As on the highway’s quiet edge

This Is a nice descriptive landscape poem from Frances Cornford, dealing with a bucolic country scene in Norfolk, near the coast. This is a beautiful part of England, probably under-appreciated, but still relatively unspoilt. Indeed it is a sort of vision of England, rather in the tradition of Gray’s Elegy – a humble country labourer plies his trade amid a country scene which you could imagine unchanged for hundreds of years.

The Coast: Norfolk

As on the highway’s quiet edge
He mows the grass beside the hedge,
The old man has for company
The distant, grey, salt-smelling sea,
A poppied field, a cow and calf,
The finches on the telegraph.
Across his faded back a hone,
He slowly, slowly scythes alone
In silence of the wind-soft air,
With ladies’ bedstraw everywhere,
With whitened corn, and tarry poles,
And far-off gulls like risen souls.

Frances Darwin Cornford

From <;

Nothing much happens in this poem. Indeed it could just as well be a painting, the impact would be very similar. Here, reading the words creates the image in our minds – an old man using a scythe to cut the grass near a field of poppies bordered by the hedge, and the sea not far away. There are birds – finches and gulls, the land and the sea are both at hand. The scene is calm and timeless, life is slow here.

And there is some formal consistency as well, for those that care to look for it – rhyming couplets, 8 syllables to a line. The simplicity of the subject masks well the craft of the poet – as it should, sometimes.

The Poetry Dude

With what attentive courtesy he bent

Frances Cornford was either grand-daughter or great-niece of Charles Darwin, he of the theory of evolution; and mother of the young Spanish Civil War poet, John Cornford, who was killed in action. But her poetry has a voice which deserves to be heard in its own right, not just as an addendum to other famous lives.
This poem is a wonderful vignette, capturing a moment which can easily be missed but which has its own delicate beauty. And I always enjoy the tuning up whenever I go to a concert.

The Guitarist Tunes Up
Poem by Frances Darwin Cornford
With what attentive courtesy he bent
Over his instrument;
Not as a lordly conquerer who could
Command both wire and wood,
But as a man with a loved woman might,
Inquiring with delight
What slight essential things she had to say
Before they started, he and she, to play.

From <;

The central image here is of the guitarist leaning over his instrument as if he was caressing his lover, and, in a sense, it is a similar experience of oneness and single-minded attention. And both moments, tuning the guitar and getting up close with a lover, usually lead to sweet music afterwards.

The Poetry Dude

Who has not seen their lover

Frances Cornford, granddaughter of Charles Darwin and mother of poet John Cornford, wrote this poem on the emotions of seeing a lover walking down the street. “The Avenue” is a short poem to capture the particular emotion of a particular moment, but it sets out to have universal connection to anybody who has been in love.

The Avenue

Who has not seen their lover
Walking at ease,
Walking like any other
A pavement under trees,
Not singular, apart,
But footed, featured, dressed,
Approaching like the rest
In the same dapple of the summer caught;
Who has not suddenly thought
With swift surprise:
There walks in cool disguise,
There comes, my heart.

…..The Avenue by Frances Cornford (1886-1960)

From <;

What this poem does so elegantly is connect a banal everyday moment – someone watching other people walk down the street or avenue – with the magical experience of being in love. Just the fact that the loved one is in the observer’s field of vision transforms the scene and the experience into one of joy, fulfillment and wonder. The state of being in love has made the scene into a heart-warming and uplifting moment.

This for me is one of the beauties of poetry – it can bring us back to a state of wonder and appreciation of small moments, everyday experiences and fleeting moments which we ignore most of the time. Poetry and beauty are all around if we could just be open to it.

The Poetry Dude