Sunday Poetry – W B Yeats

Educating Rita is another movie that I love & have watched many times. As you can see, I loved it so much, I bought the play (like Rita & Macbeth), the novelization of the film script & even the soundtrack on cassette. It was Julie Walters’ first major role & one of the best parts Michael Caine has ever played. Julie Walters had played Rita on stage so she was the obvious choice for the film role although that doesn’t always happen when movies are made of plays. Remember Julie Andrews & My Fair Lady? Luckily in this case, sanity prevailed & we were able to enjoy her wonderful performance. I’ve just watched it again & I could practically recite the entire script, I’ve seen it so often.

Rita is a young working class woman who wants an education. She joins the Open University to study English Literature & is assigned to a tutor, Frank. Frank is bored with his life & his students & he drinks too much. Rita’s eruption into his rooms at the university is the catalyst for change in both their lives. It’s such a warm, funny, moving story. Willy Russell wrote the screenplay from his own play & naturally he kept most of his own dialogue. The play was a two-hander so it’s been expanded a little for the film but the central scenes are Frank & Rita sitting (Frank sits, Rita wanders around) in his office talking about books & life.

One of my favourite scenes is when Frank explains assonance to Rita.

RITA What does assonance mean?
FRANK (half-spluttering) What? (He gives a short laugh)
RITA  Don’t laugh at me.
FRANK No. Erm – assonance. It’s a form of rhyme. What’s a – what’s an example -erm-? Do you know Yeats?
RITA The wine lodge?
FRANK Yeats the poet.
RITA No
FRANK Oh. Well – there’s a Yeats poem, called ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’. In it he rhymes the word ‘swan’ with the word ‘stone’. there, you see, an example of assonance.
RITA Oh. It means gettin’ the rhyme wrong.
FRANK (looking at her and laughing) I’ve never really looked at it like that. But yes, yes you could say it means getting the rhyme wrong; but purposefully, in order to achieve a certain effect.
(Act 1, Scene 1)

So here is The Wild Swans at Coole.

The trees are in their autumn beauty,   
The woodland paths are dry,   
Under the October twilight the water   
Mirrors a still sky;   
Upon the brimming water among the stones            
Are nine and fifty swans.   
 
The nineteenth Autumn has come upon me   
Since I first made my count;   
I saw, before I had well finished,   
All suddenly mount     
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings   
Upon their clamorous wings.   
 
I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,   
And now my heart is sore.   
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,     
The first time on this shore,   
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,   
Trod with a lighter tread.   
 
Unwearied still, lover by lover,   
They paddle in the cold,     
Companionable streams or climb the air;   
Their hearts have not grown old;   
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,   
Attend upon them still.   
 
But now they drift on the still water     
Mysterious, beautiful;   
Among what rushes will they build,   
By what lake’s edge or pool   
Delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day   
To find they have flown away?    

Just bought

Here’s the confession I promised the other day. I’ve had a bit of a splurge on books this month & this is the result. Penguin have been publishing their $9.95 Popular Penguins for a few years now. This is the latest idea, 50 crime classics in the distinctive green covers. I think these are only available in Australia. Hopefully I’m wrong but if anyone overseas is interested, you may want to look at the whole list here & maybe consider buying them from Readings, one of our best independent bookshops.

As you can see, Lucky decided to have a look at my new acquisitions as well so here’s another picture showing the titles more clearly. It’s a great list of old & new authors. I’d read about half of the list so these are the ones I chose, all vintage authors which won’t surprise anyone, I’m sure. Julian Symons, C P Snow (I didn’t know he’d written any crime fiction), Michael Gilbert, Dorothy Dunnett & Dornford Yates who was recently recommended on my online book group.

Apart from classic crime, I’ve also bought this little lot. Again, Lucky was right there when I was taking the photo.

