with clusters of orange berries
on spiky twigs.

Set in this ancient, yellowstone wall,
which separates the formal walks
from the marsh garden to the south,
is the gateway (with gate long gone).
At its base, nerines – all mauves and reds –
spill over on straight, green stalks.
Topping the pillars sit carved capitals
from which grin down and stare
weathered, lifeless heads,
like the day.

The sandstone rockery is winter-bare,
the benches empty, paths sodden with trampled leaves;
the gunmetal surface of the rounded pool
dimpled with bedraggled water lilies.

Squirrels chase, birds chatter amongst the pink viburnum
and the yellow Chinese winter jasmine,
with its tiny six-petalled flowers.
Pink and white prunus
clusters on spindly twigs
just as it does on Chinese porcelain.
Energetic buds of magnolia
press upwards and away
from the old, warped trunk
that shelters by the yellow wall.

A yew tree,
planted during the civil war,
has marked the passage of time in inches
and now stands forty-odd feet high
topped by a first-year magpie.
Time is also tracked by deep bells put forth
by Magdalen’s pinnacled Tower to the north
and answered (out of time)
by Merton’s to the west.

Yet, today, nowhere among man’s handiwork
and mindwork
is man to be seen.
Magdalen Bridge is still and silent.
Punts empty and unmoving.
Blue and green. Dull and wet.
Waiting for summer.
The very images of men, the statues,
have disappeared from recessed arches
behind great terracotta pots
decorated with cornucopia.
To the east the Cherwell’s winter waters pass.
The cricket ground,
with its white and brown pavilion,
its motionless rollers painted bright blue
and green, sodden grass,
is empty under this dull and pewter-coloured sky,
the faintest luminescence shining through.

Over three centuries ago
this medicinal garden was created ‘to cure all ills.’
It has not yet quite accomplished that.


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