Little Sparta

Among the stones, inscriptions
For drowned ships and fallen leaders,
Stands of alder and of birch
The frozen souls of fleeing nymphs.
Hawthorn hedges cradle
This place of abundance on a moor
They said was good for nothing but sheep,
But here with Sue, omnipresent wind
Tousling hair and roaring in your ears
You built a garden labyrinth
Of winding paths, a fastness
Of thought amid the blank sheep hills.

Now and again a rare meme
Will take flight, heave to the air
With sudden purpose loosed
Blown north anomalous among
Skylarks harried by the autumn light
Disguised as crows, as blown bags
Caught in the branches of plane trees
They wait, seek the moment to descend
And whisper that places have will,
As small fields dream of wide horizons,
So gardens dream of hill.


Little Sparta is the garden built by Ian Hamilton-Finlay and his wife Sue near Dunsyre, south of the Pentland Hills, about 30 miles from Edinburgh. The last lines of this poem borrow from an installation on the exposed, moorland section of the garden: a row of drystane walls, with the words small fields dream of wide horizons in various arrangements, embedded in the walls. It’s a lovely revelation about how, as we enter places of different character, we unwittingly accept a different lens with which we experience the world. So small fields dream of wide horizons and also, wide horizons dream of small fields. It is as if places have will, and humans both mould and channel that will.

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