So, here’s a close-up of the books. The Matriarch by G B Stern. First published in 1955 but set in Edwardian London. The story of a Jewish family & the domineering Anastasia, the matriarch of the title.  
Mrs Miles’s Diary, edited by S V Partington, the diary of a Surrey housewife during WWII. 
The Morgesons by Elizabeth Stoddard. A forgotten American classic, first published in the 1860s. Agricola & Germany by Tacitus. I’ve been reading about Roman Britain & the Anglo-Saxons lately & feel it’s about time I started reading some of the sources. Tacitus is one of the main sources for Boudicca’s rebellion in AD60.
Rumer Godden by Anne Chisholm. I’m sure I read this biography when it was first published but I want to read it again now that Virago have started reprinting her novels.
Two more novels by Nevil Shute, Most Secret & No Highway (coincidentally just reviewed by Thomas at My Porch). I’ve enjoyed the Shute novels I’ve read & now that Vintage have republished more titles with their lovely covers, I couldn’t resist a couple more. I love Thomas’s description of Shute as “D E Stevenson for boys (or engineers)” in the sense that he’s a great comfort read & you know exactly what’s in store.
The nineteenth century sensation novel by Lyn Pykett. This is an updated edition of Pykett’s 1994 book, The sensation novel from The Woman in White to The Moonstone. I’ve just read Henry Dunbar by M E Braddon so I was pleased to find this as I’m a fan of mid-Victorian sensation.
The Heart of the Family by Elizabeth Goudge. I’m still collecting Goudge rather than reading her. This is the third novel in the Damerosehay Trilogy.
Crown of Thistles : the fatal inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter. This is more than a biography of Mary, Queen of Scots, it’s an exploration of the rivalry between the Stewarts & the Tudors from 1485 to 1568. With the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden this year, I’m keen to learn more about Anglo-Scottish relations before Elizabeth & Mary.

I also have quite a few books on pre-order & I’ve been tempted to pre-order even more by the news that Virago are continuing their Angela Thirkell list with three more books to be published next May. I’ve already pre-ordered Pomfret Towers & Christmas at High Rising (uncollected short stories) & now I’m tempted by The Brandons, Summer Half & August Folly as well. I haven’t read the Thirkells I already own but that won’t stop me buying more.
Virago are also reprinting the Emily books by L M Montgomery. I’ve only read Anne of Green Gables but I like the sound of these, Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs & Emily’s Quest.

 Where will it end? My friends in my online bookgroup laughed when I said that I counted my pre-orders instead of sheep when I couldn’t get to sleep at night but it’s a very soothing way to drop off. I don’t think I’ve ever got to the end of the list before falling asleep. Maybe I’ll post a list of all my pre-orders for any insomniacs who need some help?

Oxford Ransom – Veronica Stallwood

One of my favourite mystery series has been Veronica Stallwood’s Oxford series. I finally caught up with the news that the final book in the series was published as an ebook a couple of years ago & it was lovely to catch up with sleuth Kate Ivory one last time.

Kate Ivory is a writer of historical romances. She’s working on her breakthrough book (or so she hopes) & everything, including her relationship with Jon Kenrick, has been put on hold until she finishes the book. The story begins with the wedding of Kate’s agent, Estelle Livingstone. Estelle is marrying Peter Hume, a secondhand book dealer, & the wedding is a traditional affair, organised with Estelle’s usual flair. At the reception, Kate & Jon are seated with Adela Carston, an old lady who is an old friend of Estelle’s father & booksellers Frances & Ben Akin, siblings who have inherited the family business. Adela is a bit scatty but she was married to Victor, a notable although secretive book collector. When he died, his collection was stored in the basement & no one has ever been able to get a look at the catalogue. As Adela lives in an old house & has dozens of cats, the condition of the books could be doubtful but the Akins as well as Peter Hume, are definitely interested. Kate also meets Adela’s grandson, Austin Brande, a property developer as well as Peter Hume’s brother, Myles & his wife, Cathy. Myles is a lawyer but permanently strapped for cash, relying on Peter to bail him out all too often.

Some time after the wedding, Kate sends her latest work in progress to Estelle & is surprised when she doesn’t hear from her as promised. Estelle runs her business as she runs her life – organised & formidably efficient. Kate becomes concerned about Estelle’s silence & goes to London to try to find out what’s happening. She finds Peter drunk & uncommunicative & the office deserted. Estelle had left home after a row & hasn’t returned. Kate concludes that Estelle has been abducted but is puzzled as to why Peter won’t go to the police. Peter’s business is in trouble & his brother is pressing for a loan. When he receives a letter from Adela Carston asking him to look over her husband’s library, he can’t get there fast enough. Peter seems pleased with the deal he struck with Adele but then he receives messages from someone else accusing him of dishonesty. There are also persistent phone calls to Estelle’s home & office from would-be authors demanding that Estelle read their manuscripts. Could Estelle’s abduction be aimed at Peter? Or is there a demented author who doesn’t take Estelle’s brisk rejection kindly?

