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

On St. George’s day my thoughts turn again to Hatley St. George. Alas it remains locked for a little while longer, like all the other lovely parish churches, yet still keeping its silent witness. And one part of that witness is to declare that we have been through this before. Our churches have stood and held and deepened the faith for us through other times of pestilence, through change and crisis as deep as this, a witness ‘in all the changes and chances of this fleeting world’ to the deeper things that abide.

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 was certainly not about ‘Brexit, that kerfuffle that seems so irrelevant now. 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, once our lockdown is lifted, 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.


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

  1. Beautiful. Like the church where we married, At Michael and All Angels, Knights Enham, Andover. A Templar sanctuary on the pilgrimage route to Canterbury. The Knights used to put up the iron bars across the door at night, the holes are still in the walls! It’s now a pilgrimage small spaces designated church.

  2. Thank you for the reminder of those who are now our cloud of witnesses.

    (It seems the link to download your music has changed. https://store.cdbaby.com/ )

  3. RITA Banfield

    Beautiful such peace and space timelessness

  4. bgulland72

    I especially like the oblique ‘just on the edge of the sight & sense’ angel imagery

  5. philippe.garmy@okstate.edu

    A lovely poetic evocation and homage of praise and reflective worship. Hatley St. George be blessed, the dragon has been slain!
    Dare I wonder, Malcolm, might there one day be a collection of poems celebrating other small mediaeval churches across the lush English countryside which you love? Something that could be a kind of poetic pilgrimage?

    • malcolmguite

      That’s an interesting idea. I’m certainly thinking of writing more poetry about the English countryside and landscape

  6. My family has been to England, our daughters each spending there a semester, and we went to visit one of them when she attended University of Reading. Our friend Moray Henderson took us to Lanercost Priory. We saw the pews adorned with a tree for each day of the 12 Days of Christmas. To stand in such a place, and know that just beyond were Roman barracks surely helped me to more appreciate that His eye is on the sparrow. Thank you Malcolm. Now I want to go visit Hadley St. George!

  7. Re: “A new east wall was built but the architects had the wisdom to set in the new east window an arch of clear glass.” Oh, that more architects had the wisdom to allow worshipers to be in their Father’s world in several ways. Without the “feel” for place, I think one is only partly there. Distractions to the children? Good. Let them be distracted by their Maker.

    • Yes! A small church in the Welsh borders has a clear window, with the verse “I look to the hills, whence cometh my help” etched in it. The windows looks out onto the hillside. It’s lovely. And it’s my favourite line from the Psalms.

  8. Curlew18

    To drink the silence in of what could be a full church is wonderfully emotive. As I live on my own, one of the things I really appreciate is companionable silence. Thank you.

  9. Pingback: Malcolm Guite–Hatley St. George; a poem for St. George’s Day | TitusOneNine

  10. bscotford755btinternetcom

    Thank you for this beautiful poem; the silence you remind us – the slow movemnt inward from the drama of the East window and it eve-changing reminder of God’s creation, which shares in our praise; then the sense of place – the silence, the ‘occupied emptiness’ – and the sense of the numinous which moves us God-ward. Lovely!

  11. Beautiful poem. It captures very well how I feel when standing in old churches. Not my religion, but definitely a sacred place and a place of continuity and connection with ancestors.

  12. Hilary Pollard

    It isn’t the architects who fill the windows. I wonder how long before someone says this could have a stained glass window to commemorate……………

  13. Reid Seibert

    I love this poem! It worked it’s magic in me and let my heart “fly free at last in prayer” from the sanctuary of my home through the clear glass to the beautiful mystery of all God’s creation. My new favourite.

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