Skip to main content

Daniel Eltringham

‘Repose and Exposure in Enclosures’

Bed rock: pre-text (The Commoners’ New Forest)

Enclosures’ (Galloping Dog Press, 1983) cover, in the wake of other cartographically emblazoned volumes of preceding decades, stakes out a perambulatory claim: a map entitled ‘The New Forest According to the Perambulation of 1300’ tells us, more straight forwardly than in work to come, where we are. The illustration comes from the rear inside jacket of F. E. Kenchington’s The Commoners’ New Forest: an outline of the Folk-History of the New Forest […] its Peasant Pastoral Industry and its possibilities (1948), a work that affords multiple entries into a case study of ‘dying Merrie England’ and its mixed persistences here in the once-New Forest. [1] The timber-producing statutory plantation inclosures that contributed wood to Britain’s naval dominance—the earlier oak or beech and the later conifer—preserve, by their protective encircling, remnants of ancient woodland and heath that is now valuable habitat; these themselves were supplemented by later Verderers’ enclosures, meant for stock grazing but subject to coniferous commercial pressure as well as the contradictory intent to return them to mire and heathland. [2] 

Commoning (the exercise of customary rights to graze and gather) continues between these interstices, across the Open Forest: a heterogeneous picture, far removed from large-scale agribusiness as it was developing elsewhere in the country in the post-war period. As an agricultural scientist returning to his ancestral soil under the aegis of the County War Agricultural Executive Committee, the body entrusted with the reclamation of Forest lawns and cultivation of Forest wastes in order to reduce dependency on food imports, Kenchington finds his allegiances stretched somewhere between the Wordsworthian small tenant farmers whose lives he feelingly describes and the worst excesses of monoculture, a kind of Arthur Young on the brink of ethical conversion. The weight of his antipathy is reserved for townies and the formulaic accounts of ‘rambles, byways and scenery, with a dash of antiquarianism’ tailored to their taste. [3] Peter Larkin’s Enclosures is not that, though those elements might be perversely discernible. This commentary reads two passages in mostly amicable dialogue about the place of recreational claims on the ancient Forest – repose – as against the starker options of shelter and exposure.


Dialogue: inter-text (p. 28 & p. 9)

Common: Nothing prevents winding openly beyond plantations.

Enclosure: not since Ibsley Common having the space it wants.

 Common: notice via this approach enclosures’ high-density, the sleek entrance chutes.

Enclosure: simply what the Common out of enfeebled derivation is likely to be exposed to.

Common: not that Ibsley’s out to make difficulties.

Enclosure: but with the same contingent exposure […] the same much influenced texture.

Common: nonetheless, constant untyings have become constituent here.

Enclosure: rather a fall off the scale of density altogether – as inverts scarcely divide.

Common: still dips are sharable rather than toplands separable.




Top soil: texts (the same)

Larkin’s intervention into this ancient and continuing argument reads as though dialogically staged, a tense but accommodating – ‘not […] out to make difficulties’ – debate between customary entitlement to common and the Enclosure Acts that, Kenchington wryly notes, yielded a ‘profitable investment for landowners’ and a ‘rich harvest for […] multitudes of attorneys’.[4] Perhaps these old combatants can get along more companionably than previously or elsewhere because these terms are in part superseded by another interpretation of enclosure concerned with the ‘high-density’ and ‘slick entrance chutes’ of suburbia’s contemporary in-takes. Though commoning does continue in the New Forest, older usages compete with leisure, housing, and what Kenchington grumpily calls the prim trappings of the ‘superior suburban manner’, an understanding of enclosure’s instrumental logic that demands a different calibration of pastoral protest, more ambiguous in its positioning.[5]

