I resumed work on “A Late Winter Morning” today after two weeks otherwise occupied, chiefly with matters of secular life; it is clear to me that it will be many weeks before the poem is complete. Why then spend “whatever hour I could spare” these past two weeks buried in botanical books instead of devoting that time to the poem?
The reason is twofold: my rural surroundings inspire my work—studying its flora, fauna, topography and history I consider my duty—and in the writing of pieces like “A Wayside Wonderland”—in which I consolidate what I learn—I often produce lines that inspire new poems1. “Time well wasted” is the phrase I reserve for these moments.
The case with the above-mentioned piece, from which came a new poetic esquisse titled “A Lily” or “Lily in the Sedges” for a future anthology.
As I develop a poem, numerous variations on stanzas come as a result of the composition process: some with promise, others beyond redemption. Not once before has any among these become a poem in its own right—its lines either woven into the work for which it was conceived or discarded outright—until now.
One variation of the second stanza of “A Late Winter Morning” (a poem in progress), which began as a playful experiment with alliteration and rhyme, has become too colourful for the work (which is lively but restrained); reluctant to discard it, as normally I would, I have decided to extract it as a separate composition.
An offshoot of “A Late Winter Morning”, a poem in my anthology-in-progress, I intend to include it in the collection despite a previous resolution not to add new compositions to the set, developing it alongside “A Late Winter Morning” as a companion piece under the working title “A Morning Chat” or “A Chat at Solitaire”.
“Chat” here refers to the bird of that name, the African Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus), a vocal passerine along a stretch of dirt road towards an area known as Solitaire. On winter mornings, they utter their warbling calls from the wire fences (little puffs of vapour escaping from their beaks!), the subject of the offshoot poem.
Last Friday, I walked up the Little River Mountains range, which often appears in my writing and photography, in the company of Dr Chris Whitehouse, a botanist who owns—or rather stewards, as he reverently puts it—a swath of land upon one of its eastern slopes.
A fount of knowledge—how envious was I of his command of botanical names1—he introduced me to many species that bloom there this time of year (the end of winter in South Africa), waiting patiently whilst I admired and photographed the flowers and scenery2:
The mountain was laden with Leucadendron whose green conquered the slopes in spectacular fashion.
Rocks and rock formations, expertly composed by Nature’s hand, created intricate visual scherzos.
At times, the cliffs were surreal in photomontage-like contrast with the surrounding landscape.
In their seams, Ikebanaesque arrangements burst forth whilst lichens freckled their faces.
We would often encounter my beloved Lobelia, mostly L. Pinifolia, in violet and white.
I also saw for the first time, Gladiolus debilis, a lily my mother sometimes recalls from her childhood3.
Other first sightings included Cyphia volubilis winding up the slender stems of a reluctant Restio;
Drosera cistiflora and D. pauciflora with their delicate petals distracting from tentacles below;
Salvia africana, its scruffy flower perching with a twig in its mouth (a protruding stigma);
Manulea cheiranthus with its small yellow starfish flowers cavorting atop the stems;
and a little Nemesia lucida4, most delightful of all, which, were it not for the attentiveness of my companion, I would have missed! Its adorable expression so captivated me that, reflecting upon it yesterday, I composed to it a little ode—a sketch for a future anthology!
In retrospect, I should have taken notes there and then—supplementing my DSLR photography with iPhone shots, which I could have annotated in the moment—saving me the subsequent search for botanical names (my occupation these past few days, hence the delay of this update), some of which I will doubtlessly have gotten wrong. Incidentally, Dr Whitehouse identified the mysterious flower I discovered two weeks ago (mentioned in “A Buck, a Bush and a Lily”, the fourth image in that update): a member of the genus Roepera, most likely Roepera fulva.
Photographed with the encumbrance of a visor (due to the pandemic), the images are not as good as I would have liked, but I trust they convey some of the beauty of the mountain and its flora.
She would pick “armfuls” of them when she was young, on her way home after a day of watching the sheep on the Little River Mountains. Incidentally, I used an iPhone 11 Pro to take the photograph above (I wanted to share the encounter with my mother in the moment, but there was no service) and must recommend it for detail and ease of use; it captured the delicacy of the tepals, lost in the Nikon images (of which I include one below, for comparison).
