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Title: All These I Learnt
Author: Robert Byron
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1100391.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: May 2011
Date most recently updated: May 2011

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Title: All These I Learnt
Author: Robert Byron


If I have a son, he shall salute the lords and ladies who unfurl green
hoods to the March rains, and shall know them afterwards by their scarlet
fruit. He shall know the celandine, and the frigid, sightless flowers of
the woods, spurge and spurge laurel, dogs' mercury, wood-sorrel and queer
four-leaved herb-paris fit to trim a bonnet with its purple dot. He shall
see the marshes gold with flags and kingcups and find shepherd's purse on
a slag-heap. He shall know the tree-flowers, scented lime-tassels,
blood-pink larch-tufts, white strands of the Spanish chestnut and
tattered oak-plumes. He shall know orchids, mauve-winged bees and
claret-coloured flies climbing up from mottled leaves. He shall see June
red and white with ragged robin and cow parsley and the two campions. He
shall tell a dandelion from sow thistle or goat's beard. He shall know
the field flowers, lady's bedstraw and lady's slipper, purple mallow,
blue chicory and the cranesbills--dusky, bloody, and blue as heaven. In
the cool summer wind he shall listen to the rattle of harebells against
the whistle of a distant train, shall watch clover blush and scabious
nod, pinch the ample veitches, and savour the virgin turf. He shall know
grasses, timothy and wag-wanton, and dust his finger-tips in Yorkshire
fog. By the river he shall know pink willow-herb and purple spikes of
loosestrife, and the sweetshop smell of water-mint where the rat dives
silently from its hole. He shall know the velvet leaves and yellow spike
of the old dowager, mullein, recognise the whole company of thistles, and
greet the relatives of the nettle, wound-wort and hore-hound, yellow
rattle, betony, bugle and archangel. In autumn, he shall know the hedge
lanterns, hips and haws and bryony. At Christmas he shall climb an old
apple-tree for mistletoe, and know whom to kiss and how.

He shall know the butterflies that suck the brambles, common whites and
marbled white, orange-tip, brimstone, and the carnivorous clouded
yellows. He shall watch fritillaries, pearl-bordered and silver-washed,
flit like fireballs across the sunlit rides. He shall see that family of
capitalists, peacock, painted lady, red admiral and the tortoiseshells,
uncurl their trunks to suck blood from bruised plums, while the purple
emperor and white admiral glut themselves on the bowels of a rabbit. He
shall know the jagged comma, printed with a white c, the manx-tailed
iridescent hair-streaks, and the skippers demure as charwomen on Monday
morning. He shall run to the glint of silver on a chalk-hill blue--glint
of a breeze on water beneath an open sky--and shall follow the brown
explorers, meadow brown, brown argus, speckled wood and ringlet. He shall
see death and revolution in the burnet moth, black and red, crawling from
a house of yellow talc tied half-way up a tall grass. He shall know more
rational moths, who like the night, the gaudy tigers, cream-spot and
scarlet, and the red and yellow underwings. He shall hear the
humming-bird hawk moth arrive like an air-raid on the garden at dusk, and
know the other hawks, pink sleek-bodied elephant, poplar, lime, and
death's head. He shall count the pinions of the plume moths, and find the
large emerald waiting in the rain-dewed grass.

All these I learnt when I was a child and each recalls a place or
occasion that might otherwise be lost. They were my own discoveries. They
taught me to look at the world with my own eyes and with attention. They
gave me a first content with the universe. Town-dwellers lack this
intimate content, but my son shall have it!


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