Wednesday, May 28, 2008

An English Lawn, July 1875

Our 30th Poem of the Week is the poem that opened Sunday's Voices of Poetry, as described by Ciara O'Driscoll in yesterday's post. It is a tribute from one member of the Department to our retiring colleague Mr John Fanagan. It focusses on the moment at the start of The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James's great 1881 novel (and John's favourite book), when Mr Touchett, his son Ralph and the English Lord Warburton are taking afternoon tea, waiting for the arrival of his young beautiful American niece, Isabel Archer. The full text of the novel is here.

An English Lawn, July 1875

Three shadows stretch across the perfect lawn.
Words drop into the softened light.

Five o’clock tea on a summer afternoon,

The ceremony slow and deliberate as the Thames.

This is their drawing room, the tea-table’s feet
Sunk into the luscious grass, the old man’s
Embroidered slippers powder-blue against its sheen,

The collie curled beside his wicker-chair.

The young men stroll and smoke, and admire the house,
Its russet bricks lit by the weakening sun, laughing
As they walk back to the chair at his admonition:
‘Now, you mustn’t fall in love with my niece!’

The dog barks and dashes, and they turn
To catch her shape picked out by the doorway,
As she moves, bright-eyed, into the story,

As she steps, bare-headed, into the future.

JMG, May 2008

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