Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Charnwood Forest

I have started adding labels to these posts, relating them to different types of landscape. This is not necessarily very helpful because, despite the titles for each entry, Some Landscapes is not an inventory of actual landscapes. But I like the idea of clicking on the word and getting up all entries which refer to mountains by way of highlighting some aspect of landscape in culture, or something about the work of a particular artist.

Of course only a subset of cultural landscapes are likely to give insights into particular places, and this is true for all periods of art. For example, I could boost the number of postings on forests by mentioning Charnwood in Leicesterhire, which features in Michael Drayton's Poly-Olbion (The Sixe and Twentieth Song). But being written in 1622 it sounds like this:
'No tract in all this isle, the proudest let her be,
Can show a sylvan nymph for beauty like to thee:
The satyrs and the fauns, by Dian set to keep,
Rough hills, and forest holts, were sadly seen to weep,
When thy high-palmed harts, the sport of bows and hounds,
By gripple borderers' hands, were banished thy grounds.
The dryads that were wont thy lawns to rove...'
And so on. It is possible to strip out the classical allusion here and focus on what the satyrs were weeping about: greedy (gripple) cottagers killing off the deer. But the dryads provide further distraction: they rove to Sharpley and Cademon, real places which are not described, and on Bardon Hill we are merely told that they are joined by 'harmless elves.' To be fair, there are brief bursts of description in this poem but it does not engage directly with the Leicestershire landscape.

There is a useful on-line summary of the Poly-Olbion by William Moore. His description of the twenty-sixth song from which the lines above are taken is as follows:
'Topographical competition continues in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, and Derbyshire. The Vale of Bever (Belvoir) matches herself with previous boasting valleys. The Muse defends the slowness of the Soar River, by analogy to a young girl visiting a sumptuous palace for the first time. The Soar praises its Charnwood Forest for containing all the best features of every other forest. The Trent River, comparing herself favorably with the Thames and the Severn, catalogues her fish. Sherwood Forest, in competition with Charnwood, tells the story of Robin Hood and his bowmen. The Peak, a "withered Beldam," tells of her seven wonders (caves, wells, a hill of sand, and a forest) before the song flows down from the hills along the Darwin (Derwent) River.'

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