Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Grasmere: my first impression of England

Flying into England was an odd experience. The plane had monitors that showed a graphic display indicating our progress, so I could see when we had entered British airspace and were passing over places whose names I knew. But of course the weather was cloudy and I could see nothing of the land itself. I looked out the window and waited, curious. When we finally broke through the cloud cover, I saw very ordinary fields and hedgerows – nothing particularly scenic or spectacular that would explain the rush of emotion I felt. I had never been any closer to England than the State of New York, but I felt that I was coming back to a beloved home after a long absence.

I think I was expecting kind of a Keatsian, looking-into-Chapman's-Homer moment, and instead found myself having more of a Walter Scott moment.

"Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne'er within him burn'd,
As home his footsteps he hath turn'd,
From wandering on a foreign strand!"

Although I probably would have said it without the exclamation marks.

1 comment:

Heidi said...

It speaks to the primordial, does this tiny little island... You wait. Come back sometime around Christmas, and go to the countryside, and go outside in the dark. No streetlights, nothing. Just Britain surrounding you. And you'll understand why Hardy wrote "The Oxen":

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.