Burnt Norton

A day off walking with poet Peter Larkin, dedicated rambler and longtime English subject librarian at the University of Warwick. Peter writes dense experimental prose poems with the kind of gnarly syntax that trees might use if they could speak. He reminds me a little of Wordsworth’s Matthew.

Our excuse was a site visit to Burnt Norton in Gloucestershire, a manor house whose garden is the setting of the first of Eliot’s Four Quartets. The house is two miles north of the Cotswolds town of Chipping Camden, where we started the walk after imbibing an underpowered latte at a cafe on the High Street.

The weather was typical for spring this year, cool and overcast. We climbed up Dover Hill, which holds the annual Cotswold Olimpicks in June (a day of ye sport and revels begun in 1612, shut down by C17 Puritans, revived, halted by C19 enclosures, re-revived, etc., etc.). Our plan was to trespass on the manor grounds from the rear through a coppice wood. On the way we spotted typical signs of this not-so-spring & all: partridges grazing in a tilled field, a yellowhammer in the hedgerow, buzzards looping overhead.

Dover Hill

Eliot wrote “Burnt Norton” in 1934 after a visit with his old flame from Boston, Emily Hale. The first part of the poem describes a slightly spooky experience of visitation and children’s voices in the shrubberies, culminating in a mystical moment of insight as sunlight fills a pair of dry pools in the garden:

Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.

Dry pools

“As we get older we do not get any younger”

“As we get older we do not get any younger”

One story is that the pools were drained after a child drowned in one of them. Another is that the manor got its name when its owner, an C18 baron, went mad and burned it down. Or maybe he did it for the insurance.

Burnt Norton house

Into the rose garden

Later it was abandoned by the ancestral family, but now it hosts a center for the literary arts, with annual summer get-togethers. We looked around and then headed for the nearby village of Aston Subedge for a pub lunch before walking back to Chipping Campden past neolithic mounds and banks of wild garlic in flower.

Garlic path

I’ll always be conflicted about Eliot, and this poem in particular (parodied so well by Henry Reed’s “Chard Whitlow“). It’s remained a touchstone long after I became fully aware of the poet’s religious, cultural and political views. Maybe, like the narrator of Norman Rush’s Mating, “apparently my fate is to resonate against my will to representatives of certain elitisms I intellectually reject.” But then, in inverted form, this may have been Eliot’s own fate too.


Dawn chorus

Woke the girls at 5 in the morning one Sunday to go out on a field trip. Our ostensible goal to hear the dawn chorus, our secret mission to disrupt routine. So, armed with a thermos of hot tea and binoculars, we drove down to Ufton Fields, a woodland reserve south of here. The sun had just risen when we arrived, and while we heard thrushes and their kin everywhere in the high trees, they were hard to spot. The sound was magic, though.


Sheep at dawn



Hats off for creativity

Zoe had a choice to make. Four, to be exact. That is the number of subjects that she could choose to take next year that would round out the compulsory mix of maths, English, science, PE and RE (Religious Education – this is England!). She had a tough time choosing History over Geography (my influence), French over German (her choice), and Fine Art over Drama (not much of a choice as the drama teacher is a depressive flake and art is one of Zoe’s passions).

The fourth option was the most difficult. For her it came down to Latin or Textiles, a Technology subject. Her parents both loved the idea of Latin – the classics! ancient history! great literature! fundamentals of grammar! (sigh) A savvy, academically-oriented choice. We had studied Latin and valued it. So we convinced her; she chose Latin.

But after the form was turned in she began a unit on Textiles and the Latin teacher continued to be less than “inspirational.” She realized that, for her, the choice between learning the declensions of an ancient, unspoken language and learning the art of design was an easy one to make. She loves opportunities to use her creativity, to transform her ideas into plans, to turn her vision into three-dimensional reality.

As if to underscore this, Zoe (once again) has been awarded “Student of the Module” for the design and execution of her hat project, a reversible creation in felt:

Hats off to Zoe (with thanks to her model, Isobel). And yes, she went back and changed her option from Latin to Textiles for next year.

Up from the gutter

The peas have been eased from their guttering incubator and into the ground at the allotment (back on the 5th of May).

Gutter-grown peas planted next to a row of directly-sown sugarsnaps

Then the support structure was put in place.

Pea sticks ready for climbing
(And then fleece went around this structure to protect the seedlings from decimation by pigeons and other birds – note the netting covering the rows behind.)

A sunny weekend meant some lovely time in the garden. I re-potted tomato seedlings, weeded, and planted another short row of peas. (One can never have too many peas! Is this the year I have more than we can eat? Impossible, though it may be possible to have too many to shell…)

Nick dug manure into another section of the plot where we will plant beans, squash, and courgettes later this month. Here’s a photo of him hard at work at the end of April preparing the potato bed:

Preparing to plant potatoes

This year we’ve planted a variety of heirloom and classic potatoes: Orla, Pentland Lustre, and Beauty of Bute (all First Earlies), Charlotte and Pink Fir Apple (Second Earlies), King Edward and Desiree (Main Crop). This eclectic selection will offer us potatoes in different colors and shapes harvested from late June through to October. Some are best for mashing, some for salads, some for roasting. And the tiny, thin-skinned new ones should be very good with peas.

Some Tunes and a Stroll

As it was the Leamington Music Festival last week, Dad and I went to a classical piano concert together to have a little dad/daughter time, to have a quick break from homework and the practising of a particular instrument, and for me just to watch a professional play the piano as I haven’t done so in a while.

The music was played by Jean-Michel Bayez, a professional French player, who performed Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” which I recognized and loved despite the multiple playings on the stereo on weekend mornings. I definitely enjoyed myself despite being the only youngster present. I walked in and saw a sea of grey hair; the person closest to me in age was in fact Dad …

The following is a selection of some photographs that I took on my mobile phone during a stroll in Jephsons Gardens in the Temperate House, just after the concert in the Pump Rooms with the ol’ dad.

Border displays at Jephsons Gardens

Koi in the Temperate House pool

Flowers in the Temperate House

Return to Conjunction Junction

Grammar isn’t taught with much specificity here in England. Maybe it’s the same in the US these days. Sure, kids learn to write and work hard at developing their literacy skills, but there is not much emphasis placed on the terminology of language or how these grammatical building blocks construct sentences. When I was in school we learned to identify adverbs from adjectives, predicates from subjects, proper nouns from pronouns. And to diagram whole sentences (which was probably overkill).

Anyway, the other day it arose that Isobel was unfamiliar with the term “conjunction” as it applies to the parts of speech. Preparing to provide an answer I found myself humming a familiar tune. If you grew up in America in the 70s you probably know what it was. Schoolhouse Rock! An absolutely glorious public service television project that taught a generation of kids the Preamble to the Constitution, as well as grammar.

Through the magic of YouTube all the old favorites are waiting to be rediscovered (or enjoyed for the first time). Isobel and I loved watching many of them, including “Interjection!” and “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here” and “No More Kings” – a very ‘patriotic’ take on the American Revolution.

Why don’t you start with “Conjunction Junction, What’s Your Function?”