The trees were hissing like green geese…
The words they tried to say were these:
‘When the great Queen Claude was dead
They buried her deep in the potting-shed’
The moon smelt sweet as nutmeg-root
On the ripe peach-trees’ leaves and fruit,
And her sandalwood body leans upright,
To the gardener’s fright, through the summer night.
The bee-wing’d warm afternoon light roves
Gilding her hair (wooden nutmegs and cloves),
And the gardener plants his seedsman’s samples
Where no wild unicorn herd tramples –
In clouds like potting-sheds he pots
The budding planets in leaves cool as grots,
For the great Queen Claude when the light’s gilded gaud
Sings Miserere, Gloria, Laud.
But when he passes the potting-shed,
Fawning upon him comes the dead –
Each cupboard’s wooden skeleton
Is a towel-horse when the clock strikes one,
And light is high — yet with ghosts it winces
All night ‘mid wrinkled tarnished quinces,
When the dark air seems soft down
Of the wandering owl brown.
They know the clock-faced sun and moon
Must wrinkle like the quinces soon
(That once in dark blue grass dew-dabbled
Lay) … those ghosts like turkeys gabbled
To the scullion baking the Castle bread –
‘The spirit, too, must be fed, be fed:
Without our flesh we cannot see –
Oh, give us back Stupidity!’…
But death had twisted their thin speech
It could not fit the mind’s small niche –
Upon the warm blue grass outside,
They realized that they had died.
Only the light from their wooden curls roves
Like the sweet smell of nutmeg and cloves
Buried deep in the potting-shed,
Sighed those green geese, ‘Now the Queen is dead’
Green Geese by Edith Sitwell, was dedicated to Richard Jenning. This poem published in Poems New and Old, by Edith Sitwell 1940 , Faber and Faber.
This poem is published in memory of Michael McMullin 1916-2012, who kept the book for me to transcribe and read.