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Bluebells at Bow Cemetery

April 22, 2012
by the gentle author

With a few bluebells in flower in my garden in Spitalfields, I was inspired make a visit to Bow Cemetery and view the display of bluebells sprouting under the tall forest canopy that has grown over the graves of the numberless East Enders buried there. In each season of the the year, this hallowed ground offers me an arcadian refuge from the city streets and my spirits always lift as I pass between the ancient brick walls that enclose it, setting out to lose myself among the winding paths, lined by tombstones and overarched with trees.

Equivocal weather rendered the timing of my trip as a gamble, and I was at the mercy of chance whether I should get there and back in sunshine. Yet I tried to hedge my bets by setting out after a shower and walking quickly down the Whitechapel Rd beneath a blue sky of small fast-moving clouds – though, even as I reached Mile End, a dark thunderhead came eastwards from the City casting gloom upon the land. It was too late to retrace my steps and instead I unfurled my umbrella in the cemetery as the first raindrops fell, taking shelter under a horse chestnut, newly in leaf, as the shower became a downpour.

Standing beneath the dripping tree in the half-light of the storm, I took a survey of the wildflowers around me, primroses spangling the green, the white star-like stitchwort adorning graves, a scattering of palest pink ladies smock highlighting the ground cover, yellow celandines sharp and bright against the dark green leaves, violets and wild strawberries nestling close to the earth and may blossom and cherry blossom up above – and, of course, the bluebells’ hazy azure mist shimmering between the lines of stones tilting at irregular angles. Alone beneath the umbrella under the tree in the heart of the vast graveyard, I waited. It was the place of death, but all around me there was new growth.

Once the rain relented sufficiently for me to leave my shelter, I turned towards the entrance in acceptance that my visit was curtailed. The pungent aroma of wild garlic filled the damp air. But then – demonstrating the quick-changing weather that is characteristic of April – the clouds were gone and dazzling sunshine descended in shafts through the forest canopy turning the wet leaves into a million tiny mirrors, reflecting light in a vision of phantasmagoric luminosity. Each fresh leaf and petal and branch glowed with intense colour after the rain. I stood still and cast my eyes around to absorb every detail in this sacred place. It was a moment of recognition that has recurred throughout my life, the awe-inspiring rush of growth of plant life in England in spring.

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21 Responses leave one →
  1. April 22, 2012

    Striking photos – beautiful!

  2. melbournegirl permalink
    April 22, 2012

    Yes, absolutely beautiful images. Thank you for them.

  3. jeannette permalink
    April 22, 2012

    Always so uplifting and touching to see the naturalized/naturalizing flowers.

    The shot of the blossoming tree reminded me of the one Bonnard painted on his deathbed:

    And the beautiful spray of white lilacs Manet painted on his.

    Verweile doch! Du bist zu schoene!

  4. April 22, 2012

    How absolutely enchanting. Thank you so much.

  5. April 22, 2012

    Wonderful! Who’d have thought to explore inner-city London for a bluebell wood?

  6. April 22, 2012

    Fantastic! I’ve never seen anything like this – your pictures are truly beautiful!

  7. April 22, 2012

    Mmm wild garlic…lovely images, the rain has enhanced the colours too!

  8. Gary permalink
    April 22, 2012

    You should make a quick return as the Stinging Nettles were in perfect condition for harvesting.
    You should find a recipe on Google.
    You had a better scene than I had in my local woods, well done and thanks.

  9. John and Sue Satchell permalink
    April 22, 2012

    beautiful pictures and a lovely essay on what is best to do on a spring day.
    thank you so much for the pleasure your daily blog gives me!

  10. Anne Forster permalink
    April 22, 2012

    Jewel like colours in the graveyard, very atmospheric.
    Thankyou GH.

  11. April 22, 2012

    I stumbled here from the booksnob’s site…so glad I did! Love your writing style and had so much fun reading your old blog post…I’ve bookmarked your site and will definitely be back for more! You’ve earned yourself a new “regular.”

  12. EastEnder permalink
    April 22, 2012

    Lovely article and wonderful pictures. Now it would be nice if you could refer to the place by its real name: Tower Hamlets Cemetery PARK. It has not been a cemetery since 1966.

  13. Chris F permalink
    April 22, 2012

    I shouldn’t mind if my last resting place were in a bluebell wood.

  14. April 22, 2012

    How utterly beautiful.

  15. Paula PM permalink
    April 23, 2012

    Be still, my heart… You had me at “arcadian refuge”.

  16. Annie permalink
    April 23, 2012

    You are a beautiful writer. My class of 10 year old primary school boys are going to be treated to this piece as an example of what they might become one day if they pull their fingers out now.
    For me, it was the unfurling umbrella.
    Write on.

  17. April 23, 2012

    ” primroses spangling the green

    ……an arcadian refuge from the city streets ”

    from its title bluebells at bow cemetery,to all the luscious images , each word considered,another beautifully felt and harmonious piece of writing allowing us the reader be with you there under your umbrella and knowing that your faith in nature would be rewarded with sunshine , thank you dear gentle author , whoever you may be.

  18. susie ford permalink
    April 24, 2012

    I too visited the cemetary early last week, to be amazed and delighted by the variety and quality of the flowering bulbs and plants – what about the cowslips! Where else in London do they thrive?
    But what I found most extraordinary is the deep blue hue of the bluebells – rich, almost violet.
    I walked through Gordon Square today, another great place to see wild and cultivated spring flowers, and I have to say that the bluebells there, although beautiful, were a touch insipid in comparison to those in Bow – is it the fertiliser!

  19. Barbara Barber permalink*
    April 26, 2012

    This has got to be the loveliest cemetery I have ever seen. Hard to believe it is in the heart of London.

    The sort of image that is dangerous because it makes me want to get up and fly off to Spitalfields just to sit quietly in the little woods, to just be there. An expensive little trip from the U.S. though;)

    But then again…those lovely bluebells sighing and waving among the old forgotten gravestones in the woods.

  20. May 24, 2012

    This is an older post now and I have only just got to it. I so completely agree with you about Spring in England and I so absolutely could feel the experience of you standing under that tree, forced, in a sense, to take it in, twinkling minutely and not so minutely all around you. Twenty years ago I walked through a similar woodland scene (in the gardens of Osterley House) where a similar haze of blue drifted into my senses and still remains with me, stitched into the lining of my mental pocket. Twenty hours or so after that, my daughter was born. More life to add to the burgeoning Spring all around. Thank you for your description and for the photos. It took me back (to the present).

  21. Bill rice permalink
    June 11, 2013

    Beautiful photos

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