Friday, December 09, 2005

Fountain on a heath

In September 1801 Samuel Taylor Coleridge noted in his journal “The spring with the little tiny cone of loose sand ever rising and sinking at the bottom, but its surface without a wrinkle.” The following year he published a poem inspired by this site Inscription for a Fountain on a Heath. “Here Twilight is and Coolness: here is moss, / A soft seat, and a deep and ample shade…” Thus the poem describes a lovely spot for the weary walker...

Drink, Pilgrim, here; Here rest! and if thy heart
Be innocent, here too shalt thou refresh
Thy spirit, listening to some gentle sound,
Or passing gale or hum of murmuring bees!

It is a pleasant poem, but what if there really was a fountain with this inscription? What if Coleridge himself had carved these lines beside the spring or on the “jutting stone” of the "fountain" itself? Would this have enhanced the landscape? I don’t think many of us would want there to be a real inscription, even by the hand of Coleridge.

We tend to want the 'real' landscape kept pure, with text and poems confined to our gardens. Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Little Sparta is the most celebrated modern example, but he acknowledges the influence of poet-gardener William Shenstone. Shenstone compiled a book of Inscriptions, mostly in Latin, many of which were used in his garden The Leasowes. Shenstone was also an inspiration for the garden at Ermenonville, designed by Rouseau's friend the Marquis de Giradin, where the poem in the grotto of the naiads, for example, is derived from one of Shenstone’s inscriptions.

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