Marsh Flowers

I heard a reading of this poem on BBC Radio 3 last night and couldn’t resist posting it here. It’s by Suffolk poet George Crabbe and it came up in the context of a programme about poetry and the music of Benjamin Britten. That gives me the opportunity to plug an anthology of the poems Britten set to music, which is available from the excellent Carcanet Press. Last time I plugged one of their books on here they sent me a free copy. Fingers crossed.

Crabbe is probably most famous for his lengthy work The Borough, part of which features a character called Peter Grimes. It was that work that inspired Britten to write the opera of that name, a true masterpiece if ever there was one.

I didn’t know until yesterday evening that Britten had written other pieces based on Crabbe’s poetry, so it was a pleasant surprise to hear this one, which became one of the Five Flower Songs (Op. 47). It stands on its own, however, as a wonderfully dry piece of comic verse, the plodding meter perfectly conveying the uninspiring nature of the fenland flora described by the text. It’s also full of clever touches, such as the alliteration in Line 4 “sickly scent is seen”.

Here the strong mallow strikes her slimy root,
Here the dull nightshade hangs her deadly fruit:

On hills of dust the henbane’s faded green,
And pencil’d flower of sickly scent is seen.

Here on its wiry stem, in rigid bloom,
Grows the salt lavender that lacks perfume.

At the wall’s base the fiery nettle springs
With fruit globose and fierce with poison’d stings;

In every chink delights the fern to grow,
With glossy leaf and tawny bloom below;

The few dull flowers that o’er the place are spread
Partake the nature of their fenny bed.

These, with our sea-weeds rolling up and down,
Form the contracted Flora of our town.

by George Crabbe (1754-1832).

4 Responses to “Marsh Flowers”

  1. Bryn Jones Says:

    Sorry, I skipped the Radio 3 interval feature last night by watching part of the Great British Bake Off on television. They made cakes.

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