Destinies of rust – Gordon Bottomley and the early days of eco-poetry

I came across this while archiving: an epigram to an unpublished work of the late Russell Hoban. It’s beautiful, and makes me want to read more of Bottomley’s work.

O, you are busied in the night,

Preparing destinies of rust;

Iron misused must turn to blight,

And dwindle to a tetter’d crust. 

It’s part of the poem “To Iron-Founders and Others”, an amazingly early piece of eco-poetry. I think it deserves posting in full. 

Can we also bring back the word tetter’d? Please?

To Iron-Founders and Others
By Gordon Bottomley
WHEN you destroy a blade of grass
You poison England at her roots:
Remember no man’s foot can pass
Where evermore no green life shoots.
You force the birds to wing too high         5
Where your unnatural vapours creep:
Surely the living rocks shall die
When birds no rightful distance keep.
You have brought down the firmament
And yet no heaven is more near;         10
You shape huge deeds without event,
And half-made men believe and fear.
Your worship is your furnaces,
Which, like old idols, lost obscenes,
Have molten bowels; your vision is         15
Machines for making more machines.
O, you are busied in the night,
Preparing destinies of rust;
Iron misused must turn to blight
And dwindle to a tetter’d crust.         20
The grass, forerunner of life, has gone,
But plants that spring in ruins and shards
Attend until your dream is done:
I have seen hemlock in your yards.
The generations of the worm         25
Know not your loads piled on their soil;
Their knotted ganglions shall wax firm
Till your strong flagstones heave and toil.
When the old hollow’d earth is crack’d,
And when, to grasp more power and feasts,         30
Its ores are emptied, wasted, lack’d,
The middens of your burning beasts
Shall be raked over till they yield
Last priceless slags for fashionings high,
Ploughs to wake grass in every field,         35
Chisels men’s hands to magnify.
Gordon Bottomley (1874–1948)
Gordon Bottomley (1874–1948)
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3 thoughts on “Destinies of rust – Gordon Bottomley and the early days of eco-poetry”

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