bow down: a bower for Duke's Wood

                                         bow down in the morning
                                         bow down in the evening

For myself, and I think perhaps also for the other artists involved in Duke's Wood, as we move towards the realization of our work in situ, there is a sense in which our projects are resonating together.

I also find, increasingly, that the bower I will build there, with Kevin Langan, is overlapping with other things I’m currently involved in, particularly work concerned with small-scale dwellings, temporary structures, and constructions relating to poetry, rites, or memorializing.

An example is the wild shelter that Kevin and I made at Jupiter Artland, as part of the research for Sweeney's Bothy.

wild shelter for Sweeney (photo: Kevin Langan, 2013)

The Posie (Var.)

I began this project by referring to Robert Burns's folk-song 'The Posie’, 
a reworking of the wild-wood scenario, with undertones of Pagan lore. Since our first meeting in the wood we have, as a loose team selected by Aaron and Sam, been corresponding when we can. 'The Posie' was one avenue for this correspondence, and I have made a new version of it here, inserting the species that Stephen Turner collected in Duke's Wood, with which he made a twist of incense, some of which will be burned in the bower.

                               IT COMES BEFORE YOU
                                 IT STAYS AFTER YOU


a twist of incense for the bower, Stephen Turner, 2013 (photograph, LA)

The Posie, A Variant,  for Stephen Turner

O luve will venture in where it daur na weel be seen,
O luve will venture in where wisdom ance has been;
But I will down yon river rove, amang Duke’s woods sae green,
And a' to pu' a posie to my ain dear May.

The primrose I will pu', the firstling o' the year;
And I will pu' the honeysuckle, the emblem o' my Dear,
For she is the pink o' womankind, and blooms without a peer;
And a' to be a posie to my ain dear May.

I'll pu' the budding elderflower when the sun peeps in view,
For it's like a baumy kiss o' her sweet, bonie mou;
The angelica's for constancy, wi' it's starburst so pale,
And a' to be a posie to my ain dear May.

The birk it is pure, and the birk it is fair,
And in her lovely bosom I'll place the catkins there;
The yarrow's for simplicity and unaffected air,
And a' to be a posy to my ain dear May.

The oak moss I will pu', wi' its locks o' siller grey,
Where like an aged man it’s blanketed at break o' day;
But the songster's nest within the bush I winna tak away;
And a' to be a posie to my ain dear May.

The Queen Ann’s lace I will pu' when the e'ening star is near,
And the diamond draps o' dew shall be her een sae clear;
The wilding tree’s for brightness when she shine’s sae rare,
And a' to be a posie to my ain dear May.

I'll tie the posie round wi' the silken band o' luve,
And I'll place it in her breast, and I'll swear by a' abuve,
That to my latest draught o' life the band shall ne'er remove,
And this will be a posie to my ain dear May.

note: among the species Stephen collected was wild carrot, also known as 'Queen Ann’s Lace'; another is crab apple, an old folk-name for which is 'wilding tree'.

bow down

'At Sing Two Birds', Hanna Tuulikki, 2013

On the afternoon of Saturday 31 August an informal performance, 'Bow Down', by composer and performer Hanna Tuulikki, poet Amy Cutler, and myself, was held as part of the opening celebrations.

Hanna presented a new composition, 'At Sing Two Birds', which she created by weaving together two traditional songs about birds, 'The Cuckoo' and 'The Blackbird'. She also did a call-out from the cabin in a non-lexical vocal improvisation, taking the musical patterns of various songbirds as a starting point.

Our early conversations had circled around the idea of song-hunting, seeking out specific locations for folk-songs, whether these were named places, from ballads, or habitats, as with the birdsongs. Her improvisations, call-and-response, with a cuckoo at High Pasture cave on Skye brought this into life, and the Duke's project was another opportunity to embed and embody sound in place.

Land Diagram 4, Amy Cutler, 2013

Amy Cutler's poem, also composed especially for Duke's Wood, takes the bower as a locus and, responding to the typology of bowers in existing texts, offers 'A Book of Bowers'.

Her use of dendrology offered a counterpart to Louise K. Wilson's chthonic listening; one carries our eyes into the heart of the tree, the other carries our ears down into the old wellsprings, around the bend, into the dark, where the listless black oil still seeps.


The maid will do if you’re not ambitious
Why split the stalk if twigs will make the besom?
Why kill the roots, if one may steal the blossom?
The Heart Fetter ties a plot of sundry pleasures
Dressed by Love-In-A-Mist and rare devices,
Scandent or sprawling beneath the Jacob’s Column
The maid will do

Rose O’Morning winds upon the trellis
All hips and nettle snags and lures at random
Is desire the better part of wisdom?
Black-eyed Susan smiles from her bed of Fiddle-Leaves
The maid will do

Adapted from Lewis Turco, with vines from Royal Horticultural Society’s 

Manual of Climbers and Wall Plants (1992)


Wi bitter usage in the bramble and the rose
                              she’ll hide in woodbine-o

they hunted her high, they hunted her low
              beneath the cruel plant-o

the narrow leaves her so did snare
you couldna see her yellow hair

your stockings o the mary mild

               dewed by the cruel plant-o

                               awake, awake, fair lady

And thou shalt have my land, thou
shalt have my land,

& the cold bleak wind for your coat

               beneath the woodbine-o


if one great ghost should stray
among the ruined rose leaves

              with eyes of blither hazel
              beneath the mossy spray

it might find shelter in the lumber
by the tilting of the yew 

              which bows down for this
              cunningly woven slumber

in the coldness of the evening
by the wood that cannot break

              the sky will hum its shelter
              and the eaves sing


Love is in the greenwood building him a house
Of wild rose and hawthorn and honeysuckle boughs:
Love is in the greenwood, open to the skies,
And Marian is waiting with a glory in her eyes.

