Saturday, 3 April 2010

A Corner of England.

Spiral headed for home via Stanstead this morning. After seeing them off I decided to keep driving up the M11 towards Cambridge (not the most sensible place for an Oxford boy on boat race day.) I didn't get as far as the city centre instead turning off through Trumpington - home of Symkyn, the Miller in Chaucer's Reeve's Tale who was cuckolded by Geordie students - and then onto Grantchester for a coffee in the beautiful orchard where Rupert Brooke ever wished to be.

I've always thought of Cambridge as a city of scientists and spies - lean and puritan in comparison to the high church indulgence and childlike fantasy of Oxford but, here, sitting in a deck chair under the trees, as Spring tried desperately to assert itself, it was the neo-pagan poets and philosophers who haunted the afternoon.

Brooke's poem about the village, written in Berlin, immerses him in the comfort of this gentle place, another Eden, held close to the heart in times of danger. It's a wonderful hymn poised between a knowledge of having lived and a desire to stay young, to keep wide open the eyes of exploration. What kept coming into my head, however, at the end of a near perfect week, was the second - and lesser known - verse of his most famous work The Soldier.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Cambridge won the race, but relaxing in the hospitality of their mellow meadows I couldn't begrudge them that.

No comments: