Tree Following: Golden ending

Winter Hornbeam of Gordon SquareA beautiful December day and a fitting farewell to the Hornbeam of Gordon Square.

The tree beams in its sinewy nudity with barely a blush for the lack of leaf it is renowned to uphold throughout the winter. Meanwhile the hornbeam hedging of adjacent squares are in full coppery foliage, curled and ready for the seasonal onslaughts

Still encased behind the ongoing road works, the scene is unattractively urban. Behind is the Institute of Archaeology, which commemorated its 75th anniversary in 2012 by planting this Carpinus betulus.

Not much older than a sapling, the Hornbeam tree flexes its youthful muscles, which will become less distinct with age. This contouring, coupled with the iron hardness of the wood, makes it unsuitable timber for carpentry but it burns slow and long, and is ideal for charcoal and firewood..

This will be the last sighting of the Hornbeam as 2015 will bring another tree to bear but I will keep a weather eye on it, for as long as it and I remain neighbours.

fluted trunk of Hornbeam in winter - Gordon Square hornbeam hedging in winter - Tavistock Square
On this special Christmas edition of Tree Following, Lucy has encouraged us to celebrate our trees with song, verse, art etc For me there is no better accolade to Hornbeams than Felix Dennis’s eponymous poem. So I went along to Golden Square and captured this image to illustrate the poem. It lacks the snow but WordPress snowflakes add a wintry flavour.

Carpinus betulus 'Fastigiata': Hornbeams of Golden Square
“The image of those hornbeams, their traceries etched in chrome yellow snow on a bitter winter night many years ago in Soho’s Golden Square, has never left me. The hornbeams are still there, glorious at any time of year.” Felix Dennis 1947 -2014

“I walked alone in Golden Square
One bitter, solitary night,
The littered streets were cold and bare
With scarce another soul in sight,
The coward lamps flung out their glow,
Chrome yellow on the Soho snow.

St. Stephen’s bells began their dance,
I turned to pace my jaundiced way
To Kingly Street, and then, by chance,
I felt a snowdrift ricochet
From off my shoulder — raised my eyes
And froze mid-step in mute surprise.

High up above those streets of woe
Four massive hornbeams clawed the sky,
Each bough a silhouette of snow,
A sight to paralyse the eye,
To stun the mind and warm the heart
That nature might produce such art.

How long I stood and gazed aloft
I do not know — then heard a voice
Say ‘You alright?’ The words were soft
But coppers leave you little choice:
‘Yes thanks,’ I said, and met his stare.
He watched me as I crossed the square;

Yet I was musing while I stole
On beauty’s power to heal the soul,
And turning back, I chanced to see
A man entranced beneath a tree,
His head bent back, yet strangely bare,
His helmet doffed — as if in prayer.”

With many thanks to Lucy for hosting Tree Following: There’s a link box on Loose and Leafy on 7th of the month for 7 days. Every month!
And am also following Pat@The Squirrel Basket who also is shadowing a Hornbeam


17 thoughts on “Tree Following: Golden ending

  1. I miss the hornbeams which we used to visit in Wormley & Nut Woods (Hertfordshire). We do not see them here in Northern Ireland; such a shame. I made a great walking stick with hornbeam; a really strong & heavy wood it was used for cog teeth in wind & water mills. Also because it doesn’t chip it was used in the striking mechanisms of pianos. Used end grain up it makes the best butcher’s blocks.


      1. It’s mostly out of books I’m sorry to say! My big wish for retirement, started two months ago, is to become more hands on & open a new chapter in my life.


  2. “Sinewy nudity”! I like that turn of phrase!
    It has been lovely comparing your youthful hornbeam with my quite ancient one and I have learned a lot from you.
    That poem is so beautiful – brought a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat (as many things do these days!) – it is so inevitable that we look up in awe (open-mouthed in my case) at these wonderful trees.
    Hope to keep in touch via our blogs in the future.
    All the best 🙂


  3. Lucy Corrander

    I’m terribly behind with everything at present – including both blog reading and page construction. But . . . I’ve put a link to this post on the (as yet unpublished) ‘Trees in Art’ page for Loose and Leafy. Hope that’s ok. (Say if not.) (With other poems I’m giving links to stand-alone text but for this one I could only find read-out-loud versions . . . except here!)
    Looking forward to finding out what you’ve chosen as your next tree. And best wishes for 2015.


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