Field of Science

Moss Poetry

Sphagnum spp. by Giles Watson (October 2004)
An early memory: the Sphagnum swamp
pockmarked with old tree stumps,
and punctuated by the gruff plonks
of pobblebonks mating. Each step
leaves the thuck of water oozing back
while brown frogs writhe inside the moss.

Tussocks slowly parted, safely,
with a stick. A black snake coils.
Locusts click singly in the heat.

Perhaps this explains, two decades later,
Why, walking among bog-moss
and navelworts, spiked by rushes,
near Burnham Beeches, where the ground
grows soggy—a hemisphere away—
I am longing for frogs and adders.

First, perhaps, an injured hind,
her fetlock grazed by a clattering stone,
made her way through the heath
and hoary bilberries, to the edge
of the blanket bog, and half-knelt there
with the bloodstain spreading through
moss already purpled.

Later, at the battle
of Clonterf, the wounded, biting
on lead, stuffed their own gashes
with the whitened clumps of Sphagnum,
and at Flodden, with green bog-moss
and soft grass.

There has always been utility
in a simple that sucks up blood
more perfectly than dressings we can make.

From the hind’s graze to the shrapnel wound,
the virtue is the same.

Click here for a link to the original posting of this poem and other botanical poetry.
Below the fold is a blurb from the author about his inspiration for this poem.

Source material. The first poem is inspired by two encounters with Sphagnum bogs, one in the Brindabella mountains, A.C.T., Australia, in the early 1980s, and the other in 2003, at Burnham Beeches in Buckinghamshire. Pobblebonks are a startlingly vocal species of Australian frog, and their name is accurately onomatopoeic. The second poem alludes to the highly absorbent nature of Sphagnum. The leaves are filled with tiny tubes which suck up fluids by capillary action. The history of the use of Sphagnum as a surgical dressing is described in Mrs. Grieve’s A Modern Herbal, p. 553–4. It has been used for this purpose into modern times, and indeed, surgeons at the western front during the First World War soon realized that it was superior to cotton wool, because “A pad of Sphagnum moss absorbs the discharge in lateral directions, as well as immediately above the wound... [and] the wounds of our men at the front were of such a suppurating character as to require specially absorbent dressings...”

1 comment:

  1. Very nice that it sets an peaceful atmospheric tone then describes a more grizzly and practical use of Sphagnum. I think I should print out this poem and tape it up near the Sphagnum during the Bio 108 lab on moss. Some learning and a little culture too.


Markup Key:
- <b>bold</b> = bold
- <i>italic</i> = italic
- <a href="">FoS</a> = FoS