It is St. George’s Day this coming Monday, but many will be celebrating St. George, in one way or another, over this weekend. As the feast day comes up 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 not about wrapping one political party or another in the flag, but about loving the little particularites of my native land. Not the big nationalist 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 both to celebrate the church and to help raise funds for its mantenance. 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 is in my book The Singing Bowl which you can buy on Amazon or order from any good bookshop.
You can listen to me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button. As you listen you will also hear the scatter of bright birdsong which lifted the early April morning where I read the poem in my little writing hut ‘The Temple of Peace’
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.
8 responses to “Hatley St. George; a poem for St. George’s Day”
A wonderful poem. Echos of the rain stick inverted throughout that poem. Hope all is well with you and yours. Love Sonia F-R
I’ve read and listened to this lovely sonnet over and over. It took me back to a ancient church I came across in North Wales last year. St. Hywyn is in Aberdaron on the Llyn Peninsula on the coast. Bardsey Island, known as the island of 20,000 saints, lies 1.9 miles off the peninsula. In medieval times the island was a spiritual destination for pilgrims, who sojourned at St. Hywyn to prepare for the treacheous journey to the island, where many hoped to live out the remainder of their lives.
When I entered the sanctuary of St. Hywyn, I instantly felt a sense of holiness. I indeed “stood awhile and drank in the silence.” I felt my prayers were joined by those of innumerable saints and pilgrims who had passed through there over the centuries, “clouds of witnesses to the unclouded light….”
Thank you for reminding me of “holy open space.” I am grateful for actual and virtual open doors to sanctuaries, wherever they are found.
Thanks for this response. I know that church and Bardsey
Beautiful poem for a beautiful church.
Lovely, thank you.
A beautiful poem indeed for today. Just recently there was a seven day book cover challenge for favourite books on Facebook and I chose as one of mine ‘The Singing Bowl’. Through this I alerted a friend to your poems, which were new to her, and I’m so pleased to have found you a new ‘fan’.