Thursday, 27 May 2010

Westermain woods

Meredith's 'Woods of Westermain' (1863) begins:
Enter these enchanted woods,
You who dare.
Nothing harms beneath the leaves
More than waves a swimmer cleaves.
Toss your heart up with the lark,
Foot at peace with mouse and worm,
Fair you fare.
Only at a dread of dark
Quaver, and they quit their form:
Thousand eyeballs under hoods
Have you by the hair.
Enter these enchanted woods.
It's lovely; but what's particularly nice is the way it reorients its topography through ninety degrees. We think of woods as horizontal phenomena, spreading across and over the land. Meredith is interested in the vertical axis: as if his woods are an ocean into which you sink, and in which you might drown. Accordingly his poem locates larks up above and worms down below, and positions us, as spectator, between. And that's right, especially for a child's perception. The trees tower over us much more forcefully than the cover the ground horizontally away from us. Patrick Benson's lovely illustrations to Dahl's Minpins, placed on the cover of this edition below, captures this very nicely:

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