Thursday, 28 February 2019

Little Gidding

A tiny chapel, hidden deep in the Northamptonshire countryside, famous for its piety, for being a religious retreat for nearly 400 years, and as the subject of a twentieth century poem written by T.S.Eliot.

By some strange co-incidence, 45 years after I first came upon this poem, I visited yesterday, in a strangely apt "midwinter spring" - a brilliant, blinding sunny afternoon in February.

Here is a picture of

"the hedgerow ... blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden than that of summer, neither budding nor fading...."

And here is the picture of what the poet says you will find later in the year:

"If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness..."

I knew nothing about the place when the "Collected Poems of T.S.Eliot" appeared on a college reading list when I was 20.  As far as I was aware, the title of the poem meant nothing, the whole thing was an arid intellectual exercise by a brainbox who bemused everyone, even the academics.

Now it makes sense.

The "broken king" is Charles I, who, escaping after defeat at the Battle of Naseby, took refuge with his friends, the Farrar family who owned the chapel and manor house.

The "rough road" is still very rough, a country track, literally at the end of the road - there's nothing else there except the farm-house, (now a religious retreat). The pig-sty is gone, but the tombstone is still in place, right in front of what Eliot calls the "dull facade".

My picture shows the facade, rather dignified, in my view.  The tombstone is in the bottom right of the picture, it is the tomb of Nicholas Farrar, died 1637.

Inside, there is an atmosphere of calm, serenity, and deep reverence. 

We are told very clearly that we should not come to gawp as tourists - this is a place of prayer:

The above is piece of embroidery, in which has been laid out some lines from Eliot's poem:

The poet has laid down his strictures.

But as a visitor I do want to "inform curiosity" and "carry report".

I do want to verify, and instruct myself, and the information leaflets in the chapel give assistance, explaining the stained glass, for example:

"Dieu et mon droit" - a nineteenth century rendition of the Royal Coat of Arms in memory of the visit of Charles I.

England, at its richest and most inspiring.  

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