Books: Ill Fares the Land ; A Bitter-Sweet Evocation of Our Landscape in Verse Inspires Wendy Bardsley to Seek the Song of the Linnet
Bardsley, Wendy, The Independent (London, England)
The Faber Book of Landscape Poetry
ed Kenneth Baker
FABER pounds 20
This is an an exhilarating anthology with much to say about love of the landscape, how landscape has changed, and all aspects of the lie of the land. Here poets muse on the built environment as well as its natural features and untamed places. The work of the peasant in shaping the earth, the mystical nature of poetry, its folklore, customs, traditions, what time and politics have done to the environment and the way that poetry casts its eye in different directions in different moods - all this is documented. There is much to discover here, and much that inspires. The poems celebrate the landscape of both Britain and Ireland over a number of centuries, and it is a nice touch that the settings of individual poems, where they can be established, are cited.
Baker divides his sturdy volume into 37 sections, many of which bear alluring titles: "Visions and Mysteries", "Secret and Special Places", "Colour and the Painter's Eye", "Order and Wilderness", as well as the more predictable "Mountains and Views", "Rivers and Streams" and so on. Cleverly, Baker opens his anthology with Wordsworth instructing the scholars to dump their books and get out into the open air. Come and hear the linnet sing instead, the mighty sage urges. Can anyone find a linnet nowadays? Come to think of it, where have all the sparrows gone? "Sweet is the lore which Nature brings," continues Wordsworth, "Come forth, and bring with you a heart / That watches and receives." ("The Tables Turned").
There's a great deal to enjoy and wonder about in this book, with poems spanning the whole range of human emotions, from the wild and sensual to serious political and environmental concerns. How can we tolerate the loss of beauty in the name of so-called progress, asks Goldsmith: "Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, / Where wealth accumulates, and men decay" ("The Deserted Village"). John Clare, in a sharp lament, complains, "These paths are stopt - the rude philistines thrall / Is laid upon them & destroyed them all... A board sticks up to notice `no road here' / & on the tree with ivy over hung / The hated sign by vulgar taste is hung / As tho the very birds should learn to know / When they go there they must no further go" ("The Mores"). Gillian Clarke in "East Moors" tells how: "Demolition gangs / erase skylines whose hieroglyphs / recorded all our stories."
Landscape, of course, is always a source of conjecture. Andrew Motion asks, in "Fresh Water", what has happened to a statue he read about that stood in a field near Cirencester: "a naked, shaggy- haired god tilting an urn with one massive hand. / Where is he? …