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December 2, 2011

Wintry reflections at Little Gidding

by quaesitor
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Am just back from a 24 hour escape to the country with a few other guys – we meet once or twice a year and have been (on and off) for years. It was a real tonic and encouragement to me personally. I’ve realised more and more how much I need this sort of thing. But the particular treat of this time away was staying at Ferrar House in Little Gidding. As its website shows, it has all kinds of wonderful historical, and especially literary, connections. Charles I and George Herbert… and of course more recently T S Eliot. As it happened, he only came here for an afternoon and never stayed the night. But his link with the place was immortalised by the 4th of his FOUR QUARTETS, entitled Little Gidding.

The landscape around the hamlet of Little Gidding (village is too grand a word for it, really) is archetypical, English arable farmland. The odd-shaped fields undulate into the distance, interspersed by the odd hedgerow, small wood, and church steeple or lone rooftop. When the wind gets up, it can be quite blustery. Just the ticket for blowing out central London cobwebs. So, as we always do, we set off for a walk before the early winter dusk on Wednesday afternoon, as Eliot himself had done. And we even kept our eyes peeled for something of the sun’s reflections that he was so affected by.

It was just with my phone, but I did feel that this photo (taken in the fields below the house) rendered something of the mood of the poem’s opening lines. Which was quite exciting.. for me at any rate! We didn’t have the ice or snow that Eliot enjoyed – but we were overlooked by a gorgeous, watery, wintery sun low in the mostly cloudless sky.

Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart’s heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul’s sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
But not in time’s covenant. Now the hedgerow
Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable
Zero summer?

Opening lines of LITTLE GIDDING by T S Eliot

Here are a few other images from around Ferrar House and the little church built by the Ferrar family in the 1600s.

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