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The Mismaze

The Mismaze

While fields submit to winter's white campaign,

clouds kiss and bruise the hills with grey,

the wind pins the sky to earth's window frame

and I flee the town to climb my favourite way.

Atop the hill the hard and frosty sward

is cut by dark and winding lines.  I ask what strange,

mad maze is this, with only but a single path?

No answer heard, just winter's wild refrain.

You could not know whose feet would trace your craft.

But now my steps between the frigid turf

decode your labyrinthine cryptograph

and bring me to the centre of your work.

And though you’re gone, I still remain, a mourner

To your death below, in cold and tender water.

To the east of Winchester, on the top of St Catherine's Hill there is an area of narrow paths, exposing the chalk under the downland turf.  This is the Winchester Mizmaze, one of eight historic turf mazes still remaining in England. This is not a maze in the modern sense but a labyrinth, cut into the chalk, with no junctions or crossings.  It is laid out in nine nested squares, similar to those used for the traditional game of Nine Men’s Morris.

Although mediaeval in design, its origins are obscure. A local legend suggests it was carved one summer in the 17th century by a boy from Winchester College who had been banished to the hill for bad behaviour. To occupy his time, he recalled a lesson on classical maze design and carried out the lonely task of laying out and cutting the maze. The story ends with the boy sadly drowning in the river below on the last day of the holidays.  There is a similar maze at nearby Braemore House - perhaps the boy had seen this and used it as part of his inspiration.




OUP Zoom, A334, Winchester Poetry Festiva l 2022

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