A FEAST OF WILD STRAWBERRIES

There’s many a child has crowned her head with Buttercups—no bad
substitute for gold—mirrored her face in a pool, and dreamed she was a
Queen. There’s many a boy has lain for hours in the Wild Thyme on a
cliff top and sent dream-fleets to Spain. The touch of imagination is
all that is required to make the world seem real, and not until that
wand is used is the world real. Only those moments when we hear the
stars, peer in through Heaven’s gates, or rub shoulders with a poet’s
vision, are real and substantial; the rest is only dreamland, vague,
unsatisfactory. Huddled rows of dingy houses, smoke, grime, roar of
traffic, scramble for the pence that make the difference, these things
are not abiding thoughts—“Here there is no abiding city”—but those great
moments when we grow as the flowers grow, sing as the birds sing, and
feel at ease with the furthest stars, those are the moments we live in
and remember. Our great garden may hold our thoughts if we wish. When we
own England with our eyes, when all the fields and woods, the mountain
streams, the pools and rills, rivers and ponds, are ours; when we are on
our own ground with Ling and Broom, Heather, Heath and Furze for our
carpet; when Harebells ring our matin’s bell and Speedwell close the day
for us; when the Water-lily is our cup, broad leaves of Dock our
platter, and King-cups our array—how vast!—of gold plate, then are we
kings indeed.

I’ll give you joy of all your hot-house fruit, if you’ll leave me to my
Wild Strawberries. I’ll wish you pleasure of Signor What’s-his-name, the
violin player, if you’ll but listen to my choir of thrushes. What do you
care to eat? Here’s nothing over substantial, I’ll admit; but there’s
good wine in the brook, and food for a day in the fields and hedges.
Nuts, Blackberries, Wortleberries, Wild Raspberries, Mushrooms, Crabs
and Sloes, and Samphire for preserving; Elderberries to make into a
cordial; and Wild Strawberries, that’s my chiefest dish at this
season—food for princesses.

Come to the cliffs with your leaf of Wild Strawberries, and I can show
you blue Flax, and Sea Pinks, yellow Sea-Cabbage, and Sea Convolvulus,
and Golden Samphire; you shall have Sandwort, and Viper’s Bugloss, and
Ploughman’s Spikenard, and Horned Poppies, and Thyme, in plenty. We will
choose a fanciful flower for the table, the yellow Elecampane that gave
a cosmetic to Helen of Troy. And the mention of her who set Olympus and
Earth in a blaze of discord makes me remember how Hermes, of the golden
wand, gave to Odysseus the plant he had plucked from the ground, black
at the root, and with a flower like to milk—“Moly the Gods call it, but
it is hard for mortal men to dig; howbeit with the Gods all things are
possible.”

Any manner of imaginings may come to those who make a feast of Wild
Strawberries. We may follow our Classic idea and discuss the Hydromel,
or cider of the Greeks; the syrup of squills they drank to aid their
digestion, or the absinthe they took to promote appetite. We might even
try to make one of their sweet wines of Rose leaves and honey, such a
thing would go well with our Wild Strawberries. These things might all
come out of our country garden and give us a ghostly Greek flavour for
our pains. There were Wild Strawberries, I think, on Mount Ida where
Paris was shepherd, whence they fetched him when Discord threw the
Golden Apple.

It is almost impossible to reach out a hand and pick a flower without
plucking a legend with it.

I had taken, I thought, England for my garden, and Wild Strawberries for
my dish, but I find that I have taken the world for my flower patch, and
am sitting to eat with ancient Greeks. Let me but pick the Pansy by my
hand and I find that Spenser plucked its fellow years ago:

“Strew me the ground with Daffe-down-dillies,
And Cowslips, and King-cups, and loved Lilies,
The pretty Paunce (that is my wild Pansy)
The Chevisaunce
Shall watch with the fayre Fleur de Luce.”

And you may call it Phœbus’-paramour, or Herb-Trinity, or Three
Faces-under-a-Hood.

To our forefathers the fields, lanes, and gardens were a newspaper far
more valuable than the modern sheet in which we read news of no
importance day by day. To them the blossoming of the Sloe meant the time
for sowing barley; the bursting of Alder buds that eels had left their
winter holes and might be caught. The Wood Sorrel and the cuckoo came
together; when Wild Wallflower is out bees are on the wing, and linnets
have learnt their spring songs. Water Plantain is supposed to cure a mad
dog, and is a remedy against the poison of a rattlesnake; ointment of
Cowslips removes sunburn and freckles; the Self-heal is good against
cuts, and so is called also, Carpenter’s Herb, Hook-heal, and
Sicklewort. Yellow Water-lilies will drive cockroaches and crickets from
a house. Most charming intelligence of all deals with the Wild
Canterbury Bell, in which the little wild bees go to sleep, loving their
silky comfort. These are but a few paragraphs from our news-sheet, but
they serve to show how pleasant a paper it is to know—and it costs
nothing but a pair of loving and careful eyes.

If we choose to be more fanciful—and who is not, in a wild garden with a
dish of Wild Strawberries?—we shall find ourselves filling Acorn cups
with dew to drink to the fairies, and wondering how the thigh of a
honey-bee might taste. Herrick is the poet for such flights of thought.
His songs—“To Daisies, not to shut so soon.” “To Primroses filled with
Morning Dew,” and, for this instance, to

THE BAG OF THE BEE

About the sweet bag of a bee
Two Cupids fell at odds;
And whose the pretty prize should be
They vowed to ask the Gods.

