Sissinghurst Woods – Amy Hourihan
We had come to these woods by chance,
Down from London to see the Sissinghurst gardens.
The local cab driver had to cart her mother to the doctor after lunch,
And couldn’t get us back to the train station.
She showed us where to catch a bus in the village,
There is a footpath, through a wood, from the Castle,
Comes out just there, she sang, calling over her shoulder and pointing,
It’s a lot shorter than hiking along the road.
She had the reassuring tone of a Sunday school teacher.
The Kent springtime, all sap green and wispy clouds, looked entirely benevolent.
There’s the gate for the footpath when you are ready to leave.
As it happens, no one ever is ready to leave Sissinghurst.
Vita’s white garden with its high walls and perfume,
Pulls in the visitors,
And they wander in circles, from green room to green room,
And down the pleached lime walk, in a trance,
Gladdened with speckled fritillaries,
Charmed by the wisteria, and the commodious urns,
Emerging hours later, sharing the same hopeful delusion,
That the insouciant tranquility of her vision could easily be duplicated,
Until the spell withers atop the castle tower, as one look’s out over it’s entirety:
A garden like this is not made of short cuts.
Centuries ago, If it were November in these woods,
We’d hear the rat-a-tat-a-tat of the swineherds, among the oak and beech,
Thrashing the branches with a long stick, raining down acorn and mast
For their pigs, rooting about, clearing the small saplings.
Dutiful gardeners snuffling their hoes, opening up the forest floor.
Plague victims were buried here, in the hard clay of the Weald,
And their dogs, orphaned and starving, promptly dug them up.
The enterprising highwaymen of Kent found refuge here.
The soil, so dense and impenetrable, the farmers couldn’t work it.
Time redeemed it of all these offenses, held it aside in pardon, left a dreamy, verdurous wood.
We crossed a field, eyed by a chary ram, and climbed the path toward town,
Turning a corner into the deepening forest.
The beech trees, not yet leafed out, let shafts of sunlight dapple the bracken.
Mere steps into the sylvan glade, we stopped, blinking,
Transfixed, just as Tennyson had been:
When the earth and the sky are one.
An azure mist settled around our ankles.
All was indistinct, unimpeded indigo.
A veil of violet, a vast sea of bluebells.
Suddenly, Vita’s and Harold’s idyllic contrivance,
Having charmed us an hour ago,
Seemed so much overused box and commonplace yew.
The constrained clipping, the untempered, laden design.
A run down parlor trick, a pale forgery of nature.
Pigs and acorns. The grinding work of earth building, eons of British weather.
Behind us, a noisy woodpecker drills, thrashing an ancient oak tree.
I praise the serendipity of errant cabbies, and my penchant for short cuts.
I praise you, wild hyacinths of Sissinghurst Wood, for steadfastly taking the long way.
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