Beetles, botany and a man for all seasons.

Alexander Marshalls watercolours 17th century

Alexander Marshalls watercolours 17th century

I have just finished another miniature book, and one that has given me immense pleasure researching and adapting into a further sample for my collection of collectables.

It is based on the engaging watercolour illustrations that Alexander Marshal created over thirty years during the 1600’s.  I am always drawn to the endeavours of creative people from the past, connecting me to a shared experience , a common humanity.  This was a man of private means, and fortunate enough to occupy himself fully in his chosen preoccupation.  Fortunate for him and for us, since the consequent 159 plates were eventually passed from his descendants to the Royal Collection, and rightly so.  A modest man, he refused to sell them to anyone during his lifetime, preferring to share them only with friends.  That highlights for me how the passion he held was for the joy it gave him, and for no other reason, like making a living.  He didn’t produce these exquisite drawings to catalogue , some he barely referred to , he just wanted to see the treasures of nature and record them in his own masterly way. A keen gardener  he collected new species of horticulture and was instrumental in helping to import some from the newly discovered Americas and supplying them to the great gardens across Britain.

I like gardeners in general, they seem to me to have the virtues of patience and consideration,  often combined with a poetic sensibility.  One of my favourite poets was a gardener, Stanley Kunitz.  I think he  would have approved on Marshals lifetime endeavour.  In tribute to both Marshal and Kunitz , here is one of his poems about an insect!

Hornworm: Autumn Lamentation by Stanley Kunitz
Since that first morning when I crawled
into the world, a naked grubby thing,
and found the world unkind,
my dearest faith has been that this
is but a trial: I shall be changed.
In my imaginings I have already spent
my brooding winter underground,
unfolded silky powdered wings, and climbed
into the air, free as a puff of cloud
to sail over the steaming fields,
alighting anywhere I pleased,
thrusting into deep tubular flowers.It is not so: there may be nectar
in those cups, but not for me.
All day, all night, I carry on my back
embedded in my flesh, two rows
of little white cocoons,
so neatly stacked
they look like eggs in a crate.
And I am eaten half away.

If I can gather strength enough
I’ll try to burrow under a stone
and spin myself a purse
in which to sleep away the cold;
though when the sun kisses the earth
again, I know I won’t be there.
Instead, out of my chrysalis
will break, like robbers from a tomb,
a swarm of parasitic flies,
leaving my wasted husk behind.

Sir, you with the red snippers
in your hand, hovering over me,
casting your shadow, I greet you,
whether you come as an angel of death
or of mercy. But tell me,
before you choose to slice me in two:
Who can understand the ways
of the Great Worm in the Sky?

If you are curious to see the resultant book that I have compiled, then you can see it from my Etsy page.  You can even buy it.

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6 thoughts on “Beetles, botany and a man for all seasons.

  1. Pingback: Beetles, botany and a man for all seasons. | The Rag Tree

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