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Peter Davidson

Introduction by Merran Gunn

Peter Davidson has kindly agreed for Light in the North to include an extract from his novel ‘The Last of the Light About Twilight'.

( Reaktion Books Ltd, 2015) 

Peter Davidson grew up in Scotland and Spain and in this book he writes about his grandfather’s Spanish garden with its white washed boundary walls. This is a place of timelessness, inner reflection and separation from the land that lies beyond the garden walls. 

Dairmid Gunn talks about similar responses to the walled Spanish garden that Neil Gunn felt and included in his writing. The experience of a garden being out of the ordinary perceptions of time, is revealed in the image of the walled garden;  the world we experience is contained within another world that lies beyond the one we can readily see.

I am therefore introducing Peter Davidson’s writing with an excerpt from Neil Gunn about a Spanish garden.

"I could not lie still. I got up and went to the window, and found myself looking out on an old Spanish garden. It was now that the odd feeling came over me that the stillness itself was holding something, much as the walls held the garden; and in a moment I realised that what it was holding was time. Time was stopped, not by any kind of magic or enchantment, but actually . . . Quite simply, then, I knew with an absolute conviction as I stood at that window gazing out on the old Spanish garden that there exists an order of things outside our conception of time . . There was nothing at all in the ordinary sense ‘religious’ about this experience; but what is astonishing, I think, is that there was nothing personal . . as I sat down on my bed, looking away towards the garden, I was overcome by a divine, a delicious sense of humour."

( Gunn, N..,The Well at World’s End, pp 140,141 )

Excerpt:  'About Shadows and Gardens' by Peter Davidson 

Dama de noche, night-blooming jessamine, stand at the gate of the darkening garden. Sweetness of jasmine, syrup in the mouth; black Havana tobacco, fog in the throat. The scented air is thickened beyond bearing, dense with thunder on the August evening that rises in memory. The days of murderous heat before the feast of the Assumption, before the first crack in the hideous summer. Not a breath of wind off the Mediterranean, insects thronging under the burdened olive trees beyond the garden walls. The echo of a shot, of shots, from the foothills to the north. A momentary silence in the conversation on the terrace, and then the fountain loud out of the dimness of the cypresses. Pulses of sound, pauses in the fall of water from the lion’s mouth into the pool between the mirroring curves of the stairs, dropping in the cadence of Lorca’s lines:

    Agua y sombra, sombra y agua,

    por Jerez de la Frontera (1)


   Shadow and water, water and shadow, at Jerez de la Frontera. 

    The conversation resumes, a weighty silver lighter rasps and flares, and more smoke from black tobacco drifts up to where I stand alone on the roof terrace watching the advance of the twighlight over the clifftop olive groves and the sea. Already the mountains to the to the north are darkening on their eastern sides, blurred by the heat of the day. The garden villa is in shadow, the last sunlight shooting rays through the red-earthed olive groves beyond. Beyond the white-washed garden wall to the west lies the unknown territory of the other garden: an abandoned parterre of straggling once-clipped trees and stagnant canals beyond iron gates locked by my grandfather’s orders before I was born. His study ( which i entered only once in my life, on sufferance and under supervision) takes up the whole of the tower at the eastern end of the villa. Questions are neither encouraged nor answered in this shuttered house.

    I turn back to the south to look. over the sea, hearing again the fountain below the terrace falling in counterpoint with the single jet in the long pool at the dead centre of the villa garden.

    El dia se va despacio

    la tarde colgada a un hombro

    dando una larga torera

    sobre el mar y los arroyos (2)

    Day goes out slowly, Evening hangs on the shoulder of the hill,

    Sweeping a long feint of its clock Over sea and rivers.

    The rivers are dry in this terrible August. I walked out with my father on some 

days, after five o’clock bread and chocolate, over the thymy scrubland behind the house, walked in migraine heat as fas as the gully of sand, which is a watercourse in winter. Bright oleanders with their rating leaves grow in the parched riverbed.

My father’s mind travelled then, I think, to his cold mountains, plumes of slow-drifting mist over pine trees, fast brown torrents pitted by rain. Standing on the arid bank, his right hand sketched the cast of a fishing line over the dust then, slowly and silently, we went back together to the locked villa. Purple dusk advances through the haze:

    Las aceitunas aguardan

    la noche de Capricornio

    y una corta brisa, ecuestre,

    salta los montes de plomo. (3)

    The olive trees wait the night of Capricorn, and a small breeze, mounted, jumps the hills of lead like a horseman.

    But in these days before the first August thunder, nothing can stir the leaden air. 

Everything is locked down, everything is hot and immobile until the first storm breaks after the feast of the Assumption. The memory of these breathless days runs them together into one continual stifling twilight, a memory of roaming the villa and gardens, bored and apprehensive and alone: cellars smelling of oil and vine must, ink-shadowed cypress avenues paved with white dust, dark ramparts of clipped trees, moon-white boundary walls. And under everything ran the stress of season and evening and weather and history.



      Selected Poems, ed. and trans. Merryn Williams ( Newcastle, 1992), p.108. 

  1. Ibid., p.98

  2. Ibid., p.98


(From: Davidson, P., The Last of the Light About Twilight , ( Reaktion Books Ltd, 2015) Chapter 1, pp 33-35 

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