Green Men at New College
At New College, the Green Men have taken root
Like weeds, grown through opportunism, their seeds
Borne on a brisk wind before the rains. Some
Are kings, their beards forked in three locks,
Moustaches hanging above resolute lips, leaves
Springing, like ideas, from the temples. One
Wears leaves trained up his cheeks, adjuncts
To his crown; another, older, is benign – his
Leaves almost conceal his frown. This one
Is a joker, lolling his tongue: it germinates
Into a frond. There is even the Green-Man
Dunce, buck-toothed, blinded by his plethora
Of leaves. Some sprout no green of their own,
But their crowns belie them. Then, there is the pair
Of oak-men: the furrowing of their brows
Releases an unfolding. Their jaws sprout
Acorns. That one smiles – or is it merely
That his eyelids and lips are tugged upwards
By the optimistic green? This looks like a Saracen,
His hair greased into tripartite curls, but he
Breathes weeds. One smirks, wears his leaves
Like handlebars – another is sere with sorrow.
They sprout from armrests, half choking,
Completely taken over by leaves that spurt
From armpits, jowls, anywhere. Then there are
The leafy beasts, with gritted teeth. Some
Offer a token grimace. Others snarl. There’s
Only one who simply scares me. He fangs
A limp leaf that hangs in front, his face
Feral, his muzzle hiding gritted teeth.
The leaves thrust upwards from beneath
The cheekbones; the hair coils. A pair
Of claws clasps outwards at a strange
Angle, and the greenery itself is just
Camouflage for those remnants
Of the reptile: scales, barely concealing
The sinews underneath. I stop.
The choir-stalls echo with the slantwise,
Backwards-hacking laughter of the fox.
Poem by Giles Watson, 2012. Inspired by carvings in the choir stalls of New College, Oxford, carved in the fourteenth century. All pictures by Giles Watson, © Courtesy of the Warden and Scholars of New College, Oxford.