The Weeds and the Wilderness


O let them be left, wildness and wet,

Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.


AFTER you pass Owl’s Candle and Pickporridge the lane tilts
to Marry-in-the-Up, where a stone barn burrows
into the steep side of the Pickpack, lording the Waver valley.
Follow the cranky path and you come out upon Pickpack Heath,
magenta with heather in flower, or coppered with bracken,
squatting like a gipsy in rainbow rags above the tidy hedges of the vale.
Here the track walks by itself
between abrupt pools of ancient clay-pits, their cobalt water cloddy with cloud-shadow,
and ends at Brock’s Clump where the old barrow humps in the ling
and five haggard pines, with their orange trunks rooted in giants’ bones,
knuckle together against the buffles of wind.
This is the high place, the house of hare and whimbrel.
No one comes or goes.
Only at dusk a fox will slip like a rusty ghost among the thistles and broken stones
or a badger lumber to his sandy holt under a snarl of bramble.
From here you can overlook the brooky lands from Hern Plash to Puddleswick
where the Waver loses itself in marshes, and the basket-willows
drown their Ophelia-hair in little sly streams.
There the lanky heron feeds among the sedges and bayard moss
or flaps silently, like a thought through an unfretted mind,
over Rockinglass and its quaking sands to the hidden ponds of Dragonsholm and Pendragon,
far as The Slake itself where the mud wears tidewater like a skin.
This is the wet kingdom, the house of ooze and rush.
Heath and gorse, marsh and moss, the sandy, the sodden . . .
these are the uncouth places that planners of garden-cities do not love.
They are not concerned with man and his notions.
They exist only for themselves and for that human few
who need the world’s tart as well as honeysweet
and feel most at home in such unhomely wastes.
They will go some day, I suppose,
the heather uprooted, the badger killed with his kindle,
even the flats drained for corn and emptied of hern.
So let me hold in my mind a day when summer blurred to autumn, when I walked
from Owl’s Candle over the umber ling of the Pickpack to Brock’s Clump
in a warm, gusty drizzle, with the sky a smoky pearl.
In wild air that smelled of wet pine aud fern
I stood to my knees in burnt-gold brake that dripped with pendles of rain,
and saw below me a swan rise from the wickers of Hern Plash with a squeak and brattle of wings,
and fly over to Rockinglass through a sudden dazzle of sun.