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      A Heart on the Sand



            A sequence of five poems by Sylvia Townsend Warner dedicated to Valentine Ackland and dated Easter 1952.

            Main article text

            A Heart on the Sand

            For Valentine Ackland

            Easter 1952

            Sylvia Townsend Warner

            A Heart on the Sand


            Between the violent sea

            And the absorbed land,

            Smoothly, speedily,

            With a stick in her hand

            She drew a heart on the sand.

            It was a day when wind

            And stress and threat of sky

            Bade one immediately

            Set down an ‘I am I,’

            Though none should mark or mind.

            The waves along the shore

            Scumbled and effaced

            A brief self-portraiture,

            The marrom blades incised

            Their diameter,

            And the fisherman unwound,

            Slowly, warily,

            His autobiography

            With every step he paced.

            But she, but she

            For past and for future

            Her signature designed,

            Who drew a heart on the sand

            Round an S and a V.


            Oh, spare a trifle to a blinded musician,

            And raise him up from exile and from derision.

            Far and further than far it is my lot to roam,

            Sweet Auburn was my lovely rustic home.

            Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain,

            Kind Nolly sang it, who was Auburn’s pride.

            He went to sing it in London and in London he died,

            And none will ever see sweet Auburn again.

            The day of Nolly’s funeral was such,

            Ten thousand beggars followed him to the grave

            And every loose woman was weeping like a wife,

            For the poor have longer memories than the rich.

            Like a true son of Auburn, he wore

            Pink breeches neat and clean as the flowers of the may.

            He shared his last crust with my good dog Tray,

            And when I hear him forgotten my heart is sore.

            So do not turn away from poor blind harper,

            But bear me home and wash me with soap and water,

            For the sake of kind Nell convey me to your humble dwelling,

            And for Thomas Moore also, and William Butler Yeats, sons of old Erin.


            I saw the snow-wreaths lying in desolate whiteness

            Like innocent angels thrown down.

            To see them in their solitude of unlikeness

            Scattered upon the usual ground

            And still too heavenly to accomplish dying,

            I thought that I could scarcely forgive the spring.


            Vault up the ceiling, Vanbrugh, and enchain

            Saloon on long saloon, vast as you will –

            There’s no geometry that can contain

            Atossa’s voice, so scolding and so shrill.

            Stretch out the grand Approach, her little shoe

            Hastening to war, shrivels the promenade;

            Her crowding fantasies of wrath outdo

            The mustered skyline vaunts of your facade.

            What’s roomy for those who have inhabited legend?

            Huddled in Blenheim, she weeps with red eyes

            The lost majestic dwelling that she planned

            And Marlborough filled up with victories.


            Between the west and the east,

            Between silence and absence –

            Tower without a bell

            And altar impalpable –

            Stands the green priest,

            And now is grown so tall

            That his wide arms recline on the roofless wall.

            Sylvia Townsend Warner and Valentine Ackland Archive, Dorset History Centre; DHC reference number D/TWA/A09; previous reference number at the Dorset County Museum 2012.125.3253.

            Author and article information

            The Journal of the Sylvia Townsend Warner Society
            UCL Press
            21 June 2022
            : 21
            : 2
            : 133-136
            [* ](1893–1978)
            Copyright © 2022, Tanya Stobbs

            This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Licence (CC-BY) 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

            Page count
            Pages: 5

            Literary studies,History
            Sylvia Townsend Warner,Valentine Ackland,sequence of poems


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