you

With sadness so real
That it populates
The city and leaves
You homeless again
Steam from the cup
And snow on the path
The seasons have changed
From the present to past

The past
The past
Turns whole to half
The past

Why would he come
Back through the park
You thought that you saw him
But no you did not
Who can be sure
Of anything through
The distance that keeps you
From knowing the truth

Why would you think
Your boy could become
The man who could make you
Sure he was the one

The one
My one
My one

Song by Feist (aka Leslie Feist) from the Album The Reminder

Dogs in the Park

 

The precise yet furtive etiquette of dogs

Makes them ignore the whistle while they talk

In circlesnround each other, one-man bonds

Deferred in pauses of this man-made walk

To open vistas to a past of packs

 

That raven round the stuccoed terraces

And scavenge at the mouth of Stone Age caves;

What man proposes dog on his day disposes

In litter round both human and canine graves,

Then lifts his leg to wash the gravestones clean,

 

While simultaneously his eyes express

Apology and contempt; his master calls

And at the last and sidelong he returns,

Part heretic, part pack, and jumps and crawls

And fumbles to communicate and fails

 

And then they leave the park, the leads are snapped

On to the spiky collars, the tails wag

For no known reason and the ears are pricked

To search through legendary copse and crag

For legendary creatures doomed to die

Even as they, the dogs, were doomed to live.

 

Louise McNeice

Suitcases and Muddy Parks        

 

You say I am a lying child

I say I’m not

you say there you go again

You say I am a rebellious child

I say no I’m not

you say there you go again

Quite frankly mum I’ve never seen a rebellious child before and when my mates said jump in that puddle and race you through the park

(y’know, the muddy one)

didn’t think about the mud.

When you said why you are dirty!

I could feel the anger in your voice

I still don’t know why.I said I raced my mates through the park. 

You said it was deliberate.

I said I didn’t I mean I did but it wasn’t. 

You said I was lying,

I said no I am not.

You said there you go again.

Later in the dawn of adolescence it was time for my leave

I with my suitcase, social worker,

you with your husband,

walked our sliced ways.

Sometimes I run back to you like a child

through a muddy park,

adult achievements tucked under each arm,

I explain them with a child-like twinkle,

thinking any mother would be proud…

Your eyes, desperately trying hard to be wise and unrevealing, reveal all.

Still you fall back into the heart of the same rocking chair saying

There you go again.

And I did.

And I have.

Lemn Sissay

The Gentle Waves Pavilion

 

A pool as green as pea soup. Four sleek fish,

Red as pimentos, push through the bubbly scum.

A vagrant sparrow from a rocky niche

Looks critically on. Two lovers come

To gaze at the fish and foreigner in the park

And talk and cuddle by the moss-trunked tree

And with a pen-knife hack their names through the bark

For (if the tree survives) posterity.

 

Vikram Seth

Child's Park Stones

In sunless air, under pines
Green to the point of blackness, some
Founding father set these lobed, warped stones
To loom in the leaf-filtered gloom
Black as the charred knuckle-bones

Of a giant or extinct
Animal, come from another
Age, another planet surely. Flanked
By the orange and fuchsia bonfire
Of azaleas, sacrosanct

These stones guard a dark repose
And keep their shapes intact while sun
Alters shadows of rose and iris —-
Long, short, long —- in the lit garden
And kindles a day's-end blaze

Colored to dull the pigment
Of azaleas, yet burnt out
Quick as they. To follow the light's tint
And intensity by midnight
By noon and throughout the brunt

Of various weathers is
To know the still heart of the stones:
Stones that take the whole summer to lose
Their dream of the winter's cold; stones
Warming at core only as

Frost forms. No man's crowbar could
Uproot them: their beards are ever-
Green. Nor do they, once in a hundred
Years, go down to drink the river:
No thirst disturbs a stone's bed. 

Sylvia Plath

Epistle to Lord Burlington

 

In all, let Nature never be forgot.

But treat the goddess like a modest fair,

Nor over-dress, nor leave her wholly bare;

Let not each beauty ev’ry where be spied,

Where half the skill is decently to hide.

He gains all points, who pleasingly confounds,

Surprises, varies and conceals the bounds.

Consult the genius of the place in all

That tells the waters or to rise, or fall,

Or helps th’ ambitious hill the heav’ns to scale

Or scoops in circling theatres the vale;

Calls in the country, catches op’ning glades,

Joins willing woods, and varies shades from shades;

Now breaks, or now directs, th’ intending lines

Paints as you plant, and as you work, designs.

Still follow sense, of ev’ry art the soul,

Parts answ’ring parts shall slide into a whole,

Spontaneous beauties all around advance,

Start ev’n from difficulty, strike from chance;

Nature shall join you; time shall make it grow

A work to wonder at - perhaps a Stowe…

Alexander Pope

The Hill-side Park

 

Some banks cropped close, and lawns smooth mown and green,

Where, when a daisy’s guiltless face was seen,

Its pretty head came sacrifice to pride

Of human taste- I saw upon the side

Of a steep hill. Without a branch of wood

Plants, giant-leaved, like boneless bodies stood.

The flowers had colonies, not one was seen

To go astray from its allotted green,

But to the light like mermaids’ faces came

From waves of green, and scarce two greens the same.

And everywhere man’s ingenuity

On fence and bordering: for I could see

The tiny scaffolding to hold the heads

And faces overgrown of flowers in beds

On which their weak-developrd frames must fall,

Had they not such support upright and tall.

There was a fountain, and its waters’ leap

Was under a full-quivered Cupid’s keep.

And from his mother’s lips the spray was blown

Upon adjusted rock, selected stone;

And so was placed that all the waters fell

Into a small ravine in a small dell,

And made a stream, where that wee river raved,

Though gold his rocks and margent amber paved.