Kate is incorrigibly nosy & she is determined to find out what has happened to Estelle, even more so when she realises that Peter is doing nothing about it at all. Does he have a guilty conscience or is he being threatened by someone? She is also anxious to get Estelle’s verdict on her new book & can’t settle down to work without her advice. Jon doesn’t approve of her investigations but when a friend of his, Craig Jefferson, comes to stay, he uses his skills as a criminologist to help Kate in her search. Their search leads them to Kate’s friend, Emma, once an old flame of Peter’s, & a cafe, the Writer’s Bistro, where aspiring writers can go to write, network & find distraction. Kate becomes more & more concerned as time passes with no word from Estelle & her investigations could lead to serious consequences for them both.

Oxford Ransom is a fitting end to an excellent series. The Oxford setting has always been one of the main attractions in the series. In one of the earlier books, Kate worked at the Bodleian & other Oxford landmarks have featured as well. Kate’s nosiness has led her into many precarious situations over the years & her freelance working life has meant that she could sleuth to her heart’s content. Kate’s mother, Roz, makes only a token appearance in this novel, a little older & a little more dependent on her daughter which is quite a contrast from her bohemian lifestyle in earlier books. Everyone is a little older & maybe, at the end of the book, Kate is ready to start thinking about settling down herself. As soon as the latest book is finished, of course.

Sunday Poetry – Walt Whitman

One of my favourite movies is Now, Voyager with Bette Davis, Paul Henreid & the wonderful Gladys Cooper & Claude Rains, two of my favourite actors. It’s the story of Charlotte Vale, a repressed dowdy spinster, living in Boston under the thumb of her formidable mother (played by Gladys Cooper). Does anyone else think that Bette Davis looks remarkably like Charlotte Brontë in the early scenes of the movie? After suffering a nervous breakdown, Charlotte is placed under the care of compassionate psychiatrist, Dr Jaquith (Claude Rains) who restores her sense of self or at least, helps her on the road to restoring it herself. Charlotte takes a cruise & meets Jerry Durrance, a handsome architect trapped in an unhappy marriage. They fall in love but agree to part at the end of the cruise. If you don’t know what happens next, you’ll have to watch the movie or read the book by Olive Higgins Prouty. I read it years ago & really want to read it again.

Walt Whitman comes into all this through a quotation that Dr Jaquith writes down for Charlotte during her therapy. He sends her back into the world armed with these words of wisdom from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

The untold want, by life and land ne’er granted,   
Now, Voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find.

I read quite a bit of Whitman when I was a student. I especially enjoyed Drum Taps, his poems of the American Civil War, & When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d, his lovely elegy for Abraham Lincoln. Lilacs is a long poem but here are just the first few stanzas,

1

When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d,   
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,   
I mourn’d—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.   
 
O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring;   
Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west,            
And thought of him I love.   
 
2

O powerful, western, fallen star!   
O shades of night! O moody, tearful night!   
O great star disappear’d! O the black murk that hides the star!   
O cruel hands that hold me powerless! O helpless soul of me!     
O harsh surrounding cloud, that will not free my soul!   
 
3

In the door-yard fronting an old farm-house, near the white-wash’d palings,   
Stands the lilac bush, tall-growing, with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,   
With many a pointed blossom, rising, delicate, with the perfume strong I love,   
With every leaf a miracle……and from this bush in the door-yard,     
With delicate-color’d blossoms, and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,   
A sprig, with its flower, I break.   
 
4

In the swamp, in secluded recesses,   
A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.   
 
Solitary, the thrush,     
The hermit, withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,   
Sings by himself a song.   
 
Song of the bleeding throat!   
Death’s outlet song of life—(for well, dear brother, I know   
If thou wast not gifted to sing, thou would’st surely die.)

Just borrowed

I’ve just borrowed two beautiful books from work & wanted to share them. Daphne Du Maurier at Home is by Hilary Macaskill. I’ve reviewed her book on Charles Dickens at Home here & this new book is in the same style. Daphne Du Maurier’s novels were very often inspired by places, most especially houses in Cornwall like Menabilly & Kilmarth. From her first home in Fowey (which you can see on the cover) to Menabilly, the house she coveted & was eventually able to lease, to Kilmarth, her last home, place was very important to her. Menabilly was famously the inspiration for Manderley in Rebecca.

