Mariana In The North – Victoria Sackville West

All her youth is gone, her beautiful youth outworn, 

Daughter of tarn and tor, the moors that were once her home 

No longer know her step on the upland tracks forlorn 

Where she was wont to roam. 
All her hounds are dead, her beautiful hounds are dead, 

That paced beside the hoofs of her high and nimble horse, 

Or streaked in lean pursuit of the tawny hare that fled 

Out of the yellow gorse. 
All her lovers have passed, her beautiful lovers have passed, 

The young and eager men that fought for her arrogant hand, 

And the only voice which endures to mourn for her at the last 

Is the voice of the lonely land.

Trio – Victoria Sackville West

So well she knew them both! yet as she came 

Into the room, and heard their speech 

Of tragic meshes knotted with her name, 

And saw them, foes, but meeting each with each 

Closer than friends, souls bared through enmity, 

Beneath their startled gaze she thought that she 

Broke as the stranger on their conference, 

And stole abashed from thence.

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.

Moonlight – Victoria Sackville West

What time the meanest brick and stone 

Take on a beauty not their own, 

And past the flaw of builded wood 

Shines the intention whole and good, 

And all the little homes of man 

Rise to a dimmer, nobler span; 

When colour’s absence gives escape 

To the deeper spirit of the shape, 
— Then earth’s great architecture swells 

Among her mountains and her fells 

Under the moon to amplitude 

Massive and primitive and rude: 
— Then do the clouds like silver flags 

Stream out above the tattered crags, 

And black and silver all the coast 

Marshalls its hunched and rocky host, 

And headlands striding sombrely 

Buttress the land against the sea, 

— The darkened land, the brightening wave — 

And moonlight slants through Merlin’s cave.

Making Cider – Victoria Sackville West

I saw within the wheelwright’s shed 

The big round cartwheels, blue and red; 

A plough with blunted share; 

A blue tin jug; a broken chair; 

And paint in trial patchwork square 

Slapping up against the wall; 

The lumber of the wheelwright’s trade, 

And tools on benches neatly laid, 

The brace, the adze, the awl; 
And framed within the latticed-panes, 

Above the cluttered sill, 

Saw rooks upon the stubble hill 

Seeking forgotten grains; 
And all the air was sweet and shrill 

With juice of apples heaped in skips, 

Fermenting, rotten, soft and bruise, 

And all the yard was strewn with pips, 

Discarded pulp, and wrung-out ooze 

That ducks with rummaging flat bill 

Searched through beside the cider-press 

To gobble in their greediness. 
The young men strained upon the crank 

To wring the last reluctant inch. 

They laughed together, fair and frank, 

And threw their loins across the winch. 
A holiday from field and dung, 

From plough and harrow, scythe and spade, 

To dabble in another trade, 

The crush the pippins in the slats, 

And see that in the little vats 

An extra pint was wring; 

While round about the worthies stood 

Profuse in comment, praise or blame, 

Content the press should be of wood, 

Advising rum, decrying wheat, 

And black strong sugar makes it sweet, 

But still resolved, with maundering tongue, 

That cider could not be the same 

As once when they were young; 

But still the young contemptuous men 

Laughed kindly at their old conceit, 

And strained upon the crank again. 
Now barrels ranged in portly line 

Mature through winter’s sleep, 

Aping the leisured sloths of wine 

That dreams of Tiber or the Rhine, 

Mellowing slow and deep; 

But keen and cold the northern nights 

Sharpen the quiet yard. 

And sharp like no rich southern wine 

The tang of cider bites; 

For here the splintered stars and hard 

Hold England in a frosty guard. 

Orion and Pleiades 

Above the wheelwright’s shed. 

And Sirius resting on the trees 

While all the village snores abed.

