England is now and always
Yesterday I spent the afternoon in Alresford: a small town in Hampshire that I had not visited before. It was a quiet vision of loveliness. It is a town that maintains its own character with shops that are unique to itself - butcher, fishmonger, baker, if not candlestick maker, and tea shops abounding, two of which I sampled. The second with a fabulous fruit cake simply to die for! And an eccentric second hand bookshop, all fertile chaos, and remarkably cheap discovery.
I walked out along the river Arle whose waters had been used in the past to prepare cloth and now to fertilize the growth of pure watercress. The waters were wonderfully clear - light dancing in light as the late afternoon sun illumined their liveliness. The river was sided by diverse buildings of beauty, especially rich red brick and slate, and a quiet orderliness, surrounded by cultivated garden.
There was a wonderful sense of stillness through which time and people moved - a visiting couple like myself looking, dog walking, a person taking an oft travelled shortcut - all happening and yet nature and place remaining, changed but untouched. It recalled Edward Thomas' beautiful poem, 'The Manor Farm' - a place, a particular place, of work and time but which is of "a season of bliss unchangeable" (that may go unnoticed by most of us, most of the time). England is now and always to quote another poet, Thomas' final publisher.
The Manor Farm
THE rock-like mud unfroze a little, and rills
Ran and sparkled down each side of the road
Under the catkins wagging in the hedge.
But earth would have her sleep out, spite of the sun;
Nor did I value that thin gliding beam
More than a pretty February thing
Till I came down to the old manor farm,
And church and yew-tree opposite, in age
Its equals and in size. The church and yew
And farmhouse slept in a Sunday silentness.
The air raised not a straw. The steep farm roof,
With tiles duskily glowing, entertained
The mid-day sun; and up and down the roof
White pigeons nestled. There was no sound but one.
Three cart horses were looking over a gate
Drowsily through their forelocks, swishing their tails
Against a fly, a solitary fly.
The winter's cheek flushed as if he had drained
Spring, summer, and autumn at a draught
And smiled quietly. But 'twas not winter--
Rather a season of bliss unchangeable,
Awakened from farm and church where it had lain
Safe under tile and latch for ages since
This England, Old already, was called Merry.