Category Archives: Literary Hedges

Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops (the book)

Just back from a week in Greece – will put up some pics of trees and (a few) hedges soon.

Meanwhile, just wanted to mention that as part of my proper job I will be editing the book version of this lovely blog – http://jen-campbell.blogspot.com/2011/05/weird-things-customers-say-in-bookshops.html (and see further instalments on the same blog).

It will be out early next year.

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More Alice Thomas Ellis hedge quotes

Sorry for the repetition, but this is mostly what I’m reading this week and there are loads of interesting hedge moments in her novels. Fairy Tale is her darkest book, not as much comedy as usual and some really quite unsettling stuff about the pagan countryside and the Tylwyth Teg needing a changeling. I’m very fond of it, but maybe not the best place to start if you’ve not read her others.

Anyhow, here the hedge becomes rather malevolent, reflecting the hostile magical environment surrounding the main characters:

‘Simon,’ said Miriam, ‘what are these scratches on your arms?’

‘They’re nothing much,’ said Simon indifferently, glancing at them. ‘The hedge needs cutting back. It’s almost closed the lane. I had to fight through the brambles.’

‘It was all right yesterday,’ said Miriam.

‘Things grow quickly here,’ said Simon. ‘They grow out of control.’

Then in this bit, the hedge  becomes symbolic of the boundary between our space and the chaos that lies beyond:

Flowers throve on death relying on dissolution for their nourishment. She could smell decay on the summer air… She shook her head, scowling at the prettiness that fringed the great shadow, the horror of chaos that lay just beyond the garlanded hedge and the limits of her comprehension…

A bit morbid, admittedly, but I particularly like this, as it’s one of the themes that often crops up in British mythology and thinking – assart hedges were originally carved out of the wildwood, then hedges were planted to surround the cleared fields. What lies within the hedge (in gardens and countryside) is what we control – what lies beyond is “the other”, wild nature, territory that we can’t control. The hedge is the boundary in between.

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Filed under Hedge Mythology, Literary Hedges, Rural Britain

Death and the Hedgerow (and Alice Thomas Ellis)

I’ve been rereading a few Alice Thomas Ellis novels, which I always enjoy – they are constantly malicious, funny and astonishing. There are a lot of hedges in her stories, especially when they are set in the Welsh countryside – characters hide behind them, emerge through gaps, and see strange things on the other side of them.

This quote from Unexplained Laughter caught my eye. I should explain that these are the thoughts of Angharad, a rather strange wraithlike girl who spends her days roaming the mountains and observing the ordinary people below:

They think that death is waiting at the end of the ride, that life is like the lane and that death waits at the end. Listen. That is death on the other side of the side of the hedgerow. And that swift shadow that is gone, before you turn, from the corner of your eye – that is death. And the whisper you scarcely hear through the sounds of the birds calling and the wind in the leaves – that is death. Not waiting, but there beside you within reach, within earshot, so close that if you should look you would see your breath cloud on his presence. There he is, just out of sight behind the wild rose and the blackthorn, not behind you, nor before you, but beside you…

Which all reminds me of something I read once about Pan hiding behind the hedge.

Anyhow, another Alice Thomas Ellis quote, from The Sin Eater, just to reassure you that she is not always quite  as morbid as the quote above:

‘Where’s Rose?’ asked Angela…  Ermyn glanced sideways. Farther down, where the hedge widened into a small thicket, was a dying alder, its low branches fabulously bowed and twisted, snowed over with lichen, eerily green. Rose stood in its indifferent embrace, a finger to her lips.

‘She’s there,’ said Ermyn hopelessly. Rose stamped ineffectually on the mouldering earth, but she came forward.

‘How lovely to see you,’ she said, pinching Ermyn on the arm. ‘I’ll come through.’ The hedge was suddenly stiffly hostile, as though it had had enough of this to-ing and fro-ing. It ripped Rose’s jacket spitefully. ‘Look,’ she said. ‘A hedge tear.’

 

 

 

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Rupert Brooke’s song of the hedge

I like this poem, but I do think the poetry police should be called regarding his use of the word “frore.” Apparently it means “frozen” in Old English, but seriously, are we expected to know that?

Song by Rupert Brooke, 1912

All suddenly the wind comes soft,
And Spring is here again;
And the hawthorn quickens with buds of green,
And my heart with buds of pain.

My heart all Winter lay so numb,
The earth so dead and frore,
That I never thought the Spring would come,
Or my heart wake any more.

But Winter’s broken and earth has woken,
And the small birds cry again;
And the hawthorn hedge puts forth its buds,
And my heart puts forth its pain.


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Ray Davies on hedges

Ray Davies of the Kinks is probably the greatest London songwriter ever. I was going to use this quote from Autumn Almanac in the book but I’ve just cut a section and I can’t fit it in any more, so I’ll put it here instead.

From the dew-soaked hedge, creeps a crawly caterpillar

When the dawn begins to crack.

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Hedge, that divides the lovely

This is a sixteenth century poem by Torquato Tasso.

Hedge, that divides the lovely

Hedge, that divides the lovely
Garden, and myself from me,
Never in you so fair a rose I see
As she who is my lady,
Loving, sweet and holy:
Who as I stretch my hand to you
Presses it, so softly, too.

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Hedge nursery rhymes

A couple of nursery rhymes today:

There was a man of Newington,
And he was wond’rous wise,
He jump’d into a quickset hedge,
And scratch’d out both his eyes:
But when he saw his eyes were out,
With all his might and main,
He jump’d into another hedge,
And scratch’d ’em in again

(A quickset hedge is one planted from live cuttings, usually hawthorn – “quick” here means “alive” as in “the quick and the dead” rather than “fast” – although such hedges were planted partly because they grow quickly.)

Little lad, little lad, Where wast thou born?
Far off in Lancashire, Under a thorn;
Where they sup sour milk, From a ram’s horn.

It’s always risky to try and guess what nursery rhymes “mean” – however the “thorn” here may well be a hedge – being “born under a hedge” or “hedgeborn” traditionally meant a humble background.

This rhyme might be related to the fact that, in the middle ages, the saying “Horne and Thorne shall make England forlorne” was used to refer to the sheep and hedges that were invading the landscape because of new enclosures (inspired by the thriving wool industry) – the result was a lot of common people losing their homes and livelihoods, and being forced to move “far off” to the new towns and cities.

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