Saturday, 26 July 2014



Two hundred years ago, Linnaeus saw
the long heath of some English upland, yellow
with tawny blossoms of the common furze,
fell on his knees and wept aloud for joy.

One hundred years on, Gerard Manley Hopkins
saw sky of shires-long pearled cloud under cloud,
each row grey-underlined, in fine July,
beautiful yellow blush of uncut ryefields,
white wheat-ears, light throwing a goldleaf square,
and would not look again, as he had talked
too freely and unkindly over dinner,
and had to do a penance going home.

I saw a strip of lawn the other day,
passed every day, four times, but this new way
showed it way down the street, the morning light
smite it so hard it gleamed into the day
green-gold, a cyclist's belt against the night.

So pleased at having even noticed it,
I chose to match the fluorescent fit
of self-congratulation with a cake.
We had some Chelsea buns for coffee-break,
the second time that week, and swamped the sight
with the reward paid into appetite.

I suppose I had better give my sources.  I hope they're well enough known that my use of them counts as allusion not plagiarism, but I will name them to make sure.

Linnaeus saw the long heath: Oscar Wilde, ed. Rupert Hart-Davis.  Selected letters (Oxford: OUP, 1979), p.237.  I don't know the date of the story Wilde alludes to, but Linnaeus' English visits were in the 1730s, and he died in 1778; "Two hundred years ago" requires, I know, I measure of poetic licence.

Gerard Manley Hopkins saw sky: Gerard Manley Hopkins, ed. W.H. Gardner.  Poems and prose (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1953), p. 131.  The story is in Hopkins' diary entry for 23 July 1874.  I marked the 140th anniversary of the incident with a tweet, and hoped I might blog this poem on the same day, but I am a couple of days late with it.

I saw a strip of lawn: I don't seem to have made any diary entry for this observation, but from references to bike repair at Hayward's I would place it on 21 or 22 November 1989.  The grass was in front of  Cambridge University's  Earth Sciences and Archaeology and Anthropology buildings, on the south side of Downing Street, glimpsed at around 08:55 from the bend in Pembroke Street where they become visible.

I wrote 'Yellow' in December 1989, and it appeared in Streetwise 2, March 1991, p. 18.  For other colour poems of mine see this post and this and this.

1 comment:

  1. "Yellow," he thought and stomped off back to his bedroom to get
    Passing the bathroom he stopped to drink a large glass of water, and
    another. He began to suspect that he was hung over. Why was he hung over?
    Had he been drinking the night before? He supposed that he must have been. He caught a glint in the shaving mirror. "Yellow," he thought and stomped on to the bedroom.
    He stood and thought. The pub, he thought. Oh dear, the pub. He
    vaguely remembered being angry, angry about something that seemed
    important. He'd been telling people about it, telling people about it at great length, he rather suspected: his clearest visual recollection was of glazed looks on other people's faces. Something about a new bypass he had just found out about. It had been in the pipeline for months only no one seemed to have known about it. Ridiculous. He took a swig of water. It would sort itself out, he'd decided, no one wanted a bypass, the council didn't have a leg to stand on. It would sort itself out.
    God what a terrible hangover it had earned him though. He looked at himself in the wardrobe mirror. He stuck out his tongue. "Yellow," he thought. The word yellow wandered through his mind in search of something to connect with.
    Fifteen seconds later he was out of the house and lying in front of a
    big yellow bulldozer that was advancing up his garden path.
    HHGttG, Douglas Adams.