The Herb Garden
A ‘Wandering Words’ commission by poet and creative writing teacher Cat Woodward, inspired by the herb garden at Norwich Cathedral.

Discover Norwich of the past, present and future through newly commissioned poems from five brilliant writers with ties to the city. Wandering Words is a literary walk, created to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of Norwich becoming England’s first UNESCO City of Literature.

You can download a Wandering Words map here and embark on the walk yourself, or follow along online by listening to the poem and soundscape below. Explore Wandering Words in full here →


The Herb Garden

Location five: 5 The Close, Norwich NR1 4DH

Take the back route into Cathedral Close via Hook’s Walk and follow your nose to find Norwich Cathedral’s Herb Garden, a little spot of tranquillity and a feast for all the senses. Originally used by monks for cultivating plants for both medicinal and kitchen use, the garden is now the ideal setting for some quiet writing time, or to sit and watch the insects and the world go by.

‘Cuckoo converses with a bishop’ is written and performed by poet and creative writing teacher Cat Woodward.

 

Cuckoo converses with a bishop

Listen to the poem with soundscape

 

Listen to the poem

 

Listen to the soundscape

 

Sound design and production by Michael Guimaraes at Access Creative College.


Read ‘Cuckoo converses with a bishop’

Peeping April discloses me tenderly,
perched in a fresh and leafy medlar tree,
crowded by precocious buds. You see,
I was rebuffed by a grey naiad of misty showers
who shook the crystals from her hair
and birled me about, until I sat somewhere
to puff the droplets from my feathers.
But where is this I find myself?
Webs cling to bits of brick, clutching trifles:
dead spiders, fragments of an old leaf,
silly rubbish meaning nothing.
You there, Bishop is it?
I must tell the news – it’s Spring!
Look, here is the fragrant winking woodruff,
there the loveage waxing lush, and
high in the yew a haughty blackbird: chuff chuff chuff.
I am a sprightly thing, a secret note
dropped from Nature’s catalogue.
You are a lucky man, Bishop.
Can you speak? Arise, I’ll instruct you.

 

Good morning Bishop,
you are old and you are bald,
you stink of tinctures and tea.
Today I’ve been to see the Green King,
his fields are glad and gay.
Why don’t you fly to them?
Or must you always sit so solemnly?
I met a young lady on my way,
bonny as a May pole was she.
I bent my silver bow, I shot her
with a golden arrow. She blushes still,
sighing somewhere by a willow.
You think it tripe? Come now, Bishop,
if only you could know that delight.
How the arch of roses throws its foam!
The spry day fades, the white moon glows!
The honeysuckle comes!
Go in if you must, Bishop. I’ll tarry here,
the stars are the flowers I sip
to keep my voice clear.

 

Do you suppose, Bishop, that the lady
who blushed at me in May, blushes
to another’s tune in June, while I dally here
beneath the shade of your proud cardoon?
Tell no one, but the red of these strawberries
wounds me, as though somehow they lie.
With your secateurs you forbid
the quince and fig from coming to ruin,
you have tamed the bay,
your railings are orderly.
I cannot do such things.
I am an envoy of paradise,
I belong to a land of pacing lions,
of humid perfumed breezes,
of large unlikely fruits that putrefy
in the raging heat of their desires.
I’m beginning to suspect, dear Bishop,
that you are another sort of creature
altogether.

 

You are late, Bishop. No matter,
I think you were thinking of me.
A dark thrill seized my quills, they stood on end
like the hairs of the nervous porcupine
and my spirit joined a song not unlike the cicada’s
on my native tree. But it was only for an instant.
Feel that wind, old Vulcan pumps the bellows
to blow his furnace hot, soon
the first thunderous mallet will boom.
Look there, the flagstones are still littered
with old husks –
so this is what becomes of the mayflower
when I’m away. It is July, Bishop.
Soon I must un-stow the southern wind and fly,
Eternal Spring calls me mercilessly.
Do bishops die? How will you know
when I’m thinking of you?
The herbs are too tight-lipped to tell you.
It rains, Bishop. Why not come with me?

 

I loiter too long. In contempt,
some elf has dusted all the grass with death,
the lavender breathes its last,
and I cannot stay to see your saffron flower.
It is August. You are learned, Bishop,
is there physic for that?
I fear we shall not meet again,
you go somewhere I cannot follow:
in your heart, you light a lantern,
even now you converse with the dark,
speaking in its own low tones,
knowing that it loves you.
None could tempt you, Bishop,
now I know that.
The homeward wind blows high and warm,
there the honey drips forever from the comb.
Thus my lavish thoughts are relieved of you.
Farewell, Bishop. Return if you can,
I shan’t sing cuckoo ‘til then.


Cat Woodward is a poet and creative writing teacher living in Norwich. Her first full length poetry collection, Strange Shape (Gatehouse Press, 2024) is on the place, history and folklore of Norwich. Cat’s work has been published in Long Poem Magazine, Stand, Butcher’s Dog and others. Her new pamphlet, Sueño del Alma: 22 Andalusian Sonnets, is due from Broken Sleep books in 2025. In 2018 Cat won the Ivan Juritz Prize for Creative Experiment. Cat runs The Poetry Master Class, one-to-one mentoring and downloadable writing classes at www.catwoodward.com. She holds a PhD in lyric poetics from The University of East Anglia.

 

Michael Guimaraes is a 20 year old student at Access Creative Norwich studying Music Technology at Level 3.

 

 

 


Norfolk & Norwich Festival and National Centre for Writing presentation, programmed by the National Centre for Writing.

A special thank you to our sound production partner Michael Guimaraes at Access Creative College.

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