Hatley St. George; a poem for St. George’s Day

For St. George’s Day I thought I would re-post 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.

It’s 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. One of the congregation has written this poem out in beautiful calligraphy and it is hanging on the wall there, and every summer I go and read it aloud for them as part of their summer fete.

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

9 responses to “Hatley St. George; a poem for St. George’s Day

  1. Thank you for posting this beautiful poem

  2. Pingback: Hatley St. George; a poem for St. George's Day | Malcolm Guite | St Georges Day Bank Holiday

  3. Thanks both for the short history of the church building and for the poem itself. I’ve linked for my own congregation here in Connecticut.

  4. Reading this poem I am reminded of how much part of me England still is. Reconciliation of the parts, through Christ. Thank you.

  5. Lovely. Whenever I enter a church, I think of the generations who have made contact with the numinous in it.

  6. Pingback: An English Village Church – A Listening Heart

  7. A friend and I are reading through “The Singing Bowl” and each choosing a favorite poem in each section to read aloud. I chose this poem because for me (despite clear evidence in your poem to the contrary) this evoked some of the ancient roofless stone churches I saw on a vacation in Ireland. The repeated first lines sound like lectio to me. Thank you for evoking powerful memories of ancient churches and reminding us of the ancients’ faith that continues in us.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Laura. Yes it is a kind of lectio though in this case a lectio of a building rather than a text

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