Beechwoods At Knole – Victoria Sackville West

How do I love you, beech-trees, in the autumn, 

Your stone-grey columns a cathedral nave 

Processional above the earth’s brown glory! 
I was a child, and I loved the knurly tangle 

Of roots that coiled above a scarp like serpents, 

Where I might hide my treasure with the squirrels. 
I was a child, and splashed my way in laughter 

Through drifts of leaves, where underfoot the beech-nuts 

Split with crisp crackle to my great rejoicing. 
Red are the beechen slopes below Shock Tavern, 

Red is the bracken on the sandy Furze-field, 

Red are the stags and hinds by Bo-Pit Meadows, 
The rutting stags that nightly through the beechwoods 

Bell out their challenge, carrying their antlers 

Proudly beneath the antlered autumn branches. 
I was a child, and heard the red deer’s challenge 

Prowling and belling underneath my window, 

Never a cry so haughty or so mournful.

Bee Master – Victoria Sackville West

I have known honey from the Syrian hills 

Stored in cool jars; the wild acacia there 

On the rough terrace where the locust shrills 

Tosses her spindrift on the ringing air. 

Narcissus bares his nectarous perianth 

In white and golden tabard to the sun, 

And while the workers rob the amaranth 

Or scarlet windflower low among the stone, 

Intent upon their crops, 

The Syrian queens mate in the high hot day 

Rapt visionaries of creative fray; 

Soaring from fecund ecstasy alone, 

And, through the blazing ether, drops 

Like a small thunderbolt the vindicated drone. 
But this is the bee-master’s reckoning 

In England. Walk among the hives and hear. 
Forget not bees in winter, though they sleep. 

For winter’s big with summer in her womb, 

And when you plant your rose-trees, plant them deep, 

Having regard to bushes all aflame, 

And see the dusky promise of their bloom 

In small red shoots, and let each redolent name- 

Tuscany, Crested Cabbage, Cottage Maid- 

Load with full June November’s dank repose, 

See the kind cattle drowsing in the shade, 

And hear the bee about his amorous trade 

Brown in the gipsy crimson of the rose. 
In February, if the days be clear, 

The waking bee, still drowsy on the wing, 

Will sense the opening of another year 

And blunder out to seek another spring. 

Crashing through winter sunlight’s pallid gold 

His clumsiness sets catkins on the willow 

Ashake like lambs’ tails in the early fold, 

Dusting with pollen all his brown and yellow, 

But when the rimy afternoon turns cold 

And undern squalls buffet the chilly fellow, 

He’ll seek the hive’s warm waxen welcoming 

And set about the chambers’ classic mould. 
And then, pell-mell, his harvest follows swift, 

Blossom and borage, lime and balm and clover, 

On Downs the thyme, on cliffs the scantling thrift, 

Everywhere bees go racing with the hours, 

For every bee becomes a drunken lover, 

Standing upon his head to sup the flowers, 

All over England, from Northumbrian coasts, 

To the wild sea-pink blown on Devon rocks. 

Over the merry southern gardens, over 

The grey-green bean-fields, round the Sussex oasts, 

Through the frilled spires of cottage hollyhocks, 

Go the big brown fat bees, and blunder in 

Where dusty spears of sunlight cleave the barn, 

And seek the sun again, and storm the whin, 

And in the warm meridian solitude 

Hum in the heather round the moorland tarn, 

Look, too, when summer hatches out the brood, 

In tardy May or early June, 

And the young queens are strong in the cocoon, 

Watch, if the days be warm, 

The flitting of the swarm. 

Follow, for if beyond your sight they stray 

Your bees are lost, and you must take your way 

Homeward disconsolate, but if you be at hand 

Then you may take your bees on strangers’ land. 

Have your skep ready, drowse them with, your smoke, 

Whether they cluster on the handy bough 

Or in the difficult hedge, be nimble now, 

For bees are captious folk 

And quick to turn against the lubber’s touch, 

But if you shake them to their wicker hutch 

Firmly, and turn towards the hive your skep, 

Into the hive the clustered thousands stream, 

Mounting the little slatted sloping step, 

A ready colony, queen, workers, drones, 

Patient to build again the waxen thrones 

For younger queens, and all the chambered cells 

For lesser brood, and all the immemorial scheme. 