The closest match in my reference book is Nemesia macrocarpa which this flower does not resemble. Other sources lead me to believe it is N. lucida.
It is late winter in my country, South Africa, and the poem on that subject (imaginatively titled “A Late Winter Morning”) is developing slower than expected. It seems to me I have not yet shaped its stanzas to my satisfaction—they contain my impressions of the season, but have not the internal coherence I desire in my work.
Then there are the time-consuming experiments of expression the poet must make—however confident of his lines he may be—for from those may come a thought, word, phrase or line that ignites his composition. Should he be successful, more time must be spent to actualise his discovery in the existing work—often, transforming it completely!
Presently, I am at the end of just such an explorative phase which has resulted in two compositional directions: the first with two stanzas, the second, three (in both cases, with several variations), that I must now attempt to refine. From whatever comes as a result, I shall ultimately choose a draft to develop into a final work.
“A Pear Tree” is complete, and I have moved to the next sketch, “A Late Winter Morning” (originally “A Partly Cloudy Morning”). Outlined in a rough stanza eleven days after the original “A Pear Tree” sketch, it describes the countryside at sunrise as it appeared to me upon an August morning in 2018.
Incidentally, I have reverted the titles of two finished poems to my original choices: “A Walk II” (wherein I remember my first Great Dane) is once again “You and I, My Hound!”, which necessitated the removal of the Roman numeral from “A Walk I” (wherein I remember my late friend, Jacques F. Visser).
Yesterday, I bought three books from my favourite second-hand bookshop1 on subjects of particular interest to me: maps, Ancient Greece and the Romanticists. I was especially pleased with the atlas2—to date, the second in my possession—which shall be a source of endless fascination (I wrote about my love for atlases in “This October”3.)
Presently, I am reading Modern Art and the Death of a Culture by H. R. Rookmaaker, which gives a Christian perspective on modern art. Though I am an atheist, I find it most insightful. After I have finished it, I shall read The First Poets: Lives of the Ancient Greek Poets—writers from a culture I hold in the highest esteem—by Michael Schmidt.
Wordsworth is the finest Romantic poet. Whilst I own several digital copies and one softcover of selections of his works, Wordsworth: Poetical Works “contains every piece of original verse … published by the poet himself, or of which he can be shown to have authorized the posthumous publication”4—a treasure to a Wordsworth devotee!
Quirk & Leopard in the seaside town of Hermanus in the Western Cape province of South Africa; all hardcovers, for less than 400 ZAR (South African rands, approximately 24 USD, 21 EUR or 19 GBP)—a steal.
The Times’ Concise Atlas of the World: Ninth Edition.
In the “I bought an atlas” section.
An extract from the front flap of the dust jacket.
Today was another winter idyll. It convinced me that late winter is the ideal time to launch this anthology: the days are crisp and clear, flocks bleat on the hills, and the pear tree blooms in the valley.
There are fourteen sketches left to develop. It takes me around four weeks to transform drafts into complete poems. Therefore, I project the compositions will be finished next year, about this time.
Protracted, but Appropriate
That would mean two more years before I publish them, if I were to commit to this late-winter launch date. This suits the project, since some time must be spent on producing the handmade books.
Moreover, I intend to devote a considerable amount of time to the creation of items supplementary to the anthology—a year to attend to these suits me well—wherefore I anticipate a launch only in 2022.
It is winter in my country, South Africa, and one of my favourite sights is the radiance of this road in the rain. When the clouds part, it shines silver in the sunlight—a simple occurrence that is an integral part of my sense of place1.
In the original 2012 version of the poem “Autumn” (my first Romantic work), this scene appeared; but, in the revised 2020 version, instead of the road, it became the river reflecting the sun (to preserve the concept of the stanza).
By “sense of place”, I mean one’s conception of “home”, as shaped by environmental components, such as topography, architectural style, rhythms, rituals, sights and sounds.
Today, I completed “A Pear Tree”, poem 31 in my prospective anthology of 42 lyric poems. A response to a pear tree in early bloom at the beginning of August (the last month of the South African winter), it has two short quatrains gushing over the unusual spectacle. Now that the poem is complete, I can recite it to the tree when it flowers (early again, I hope), this year! This, incidentally, is my first centre-aligned composition—a detail that seems to me wholly appropriate as a reflection of the tree’s symmetry.