In this poem, Adrian Henri, the poet of Liverpool, goes out into the country and reveals the beauty and the dark side of the country and by analogy the wonder and despair of love. It is a Country Song in contrast to his urban poems, but there is still a subtle reference to Liverpool itself
`Lily of the Valley (Convalaria Majalis, fam. Lilliaceae). Grows wild in N. England. Commonly cultivated. Flowers in May. Berries red when ripe. Leaves particularly poisonous because three constituents depress the heart, like Foxglove.’
What are the constituents that depress the heart?
the scent of lilies in dark green silences under trees
milkweed and ragwort and sunshine in hedges
small flowers picked amongst trees when it’s raining
A year ago
You planted lilies in the valley of my mind
There were lilies at the bottom of my garden
And ferrys at the bottom of my street
I sit here in sunlight with the smell of wild garlic
Trying to tape record the sound of windflowers and
What are the three constituents that depress the heart
Without you here in the country?
The poem begins with a definition. It is Lily of the Valley and most people probably immediately leap to consideration of its beautiful colour and scent. But the defiinition then goes in a different direction, it is not the beauty of the colour or the sweetness of the cent, but the poison that comes from the leaves which can cause the heart to stop.
The poem then becomes versified with the stanza beginning “What are the constituents that depress the heart?”, perhaps already linking the plant’s actual effects with the danger of disappointed love. There follow three lines of bucolic musing around the calm and beauty of a country scene with hedges and wild flowers.
The next stanza directly brings in the personal experience of a love affair – the poet’s lover planted lilies in his mind a year ago – to captivate him or to poison him, that is the question raised by what has gone before. The ferries at the bottom of the street here are presumably the Mersey ferries sailing between the Pier Head and Birkenhead (I’ve taken those many a time to cross the River Mersey).
The final two stanzas are wistful and regretful – the poet Is trying to tape record the sound of wild flowers – a futile exercise, perhaps like love itself; and he is wondering how his love has failed, what are the constituents o fthe loly of the valley which have stopped his heart, now that the lover has left the country.
The Poetry Dude