Which Venus hearing, thither came
And for their boldness stripped them;
And taking thence from each his flame
With rods of Myrtle whipped them.

Which done, to still their wanton cries,
When quiet grown she’s seen them,
She kissed and wiped their dove-like eyes,
And gave the bag between them.

We can do no better than give thanks for all our garden, our house, and
our well-being in the words of the same poet. For we need to thank,
somehow, for all the joys Nature gives us. Though, in this poem, he
names no flowers, yet his poems are full of them:

“—That I, poor I,
May think, thereby,
I live and die
’Mongst Roses.”

Every man who is a gardener at heart, whether he be in love with the
flowers of the open fields, the garden of the highways and the woods, or
with his protected patch of ground, will care to know this song of
Herrick’s if he has not already found it for himself:




A THANKSGIVING TO GOD FOR HIS HOUSE

Lord, thou hast given me a cell,
Wherein to dwell;
A little house, whose humble roof
Is waterproof;
Under the spars of which I lie
Both soft and dry;
Where thou, my chamber for to ward,
Hast set a guard
Of harmless thoughts, to watch and keep
Me, while I sleep.
Low is my porch, as is my fate;
Both void of state;
And yet the threshold of my door
Is worn by th’ poor,
Who thither come, and freely get
Good words or meat.
Like as my parlour, so my hall
And kitchen’s small;
A little buttery, and therein
A little bin,
Which keeps my little loaf of bread
Unchipt, unflead;
Some brittle sticks of Thorn or Briar
Make me a fire
Close by whose living coal I sit,
And glow like it.
Lord, I confess too, when I dine,
The Pulse is thine.
And all those other bits that be
There placed by Thee;
The Worts, the Purslain, and the mess
Of Watercress,
Which of thy kindness thou hast sent;
And my content
Makes those, and my beloved Beet,
To be more sweet.
’Tis thou that crown’st my glittering hearth,
With guiltless mirth,
And giv’st me wassail bowls to drink,
Spiced to the brink.
Lord, ’tis thy plenty-dropping hand
That soils my land,
And giv’st me, for my bushel sown,
Twice ten for one;
Thou mak’st my teeming hen to lay
Her egg each day;
Besides, my healthful ewes to bear
Me twins each year;
The while the conduits of my kine
Run cream, for wine;
All these, and better, thou dost send
Me, to this end—
That I should render, for my part,
A thankful heart;
Which, fired with incense, I resign,
As wholly thine;
—But the acceptance, that must be,
My Christ, by Thee.

Happy the man, who, remote from business, after the manner of the
ancient race of mortals, cultivates his paternal lands with his own
oxen, disengaged from every kind of usury; his is neither alarmed with
the horrible trumpet, as a soldier, nor dreads he the angry sea; he
shuns both the bar, and the proud portals of men in power.

Wherefore, he either weds the lofty Poplars to the mature branches of
the Vine; or lopping off the useless boughs with his pruning-knife, he
engrafts more fruitful ones; or takes a prospect of the herds of his
lowing cattle, wandering about in a lonely vale; or stores his honey,
pressed from the combs, in clean vessels; or shears his tender sheep.

Or, when Autumn has lifted up in the field his head adorned with mellow
fruits, how glad is he while he gathers Pears grafted by himself, and
the Grape that vies with the purple, with which he may recompense thee,
O Priapus, and thee, father Sylvanus, the guardian, of his boundaries!

Sometimes he delights to lie under an aged Holm, sometimes on the matted
grass: meanwhile the waters glide down from steep clefts; the birds
warble in the woods; and the fountains murmur with their purling
streams, which invites gentle slumbers.

But when the wintry season of the tempestuous air prepares rains and
snows, he either drives the fierce boars, with dogs on every side, into
the intercepting toils; or spreads his thin nets with the smooth pole,
as a snare for the voracious thrushes; or catches in his gin the
timorous hare, or that stranger, the crane, pleasing rewards for his
labour.

Amongst such joys as these, who does not forget those mischievous
anxieties, which are the property of love? But if a chaste wife,
assisting on her part in the management of the house and beloved
children, (such as is the Sabine, or the sunburnt spouse of the
industrious Apulian) piles up the sacred hearth with old wood, just at
the approach of her weary husband, and shutting up the fruitful cattle
in the woven hurdles milks dry their distended udders; and drawing this
year’s wine out of a well-seasoned cask, prepares the unbought
collation; not the Lucrine oysters could delight me more, nor the
turbot, nor the scar, should the tempestuous Winter drive any from the
Eastern floods to this sea: not the turkey, nor the Asiatic wild fowl,
can come into my stomach more agreeable than the Olive, gathered from
the richest branches of the trees, or the Sorrel that loves the meadows,
or Mallows salubrious for a sickly body, or a lamb slain at the feast of
the god Terminus, or a kid just rescued from a wolf.

Amidst these dainties, how it pleases one to see the well-fed sheep
hastening home? To see the weary oxen, with drooping neck, dragging the
inverted ploughshare! and numerous slaves, the test of a rich family
ranged about the smiling household gods!

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