Having been born and brought up in Cambridge, and having virtually lived on the River Cam for much of my childhood, I was very familiar with the old village in Grantchester, and equally familiar – loving poetry from an early age – with Rupert Brook’s poem, ‘The Old Vicarage Grantchester‘. Grantchester is a small village, which I guess now most people would know because of the TV series of the same name, based on books by James Runcie about a crime-busting vicar. The upper reaches of the Cam is the Granta – hence Grantchester, and in fact the Cam as it is running through the city was originally the Grnata and named Grantabridge, or something approximating that!
We loved Rupert Brooke’s poem and in a way he was almost a local hero – the handsome young man who died so tragically in 1915 aged 27 in Skyros in Greece. The poem was written when he was sick in Germany
Just now the lilac is in bloom,
All before my little room;
And in my flower-beds, I think,
Smile the carnation and the pink;
And down the borders, well I know,
The poppy and the pansy blow . . .
Oh! there the chestnuts, summer through,
Beside the river make for you
A tunnel of green gloom, and sleep
Deeply above; and green and deep
The stream mysterious glides beneath,
Green as a dream and deep as death.
— Oh, damn! I know it! and I know
How the May fields all golden show,
And when the day is young and sweet,
Gild gloriously the bare feet
That run to bathe . . .
and it spoke to me from the first time I read it, so familiar from my time on the river – ‘the river make for you a tunnel of green gloom, and sleep deeply above; and green and deep the stream mysterious glides beneath, green as a dream…’
My mum spent part of her childhood in Harston, and Brooke remembers the local villages in his poem, making jokes about them:
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…
This amused us no end as Mum and her sisters were all much younger than thirty when they lived there, teenagers in fact!
However, what made me remember The Old Vicarage Grantchester was my thoughts on food in things I have read, and it’s the last line of the poem which resonates. I don’t remember having honey as a child. We had treacle (Golden Syrup) and jams and jellies and marmalades, but never honey. As far as i can recall the first time this mythical food of the gods came into our house was as an actual honeycomb – where from I have no idea. Having read about it so often in my children’s books, I was fascinated, intrigued and eager to try it. However the waxy comb was very strange, and I’m sure my sister being food-fussy didn’t even try it, and I am equally sure I did!
I had cycled through Grantchester many times, picnicked in the meadows, but far more often swam and boated through the village along the River Granta. So it’s no wonder I love Brooke’s poem:
Oh, is the water sweet and cool,
Gentle and brown, above the pool?
And laughs the immortal river still
Under the mill, under the mill?
Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain? . . . oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?