Menabilly also provided the inspiration for her historical novel The King’s General which was set during the English Civil War. In this picture, Daphne is looking up to where a bricked up room containing a skeleton was discovered in 1824. This incident was the spark that led to the novel. Daphne Du Maurier at Home  is a lavishly illustrated book describing all Du Maurier’s homes & the books she wrote while living in each of them.

I’ve been immersed in the Anglo Saxons lately. I’ve been enjoying Michael Wood’s latest documentary series, Alfred the Great & the Anglo-Saxons, which led me back to Asser’s Life of the king & Justin Pollard’s more recent biography. This beautiful book by Nicholas J Higham & Martin J Ryan is perfect for anyone who’s interested in the Anglo Saxon world. I read a review in one of my archaeological magazines & thought I would borrow it before taking the plunge & buying it (I’ve been a bit reckless in my book buying recently. I’ll have to do a confessional post when all the loot turns up).

The book is a synthesis of information from historical & archaeological sources. As well as the narrative proper, there are sections called Sources and Issues with more in depth information about topics such as the Staffordshire Hoard (above) that was discovered in 2009, King Arthur, the Anglo Saxon cemetery at Spong Hill & the various settlements at York.

The illustrations are beautiful, from detailed maps & plans of archaeological sites to the great works of art, jewellery & manuscripts of the age such as the Vespasian Psalter above. I want to read it from cover to cover but it would also be an excellent introduction to the Anglo Saxons or a book to dip into on a specific topic. The authors acknowledge a long list of friends & colleagues who read & advised on different chapters as the book is obviously based on the work of many scholars past & present. I know I’m going to have to have my own copy, it’s just a matter of time.

A Country Life – Roy Strong

Roy Strong is best known as an art historian & as the youngest ever Director of both the National Portrait Gallery (age 32) & the Victoria & Albert Museum (age 38). I have a couple of his books on miniatures & history paintings & they’re wonderful. In 1989, Roy Strong was invited to contribute a column on country living to Country Life & this volume is a collection of those pieces. Strong & his wife, Julia Trevelyan Oman, lived in Herefordshire on the fringes of the village of Much Birch & the garden they created at their house, the Laskett (which means a strip of land within the parish), was said to be the largest private garden started from scratch since 1945.Strong describes it as an autobiographical garden as it shows the enthusiasms & interests of both himself & his wife who was a theatrical designer.

The essays in this book describe a year in the life of the house & garden. They are taken from the five years that Strong wrote for Country Life to create “a modest miscellany for a bedside browse”. That’s exactly how I read this charming book, a couple of essays every night before I went to sleep. This is one of my favourites, A Country Library.

Winter months are the ones for reordering the house on days when it is impossible to work outside. A decision to reshelve a library is one taken with short-lived optimism, for the reality of seeing it through to the bitter end is quite another matter. My library opens off my writing room. It is not that large, and very much a working area, with book stacks jutting out from the walls, and the book arranged under subject.

The classification of a private library ought to reflect the structure of the owner’s mind, and that inevitably changes over the years. In addition, the best of systems breaks down in the face of bequests and gifts of books; when there is no more room to jam anything in, little heaps start springing up.


Once reshelving starts, there is no going back. It has to be accompanied by the iron will to discard several thousand books in order to re-establish any order. My wife cannot bear parting with anything, and I find that on seeing this massive evacuation, she has hastily constructed makeshift shelves of bricks and old planks in the garden room, to take in the throw-outs which ranged from books in Russian, which I cannot read, to a set of the Waverley novels.


I was still short of space, and so we studied a guest bedroom, which had already sacrificed a bay to take in the sections on contemporary biography and Cecil Beaton, in order to build yet another bookcase. I never mind sleeping in a room jammed with books, and one hopes one’s guests will feel the same.


Self-sufficiency, in terms of the civilized life and information, remain the essence of any library in the country, however small. No one can afford to be without a run of the great classics, the odd volume on the peerage, or a handful on local topography, architecture and history.

Sunday Poetry – Thomas Gray & Thomas Hardy

One of my favourite novels is Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. Gabriel Oak is Hardy’s most attractive hero, a farmer who works hard through several disasters & is always constant in his love for Bathsheba Everdene, the wilful heroine. I love the scene when he first proposes to Bathsheba & describes his perfect evening after they’re married. After promising her such inducements as a piano, a 10 pound gig & a cucumber frame, he says “And at home by the fire, whenever you look up there I shall be – and whenever I look up there will be you“. Unfortunately this seems to be the last straw for Bathsheba (or maybe it was his indelicate promise to announce the births of all their children in the newspaper) & she refuses him.

