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TWO THEMES

When I have been working late on a summer night, I like to go out and lie on the patch of grass in our back garden. This garden is a square of about twenty feet, so that to lie in it is like exposing oneself in an open box or tray. Not far below the topsoil is the London Clay which, as Primrose Hill, humps up conspicuously at the end of the road. The humus, formed by the accumulations first of forest and then of meadow land, must once have been fertile enough, but nearly a century in a back garden has exhausted it. After their first season, plants flower no more, and are hard put to it each year even to make a decent show of leaves. The only exceptions are the lilies of the valley, possessors of some virtue that enables them to draw their tremendous scent from meanest soils. The sunless side of the garden has been abandoned to them, and now even in winter it is impossible to fork the earth there, so densely is it matted with the roots and pale nodes from which their flowers will rise.

Another result of the impoverishment of the soil is that the turf on which I lie is meagre and worn, quite without buoyancy. I would not have it otherwise, for this hard ground presses my flesh against my bones and makes me agreeably conscious of my body. In bed I can sleep, here I can rest awake. My eyes stray among the stars, or are netted by the fine silhouettes of the leaves immediately overhead and from them passed on to the black lines of neighbouring chimney pots, misshapen and stolid, yet always there. Sometimes they jump down so softly that I do not hear them alight. Making their silken journeys through the dark, the cats seem as untamed, as remote, as the creatures that moved here before there were any houses or settlements in the Thames valley.

By night I have something of the same feeling about cats that I have always, and far more strongly, about birds: that perfectly formed while men were still brutal, they now represent the continued presence of the past.

(J. Hawkes: 'A Land')

 

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'Cats rustle in the creepers on the end wall'

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