Monday, March 02, 2009


As homework for my trip to the UK and Ireland this June, I checked out Shropshire from my local library. It’s authored by Ellis Peters (penname of Edith Pargeter who set her Brother Cadfael mystery series at Shrewsbury Abbey in the 12th century), with photos by Roy Morgan. Even if Shrewsbury wasn’t on my list of towns I’m visiting, I would be totally captivated by Shropshire as presented by Peters and Morgan—the text is beautifully written, nostalgic and evocative of mists and meadows. It reminded me a bit of Larkrise to Candleford. Morgan’s pictures are sublime.

I loved this idea that Peters uses to begin the chapter entitled “Blue Remembered Hills.”

It is a curious and daunting thing that only in the most remote and solitary places, especially the summits of the least frequented hills, does man experience the awesome sense of being one in an immemorial succession of kinsmen, of his own tribal ancestors, a link in a chain going back far into prehistory, and forward far into the as yet unrevealed. Perhaps it is the same realization that caused sacred places in many civilizations to be set on mountain tops, and even inspired priesthoods to build mountains where God had provided none. The ziggurat, the Biblical ‘high place’ is a concept found in any number of lands, it must reflect a universal instinct.

I understand this notion because I myself have stood in remote and solitary places and felt the collective past of humanity pressing around me. Since I was child, I’ve loved gazing on a landscape and imagining ancient eyes looking on that same landscape. Sometimes it feels as if our world is a living museum. Bones that are now dust are part of exhibit A.

Maybe after I'm done with this memoir/picture book, I'll take a stab at A.E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad. Before dementia robbed my father of his ability to read--really, besides flying and my mother, the passion of his life--he kept his copy of this book, along with Boswell's The Life of Samuel Johnson, on his bedside table for regular reading. I'm feeling a bit like Miss Jenkyns and her love for her father expressed in her loyalty to Johnson over that upstart Dickens.


  1. I'm originally from Shropshire, it's not ALL spoiled. Read Mary Webb's novels esp Gone To Earth. It's On Gutenberg... Bob

  2. Showing my ignorance (as usual) but "A Shropshire Lad" is a real book? Not something out of the Rev. Mr. Beebe's imagination? I will definitely check it out now purely because of my love for all things E.M. Forster.

  3. "A Shropshire Lad" is real, very homoerotic, but beautiful too. Full of the frailty of youth & beauty.There's several song cycles using the poems as words. All good, try Vaughan Williams'. Wilfred Owen from Shropshire too as was Charles Darwin... Bob

  4. What a lovely trip that will be! I bet it's so much fun to do your "homework"!

  5. Thanks for the recommendation, Bob. I love Webb's Precious Bane and have heard that Gone to Earth is also good. I picked it up from the library yesterday and hope to read it shortly--I'm almost at a good breaking point in Rebels of Ireland, so I think I'll read Gone to Earth, and then finish RofI. Thanks for the tips on the song cycles--they sound worth looking for. I just read that Darwin was from Shropshire--I could spend the whole two weeks there, I think!

    Theresa - Shropshire Lad is poetry--I just started it last night and immediately recognized Loveliest of Trees, which is in just about every kids' poetry book I had as a kid, and which I read to my own three.

    Dorothy - homework is fun :)