The Hornbeams

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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.

The image of those hornbeam boughs, their traceries etched in chrome yellow snow on a bitter winter night many years ago in Soho’s Golden Square, has never left me. In a way, they began a journey which has yet to end. The hornbeams are still there, glorious at any time of year.