Country diary: where are the violets?


It begins with geese: the laughing gods, flying laps around their nesting ponds behind the priory before honking over trees, through the mizzle, north-west to Venus Pool, the river’s green hunger their guiding light.

Here, in the hedges around the Mayfield, the smoky white of blackthorn winter gathers and a robin sings the world into the wind. Sunlight breaks into the hills, flashing around down there. Where are the violets? Here somewhere, they must be here somewhere.

Before a car with a dangerous driver crests the bend, a man walking dogs says this is a wild morning. And so it is: rude, blustery, home-from-the-sea, banging in the redbreast’s fire. From a tree’s darkness comes an invitation to all singing birds to take a crowbar to this nailed-down air. And out in Edge Woods, the uncanny flowers of spurge laurel were out before this moon, but where are the violets?

Common dog violet

Around the quarry, a new fence tells an old story about enclosure, exclusion – keep out trespassers like me, motorbikes like them, keep out fun and prying eyes. Barbed wire tightens in a spider’s web to trap the unwary, snag the wind’s skin, separating this from that, making that forbidden.

Behind the fence and the thorn scrub, in its stony lair, a spider dripping venom guards the quarry’s secrets, waiting for the twang of wires to pounce. In Arthur Rimbaud’s poem The Wolf Howls he says “Yet the spider in the bush / Eats nothing but violets.” Crazy. But where are the damned violets?

There is so much turbulence in the air: light streams from the higher reaches, birds exchange movements through the sky, clouds roll in, buzzards bounce through isobars of the wind. By the quarry, where the path crosses the bloody-lipped flowers of stinking hellebore, a weird cackling noise strikes up. The bird is invisible, but as it moves upwards from the undergrowth, out into the open, it turns into a raven.

And in that space it vacates, there you are: the most violet of violets in a hedgebank, the brightest white of violets under the fence. Whatever else happens, here you are, and as the robin sings, something in this rattling, unhinged world is righted.

o Country Diary is on Twitter at @gdncountrydiary

o Poetry Rebellion: Poems & Prose to Rewild the Spirit, edited by Paul Evans and published by Batsford Books, is out now


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here