June, Nine p.m.
The social bees work late,
Barren girls with honeyed thighs
Labouring among aquilegia,
The eagle flower, purple-spurred,
Multitudinous, nearly a weed.
I sit in the mid-year garden
To hear the poplars clatter,
And to admire what I have done.
The day is advanced, the bees
Drone vespers, the sun hits the wheat.
Farmers sat on the doorstep
At this hour, aching and comfortable,
Their eyes registering
A patch of pinks and mignonette
As their gaze settled for the big field.
An ancient man who had been
Young here arrived to say,
‘Mother saw to the flowers, of course’.
Of course. Father saw to that.
Their ancient son spoke of hives,
Hives here? ‘Hives, honeybees,
Pears in the orchard, muck
In the soil, all you had to have.’
The same water plashing, as
They put it then, and gulped by the horses.
Their shoes turn up in the beds.
I see my luckless father
Ploughing, confident in his rut,
His eye on the holly marker,
His tongue conversing with beasts,
Social bees will not pause
While there is light, while an anther
Can be seen to yield. And the poplars
Applaud them with gray and silver leaves,
The roses blacken, the cornfield fades.
by Ronald Blythe
Notes from Enitharmon:
Ronald Blythe has written novels, short stories, poetry, literary criticism, and social history. Among his books are Akenfield, now a Penguin Modern Classic, The Age of Illusion, The View in Winter, Divine Landscapes, Aldeburgh Anthology, The Assassin (his most recent novel), and Aftermath: Selected Prose 1950-2010. He has published critical studies of Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, William Hazlitt and Henry James and for many years has been President of the John Clare Society. He has received honorary doctorates from the universities of East Anglia and Essex and in 2006 was awarded the Benson Medal, the highest honour of the Royal Society of Literature.
When as a young writer in 1947 Blythe first visited Bottengoms Farm on the Essex-Suffolk border, the ancient house of the artists John and Christine Nash, he could not have guessed that this would in time become his own home and the centre of the writing life. The old farm nestled in a valley, in a landscape little changed since the Middle Ages, immediately surrounded by a richly-stocked garden created by the Nashes from the flinty fields. From his current perspective, Blythe looks back in this collection with affection to the friendships with artists, writers, farmers, gardeners, and neighbours that were to enrich his life. You can read more about Blythe’s relationship with the farm and the people he met there in this interview by Patrick Barkham on the Enitharmon site, and hear Ronald Blythe interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs here.
Enitharmon Press takes its name from a William Blake character who represents spiritual beauty and poetic inspiration. Founded in 1967 with an emphasis on independence and quality, Enitharmon has been associated with such figures as Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and Kathleen Raine. Enitharmon also commissions internationally renowned collaborations between artists, including Gilbert & George, and poets, including Seamus Heaney, under the Enitharmon Editions imprint. You can sign up to the publisher’s mailing list here to receive a newsletter with special offers, details of readings & events and new titles and Enitharmon’s Poem of the Month.
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