Linnaeus goes into Lapland – May 12th 1732
He rides through the North gates.
In his kit bag: ink-horn, pen-case,
gauze to protect against flies.
Snow deepens on moss and lichen.
He sleeps beneath a reindeer skin.
It is seven days to Sorsele.
In the marshes he sees a pink-flowered shrub
anchored far out, water up above her roots.
He calls her bog rosemary – Andromeda polifolia
– presses her between the pages of Flora Uplandica.
Outside Tjamotis his first view through
a gap in the hills of the Lapland fells.
He notes how the pregnant
gadfly craves the reindeer,
longs to get under its skin.
In a Lap tent, birch-framed, covered with cloth,
sixteen naked Laps sit eating reindeer whey.
A brass-bangled woman, smoke-blackened face,
dances before them. Night is as light as day.
He eats, drifts like snow into sleep.
In the snow blossoms Saxifrage stellar,
Climbing up from Kvikkjikk,
he sees a shadow of a plant, too tall to be Empetrum,
leaves more divided than lily-of-the-valley.
He greets her, names her Cassiopeia,
sister to Andromeda.
On the heights of Vallevare
where the air is nothing
and midwinter snow stifles summer,
he finds a child’s rockgarden.
No road, no track, no human habitation,
summer driven to the deepest valleys.
At the highest point
he sorts, classifies, describes
by the light of the midnight sun.
At the watershed below the foothills
a cowherd tends his cattle,
cold rocks melt into sweet wild strawberries, clover.
Linnea borealis – The Plant of Lapland
Slender stem, split at the top,
two white bell-shaped flowers,
as if the plant had pressed herself.
Anne Osbourn is a scientist based in Norwich. Her poems have appeared in various magazines including Smiths Knoll, The Rialto and Orbis, and commended in the Café Writers’ and York Literary Festival poetry competitions. Her set of five poems, Winnie, was shortlisted for the 2017 Flambard Poetry Prize.