Wednesday, November 15, 2006

William Shenstone (1714-1763)

Monday (November 13) was the birthday of the poet William Shenstone, born in Halesowen. His most famous poem was a long poem titled The Schoolmistress: An Imitation of Spenser. He is perhaps equally famous, though, for his role in the development of English landscape gardening. He turned his family estate in Halesowen, the Leasowes, into a showcase for the new eighteenth-century style of classically-inspired garden design. Especially famous in its day was "Virgil's Grove" at the Leasowes, a pastoral landscape featuring an obelisk meant to represent the tomb of the Roman poet Virgil. The Leasowes was so famous that Thomas Jefferson included it on his tour of English gardens in 1786—along with gardens of more enduring fame, like the gardens of Stowe and Blenheim. The photograph here is of the small arboretum near the main entrance of the Warkwickshire golf club, formerly the gardens of the nineteenth-century manor house Wootton Court. The lone ionic column, with its patina of green, is very much in the tradition of landscape gardening that began with William Shenstone in the eighteenth century. The light, when I took this picture, was absolutely perfect.

Here's a poem for the day by William Shenstone.

The Landskip

How pleas'd within my native bowers
Erewhile I pass'd the day!
Was ever scene so deck'd with flowers?
Were ever flowers so gay?

How sweetly smil'd the hill, the vale,
And all the landskip round!
The river gliding down the dale!
The hill with beeches crown'd!

But now, when urg'd by tender woes,
I speed to meet my dear,
That hill and stream my zeal oppose,
And check my fond career.

No more, since Daphne was my theme,
Their wonted charms I see:
That verdant hill, and silver stream,
Divide my love and me.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

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