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This article is taken from PN Review 133, Volume 26 Number 5, May - June 2000.

Shelf Lives: 11: Sylvia Townsend Warner Peter Scupham

People whom I never knew
In the house below the hill
That so many years ago
I looked down on through the bushes
Live, and prune their roses still,
Live, and brush the new year snow
Off their doorstep, live, and strew
Crumbs for robins, tits and thrushes,

Live, and watch the blossom falling
On the grass-plat newly mown,
And the swallows reinstated;
Safe from living and from dying,
Never and forever known,
Not begotten but created,
Tea-time, Luke, forever calling -
Coming, Lucy, still replying.

A slight haunting, but haunt me it does, this invention from a poet who has a razor-sharp sense of fictive life and the theatre of habitat: I think of guesswork lives cradled to the grave behind television-silvered curtains or tall yellow cutout windows clipped by laburnums, of ghosts locked up in little Cabinets of Curiosity and Tombs in the Valley of Dead Literary Lions - Vita Sackville-West's shabby book-lined peep-show in the tower of Sissinghurst, the embalmed fun of Charleston... Here, in the Norfolk badlands there's still more than a clutch of tumbledowns: Tudor gables with blocked windows facing down concrete yards, falling barns and fert bags. There's a lot of unbothered-about past, and a maze of lanes through empty skies and fields to get to it. So, thinking of Sylvia Townsend Warner, I remember the day we tried to hunt down Frankfort Manor, ...


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