The Book of the Green Man
by Ronald Johnson
Part 4: Autumn


    Creation sometimes pours into the spiritual eye the radiance of Heaven: the green mountains that glimmer in a summer gloaming from the dusky yet bloomy east; the moon opening her golden eye, or walking in brightness among innumerable islands of light, not only thrill the optic nerve, but shed a mild, a grateful, an unearthly luster into the inmost spirits, and seem the interchanging twilight of that peaceful country, where there is no sorrow and no night.

                                                                                                                        Samuel Palmer


A chryselephantine sky. The round earth
on flat paper. 'The clouds which drop fatness
upon our fields & pastures'.

Islands - eye-lands-& piled mountains
of light. A circumambient voyage into the visible.

I saw that at Shoreham.

I saw hybernacula move
like clouds, & the turtle's eyes red

I saw a badger root among soft
yellow plums of moonlight, & at dawn, a sheep
shade the dews
from its coat, in coronae.

I saw 'vegetable gold'
- the light of suns fold in upon itself,
as leaves
of a cabbage -

I watched the elder grow first
green, then white,
then a lustrous black.

'Thoughts on RISING
MOON with raving-mad splendour
of orange twilight glow on
landscape. I was that at Shoreham'.

Shoreham - the ripeness
- proliferation. 'Excess more abundantly
excessive'. Its whale-shaped
hills, above the valleys of the hops
& apples. Its shepherds of the many-colored sheep.

I saw ascensions, transformations
& flights 'from a leaf
of kale, across the disc of a planet'.

I saw a world of Leviathan
& the thousand repetitions of spore & insect

Shoreham. Autumnal, mercurial.
A world where the skies
dome above, almost so high as to hold
both rising, meridian & setting suns, with moons large
as barn doors.

A land, perpetually coming
to harvest. The light come out of earth,
a heavy hayŚ& piled up in stooks
beneath the budding, leafing, flowering chestnut.
I saw that at Shoreham.

I saw all that at Shoreham
& more - the 'cherub-turtles' - the Shining

Ones, where they commonly walk. . .

Most Rich, Most Glittering, Most Strange

The Beetle, of a coppery green & blue.
Feathers of Peacock & Pheasant.
The live flashing Mackerel,
its thin, transparent colors laid

over silver & gold. Its back, blue
& around its gills, greens which take on
casts of blue. Silvery
belly & eyes a hard, jet black.

The white Owls (inhabiting a shell-room
of a Folly in Wiltshire)
their feathers flecked & barred with
colors of straw & dun. Their

silky eyes blinking in the half-
light of pearled Conch, Cowrie & Coral
spray. The Moth, the Mantis,
Dragon-fly. A Snail's path seen shining

in sunlight. Pope's grotto built
at Twickensham, with its Marble of diverse
colors. And between each course of
Marble, many kinds of Ores, such as Tin

Ore, purpled Copper Ores & Wild Lead
intermixed with large clumps of
Cornish Diamonds. Rich,
White Spars interlaced with Cockle

& Spars shot with prisms of
different degrees of waters. Fossils
interspersed with Grains of Mundic:
some yellow, some purple & some deep blue

inclining to black. Crystal from
Germany, Gold from Peru, Silvers from
Spain & Mexico. Gold Clift
from Gloucestershire, Egyptian Pebbles.

Petrified Wood & Moss. Blood-
stones, clumps of Amethyst, 'Isicles'.
Curious stones from everywhere & several
Humming-birds, with nests.

Those opalescent clouds in the form
of scales of fish: striped, undulating,
cirrus-like - with spectral 'eyes'
of a bright, metallic luster.

Fog-bow & Moon-bow. Haloes observed
around the sun, with Mock Suns, upon days
of peculiar, milky light. Green
'Rays', or Flames, seen to

shoot up, high, above the setting sun.
Multiple Crescents of the moon.
Mirage & iridescence of oil-spots & suns
'Drawing Water'. Moonglade,

Touch-wood. That luminescence,
phosphorescence, fluorescence, to be seen
in plant, animal & stone. Rabbits'
eyes, Will-o'-the-Wisp,

the shimmering hand dipped in warm
waters. The ancient trees
whose every leaf is a streak of
pale flame, the glow of whose roots can

be traced upon earth. The legend
of electrical hail-stones, 'Hercynian'
birds like plumed lamps
lighting the forests at night

& the vine said to entangle the cattle's
hooves & horns in networks
of fiery tendril. All things 'most rich,
most glittering, most strange'.

Of Certaine White Nights Wherein the
Darkes Doe Seem to Gette Up
& Walk & How Wee Saw Divers Wonders in Bothe
Earth & Element

As we descended to this valley,
where Samuel Palmer had used to walk - bareheaded
under the moon -
the passing clouds above
'did marvellously supple the ground'.

And there were seen many blackbirds to settle
as shapes of water on the land.

Out of the warm hills at our backs
a nebulous lightning
pulsed & flickered, a false
Aurora Borealis, enfolding us as we came.

