Sunday, March 28, 2010

A bit of a different post today. The photo above is of my wife, Carole, sitting overlooking Byron's Pool in Grantchester, near Cambridge, where Lord Byron used to swim. We spent today at The Orchard, where Rupert Brooke and his famous gang of 'Neo-Pagans' used to eat, drink, converse and dream together, and where Cambridge University students today still gather. It was Virginia Woolf who coined the phrase Neo-pagan and the group also included such luminaries as E.M.Forster, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein & Maynard Keynes. This was in the years preceding the First World War when, shortly before his death, Brooke wrote his oft-quoted poem, The Soldier.

After a jacket potato lunch we wandered through the Grantchester Meadows to Cambridge alongside the Granta River where various yellow composites were in glorious bloom: Lesser Celandine, Dandelion and Coltsfoot. The Lesser Celandine yielded my first hoverfly of the year - an unidentified Cheilosia. As we made our way back to The Orchard, a Blackcap was singing away in the hedgerow. Later we enjoyed a speciality afternoon cream tea, sitting in our deckchairs under the trees (see photo above) before wandering down to the pool past Brookes' Old Vicarage, now home of the celebrated author, Jeffrey Archer.

I'm really looking forward to visiting this special place again soon, when the orchard trees are in bloom and when we can listen to the bees and explore the flora as we enjoy our tea. In the BBC documentary clip here, broadcaster David Dimbleby rows along the river here, the film footage anticipating the lushness of the meadows in the weeks to come!

Dimbleby quotes a few lines from Rupert Brooke's famous poem - The Old Vicarage, Grantchester - written during a spell in Germany when he was homesick, and really evoking powerful memories of his beloved English countryside. He loved the natural world - here are a few excerpts:

Just now the lilac is in bloom,
All before my little room;
And in my flower-beds, I think,
Smile the carnation and the pink;
And down the borders, well I know,
The poppy and the pansy blow . . .
Oh! there the chestnuts, summer through,
Beside the river make for you
A tunnel of green gloom, and sleep
Deeply above; and green and deep
The stream mysterious glides beneath,
Green as a dream and deep as death.
— Oh, damn! I know it! and I know
How the May fields all golden show,
And when the day is young and sweet,
Gild gloriously the bare feet
That run to bathe . . .
'Du lieber Gott!'

Here am I, sweating, sick, and hot,
And there the shadowed waters fresh
Lean up to embrace the naked flesh.
Temperamentvoll German Jews
Drink beer around; — and THERE the dews
Are soft beneath a morn of gold.
Here tulips bloom as they are told;
Unkempt about those hedges blows
An English unofficial rose;
And there the unregulated sun
Slopes down to rest when day is done,
And wakes a vague unpunctual star...

ειθε γενοιμην . . . would I were
In Grantchester, in Grantchester! —
Some, it may be, can get in touch
With Nature there, or Earth, or such.
And clever modern men have seen
A Faun a-peeping through the green,
And felt the Classics were not dead,
To glimpse a Naiad's reedy head,
Or hear the Goat-foot piping low: . . .
But these are things I do not know.
I only know that you may lie
Day long and watch the Cambridge sky,
And, flower-lulled in sleepy grass,
Hear the cool lapse of hours pass,
Until the centuries blend and blur
In Grantchester, in Grantchester. . . .
Still in the dawnlit waters cool
His ghostly Lordship swims his pool...

Ah God! to see the branches stir
Across the moon at Grantchester!
To smell the thrilling-sweet and rotten
Unforgettable, unforgotten
River-smell, and hear the breeze
Sobbing in the little trees.
Say, do the elm-clumps greatly stand
Still guardians of that holy land?
The chestnuts shade, in reverend dream,
The yet unacademic stream?
Is dawn a secret shy and cold
Anadyomene, silver-gold?
And sunset still a golden sea
From Haslingfield to Madingley?
And after, ere the night is born,
Do hares come out about the corn?
Oh, is the water sweet and cool,
Gentle and brown, above the pool?
And laughs the immortal river still
Under the mill, under the mill?
Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain? . . . oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

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