Lesnes Abbey – a poem set in ancient woodland


Located in the London Borough of Bexley, Lesnes Abbey was founded in 1178 by Richard de Luci. De Luci had been involved in the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, and it is assumed that the foundation of the abbey was an act of penance. In any event, de Luci spent the last four month of his life in retirement at the abbey and was buried in the grounds.

I have visited the abbey on so many occasions and in the company of a number of people who were so very dear to me in my emotional life that its history has become a part of my history. The grounds and the shape of many of its trees have become permanently lodged in my affective memory.

In addition to a formal flower garden, the site of the ruins is backed by extensive remnants of the ancient woodland that gave its name to the location.

The poem below was inspired by the extraordinary beauty of that woodland. Sometimes a simple poem may be composed of little more than a list of things or attributes, and this is what I sought to do here: to select some of the characteristics of this delightful stretch of nature and to assemble them into phrases that would be carried forward by the rhythm.

Lesnes Abbey

In the ancient woods
     around the Augustinian abbey of Lesnes where
            Richard de Luci’s crime was laid to rest,
      daffodil, bluebell, violet and wood anemone
            thrive, along with foxglove, heather,
willow herb,
      red campion, figwort, dogs mercury, ramson,
            St Johns wort, yellow archangel and yellow iris.
      Here the shadows of hornbeam and mulberry
            and larch and swamp cypress are also
to be found,
      and in silence or above the raucous cry of the magpie
            or the great spotted woodpecker’s fevered drill,
      the chirrup of the robin, the song thrush, the blackbird,
            the wren or the collared dove may be heard.