Darkness Echoing

One of my earliest memories is of dabbling in the waterbutt at the back of my great uncle’s house in Whickamford. He grew plums and his orchard seemed to begin right outside his veranda in a clutter of hosepipes, baskets and tools.
His waterbutt was an old steel drum, full sized and black as pitch. It was all surface glitter and reflection above an unknown, unexplorable depth.

Water has always fascinated me. Mum called me a waterbaby – happy and absorbed, splashing and pouring, up to my elbows in sinks and bowls.

Later swimming became my thing – especially underwater. I was inspired by Hans and Lottie Haas to practice holding my breath in the bath. It was a constant grievance that flippers – let alone snorkels – were strictly forbidden at the local ‘bathers’ – although I still went everyday that they were open in the summer.

I was disproportionately proud of swimming a whole length underwater. In my defence it was almost the sole sporting achievement of my boyhood.

All of these memories came flooding back this summer when I installed a waterbutt in my own garden and found myself – not much changed in truth – gazing into its depths, still drawn to – well, I still had no words for what it was that drew me – until I came across this poem of Seamus Heaney’s, and there seemed nothing more to say.

Personal Helicon
for Michael Longley

As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.

One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.

A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
A white face hovered over the bottom.

Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall
Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.

Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.

Darkness Echoing

Pears

I came across this painting of pear leaves on twitter this morning (thank you @ArtGuideAlex)

The ancient and completely unproductive pear tree at the end of our garden doesn’t look as healthy as any of these: a bad case of pear rust I suspect.

I love its age and hoariness – and the memory, more than 20 years ago, of the day we came to look around the house and Jacob ran out into the garden and straight up the old tree, surveying the prospect.

Pears

When you’d rather be outside

The sun is shining here – rare pleasure this August – and, sitting unwillingly at my desk, back to the window, I can hear children playing in the garden next door. The sound reminded me of this, from Burnt Norton:

Sudden in a shaft of sunlight
Even while the dust moves
There rises the hidden laughter
Of children in the foliage
Quick now, here, now, always-
Ridiculous the waste sad time
Stretching before and after.

Ah well, not long till lunchtime.

When you’d rather be outside

Garden delights

What wond’rous life in this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons as I pass,
Ensnar’d with flow’rs, I fall on grass.

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness;
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find,
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.

From The Garden by Andrew Marvell

Garden delights