Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The bridge over the Leach


This is my favourite place in the world - the medieval wool pack bridge over the River Leach in the Cotswolds, pitched between the two villages of Eastleach, Martin and Turville, and their two Norman churches. It is a place where my grandmother used to come for her holidays (from Birmingham) staying with friends.


I first visited it when I was seventeen, when my mother came to collect her mother-in-law, and after lunch, whose apple pie remains a vivid memory, I slipped away on a hot July afternoon and sat on these steps, feet dangling in the water. I read Gerard Manley Hopkins that extraordinary Victorian poet: the modernity of whose verse kept it unpublished until the opening of the twentieth century.


It was a perfect day, wrapped in a stillness that danced. The forms of the world held in grace. I was centred on what truly mattered, adolescent confusions dissolved, and you sat and saw. Saw not only the giftedness of creation but the generosity of my grandmother's friends, and their humour. I was told a story of how in the Second World War our host had spent a hot summer's day in 1940, in the Home Guard, lying under a bush by this bridge, with an old shotgun, waiting for German parachutists - they, thankfully, were non-existant, what he was precisely supposed to do, had they existed, a mystery!


I greeted the Millenium on this bridge, in solitude, with a bottle of exceptionally good Sancerre, the distant rumbling of parties rippling across the frosty silence of a night star filled, brilliant, and reading by torchlight, one of Hopkins' poems...


The Kingfishers catch Fire


As king fishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves -- goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.
I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is --
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces. 
What I do is me: for that I came would appear to be a good motto for a millenium...

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