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Though we are not quite half way through November

four poppies are blooming in the front garden.

Papaver orientale: voluptuous,

shell-pink; stamens a dark heliotrope;

a cultivar by Cedric Morris, artist

and plantsman, who searched Suffolk’s hedgerows and fields

for common poppies with softer colours –

that simple weed the usual scoundrels

have made a shibboleth of belonging.


A night of wind and rain has downed all but one

in the narrow border, where sedum,

rhodendron, berberis, fresia

are properly autumnal. Between the earth

and the house is a row of paving stones laid

to keep intact Victorian foundations.

Rats are tunnelling beneath the slabs.




© Copyright David Selzer
1 Response
  • John Williams
    November 29, 2019

    ‘Poppies’ begins with a concessive adverb ‘Though..’ contrasting what the poet knows with what he sees. In this case, aware that November should be barren of flowers, he is surprised to see poppies bloom. The anomaly, far from bringing delight, prompts a moralistic note: weeds are ‘usual scoundrels’, other plants are ‘properly autumn’ in the onslaught of wind and rain. He becomes alert to the purpose of human endeavour : foundations stones to keep a house intact are easily undermined by rats with all their ominous symbolism. The poem represents a skilful shift from recording an unusual sight in the garden, which might have brought joy, to a comment the futility of human activity.

    Yet the poem delights in the names of flowers: ‘Papaver orientale: voluptuous,
    shell-pink; stamens a dark heliotrope;’


    rhodendron, berberis, fresia’

    ‘ a shibboleth of belonging’ gives pause.

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