The title of the novel comes from the poem by Thomas Gray, Elegy in a Country Churchyard. Published in 1751, it is regarded as Gray’s masterpiece & is still his best-known work. It is thought that he began writing it in the graveyard of St Giles church in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire.

It’s a long poem (the full text is here) but I’ve just chosen these few stanzas that will give an idea of the gentle melancholy & quiet charm of the poem. It exemplifies that calm, stoic spirit of the Age of Reason. I can see why it would appeal to Hardy for one of his most rural novels with a calm, stoic hero in the solidly-named Gabriel Oak.

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

Yet ev’n these bones from insult to protect
Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck’d,
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.

Their name, their years, spelt by th’ unletter’d muse,
The place of fame and elegy supply:
And many a holy text around she strews,
That teach the rustic moralist to die.

For who, to dumb Forgetfulness a prey,
This pleasing anxious being e’er resign’d,
Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,
Nor cast one longing ling’ring look behind?

On some fond breast the parting soul relies,
Some pious drops the closing eye requires;
Ev’n from the tomb the voice of Nature cries,
Ev’n in our Ashes live their wonted Fires.

A Damsel in Distress – P G Wodehouse

A Damsel in Distress is a souffle of misunderstandings, comedy & romance in the best Wodehouse style. Lady Maud, daughter of Lord Marshmoreton, has fallen in love with a young man while on holiday in Wales. Unfortunately Geoffrey Raymond is penniless &, even worse, American. Lord Marshmoreton is a kindly soul who wants his daughter to be happy so he’s not absolutely against the match. All he wants is to be left alone with his roses. His sister, Lady Caroline Byng, is another matter entirely. She planned that her stepson, Reggie, would marry Maud. Reggie, meanwhile, is in love with Lord Marshmoreton’s secretary, Alice Faraday, but is too shy to declare his love.

Maud is forbidden to leave home (Belpher Castle) & is virtually under house arrest. However, with Reggie’s help, she does escape for a day to visit Geoffrey in London. Her brother, Percy, follows her &, eager to escape him, Maud jumps into a cab on Piccadilly & begs George Bevan to hide her. George is an American composer with a musical running in Shaftesbury Avenue. He falls in love with Maud at first sight & a mad chase through London ensues with Percy ending up hatless & in jail after punching a policeman.

The complications are endless. George tracks Maud down to Belpher Castle where everyone thinks he’s Maud’s American, Geoffrey. Everyone from Keggs the butler to Albert the pageboy tell George that Maud loves him & George, though baffled, is happy enough to believe it. His efforts to get to know Maud involve him in even more drama as he tries to avoid Percy & help Reggie in his quest to marry Alice. Meanwhile the staff at the Castle run a sweepstake on who Maud will marry & George disguises himself as a waiter at Percy’s coming of age party to get close to Maud, which leads to him hiding on a balcony while another man proposes to her.

This is a charming book with some very funny scenes & Wodehouse’s usual light touch with dialogue & description. One of my favourite scenes takes place in a tea shop. Wodehouses’s description of the shop brought Barbara Pym irresistibly to mind although Wodehouse is more satirical about distressed gentlewomen than Pym. I could see Wilf Bason in his smock fitting in quite easily.

Ye Cosy Nooke, as its name will suggest to those who know their London, is a tea-shop in Bond Street, conducted by distressed gentlewomen. In London, when a gentlewoman becomes distressed – which she seems to do on the slightest provocation – she collects about her two or three other distressed gentlewomen, forming a quorum, and starts a tea-shop in the West End, which she calls Ye Oak Leaf, Ye Olde Willow-Pattern, Ye Linden Tree, or Ye Snug Harbour, according to personal taste. There, dressed in Tyrolese, Japanese, Norwegian, or some other exotic costume, she and her associates administer refreshments of an afternoon with a proud languor calculated to knock the nonsense out of the cheeriest customer.

As A Damsel in Distress was first published in 1919, this isn’t altogether kind. There were so many distressed gentlewomen after WWI trying to make a living, but it is funny. Thank goodness I still have dozens of Wodehouses to read. I usually listen to Wodehouse on audio & they can be very soothing on the drive home from work.