(Alfred Noyes)

in a fogged scaffold
by bents and woods that bine

              one consort’s heart

              and part the jack
in two-spurred flowers

the cultivars come through the winter wet

              I find their hoods 
upon my boxen bower

& in the social and the lonely hour

              a love
              that’s bent by woods

Oberon, Oberon, rake away the gold,
Rake away the red leaves, roll away the mould,
Rake away the gold leaves, roll away the red,
And wake Will Scarlett from his leafy forest bed.

(Alfred Noyes)


To lay a body down

              in hortus conclusus,

beneath arches of the crook-neck
and the hunter’s robe

where I have sheltered for you

              the long persistence of my trusses

in posy-oak and scammony
and their twisted petioles

& a bed that grows to sleep us
by a law

               of never-failing clasp

among hay-stook in the morning

                               love in an open cask


(VI) after Peter Larkin

But I now repair in sorrow to its shelter
The wreathes, with leaves distinctly keeled
In vetch and theft: a resting dawn redone
I now repair an error to rebuild it in shelter                               
From two-spurred leaves and the ribs of the dead
A cleft-graft to the growth of a season prior
And coir mixed with bone-meal – for this error
I return the cuttings as the woodbine’s only script

              Or would song be better to repair the brier?

Amy Cutler, 2013

the bower

The Bower, Alec Finlay & Kevin Langan, 2013
3D model by Kevin Langan

Here you can see the 3-D sketch that Kevin prepared in advance of our few days residency in Duke’s Wood. 

As soon as we arrived on Wednesday evening we walked in the wood, trying to re-locate the site that I had chosen months ago, on my first visit. After a couple of wrong paths, it was Aaron who spotted the twisted hawthorn, which marks the site.

For three days we – Sam, Aaron, and, more fitfully, myself – became Kevin’s apprentices, watching the master-builder knot together the skeletal dome of a structure with biodegradable string, then patch on ladder-panels of new-cut grass and, last of all, stuff the cracks. Slowly the clearing emerged, the trees defining a distinct ring; the bower becoming a gigantic, beetle-like form, glimpsed from the path.

As I watched them work, and imitated their labours in my more manageable, to me, stacks of unused deadwood around the nearest trunks, of ash, hawthorn and elder, and in the Vs of the branches, the cleared area immediately around the structure began to release such an intricacy of detail, emerging from the generality of the wood.

Meaning has a magnetic attraction to dwelling – moreso, I suspect, than the de rigeur mode of the moment, walking. What we were making would not last. It asked to be slept in for one-night only, but, for its makers, the mood of the wood was altered.

a bower is

a bower is
an arc with its roots
planted in the past

a bower is
made for & from
its surroundings

a bower is
eaves of leaves
rafters of branches
over beds of hay

a bower is
a simple twist
of nature

a bower is
a wild kind
green dream

a bower is
where the sun-
ripened honeysuckle
forbids the sun
from entering  

                (after William Shakespeare)

a bower is
shelter for a little light
stalked by shadows

a bower is
set with the strength
of crooked lines

a bower is
a tryst
for a night

a bower is
a binding that’s sure
to come undone

a bower is
pleached logic

a bower is
grafted nature

                (after Bachelard)

a bower is
the cover our
letters configure

a bower is
where two people
who are in love
attach their names

                (after Walter Benjamin)

a bower is
the burr of a rich
old-fashioned accent

a bower is
an odd seed-pod
that reeks of ladies' bedstraw
and cuckoo pint

a bower
is a rude bed

a bower is
a fuck

a bower is
like an ancient recipe

a bower is
an antique sentiment

a bower is
a charm

a bower is
the stitching in the hem
in the middle
of the wood

a bower is
a lade of light
in the glade

a bower is
open to the sun’s rising
at morning

a bower is
open to the sun’s setting
at evening

a bower is
a dry line drawn
on a dawn
wet with dew

a bower is
bow down & enter

dedicatory sketches



                                               (for Kevin Langan)

                                                TWO PROSPECTS





                                                (for Aaron & Sam)






                                                  (for Louise K. Wilson)

                                                           A CROWN
                                                          OF THORN


                                                           (for Luke)

for Beaulieu Beadle

Stephen Turner has been involved in a similar project, using an innovative symbolic construction, to relate to, and redefine, a place. 
This sequence of poems is for his ‘egg’.

photograph, Nigel Rigden

for Beaulieu Beadle

amanuensis to the leaves
you scroll our ears
to the waves

as they shush
in the breeze   
just out of reach

                                                        A LEAF
                                               EVER IN REACH






Beaulieu Beadle is a character Stephen devised as a guide to thought and act, during his residency on the river. Lyb-lac, Anglo-Saxon, ‘magic’; see Bill Griffiths, Anglo-Saxon Magic.


These seeds, from the road north, are among the texts that I will read at Duke’s Wood, for bow down, on the afternoon of 31 August 2013.

reach for the light       
but keep a strong centre
to blow about in storms

be airborne as rowan
which occur farther off
than bird-shat birches

be windcast as alder
by floating downstream
or blowing up the burn

be hybrid as the larch
cast from a cannon
at hame in the Wald

look for hunched juniper
smuggled among
homogenous sitka

learn from the pine
be first to shed
your old needles

wait for warmth
then split your cones
and scatter seed

unless stated otherwise, all photographs: Alec Finlay, 2013 


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