It does so in this passage from the station of Ibsley Common, on the perimeter rim of the New Forest (in accordance with ‘The conqueror’s boundary’, as the map in Kenchington has it), an elevated stretch of heath traversed by a path that winds ‘openly beyond plantations’ (Whitefield and others), such that Enclosure grumbles that it has ‘the space it wants.’ Want here holds both lack and desire, implying that Ibsley could want more because it feels the lack of space it has lost, that it wants more because it is a greedily expansionist sort of Common, or that it is content with what it has as its space is sufficient to its use. The third may have been true once, but now it is subject to an ‘enfeebled derivation’ which leaves it ‘exposed’ to the consequences of the same. That the Common’s derivation is ‘enfeebled’ hints at a widening gap between name and use, as leisure and transport clamour for their employments of the space alongside more ancient but continuing customary entitlements, producing a felt dissonance that is not lack but failure to fit. Such divergence might indeed count as an ‘enfeebled history’, as in J. H. Prynne’s ‘The Wound, Day and Night’,


that it be too much with us, again as

beyond that enfeebled history[6]


In the Wordsworth sonnet quoted by Prynne here the ‘world’ that is ‘too much with us’ is that counter-earth of ‘Getting and spending’ in which ‘we lay waste our powers’, a comparably disjointed (enfeebled) vision of ‘out of tune’ alienation granted by the speaker’s contradictory repose on a ‘pleasant lea’.[7] The waste to which commerce consigns human potentiality is analogous to the commons and wastes earmarked for enclosure or ‘reclamation’ (re-claimed from what prior claimant?) by agrarian improvers from Young to Kenchington, and which often serve as the marginal setting for Wordsworth’s early poems detailing the ‘contingent exposure’ of enclosure’s human victims. On ‘wastes’ such as Salisbury Plain the ‘exposure’ of the indigent is most painfully contradicted by the (comparable) repose of the poet. These senses are contained in the word’s own ‘derivation’, formed by the adaptive mis-splicing of similar Latin verbs, expōnĕre (to put out) and(ex)poser (to rest or lie down). The former sense, ‘to put out, deprive of shelter or to expel from a country’, is primary, but the grafting of its separate roots contains the twin faces of Virgilian pastoral, otium (repose) and exile (exposure).[8] In the Eclogues, where this dialectic of leisure and labour is expounded dialogically, Meliboeus begins by addressing the pastoral swain Tityrus, who lies ‘Under a beech’s stretching branches’. Meliboeus, meanwhile, ‘must leave, saying good-bye / To home, with its dear fields.’ The dialogue between the ex-posedMeliboeus, landless and endangered, and the posed Tityrus who reclines ‘in shady ease’, his repose sponsored by ‘a god’, establishes a division between shelter and shade: the former forced and radically exposed, the latter chosen and luxurious.[9]

Enclosures’ ninth page is articulated from an intermediate station that is carefully neither one nor the other, but complex in mediating both. The sky is a horizontal bar that governs the prospect and ‘has to be included as the appropriate encounter’, as the conventional organisation of perception and also the central horizontal line of the page, dividing the two prose fields. But the landed confidence conventionally drawn from such holistic appraisal – think of any picturesque landscape, with gently sloping hills on either side, the ‘appropriate encounter’ between sky and land in the background, intermixed labour and leisure in the foreground – is inverted. Cows feed ‘overhead’ and yet also ‘down dried-out gutters’, while (distant) plantations flicker like or are replaced by (close) nettles. Near and far blend in a depthless visual field ‘lacking any gradation of distance’. This uneasy position sees horizon as also the ‘outermost, circumambient edge of any givenness that can also offer a situatedness’, as exposed as it is possible to get while also maintaining a phenomenological station from which to see anything at all: a contradiction it is perhaps necessary to maintain for the existence of the poem.[10] The poet’s repose is therefore a humble embeddedness that is affiliated with the small, but not as lowly, and which equally defines the extent of the vertical axis in the limited terms of the defile, where lofty cows form the upper limit, interspersed by waving nettles.

