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

It is St. George’s Day and 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,it is certainly not about ‘Brexit, whichever way that goes, but rather it is 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’

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.

13 Comments

Filed under Poems, politics

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

  1. These days/years, should not all churches which have green space surrounding, have clear glass windows to let in light and show us the beauty of nature? We can read or hear the stories of faith, so need story stain glass no longer!

  2. Jessica

    You’ve posted this poem and information about the church before, and each time it has made me stop, and think, mainly about country parishes and Englishness, but also about the churches that have clear glass that lets the outside in, such as the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in New Mexico, where the East window brings in the mountain that towers above the chapel. I thought of all this as I read your introduction, and the now familiar poem again. But this time, in the sorry state of the world we are in, it reminded me of the small things that are not so small, and how keeping churches like this alive is a big thing that helps us all and in a much more lasting way than the things that hit the front pages. Thank you for this comforting reminder, and thank you yet again for your blog, which always refreshes me.

  3. Dave Lindsay

    Thank you for for some new insights and appreciation of the possible impact and gift of ‘clear glass’ allowing inspiring images of nature to charm the heart .Surprised to read in the comments about the Monastry of Christ in the Desert in New Mexico . My wife ,Marijke, and I will be staying there for a few days this May . I will be looking for the “East window” with it’s mountain view!

  4. Alice Hornbeck

    I like this very much. What Shire is it in ?

  5. Evangeline Magee DeMaster

    “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.”
    Such a helpful re-establishing of inner Plumb Line!
    Thank you.

  6. This reminds me of the (much younger) Church of the Good Shepherd in Tekapo (NZ). In place of a stained glass window above the altar there is what you might call a picture window, looking out over the blueness of Lake Tekapo to the glories of the Southern Alps.
    Utterly exquisite unspoiled creation, provided you can get a chance to sit and look without busloads of chattering tourists marring the silence.

  7. Liz Overthrow

    Dear Malcolm (if I may)

    Just had to say how much I enjoyed listening to you reading ‘Hatley St George’. Frenchay in Bristol also has an east window that allows you to see the trees and its lovely.

    Your voice was accompanied all the way through by a bird singing. I’m sure you didn’t arrange that but it made a wonderful accompaniement!

    With all best wishes

    Liz

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