Monday, 26 October 2009

On the Wild Hill - a poem by Mary Webb

I love this poem. Although written of a Shropshire hill, it could be a picture of the New Forest hills and moors in early summer.

On the Wild Hill

Would God I were there, on the wild hill
Where the ponies with wet fetlocks wade in morasses
Starred with yellow mimulus, drinking the chill
Brown water! Where the bright foals, black and bay,
Run to their dams through the dark blue day,
As the shadow of a hawk passes.

If I might be there in the grave dawn,
Stumbling on a curlew`s nest beneath its spread
Of flowering heather, and seeing across the lawn,
Sheep-mown, the creamy, pencilled curlew chickens run,
Quick and bright as water in the sun,
Hiding in a fresh green bracken-bed!

If only I might watch the old curlews drifting
Down the silver summer air like tawny leaves!
Hear their icy, elfin voices uplifting
The warm rich veils of silence and content,
Discovering some chill presentiment,
Like a fugitive soul that grieves.

Mary Webb

Hill track by silver birches

New Forest ponies camouflaged amongst bracken on the hill.

"Old Snowy"

I found "On the Wild Hill" recently, in my aunt`s old book "Fifty One Poems" (Pub:Jonathan Cape,1946), an anthology of poetry by Mary Webb which was unpublished during her lifetime.

Mary Webb (1881-1927), was a native of Shropshire and her poetry and prose are deeply influenced by the natural beauty of her native county. I first discovered Mary Webb by reading her novels "Precious Bane" and "Gone to Earth" which were republished by Virago in the 1970s. Before my elderly aunt died this spring, I discovered that the work of Mary Webb had been the subject of her college dissertation in the 1930s. We both shared a love of Mary Webb`s sensitive observations of nature, her sense of place and her fine use of language.


Bovey Belle said...

That is SO beautiful, and I must get out the book of her poems I found in Hay-on-Wye last year. She knew the countryside and wildlife SO intimately. THANK YOU for sharing this - and your lovely photos. It's nearly as good as being home!

Dartford Warbler said...

I thought you might like this one BB! Which of her poetry books did you find at Hay?

Bovey Belle said...

The Collected Works of Mary Webb - Poems and The Spring of Joy (1935), so it has prose in it too.

Morning's Minion said...

Again, I have read only the most common of Mary Webb's novels, perhaps what is more available here. This is poetry at its best--simple, and yet such a wealth of observation and imagery. My mind makes a picture to go with each phrase.
I enlarged the photo so I could locate the ponies in the bracken. What an interesting corner of the world you are sharing.