Sailing Ships  – Victoria Sackville West

Lying on Downs above the wrinkling bay 

I with the kestrels shared the cleanly day, 

The candid day; wind-shaven, brindled turf; 

Tall cliffs; and long sea-line of marbled surf 

From Cornish Lizard to the Kentish Nore 

Lipping the bulwarks of the English shore, 

While many a lovely ship below sailed by 

On unknown errand, kempt and leisurely; 

And after each, oh, after each, my heart 

Fled forth, as, watching from the Downs apart, 

I shared with ships good joys and fortunes wide 

That might befall their beauty and their pride; 
Shared first with them the blessed void repose 

Of oily days at sea, when only rose 

The porpoise’s slow wheel to break the sheen 

Of satin water indolently green, 

When for’ard the crew, caps tilted over eyes, 

Lay heaped on deck; slept; mumbled; smoked; threw dice; 

The sleepy summer days; the summer nights 

(The coast pricked out with rings of harbour-lights), 

The motionless nights, the vaulted nights of June 

When high in the cordage drifts the entangled moon, 

And blocks go knocking, and the sheets go slapping, 

And lazy swells against the sides come lapping; 

And summer mornings off red Devon rocks, 

Faint inland bells at dawn and crowing cocks; 
Shared swifter days, when headlands into ken 

Trod grandly; threatened; and were lost again, 

Old fangs along the battlemented coast; 

And followed still my ship, when winds were most 

Night-purified, and, lying steeply over, 

She fled the wind as flees a girl her lover, 

Quickened by that pursuit for which she fretted, 

Her temper by the contest proved and whetted. 

Wild stars swept overhead; her lofty spars 

Reared to a ragged heaven sown with stars 

As leaping out from narrow English ease 

She faced the roll of long Atlantic seas. 
Her captain then was I, I was her crew, 

The mind that laid her course, the wake she drew, 

The waves that rose against her bows, the gales,– 

Nay, I was more: I was her very sails 

Rounded before the wind, her eager keel, 

Her straining mast-heads, her responsive wheel, 

Her pennon stiffened like a swallow’s wing; 

Yes, I was all her slope and speed and swing, 

Whether by yellow lemons and blue sea 

She dawdled through the isles off Thessaly, 

Or saw the palms like sheaves of scimitars 

On desert’s verge below the sunset bars, 

Or passed the girdle of the planet where 

The Southern Cross looks over to the Bear, 

And strayed, cool Northerner beneath strange skies, 

Flouting the lure of tropic estuaries, 

Down that long coast, and saw Magellan’s Clouds arise. 
And some that beat up Channel homeward-bound 

I watched, and wondered what they might have found, 

What alien ports enriched their teeming hold 

With crates of fruit or bars of unwrought gold? 

And thought how London clerks with paper-clips 

Had filed the bills of lading of those ships, 

Clerks that had never seen the embattled sea, 

But wrote down jettison and barratry, 

Perils, Adventures, and the Act of God, 

Having no vision of such wrath flung broad; 

Wrote down with weary and accustomed pen 

The classic dangers of sea-faring men; 

And wrote ‘Restraint of Princes,’ and ‘the Acts 

Of the King’s Enemies,’ as vacant facts, 

Blind to the ambushed seas, the encircling roar 

Of angry nations foaming into war.

Full Moon – Victoria Sackville-West

She was wearing the coral taffeta trousers 

Someone had brought her from Ispahan, 

And the little gold coat with pomegranate blossoms, 

And the coral-hafted feather fan; 

But she ran down a Kentish lane in the moonlight, 

And skipped in the pool of the moon as she ran. 
She cared not a rap for all the big planets, 

For Betelgeuse or Aldebaran, 

And all the big planets cared nothing for her, 

That small impertinent charlatan; 

But she climbed on a Kentish stile in the moonlight, 

And laughed at the sky through the sticks of her fan.

A Saxon Song – Victoria Sackville West

Tools with the comely names, 

Mattock and scythe and spade, 

Couth and bitter as flames, 

Clean, and bowed in the blade,– 

A man and his tools make a man and his trade. 
Breadth of the English shires, 

Hummock and kame and mead, 

Tang of the reeking byres, 

Land of the English breed,– 

A man and his land make a man and his creed. 
Leisurely flocks and herds, 

Cool-eyed cattle that come 

Mildly to wonted words, 

Swine that in orchards roam,– 

A man and his beasts make a man and his home. 
Children sturdy and flaxen 

Shouting in brotherly strife, 

Like the land they are Saxon, 

Sons of a man and his wife,– 

For a man and his loves make a man and his life.