A World of Books amid a World of Green

Edward Cucuel, “Young Woman Reading in a Garden”

Wednesday

My mother and I are currently visiting a 100-year-old relative, Marion Bowman, who alerted me to the Victorian/Edwardian poet Richard Le Gallienne. Marion turned to one of his poems about books when her librarian husband Ben died, and I found others when I went digging. The poems owe a debt to The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and also make me think of Wind in the Willows.

Since Ben was passionately fond of books and Marion is a crack gardener (she loves books as well), Le Gallienne’s merging of the two worlds is perfect. These are also great poems for midsummer. The quotation by Edmund Gosse that inspires the first poem comes from a passage in his Gossip in a Library (1892), a set of personal reflections about the books in his own library:

I have heard that the late Mr. Edward Solly, a very pious and worshipful lover of books…was so anxious to fly all outward noise that he built himself a library in his garden. I have been told that the books stood there in perfect order, with the rose-spray flapping at the window, and great Japanese vases exhaling such odors as must annoy an insect-nostril. The very bees would come to the window, and sniff, and boom indignantly away again. The silence there was perfect…That is the library I should like to have. In my sleep, “where dreams are multitude,” I sometimes fancy that one day I shall have a library in a garden. The phrase seems to contain the whole felicity of man–“a library in a garden!” It sounds like having a castle in Spain, or a sheep-walk in Arcadia, and I suppose that merely to wish for it is to be what indignant journalists call “a faddling hedonist.”

A Library in a Garden

By Richard Le Gallienne

“A Library in a garden!” The phrase seems to contain the whole felicity of man.–Edmund Gosse 

A world of books amid a world of green,
Sweet song without, sweet song again within
Flowers in the garden, in the folios too:
O happy Bookman, let me live with you! 

The other poem was read at Ben’s funeral and captures how books reflect the wide range of our lives, from the spiritual to the mundane. Once again Le Gallienne resorts to garden imagery to capture their richness:

Books

What are my books?–My friends, my loves,
My church, my tavern, and my only wealth;
My garden: yea, my flowers, my bees, my doves;
My only doctors–and my only health.

Doesn’t this inspire you to prepare a treat, grab a book, and head for a picturesque spot?

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