Wee had observed
these glows to collect as solid
as stones, at the sides of our eies -

& the hollows,
each, to appear to rise out
of its owne darkeness.

We also came upon one tree,
out of those that abound here, whose leaves
seemed brought into curious relief
by the twilight being reflected upon one
side, & a waxing moon,
on the other -

it is thus our nights, everywhere,

but dusks of daies.

William Stukeley  made his own Stonehenge,
a  Druid  Temple  'formed  out  of an old ort-
chard'.     'Tis   thus',     he   writes  -   'there  is
a   circle    of  tall    filberd    trees  in  the  nat-
ure  of  a  hedg,  which   is  70  foot  diameter
&  round  it  a  walk  15  foot  broad,  circular

too,   so  that  the  whole  is  100  foot  diame-
ter.  The  walk  from  one  high point   slopes
each  way,   gradually,  till  you come  to  the
lowest   point   opposite,   there   is   the   en-
trance to a temple,  to  which  the  walk  may
be es-teemed as porticoe.  When  one  enters

into  this  innermost  circle   or  temple,   one
sees,   in  the  center,    an   antient  appletree
oregrown  with   sacred  mistletoe.  Round it
is   another   concentric   circle   of   a  50 foot
diameter made all  of  pyramidal  greens,  at
an  equal  interval,   that  appear  as  verdant

when  fruit  trees  have   dropt   their  leaves.
The  pyramidals  are  in  imitation  of  Stone-
henge's   inner   circles.    The  whole  of  this
is included within  a  square  wall  on  every
side,  except  the  grand  avenue  to  the  por-
ticoe,  which  is  an  appletree  avenue.    The

angles   are   filled   in   fruit  trees,   plumbs,
pears,  &  walnuts,  &  such  are  likewise  in-
terspersed   in  the  filberd  hedg  &  borders,
with some sort of irregularity to prevent any
stiffness   in   its    appearance    &    make   it
look  more  easy  &  natural.  At   that   point,

where  is  an  entrance  from  the  porticoe  to
the  temple,  is  a  tumulus,  but  I  must  take
it   for    a    cairn,   or   celtic   barrow.  I  have
sketched  you  out  the   whole   thing  as it is
formed.  These are some of  the  amusements
of  country   folk,   instead   of   conversation'.

Alexander  Pope:  'I  have some-
times had the  idea  of  planting
an old  gothic  cathedral.  Good

large  poplars  with  their  white
stems  (cleared  of  their boughs
to a  proper  height)  w'ld  serve
well for columns, & might form

the  aisles   or  the  peristiliums
by  their  different  distances  &

heights.  These  w'ld  look  very
well  near,  & a  dome  rising all
in a  proper  tuft  in  the middle
w'ld  look   well  at  a  distance'.
This is the man whose parodies

of topiary were inimitable, who deplored the
fantastical & wished for 'unadorned
Nature'. But the 'Gothick' was in fashion & has
since been destroyed as
the formal topiary before it - to serpen-
tinize brooks, to make vistas.

Now, the obelisks are toppled,
labyrinth & maze are uprooted to pasture
& ivies hide the Folly.
The giantesque animals, lop-sided arches & cones
& pyramids, have been allowed, now,
to grow into ghosts of shapes they once had.

'A laurestine bear  in  blossom,  with a
juniper  hunter  in  berries.  A  pair  of
giants,  stunted.  A  lavender  pig with
sage  growing in his belly.  The Tower
of  Babel.  St. George in  box,  his  arm

scarce  long  enough,  but able to  stick
the dragon by next April ... the dragon,
also  of box,  with  ground-ivy  tail.  A
pair  of  maiden-heads  in fir,  in  great
forwardness.  A quickset hog,  shot up

to a to a porcupine,  by its being forgot
a week in rainy weather.  Noah's ark in
holly, Adam & Eve in yew - the serpent
flourishing. Edward the Black Prince in
cypress,  an  old  maid  in  wormwood'.

The Balancings Of The Clouds - their breeze
& darknesses. Wheaten emanations
of earth. A man come piping
over the hills - an interpenetration of
moth-wing & seed-case & burr, of tremulous grasses
& ripening apples.

I saw that at Shoreham.

In the 'yellow spot' of clear vision,
the apples grew & reddened -
the trunk of their tree come suddenly out
of a slope, as Arcimboldo's lemons from a throat.

'Unless the eye
contained the substance of the sun'...

Unless the ears are shaped
of song, out nose is of air, our skin, of the thistle,

& our tongue, of apples & water:

'The Apple-Tree, the Singing & the Gold...'

It is here
was Hesperides, Paradisi in Sole
Paradisus Terrestris.