The Morville Hours – Katherine Swift

So it was that the Hours came to mirror my life in the garden – not only the calendar illustrations with their regular round of tasks, but also the feasts and the fasts, the highs and the lows, the red-letter days and the dies mali: from the crunch of grass underfoot at midnight on a frosty New Year’s Eve, to the drip of trees in a melancholy March dawn; from a perfumed May Day morning when the whole world seems sixteen again; to the enervating heat of a midsummer noon; from the bloom of blue-black damsons picked on a golden September afternoon, to the smell of holly and ivy cut in the dusk of a rainy Christmas Eve. Senses seemed keener in relation to the Hours, with their lesson of attentiveness. Theirs was a world where time was accounted for, each second precious: instead of hearing, one listened; instead of seeing, one looked; instead of tasting, one savoured; instead of touching, one felt. ‘Listen,’ said St Benedict, ‘listen with the ear of your heart.’

This is the story of a garden & of the woman who created it. Katherine Swift was a librarian in Dublin when her husband tempted her back to England with the opportunity of leasing the Dower House near Morville Hall in Shropshire & creating a garden from nothing. The Morville Hours is the story of how the garden was created. It’s structured like a medieval Book of Hours, with the liturgical hours of Vigils, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers & Compline acting as a guide, not to one day in the life of the garden but to the gardening year. This is a lovely conceit because it allows Swift to use the many beautiful Books of Hours created for royalty & noble families in the Middle Ages as a guide to the garden. Each month would have its tasks from Keeping Warm and Chopping Wood in February to Picking Flowers and Greenery in April & Mowing in June through to Slaughtering Beasts, Roasting Meat and Baking Pies in November & December.

I especially enjoyed the history in this book. Swift takes us back to the glaciers that first formed the soil & mountains of Shropshire & gradually moves forward to the first garden on the site in the time of the Priory through to the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s & the last Prior, Richard. The Priory & its contents were stripped & sold off. The land was sold to Roger Smyth of Bridgnorth, the first in a long line of secular owners down to the present day when the Hall & Dower House are now owned by the National Trust.

I’m not much of a gardener but I could certainly enjoy & identify with Swift’s struggle to create the garden. The madly ambitious plans that had to be passed by the National Trust, the urge to buy too many bulbs & then the rush to get them planted in time. The delight in researching & discovering plants that have a connection with the house. Swift decided to create several gardens at the Dower House, each one reflecting a period of its history. So, there’s the Cloister Garden as the monks would have known it; the Knot Garden of the 16th & 17th centuries, the Fruit & Vegetable Garden with its Apple Tunnel & Victorian Rose Border.

The Morville Hours is also about living in a community. Swift tells the stories of her neighbours & friends as they help her with advice, labour & plants. It’s also a very personal story which tells of the lives of her parents & her own childhood. I felt a real sadness in these sections. She doesn’t seem to have been a particularly happy child & her parents seem to have been disappointed people in some way. The family moved house many times but Katherine’s father always planted trees, created a garden. When he is old & ill, she creates a garden for him in his last home, partly because she wants to do it for him but partly because she is good at it. He accuses her of pride & she says she does it out of love but she knows that they’re both right. Swift’s relationship with her parents & brother seems to have been quite distant for much of her adult life but at the end of her parents’ lives, they reconnected.

There’s a real sense of melancholy in this book. Swift’s favourite season is winter when the garden is dormant, sleeping, quiet. The stories she tells of the history of the Priory & the sometimes tragic lives of the subsequent owners are fascinating but full of the melancholy nostalgia for a past that is long gone. Maybe it’s her sensibility but that’s how it seemed to me. I enjoyed reading The Morville Hours, I like wintry melancholy, but I found myself turning from it to something lighter & more frivolous every now and then. The weight of sadness & melancholy was too much. Katherine Swift’s creation of a garden that would honour & remember all those who had gone before her is a tribute to Morville’s past & her determination to create a beautiful garden as a living memorial.

Sunday Poetry – John Keats

The quotation I referred to last week was from The Ghost & Mrs Muir, one of my favourite movies. Lucy & Captain Gregg are talking about his house which Lucy is now renting. She says it’s a lovely design & reminds her of an old song or an poem & he tells her that he designed it himself & quotes the last two lines of this stanza of Keats’s Nightingale.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.