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Green Men at New College | by Giles Watson's poetry and prose
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Green Men at New College


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.


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Taken on April 12, 2012