St. George’s Day and my thoughts turn again to Hatley St. George. If St. George, as our patron saint inspires English patriotism, then I’d say my own patriotism is about loving the little particularites of my native land. Not the big political rhetoric or the aggrandising imperial history, but the patchwork of little parishes and quiet shires. That’s one of the reasons why I love little mediaeval church dedicated to St. George in the village of Hatley St. George, 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 originally wrote this poem, which I also posted last year, 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 each summer I go and read it aloud for them as part of their summer fete. This poem will be collected in my new volume of poems with Canterbury Press, The Singing Bowl, which will be launched in November and I shall do a special reading at Hatley around that time, so watch this space!
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.
10 responses to “Hatley St. George; a poem for St. George’s Day”
beautiful. thank you.
Thank you for calling me to pause, wait, and behold. I closed my eyes and listened to your recitation and felt present in the chapel looking out toward the trees and beyond to cloud of witnesses.
Thanks Doug that’s just what I hoped would happen!
So lovely and full of grace, this poem. I read many of your posts, Malcolm. As I start my busy day, I love to pause and take a deep breath, but some days I rush too much to hurry out to my errands. This particular poem and photo has given me a rare gift of serenity – like a gentle hand on my shoulder helping me to take that morning pause – and a sense of touching the clouds of witness that are everywhere for us. Thank you. I hope to visit this little church some day when I travel to England.
Thanks Jackie I’m do glad this poem had that effect. I write these things to remind myself to pause as well!
On this St George’s Day I will be interviewed for the post of Priest in Charge for 6 Worcestershire Parishes. I read this poem yesterday evening after being taken on a journey round all six churches and the little lanes that connected them. As I read the poem it seemed to put into words much of what I had experienced and to be a preparation for the interview today. Your words seem to do that for me often. Thank you.
Thanks Stephen. Hope the interview goes really well.
Thank you for publishing this poem for our little church at Hatley St George. Today, the church is bathed in sunshine with the sound of birds singing outside; just taking one step inside creates a feeling of calm and serenity and you poem really conveys this. xx
It has been a beautiful St George’s Day here at Hatley St George, and reading your poem once more reminds me how fortunate we are to live in such a place!
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