I was asked for a poem for an event organised by The Friends of Malvern Springs and Wells for their event Two Malverns and a Mulberry Tree, held during Malvern Civic Week.
Brief background: George Bernard Shaw, Malvern Festival’s playwright of the 1930s, planted a mulberry tree in the gardens by the theatre in 1936 in celebration of his eightieth birthday. The tree blew down in 2000 but a cutting had been taken to Malvern in Melbourne, Australia in 1959 and has become a magnificent tree. On learning this, a complex project arose to bring a cutting back to its original site here, at the same time reviving old ties of friendship between the two Malverns. Last night Di Foster, a historian from Malvern (now Stonnington), Melbourne gave a talk on their Malvern and, somewhere in the proceedings, I had five minutes to introduce and read a poem.
Mulberry trees were imported in Shakespeare’s time because King James hoped to create an English silk industry. Unfortunately, most trees were the “wrong kind” of mulberry: black mulberries, not the white mulberries favoured by silk worms.
Shaw rather resented Shakespeare’s continuing hold on the British psyche. Why should some long-dead chap outrank living playwrights in the Nation’s love? If Shakespeare could have a mulberry tree, so could Shaw.
Shaw was writing in politically turbulent times and we’re in politically turbulent times again now. My poem was written a few weeks ago but I was thinking about recent changes in our state education system; the exam-marking emphasis on “right” vs “wrong” answers with no room for any discussion of grey areas; no room for learning critical interpretation and thinking skills – skills we will need to lift us out of the holes we dig ourselves in to – or that other people drag us in to.
The poem is a Shakespearean sonnet (cheeky). “Eclose” is the precise biological term for a chrysalis splitting to release its butterfly or moth.
Common threads run through lives, through history.
Culture, memes, ideas weave through time
like silk worms’ strands wefted into tapestry
or prosaic language dancing into rhyme.
Some card, some spin, some dye their world in drab
or vivid hues foregrounding spring-born rills
or clouds or clods or falling leaves, those slabs
of granite quarried from the Malvern Hills.
As moths eclose, so unexpected yet
ordained, creativity is a seed
within each generation: nurture it
because it’s what our future hopes will need
to find answers in a world as yet unknown;
sure, wind their silk but let them fly, full grown.