“Punting at Night”

As I lay dreaming in my place,
Watching the banks unwind,
The trees slid past above my face,
Like thoughts across a mind:
Tree after tree with ghostly grace
Loomed, and was left behind.

But fast above them flew the sky:
The Bear and the Northern Star
Over the trees came softly by
A-gliding down the Cher:
I thought:—In such high company
A man might travel far!

Note: Referring to the River Cherwell, Barfield probably wrote this poem while a student at Oxford. This poem is annotated “1919 or 1920” and is transcribed from the typescript at the Bodleian Library (Barfield Papers, Dep. c. 1103).


Down in the fens of Lincolnshire a bird
Threw up his head and uttered (like some word,
Spoken in hope, that very softly falls
Upon the silence of despair) two calls.
He waited: and innumerable trills
Filled the old darkness . . . .
Over Malvern Hills
A lark went twittering up into the sky. . . .
One seagull down the cliffs of Anglesley,
Even as the dawn-song of this lark was dying,
Called, and the coast was filled with swooping and crying.

A tiny pool of light that slid and spread
In shoots and runnels over the flat lead
Face of the chill North Sea: then colour came:
The pool of light turned to a pool of flame
That smoked up into a purple and red mass,
Where—like a face behind a darkened glass—
A circle faint out of the dimness grew,
And, flown with the wine of dawn, looked strangely through
At island hill-tops rising warm and green
Out of the blind white seas of mist between.
Chiltern and Cotswold’s upland grasses glistened,
Colouring the light with dew: the clear air listened.

Silent He rose out of that dreamy pall
And hung in the blue ether clear and small,
Till, underneath, the hills left dry and bright
Drew closer, and the valleys ran with light. . . .
Silent He rose and arched up over, and soon
The golden languor of the afternoon
Slept over meadows and sheep-dotted downs
And danced upon the pavements of the towns. . . .
Silent He fell, and east to meet the van
Of night the great Welsh mountain-shadows ran,
Rippling over undulating miles
Of English counties. Piles upon deep piles
Of crimson pageantry were slowly heaped
Against the West. Birds sang. The air was steeped
In memory. Dusk flittered like a bat
Down over England, hovered, and then sat
Darkling upon her, till she cast aside
Her twilight vestments, like a calm young bride,
When love himself has broken down his bars,
And spread her bosom to the quiet stars.

Note: First published in The Challenge new series (1923), this poem was anthologized in Best Poems of 1923 (edited by Thomas Moult, 1924). This version is from A Barfield Sampler.