Snakeshead Fritillaries

Driving back from Surrey on Sunday I happened to tune in to ‘Lost Voices’ on Radio 4.  Juliet Stephenson was reading selected poetry by Anne Ridler.  In this series Brian Patten explores the life and work of little-known or forgotten poets.  I loved the poems as they were thoughtful, lyrical, beautifying the common-place.  I liked this poem best.  There are ten days left to Listen Again….

‘Snakeshead Fritillaries’ Anne Ridler (1994)

Some seedlings shoulder the earth away
Like Milton’s lion plunging to get free,
Demanding notice. Delicate rare fritillary,
You enter creeping, like the snake
You’re named for, and lay your ear to the ground.
The soundless signal comes, to arch the neck –
Losing the trampled look –
Follow the code for colour, whether
White or freckled with purple and pale,
A chequered dice-box tilted over the soil,
The yellow dice held at the base.

When light slants before the sunset, this is
The proper time to watch the fritillaries.
They enter creeping; you go on your knees,
The flowers level with your eyes,
And catch the dapple of sunlight through the petals.


In mid-March, fritillaries I planted in a glazed pot last year, rebloomed. They’ve survived the rigours of  winter and their delicate bells are an early joy, foreshadowing more familiar dainty Spring blooms.


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