Drowsy from the narcotic thrum
and clatter of the old diesel
roaming the liminal space
between sleep and the cheerless scene
outside the grime-smeared window
I stray onto a forest path
untrodden since the last blow fell
from the last axe
and the bow saw’s last gash
spat the last shaving.
I sense a presence nearby
insubstantial, then palpable
a gentleman of moneyed bearing
frock-coated in royal blue
paunch pinioned by a scarlet weskit
top hat, wide-brimmed, rakish
a wreath in hand.
A voice, of him, not from him
answers the unuttered question;
‘I seek the source of the endless current
the dell where broods
the genius of the place
where the chestnut’s crown radiates
speckled lustre on a mossy lawn
where tumults of bluebells
riot in the springtime
and in the September dusk
vixen stands vigil over clowning cub
the hushed athenaeum
where the wildness is guarded
in the leaves of a bestiary.’
My guide leads, courteous
through Wright’s apparitional landscape
till we enter the glade
and, penitent, lay the morbid garland
at the chestnut’s calloused foot.
The points at Marchington Halt
arrive with a vulgar thump
and the weed-cracked platform
slips by, unwanted.
The temporal journey’s end approaches.
The woodland adept merely slumbers.
The ‘gentleman’ is Francis Noel Clarke Mundy (1739 – 1815) an English poet. His most noted works, Needwood Forest and Fall of Needwood, were written to defend the ancient Forest, which was enclosed at the beginning of the 19th century, and most of it felled in the ensuing decades.
Joseph Wright (1734 – 1797), styled Joseph Wright of Derby, was an English landscape and portrait painter who, coincidentally, painted Mundy’s portrait. He has been acclaimed as ‘the first professional painter to express the spirit of the Industrial Revolution’, and is sometimes referred to as ‘The English Caravaggio’ because of his use of light, particularly in his ‘A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery'(c1763-65).