And still they labour, though the hand of man 
Inscrutable and ravaging descend, 

Pillaging in their citadels, 

Defeating wantonly their provident plan, 

Making a havoc of their patient hoard; 

Still start afresh, not knowing to what end, 

Not knowing to what ultimate reward, 

Or what new ruin of the garnered hive 

The senseless god in man will send. 

Still their blind stupid industry will strive, 

Constructing for destruction pitiably, 

That still their unintelligible lord 

May reap his wealth from their calamity.

Tuscany – Victoria Sackville West

 
Cisterns and stones; the fig-tree in the wall 

Casts down her shadow, ashen as her boughs, 

Across the road, across the thick white dust. 

Down from the hill the slow white oxen crawl, 

Dragging the purple waggon heaped with must, 

With scarlet tassels on their milky brows, 

Gentle as evening moths. Beneath the yoke 

Lounging against the shaft they fitful strain 

To draw the waggon on its creaking spoke, 

And all the vineyard folk 

With staves and shouldered tools surround the wain. 

The wooden shovels take the purple stain, 

The dusk is heavy with the wine’s warm load; 

Here the long sense of classic measure cures 

The spirit weary of its difficult pain; 

Here the old Bacchic piety endures, 

Here the sweet legends of the world remain. 

Homeric waggons lumbering the road; 

Virgilian litanies among the bine; 

Pastoral sloth of flocks beneath the pine; 

The swineherd watching, propped upon his goad, 

Urder the chestnut trees the rootling swine 

Who could so stand, and see this evening fall, 

This calm of husbandry, this redolent tilth, 

This terracing of hills, this vintage wealth, 

Without the pagan sanity of blood 

Mounting his veins in young and tempered health? 

Whu could so stand, and watch processional 

The vintners, herds, and flocks in dusty train 

Wend through the golden evening to regain 

The terraced farm and trodden threshing-floor 

Where late the flail 

Tossed high the maize in scud of gritty ore, 

And lies half-buried in the heap of grain 

Who could so watch, and not forget the rack 

Of wills worn thin and thought become too frail, 

Nor roll the centuries back * 

And feel the sinews of his soul grow hale, 

And know himself for Rome’s inheritor?

Bitterness – Victoria Sackville West

Yes, they were kind exceedingly; most mild 

Even in indignation, taking by the hand 

One that obeyed them mutely, as a child 

Submissive to a law he does not understand. 
They would not blame the sins his passion wrought. 

No, they were tolerant and Christian, saying, ‘We 

Only deplore …’ saying they only sought 

To help him, strengthen him, to show him love; but he 
Following them with unrecalcitrant tread, 

Quiet, towards their town of kind captivities, 

Having slain rebellion, ever turned his head 

Over his shoulder, seeking still with his poor eyes 
Her motionless figure on the road. The song 

Rang still between them, vibrant bell to answering bell, 

Full of young glory as a bugle; strong; 

Still brave; now breaking like a sea-bird’s cry ‘Farewell!’
And they, they whispered kindly to him ‘Come! 

Now we have rescued you. Let your heart heal. Forget! 

She was your lawless dark familiar.’ Dumb, 

He listened, and they thought him acquiescent. Yet, 
(Knowing the while that they were very kind) 

Remembrance clamoured in him: ‘She was wild and free, 

Magnificent in giving; she was blind 

To gain or loss, and, loving, loved but me,–but me! 
‘Valiant she was, and comradely, and bold; 

High-mettled; all her thoughts a challenge, like gay ships 

Adventurous, with treasure in the hold. 

I met her with the lesson put into my lips, 
‘Spoke reason to her, and she bowed her head, 

Having no argument, and giving up the strife. 

She said I should be free. I think she said 

That, for the asking, she would give me all her life.’ 
And still they led him onwards, and he still 

Looked back towards her standing there; and they, content, 

Cheered him and praised him that he did their will. 

The gradual distance hid them, and she turned, and went.