Diary of the Plague Year: Day 46 30 April 2020: The Horses – Edwin Muir

My neighbours moving some of their horses. A good cue for one of my favourite poems, by Edwin Muir. Some eerie correspondences with the present situation …

THE HORSES

Barely a twelvemonth after
The seven days war that put the world to sleep,
Late in the evening the strange horses came.
By then we had made our covenant with silence,
But in the first few days it was so still
We listened to our breathing and were afraid.
On the second day
The radios failed; we turned the knobs; no answer.
On the third day a warship passed us, heading north,
Dead bodies piled on the deck. On the sixth day
A plane plunged over us into the sea. Thereafter
Nothing. The radios dumb;
And still they stand in corners of our kitchens,
And stand, perhaps, turned on, in a million rooms
All over the world. But now if they should speak,
If on a sudden they should speak again,
If on the stroke of noon a voice should speak,
We would not listen, we would not let it bring
That old bad world that swallowed its children quick
At one great gulp. We would not have it again.
Sometimes we think of the nations lying asleep,
Curled blindly in impenetrable sorrow,
And then the thought confounds us with its strangeness.
The tractors lie about our fields; at evening
They look like dank sea-monsters couched and waiting.
We leave them where they are and let them rust:
“They’ll moulder away and be like other loam.”
We make our oxen drag our rusty plows,
Long laid aside. We have gone back
Far past our fathers’ land.
                           And then, that evening
Late in the summer the strange horses came.
We heard a distant tapping on the road,
A deepening drumming; it stopped, went on again
And at the corner changed to hollow thunder.
We saw the heads
Like a wild wave charging and were afraid.
We had sold our horses in our fathers’ time
To buy new tractors. Now they were strange to us
As fabulous steeds set on an ancient shield.
Or illustrations in a book of knights.
We did not dare go near them. Yet they waited,
Stubborn and shy, as if they had been sent
By an old command to find our whereabouts
And that long-lost archaic companionship.
In the first moment we had never a thought
That they were creatures to be owned and used.
Among them were some half a dozen colts
Dropped in some wilderness of the broken world,
Yet new as if they had come from their own Eden.
Since then they have pulled our plows and borne our
  loads,
But that free servitude still can pierce our hearts.
Our life is changed; their coming our beginning.

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 46 30 April 2020: Pollarding

Blessed, blessed rain. It rained all night and this morning the garden was shining and varnished with wet. I had started to tackle the far corner – it has been a mess ever since a huge tree fell during Ophelia and the stump was overgrown with a plethora of crazy branches all growing inwards and crossing. So I decided a bit of amateur pollarding was in order. There was a pile of rotten wood in the corner by the wall so I just added any other bits I found and chopped up the cut branches too. Apparently bees and other insects love it. I also trimmed two hawthorns that were horribly ingrown – I could almost feel the relief. There are some fallen slates by the wall which look as if they could provide habitats so left them where they fell.

I have also given myself some DIY pollarding – the dreaded lockdown haircut. I have lopped about six inches off and had to stop as it kept getting shorter and shorter as I tried to even it up. I find that my nails need to be kept very short too for gardening and all the scrubbing and washing of hands generally.

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 46 30 April 2020: Quotidian Poetry: Eight Metaphysical Poets Henry Vaughan (1621-1695)

THE MORNING WATCH
 
O joys! Infinite sweetness! With what flowres,
And shoots of glory, my soul breakes, and buds!
                   All the long houres
                   Of night, and Rest
                   Through the still shrouds
                   Of sleep, and Clouds,
             This Dew fell on my Breast;
                   O how it Blouds,
And Spirits all my Earth! heark! In what Rings,
And Hymning Circulations the quick world
                   Awakes, and sings;
                   And rising winds,
                   And failing springs,
                   Birds, beasts, all things
            Adore him in their kinds.
                   Thus all is hurl’d
In sacred Hymnes, and Order, the great Chime
And Symphony of nature. Prayer is
                   The world in tune,
                   A spirit-voyce,
                   And vocall joyes
            Whose Echo is heav’ns blisse.          
                   O let me climbe.
When I lye down! The Pious soul by night
Is like a clouded starre, whose beames though said
                   To shed their light
                   Under some Cloud
                   Yet are above,
                   And shine, and move
            Beyond that mistie shroud.
                   So in my Bed
That Curtain’d grave, though sleep, like ashes, hide
My lamp, and life, both shall in thee abide.