The Sunday Poem: A London Plane Tree
Anthony Cronin's Personal Anthology
THOSE who love London love the London plane tree, with its long hanging leaves and its self-renewing bark. When the bark peels in winter it exposes the creamy skin, the colour of which John Nash so brilliantly adapted for the exterior plaster of Regent's Park Terrace.
Amy Levy was born in Clapham in the 1860s, one of the seven children of prosperous progressive Jewish parents, and her early pieces were published in the Jewish Chronicle.
She wrote novels as well as poetry, but whereas her novels tend to discuss serious issues – the "new woman" and what she called "the complex problem of Jewish life and Jewish character" – her poems touch lightly and with great visual exactness on the daily scene.
She contributed stories, essays and poems to The Woman's World, edited by Oscar Wilde. Her friends included Eleanor Marx (daughter of Karl) and the novelist Olive Schreiner.
She fell in love with another woman writer, Vernon Lee, and both wrote novels which incorporated the theme of lesbian love; but from an early age she had suffered from severe bouts of depression and in her late 20s these attached themselves to the unhappiness of her romantic relationships and she took her own life. Oscar Wilde wrote a laudatory obituary in The Woman's World.
A LONDON PLANE-TREE
Green is the plane-tree in the square,
The other trees are brown;
They droop and pine for country air;
The plane-tree loves the town.
Here, from my garret-pane, I mark
The plane-tree bud and blow,
Shed her recuperative bark,
And spread her shade below.
Among her branches, in and out,
The city breezes play;
The dun fog wraps her round about;
Above, the smoke curls grey.
Others the country take for choice,
And hold the town in scorn;
But she has listened to the voice
On city breezes borne.
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