I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time now – and I mean quite some time. Last Spring, as I adapted Puck of Pook’s Hill for the stage and chose Rackham illustrations to make into scenery, and later, as I rehearsed the thing with my cherry-picked cast, and then as our Monday drew close – and later again, when all was done and gone well… Only, there was always something else to post about, or perhaps it was too soon, or… you know how it goes.
But at last, here we go. Poetry first: Puck’s Song, from Weland’s Sword:
See you the dimpled track that runs,
All hollow through the wheat?
O that was where they hauled the guns
That smote King Philip’s fleet!
See you our little mill that clacks,
So busy by the brook?
She has ground her corn and paid her tax
Ever since Domesday Book.
See you our stilly woods of oak,
And the dread ditch beside?
O that was where the Saxons broke,
On the day that Harold died!
See you the windy levels spread
About the gates of Rye?
O that was where the Northmen fled,
When Alfred’s ships came by!
See you our pastures wide and lone,
Where the red oxen browse?
O there was a City thronged and known,
Ere London boasted a house!
And see you, after rain, the trace
Of mound and ditch and wall?
O that was a Legion’s camping-place,
When Caesar sailed from Gaul!
And see you marks that show and fade,
Like shadows on the Downs?
O they are the lines the Flint Men made,
To guard their wondrous towns!
Trackway and Camp and City lost,
Salt Marsh where now is corn;
Old Wars, old Peace, old Arts that cease,
And so was England born!
She is not any common Earth,
Water or Wood or Air,
But Merlin’s Isle of Gramarye,
Where you and I will fare.
And then the Project Gutenberg link to the whole collection. Children’s fare, you say? Oh, I rather beg to disagree. There is something about Kipling’s stories and poems in this little book – a feel for the link between history, stories and places across centuries and millennia… I remember listening spellbound as an archeologist friend told about excavating a no more than middling Medieval road (They should have stuck to cathedrals, back then – that was what they knew how to do. Roads… bah!), and then finding a much superior Roman road beneath, and then something else beneath that… And also another story – about a temple of the cult of Mithras (a soldiers’ cult) found in Rome beneath the palace where an officers’ club had been for almost a century in much more recent times.
As though places somehow remembered what they had been – and kept to it in some way through time… And that is exactly what Puck of Pook’s Hill feels like in many ways.