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Bluebells At Bow

April 14, 2015
by the gentle author

Once spring arrives, I am drawn to Bow Cemetery to admire the magnificent new growth of plant life

With the first bluebells in flower in my garden in Spitalfields, I was inspired make a visit to Bow and admire 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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Find out more at Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park

14 Responses leave one →
  1. Carol Himmelman-Christopher permalink
    April 14, 2015

    Thank you. I am a long-time reader of the Gentle Author. And early on, I insisted that my sister in California read the daily offering. She describes it as “going on holiday every morning” — and this morning’s story more than fulfills that description. Thank you so very much. Here in Berlin, the snow drops, blue bells, celandines and crocus are just starting to fade away. So it is wonderful to experience them again through this story.

  2. April 14, 2015

    The loveliest blog post to wake up to. Your poetic words about the cemetery flowers brings the carpet vividly to life. I’m inspired to visit another of the Magnificent Seven near me and to see if there are bluebells.

  3. marianne isaacs permalink
    April 14, 2015

    What a lovely place to end up . When I was in the uk last year I had a wonder around in the cemetry at Stoke Newington . An amazing place . My son was horrified as he says it is a hot bed of nefarious activity . I hadnt noticed b8t it was very lovely and similarly overgrown.

  4. Mary permalink
    April 14, 2015

    You make it sound as though it goes on for ever. What a wonderful place.

  5. Patricia Celeveland-Peck permalink
    April 14, 2015

    This is such a beautifully written piece. It exactly captures the sense that new life arises from death which pervades nature. Thank you G.A for another lovely start to the day.

  6. April 14, 2015

    Gorgeous! Bow cematary looks great, must visit

  7. Amanda permalink
    April 14, 2015

    Dear Gentle Author,

    I feel that the time has come for me to thank you for your wonderful daily blog; for your effortless and beautiful writing about the glories and trials of the East End of London. As I awake in deepest Norfolk at 6 am, I look for that constant on my phone – that comforting soothing little amber envelope which appears every morning like a gold nugget ready to be discovered, containing another adventure by you, the Gentle Author. I am then transported to the streets and places where my dear grandmother walked as a child and then grew up (she went to Lady Hollis school around 1915 but I do not know whether it still exists).

    Thank you for the way in which you see wonder, beauty and a story to be told in everything and for the detail of history which you impart. I delight in it every day.

    Amanda, Norfolk

  8. April 14, 2015

    A happy and wonderful Springtime to all!

    Love & Peace

  9. April 14, 2015

    What a wonderful post, Gentle Author. I am a great lover of cemeteries myself, and find them a much-needed refuge both for wild nature and for the stressed and heart-sick of the human species. This, plus your blossom post a few days ago, have been like a long, cold drink of water on a hot day. Thank you.

  10. April 14, 2015

    Thank you for transporting us to a verdant wonderland ancient and new. Very uplifting for those of us across the pond who are still waiting for hyacinths, daffodils, and tulips to nose up through our dry soil. Stunning photographs!

  11. April 14, 2015

    One of my favourite places. An oasis in the heart of Mile End.

  12. Gary Arber permalink
    April 14, 2015

    An interesting little plant is the Lesser Celandine, it has tubers on its roots like little potatoes.

  13. April 14, 2015

    These photos remind me of my visit to Bow cemetery last May what a great place and vast with so many pathways to explore! Thank you for sharing your walk with us all GA!

  14. Elizabeth cornwell permalink
    April 15, 2015

    What a lovelt place!Bluebells & wild garlic sum up the English springtime!

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