Hatley St. George

We have had a double St. George’s day this year, the traditional date of April 23rd, and then because that fell on Holy Saturday, the church has set aside May the 2nd to keep his memory. I thought I might take occasion to publish this poem about  Hatley St. George, a little mediaeval church in the village of the same name, not far from here. Though the church goes back to the fourteenth century , in the late sixties it suffered the apparent misfortune of a collapse in its sanctuary which was declared unsafe and taken down. A new east wall was built but the architects had the wisdom to set in the new east window an arch of clear glass. For beyond that window, across the still sacred space of what had been choir and sanctuary, stands the most beautiful beech tree, which church-goers can see now in all its glory , through the changing seasons, simmering above their altar. Its a magical place, but like many such, struggling for survival and recognition. I wrote this poem both to celebrate the church and to help the cause. Do visit it if you can and support those who are working for its upkeep.

the window of Hatley St. George

View through the window of Hatley St. George

Hatley St. George

Stand here a while and drink the silence in.
Where clear glass lets in living light to touch
And bless your eyes. A beech tree’s tender green
Shimmers beyond the window’s lucid arch.
You look across an absent sanctuary;
No walls or roof, just holy, open space,
Leading your gaze out to the fresh-leaved beech
God planted here before you first drew breath.

Stand here awhile and drink the silence in.
You cannot stand as long and still as these;
This ancient beech and still more ancient church.
So let them stand, as they have stood, for you.
Let them disclose their gifts of time and place,
A secret kept for you through all these years.
Open your eyes. This empty church is full,
Thronging with life and light your eyes have missed.

Stand here awhile and drink the silence in.
Shields of forgotten chivalry, and rolls
Of honour for the young men gunned at Ypres,
And other monuments of our brief lives
Stand for the presence here of saints and souls
Who stood where you stand, to be blessed like you;
Clouds of witness to unclouded light
Shining this moment, in this place for you.

Stand here awhile and drink their silence in.
Annealed in glass, the twelve Apostles stand
And each of them is keeping faith for you.
This roof is held aloft, to give you space,
By graceful angels praying night and day
That you might hear some rumour of their flight
That you might feel the flicker of a wing
And let your heart fly free at last in prayer.


Filed under imagination

13 responses to “Hatley St. George

  1. Catharine Phillips

    Thank you, Malcolm.
    I particularly love
    –clouds of witness to unclouded light —


  2. Rebekah

    So lovely to think of them standing for me, drinking the silence in, disclosing gifts of time and place, a secret kept for me…

  3. Beautiful, soothing, and beckoning. I hope I get to visit it in July. Blessings to you and to Hatley St. George.

  4. I’m glad you included the pictures, tying together sight and sound. I think there truly are sacred spaces; this is evidently very much one of them. “This empty church is full, / Thronging with life and light your eyes have missed.” That is something like what I felt in Durham Cathedral, where it seemed to me that the very air was thick with prayer and the stones soaked in it.

    • malcolmguite

      Yes Durham is like that, especially the double presence of Cuthbert and Bede, at Hatley though, because it is so out of the way and little visited, the contrast between the visible emptines and the invisible fulness is especially strong

  5. As a worshipper and helper at the church of Hatley St George, every time I read your poem I am wrapped in the wonderful silence and stillness of this special church. You have captured so well the essence of building that blesses all who walk through it’s door. Thank you!

  6. Pauline Pinney

    We are certainly blessed here at Hatley St George with our wonderful church and peacful village and it is a delight to live here. What a wonderful poem – perhaps it will inspire some to come and visit us. …..

    • malcolmguite

      thanks Paulinse, I’m glad you like the poem. I hope to be with you at some point over your festival weekend

  7. Charles Twombly

    Lovely. Moving. I’m “there.” Too bad Philip Larkin didn’t do his “church going” with you. No “snickering” silence in Hatley St George, at least for those who have “ears to hear.”

  8. I was there, this afternoon, when you first explained what inspired your thoughts – the ‘new’ east window, the beech tree beyond, the quietness, the sanctuary for a stranger passing by – before you read, beautifully, your poem. Poetry usually passes me by, but this one has resonance of a well crafted and classic piece of great English. Well done… and thank you.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Peter, it was great to be there and read the poem with the church full, this time visibly as well as invisibly. I hope yhe rest of the fete went really well.

  9. Pingback: George of Lydda: Patron Saint of Civil Disobedience | The Kuyperian Commentary

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.