This park was a miracle of care,

But sweeter far to me the prospects there:

The far beyond, where lived Romance near the seas

And pools in haze, and in far realms of trees,

I saw where Severn had run wide and free,

Out where the Holms lie flat upon a sea

Whose wrinkles wizard distance smoothed away,

And still sails flecked its face of silver-grey.

 

W.H. Davies

The Lake in the Park

On an empty morning a small clerk

Who thinks no one will ever love him

Sculls on the lake in the park while bosomy

Trees indifferently droop over him.

 

On a bank a father and mother goose

Hiss as he passes, pigeons are courting,

Everything mocks; the empty deck-chairs

Are set in pairs, there is no consorting

 

For him with nature or man, the ducks

Go arrowheading across his bows

Adding insult to absence, his mood

Disallows what the sun endows.

 

The water arrows are barbed; their barbs,

Corrugated like flint, can start

No Stone-Age echoes in his mind

And yet they too might pierce his heart.

Louise McNeice

A Little Sunlight

 

Trees in the wood lifeless

Leaves pall the earth

On a large drift the red-sweatered

 

woman waits. There’s just

a blink of sun, a leaf blows

on her face. The man comes up

 

quietly, lies down beside her.

Soon she takes off alone,

toting her case. He prays

 

(I hear him now) all may go well

with her. A plane roars above,

he snuffs his cigarette.

 

Two dead leaves blow apart

 

Shinkichi Takahashi

The Public Garden

Burnished, burned-out, still burning as the year

you lead me to our stamping ground.

The city and its cruising cars surround

the Public Garden. All’s alive-

the children crowding home from school at five,

punting a football in the bricky air,

the sailors and their pick-ups under trees

with Latin labels. And the jaded flock

of swanboats paddles to its dock.

The park is drying.

Dead leaves thicken to a ball

inside the basin of a fountain, where

the heads of four stone lions stare

and suck on empty fawcets. Night

deepens. From the arched bridge, we see

the shedding park-bound mallards, how they keep

circling and diving in the lantern light,

searching for something hidden in the muck.

And now the moon, earth’s friend that cared so much

for us, and cared so little, comes again-

always a stranger! As we walk

it lies like chalk

over the waters. Everything’s aground.

Remember summer? Bubbles filled

The fountain, and we splashed. We drowned

in Eden, while Jehovah’s grass-green lyre

was rustling all about us in the leaves

that gurgled by us, turning upside down…

The fountains failing waters flash around

the garden. Nothing catches fire.  

Robert Lowell 

Bearded Oaks

The oaks, how subtle and marine,
Bearded, and all the layered light
Above them swims; and thus the scene,
Recessed, awaits the positive night.

So, waiting, we in the grass now lie
Beneath the languorous tread of light:
The grasses, kelp-like, satisfy
The nameless motions of the air.

Upon the floor of light, and time,
Unmurmuring, of polyp made,
We rest; we are, as light withdraws,
Twin atolls on a shelf of shade.

Ages to our construction went,
Dim architecture, hour by hour:
And violence, forgot now, lent
The present stillness all its power.


The storm of noon above us rolled,
Of light the fury, furious gold,
The long drag troubling us, the depth:
Dark is unrocking, unrippling, still.

Passion and slaughter, ruth, decay
descend, minutely whispering down,
Silted down swaying streams, to lay
Foundation for our voicelessness.

All our debate is voiceless here,
As all our rage, the rage of stone;
If hope is hopeless, then fearless is fear,
And history is thus undone.

Our feet once wrought the hollow street
With echo when the lamps were dead
All windows, once our headlight glare
Disturbed the doe that, leaping fled.


I do not love you less that now
The caged heart makes iron stroke,
Or less that all that light once gave
The graduate dark should now revoke.

We live in time so little time
And we learn all so painfully, 
That we may spare this hour's term
To practice for eternity.

Robert Penn Warren

 

The Echoing Green

The sun does arise;
And makes happy the skies.
The merry bells ring
To welcome the Spring;
The skylark and thrush,
The birds of the bush,
Sing louder around
To the bells’ cheerful sound,
While our sports shall be seen 
On the echoing green.

Old John, with white hair,
Does laugh away care,
Sitting under the oak,
Among the old folk.
They laugh at our play,
And soon they all say:
“Such, such were the joys
When we all, girls and boys,
In our youth time were seen  
On the Echoing Green”

Till the little ones, weary,
No more can be merry;
The sun does descend,
And our sports have an end.
Round the laps of their mothers
Many sisters and brothers,
Like birds in their nest,
Are ready for rest,
And sport no more seen 
On the darkening Green

William Blake

Should Lanterns Shine

 

Should lanterns shine, the holy face,

Caught in an octagon of unaccustomed light,

Would wither up, and any boy of love

Look twice before he fell from grace.

The features in their private dark

Are formed of flesh, but let the false day come

And from her lips the faded pigments fall,

The mummy cloths expose an ancient breast

 

I have been told to reason by the heart,

But heart, like head, leads helplessly;

I have been told to reason by the pulse,

And, when it quickens, alter the action’s pace

Till field and roof lie level and the same

So fast I move defying time, the quiet gentleman

Whose beard wags in an Egyptian wind.

 

I have heard many years of telling,

And many years should see some change.

 

The ball I threw while playing in the park

Has not yet reached the ground

 

Dylan Thomas

Park Bench 

I live on a park bench.

You, Park Avenue.

Hell of a distance

Between us two.

 

I beg a dime for dinner-

You got a butler and maid.

But I'm wakin' up!

Say, ain't you afraid

 

That I might, just maybe,

In a year or two,

Move on over

To Park Avenue?

Langston Hughes