I was saying a bit about various environments or scenes that helped me think up poetry and which appeared in my poems. I’ve had my say about the sea, the shore, estuaries, rivers, skies and hills. There isn’t an endless list of such things, but I felt there was one more worth mentioning – forests or woods.
Living in lowland England, I walk in woods far more often than on the hills. In Britain the higher hills are generally covered in grass or heather and not trees, though many such areas were once forested. The open hills, like the sea and the sky, convey a sense of great, perhaps limitless, space. This makes some people scared, but for me it signals liberation and “the oceanic feeling” of linking with something bigger.
Among the trees, though, vistas are rare. You feel encompassed in the forest as you might feel underwater. In reality, after a while you’ll find a view of fields or moors or even houses, but it’s quite easy to forget this and imagine an endless or inescapable forest (I mean one that, once you enter it, allows no exit). Forests are full of life, both plant and animal, but they are dark (small woods are often less dark both because of light entering at the margins and because they’re often managed to provide spaces). We know that much of our land was forest, that once forest stretched from the English Channel to the southern Highlands of Scotland without break. In England there is no primeval forest left, and in Scotland only small, straggly fragments of the great Caledonian pine forest, but we remember and imagine the primeval forest and perhaps imagine the ghosts of those who inhabited it as elves and the rest. Real primeval forest, for example the Bielowieza Forest in Poland, is immensely powerful, living, rotting, foetid, pulsing with birdsong, peopled with wolf, beaver, lynx and bison and, in imagination, with extinct animals such as the aurochs and our own Neanderthal Man.
Forest appears in my poems less than the sea or the open hills, but it appears as a place of strange life and suprises, of whispers and shadows. This is the forest of fairy story where children may get lost and find strange things.