I held a yellow twilight in my head.
I saw the glow if its after-
image, green & blue, circle the globes of apple.
I walked upon the clods
of cumulus, & saw a 'glory' moving always before me
on the grass. And melody came, in openings

of the air. All
eyes. In Shoreham's Albion. A Paradys


At 5º altitude of the sun, on a clear

day, the horizon has become warm
yellow, a faintly yellow horizontal stripe

becomes visible below the sun,
& concentrically above is a luminous
white arc. The eastern counter-twilight

is a transition of orange,
yellow, green & blue. At altitude
0º, in the west, the horizontal stripe
becomes white-yellow, yellow

& green. The arching, white transparency
is encircled by brown tones.
In the east, the shadow of earth rises.
It is bluish-grey, shifting to
purple. Above, the counter-twilight

becomes more vivid, & higher still
there is a bright reflection of the light
in the west - a widespread
illumination. At -1º the color
from the earth upwards is brown-orange
fading to gold. The eastern shadow

rises higher & is darker.
The counter-twilight develops a
border of colors shading from violet to
crimson, orange, yellow, green
& blue. And above that - brightness.
At -3º the colors in the east are

at their most vivid & in the west, a rose-
red spot appears above the
white arc. It grows larger & more
diffuse, the color of salmon.
At -5º this has changed to a radiant

purple. Trunks of trees & soil
take on its warm tint & the east becomes
an after-glow of dull reds.
This purple light fades, apparently

mingling with the horizontal striping,
& the boundary of earth-shadow
disappears in the east. Landscape

illumination fails so rapidly it becomes
difficult to see. Imperceptibly

all colors vanish & there is darkness.

THE WHITE CLOUD. There is a sound of thunder
from the sea, over the slate-blue
Kentish hills. Overhead, the blue sky

intensifies its blue & the wheat radiates yellow.
Upper slopes of the cloud-bank
reflect the rays of the sun. It is a massive
ridge, its underside a misty black
reaching to the horizon.

A dull booming rolls in from
the south, as if through
solid sunlight.
A warm haze settles over the wheat.

The air is sibilant with
insect wings. In the distance,
several reapers bend
to scythe grain

& all is quickened
with hidden electricity.

The field, with its broken fence,
slopes down to where a thatched barn is half
hidden among beeches.

This is a plain structure, shaped like
a hill. Its roof sags, encrusted
with that emerald-green moss, Tortula ruralis:
smooth, rounded clumps -
now, in the dryness of harvest,

partly shrunken, & of a yellow-stained
olive. Three large rooks move slowly above the ripe
stalks unperturbed
by the reapers. A white owl
leaves the barn - whiter still against the dark

The beeches tremble imperceptibly.
An old, gnarled oak, blasted in the past by
lightning, turns yellow.

The reapers working
against the low rumble
at their backs.
The white cloud still, haze

dust from stubble
hanging in the heavy
air, & far
behind the barn a brook

The dry wheat,
straw warm to the
touch, earth
hot beneath the

Insect wings. Light feet of squirrels
in the beeches. Rustling of dry leaves on the oak.
Waters. The sunlight in rippling spots as it
plays on the ground. Hues of the swaying wheat
from palest yellows to ruddy gold.
Sheen on the blackbirds. Undertone of thunder.

Dry scrape of grasshoppers. Quick
patter of squirrels. Wind in the oak leaf
& water on stone. A maze of sun dappled over earth.
The straw whispering as it is scythed.
Wings of blackbirds glistening as they settle.
The thunder barely to be heard.

At our backs, surrounding the picture,
is the whole world.

Sun caps the tops of clouds
with silver. Bells in the churches
begin to ring from distant hills.
The moon, rising over a hill, casts long shadows
from a clump
of horse-chestnuts.

Scents of newly-cut wheat
billow on the night air. An owl
calls. . . echoes & reverberates around us.
Dimness & brilliance meet.
Large stars.

I walked up to the CLOUD,

'a country
where there is no

but of moons
& with heads of fish

in the furrow,

& on each
ear, beneath a husk
of twilight

were as many suns as

& fields were far

as the eye
could reach.

Then dipping their silver oars,

the eyes
shed characters of fire
in the grain,

its sheaves as if mackerel
shone on the waves

of air.

I walked up to the CLOUD

& the white light
like flowers -

dog violet,
& asphodel, celandine,

red clover.

I walked up to the CLOUD

& peal after peal
rang out of earth.

First, stones
in a sound like muffled

Then the roots of the trees

rooks, rooks, blackbirds. Cuckoos awoke
in the tubers

- earth-worm & mole & turtle -

all danced to the thunder,
the peal & thunder.

A bellow & clamor
came out
of the hills:

in diapason. . . a dissonance
& musical order.



Go to The Book of the Green Man Contents Page

Go to Light and Dust Anthology of Poetry

Copyright © 1967 by Ronald Johnson
First Published by W.W. Norton
Reproduced here by permission of the Literary Estate of Ronald Johnson, 2001

"Guy," by Basil King, the painting that appears with this poem,
comes from a series based on Green Man lore. Copyright © 1996 by Basil King.

Light and Dust Anthology of Poetry