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Featured Poem: The Way Through The Woods by Rudyard Kipling

Written by Rachael Norris, 18th May 2020

This week in our special series of poems to help us through the testing times ahead, Suvi Dogra, The Reader's London Development Manager, shares her thoughts on The Way Through The Woods by Rudyard Kipling.

One of the most compelling changes which came about when the world retreated indoors, was that nature was able to breathe freely once again. Around the world pictures of animals walking the streets exploring new 'human' spaces gave us something to smile about. Do you remember when the sheep went running down the street in Wales? When I chanced upon this poem, The Way through the Woods, my thoughts immediately turned to how wilderness if left to itself has fear of man.

No one has traversed this path in the woods for seventy years, yet the poet seems to remember there was one. And 'they' shut the road. I wondered long about who 'they' were. Us humans? A specific set of people? Why did they give up the road? But when allowed, nature reclaimed what was lost to humans. And what a contrast! Humans made the path and then abandoned it, while the woods took it back and made it its own.

I was also fascinated by the 'keeper,' an all seeing entity who knows there was once a road. And what makes this 'keeper' accepted by nature? Animals seem to be at ease with the presence. Is there a lesson for all humanity here? Perhaps to be more like a keeper who nurtures and secures nature instead of causing it distress?

But just as I began to lament that we need to keep our distance to preserve the idyll, the poet showed me what's on offer if I tread carefully in the woods on a late summer evening. The air is cool and the otters are calling out to their mates. They don't feel threatened as they haven't experienced many humans. But would it have been the same, if the road had continued to exist? Would the animals be as trusting of me? It is also intriguing how a horse when it entered the woods seemed to somehow know an old road was once existed and can trace a path. It is almost as if the elements and creatures of nature have a secret language which they communicate without us knowing. How strange! It is perhaps to protect this mysterious dynamic that the poet adds the last line, as if to throw us of the trail and preserve this ecosystem.

 

The Way Through The Woods

 

They shut the road through the woods

Seventy years ago.

Weather and rain have undone it again,

And now you would never know

There was once a road through the woods

Before they planted the trees.

 

It is underneath the coppice and heath,

And the thin anemones.

Only the keeper sees

That, where the ring-dove broods,

And the badgers roll at ease,

There was once a road through the woods.

 

Yet, if you enter the woods

Of a summer evening late,

When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools

Where the otter whistles his mate,

(They fear not men in the woods,

Because they see so few.)

You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet,

And the swish of a skirt in the dew,

Steadily cantering through

The misty solitudes,

As though they perfectly knew

The old lost road through the woods…

But there is no road through the woods.

By Rudyard Kipling

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