Poetry, nature and freedom

I wrote about nature journalling the other day, but how is that possible if you are confined to the house? The great, but horribly neglected, poet, Norman Nicholson has an answer for us because he was confined to his room in Millom after being struck down with tuberculosis. Lying there on the edge of the Lake District, he had no access to the lakes or fells, but was forced to observe from inside.

In ‘The Pot Geranium’ he describes the view from his window, including green slated gables and a box-kite riding the air. Then, turning from the window, he lies on his bed:

The ceiling

Slopes over like a tent, and white walls

Wrap themselves round me, leaving only

A flap for the light to blow through. Thighs and spine

Are clamped to the mattress and looping springs

Twine round my chest and hold me. I feel the air

Move on my face like spiders, see the light

Slide across the plaster; but wind and sun

Are mine no longer, nor have I kite to claim them,

Or string to fish the clouds.

However, Nicholson does not give into despair. Instead he looks at the pot geranium that is flying its bright balloon on the shelf in his bedroom and realises that “this crock of soil, / Six inch deep by four across, / Contains the pattern, the prod and pulse of life, / Complete as the Nile or the Niger.”

Having a pot geranium means that he has no need to strain after what he does not have:

for kite and flower

Bloom in my room for ever; the light that lifts them

Shines in my own eyes, and my body’s warmth

Hatches their red in my veins. It is the Gulf Stream

That rains down the chimney, making the soot spit; it is the Trade Wind

That blows in the draught under the bedroom door.

My ways are circumscribed, confined as a limpet

To one small radius of rock; yet

I eat the equator, breathe the sky, and carry

The great white sun in the dirt of my fingernails.


It is a wonderful uplifting vision and a timely reminder of this wonderful poet, who lived in Millom all his life, was published by T.S.Eliot, and is now largely forgotten outside Cumbria. Get your hands on his Collected Poems if you can or, failing that, Sea to the West, his last great collection. You won’t be disappointed.

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