Poems from the East: Cambridgeshire

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This is the second in our series of poems about East Anglia to mark National Poetry Day on 7th October.  The region has inspired many poets, especially in Norfolk and Suffolk. So every day for a week we are publishing one poem, covering between them all the counties of the region. Today’s poem comes from Cambridgeshire.

Rupert Brooke wrote “The Old Vicarage: Grantchester” in Berlin in 1912. It is about longing for England from abroad, and the house where he had stayed. Other parts of this long poem are better known, but this extract shows Brooke in a comic mood as he catalogues the villages and people of the county.

Old Vicarage Grantchester
Old Vicarage, Grantchester: photo Howard Somerville licenced on Creative Commons

Grantchester is a village on the river Cam two miles from Cambridge. The Old Vicarage is now the home of the novelist Jeffrey Archer and his wife, the scientist Lady Mary Archer.

The Old Vicarage: Grantchester

God! I will pack, and take a train,

And get me to England once again!

For England’s the one land, I know,

Where men with Splendid Hearts may go;

And Cambridgeshire, of all England,

The shire for Men who Understand;

And of THAT district I prefer

The lovely hamlet Grantchester.

For Cambridge people rarely smile,

Being urban, squat, and packed with guile;

And Royston men in the far South

Are black and fierce and strange of mouth;

At Over they fling oaths at one,

And worse than oaths at Trumpington,

And Ditton girls are mean and dirty,

And there’s none in Harston under thirty,

And folks in Shelford and those parts

Have twisted lips and twisted hearts,

And Barton men make Cockney rhymes,

And Coton’s full of nameless crimes,

And things are done you’d not believe

At Madingley on Christmas Eve.

Strong men have run for miles and miles,

When one from Cherry Hinton smiles;

Strong men have blanched, and shot their wives,

Rather than send them to St. Ives;

Strong men have cried like babes, bydam,

To hear what happened at Babraham.

But Grantchester! ah, Grantchester!

There’s peace and holy quiet there,

Great clouds along pacific skies,

And men and women with straight eyes,

Lithe children lovelier than a dream,

A bosky wood, a slumbrous stream,

And little kindly winds that creep

Round twilight corners, half asleep.

In Grantchester their skins are white;

They bathe by day, they bathe by night;

The women there do all they ought;

The men observe the Rules of Thought.

They love the Good; they worship Truth;

They laugh uproariously in youth;

(And when they get to feeling old,

They up and shoot themselves, I’m told) . . .

Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)

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