Above all this but from the same viewpoint, the sky’s ‘other unbroken plateau’, mirroring ‘the plain’ which earlier ‘solves its continuity’, is too easily ‘debited to passing events’ as a plane drones by. The sky mimics the open plain’s ‘infinity for the finite’ on the horizontal axis, while also occupying the interminable terminus of ‘infinite finitudes’ on the vertical, avoiding resolution in favour of one or the other.[11] Negation has a hand in paying out the thread between the two, as the sky’s (high) mirror ‘has its own undeferred additions’ that are not ‘contradictions mirroring the Common into whereabouts’, but only the exposure affecting the Common through its own enfeebled derivation (‘out of’, from within, not transposed from without as enclosures are often imagined spatially). The sky’s mirroring contradiction might be present only negatively, but it is active in the same passage’s ‘constant untyings’, undoings that are also ligatures through their paradoxically constant nature. In Enclosures’ interwoven lovers’ discourse, these are also faithful, true untyings, constant to an ideal object: for Coleridge the mutability of ‘Nature’s range’ can only be answered by such stability amid mutability, ‘yearning thought’ being ‘The only constant in a world of change’.[12]Constancy is cancelled by negation as the unravelling of a tied thing or woven fabric – the ‘much influenced texture’ of a ground constituted by untying – but in contradictory constancy to this un-working they also (constantly) recall a second order faithfulness that seems to be at once established and unpicked.

Page 28 replies that the rewards of constancy are to be found in ‘sharable’ dips rather than ‘separable’ toplands. Their embeddedness conceals the ‘gravel pits’ until ‘the last moment’: an ‘untying’ too of the possibility of perceptual dominance, so they ‘aren’t hierarchical’, but instead represent ‘a fall off the scale of density’ on which hierarchy is calibrated, ‘– as inverts scarcely divide’. In the temporary shelter of such a dip or covert an etymological misreading of those ‘inverts’ as in-verted, in-greened cover, recalls Marvell’s green shade, where the green thought reposes. Their scarce division of a missing object (‘inverts scarcely divide’ what? Themselves from one another?) is comparative, introduced as a subordinate clause by ‘as’, the suggestion being that the gravel pits aren’t hierarchical in the same way as inverts scarcely divide, in that by inverting they are hardly divisive, perhaps even reconciliatory. The inversion of organising perspectives in these passages is accompanied by that secondary, Marvellian sense of the reposeful in-vert, the ‘shady ease’ post-pastoral is compelled to work ‘again as / beyond’ but which, if stumbled upon as shelter, may be temporarily accepted as unlooked-for and impermanent beneficence.






[1] Kenchington, The Commoners’ New Forest: An outline of the Folk-History of the New Forest in the County of Southampton, its Peasant Pastoral Industry and its possibilities (London: Hutchinson & Co, 1948), p. 80.

[2] See:$file/eng-new-forest-b3-inclosures-plan.pdf.

[3] Kenchington, The Commoners’ New Forest, p. 7.

[4] Kenchington, The Commoners’ New Forest, p. 80.

[5] Kenchington, The Commoners’ New Forest, p. 126.

[6] J. H. Prynne, ‘The Wound, Day and Night’, in Poems (High Green: Bloodaxe, 2015), p. 64.

[7] William Wordsworth, ‘The world is too much with us’, in Poems, in Two Volumes, and Other Poems, 1800 – 1807 ed. by Jared Curtis (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1983), p. 150.

[8] Oxford English Dictionary online, expose, v. Etymology and sense I. [] <consulted 02/01/15>. The New Forest is itself a giant enclosure premised on such an ex-positioning of its resident peasantry in 1079, when William the First decided to clear ‘his’ land of its villages in order to be replaced by an enclosed deer park for the pleasure of the Royal hunt.

[9] Virgil, Eclogues, trans. by Len Krisak (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), p. 3.

[10] Peter Larkin, ‘Fully From, All Scarce To’, in eco language reader, ed. by Brenda Iijima (New York: Nightboat Books, 2010), pp. 52-58 (p. 57).

[11] Larkin, ‘Fully From, All Scarce To’, p. 53.

[12] Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ‘Constancy to an Ideal Object’, in The Major Works (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 123.