Thursday, 25 August 2016

Bird, Beast and Flower

The other day I rediscovered a rather fine poetry anthology on my bookshelves - Bird, Beast and Flower, with watercolours by Marie Angel and poems chosen by Ian Parsons. I remember buying it some time in the Eighties when the children were small, but it isn't quite a children's anthology and I don't think it got much use. I had all but forgotten we still had it, and was delighted to find it again.
 It's a handsome quarto volume of sixty-odd pages, quite beautifully illustrated with watercolour plates and illuminated letters (Marie Angel was a calligrapher and illuminator as well as a watercolorist). These are not only beautiful but accurate, and a key to the illustrations tells us which flowers and animals are shown in each plate. The choice of poems is interesting: there are old favourites you'd expect - Blake's Tyger, Wordsworth's Daffodils, Browning's Home Thoughts, Keats's Autumn, songs by Shakespeare and his contemporaries - but some surprises too. An entire spread, with fittingly illuminated initial letter, is given over to Marianne Moore's Abundance, a celebration of the Jerboa, 'the sand-brown jumping-rat'; there's a page from Leaves of Grass ('There was a child went forth every day...'); Herrick is represented by the less than obvious The Sadness of Things for Sappho's Sickness. R.W. Dixon's Song - about which I've written before - is here, as are Christina Rossetti's lovely A Birthday ('My heart is like a singing bird...'), Emily Dickinson's A Narrow Fellow, Edward Thomas's haunting Out in the Dark, and  Edmund Blunden's The March Bee, which was new to me. But here's the one to end with - a vivid evocation of the kind of weather we've been having here in southeast England by one William Canton, a poet I had never heard of (of course he's in Wikipedia)...


Broad August burns in milky skies,
The world is blanched with hazy heat;
The vast green pasture, even, lies
Too hot and bright for eyes and feet.

Amid the grassy levels rears
The sycamore against the sun
The dark boughs of a hundred years,
The emerald foliage of one.

Lulled in a dream of shade and sheen,
Within the clement twilight thrown
By that great cloud of floating green,
A horse is standing, still as stone.

He stirs nor head nor hoof, although
The grass is fresh beneath the branch;
His tail alone swings to and fro
In graceful curves from haunch to haunch.

He stands quite lost, indifferent
To rack or pasture, trace or rein;
He feels the vaguely sweet content
Of perfect sloth in limb and brain.

Bird, Beast and Flower, which seems never to have been reprinted since its publication in 1980, is happily still available on AbeBooks, and on Amazon for as little as 1p.
And here's a fine example of Marie Angel's illumination (quoting Whitman)...

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