Upon Chawton House: A Poem

What would you have done if you had invented one of the key components of the internet and promptly become very rich indeed? It would be hard to think of a better solution than that of Sandy Lerner, co-inventor of the router, who bought up a rundown manor house in Chawton, Hampshire, which had once belonged to Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Austen-Knight. After a decade of extensive restoration, Chawton House reopened as one of Britain’s newest research libraries, specialising in women’s literature.

Last year, I fulfilled a dream of mine from my MA days, and got to spend a month there as a visiting fellow, researching my PhD. From the Steinway grand in the living room to the shiny copper pans hanging over the kitchen table to the four-poster bed, I’d never lived like it before and never will since.

This must be what it was like to have an aristocratic patron, I thought to myself. The idea sprang into my head of a modern take on the country house poem, in the tradition of Ben Jonson and Andrew Marvell, that would thank the staff for my unforgettable month here. I daydreamed of being appointed Chawton House’s poet laureate and being given my own tiny office in the eaves of the house, where I would write poems to Sandy Lerner’s cats and subsist solely on sherry. Alas, it was not to be—but I did manage to see my poem printed in the library’s newsletter, The Female Spectator.

Now that Hampshire’s poet laureate has paid a visit and written a sequence of poems about her time there, I thought it high time I gave my poem a new airing.

Fruitful October’s been and gone
And drear November’s drawing on
At Chawton House, so much renowned
For wholesome air and fertile ground
As every fruit tree here evinces,
Weighed down with apples, pears and quinces.
Though roses droop and leaves may fall
Before the threat of frost and squall,
From every pamphlet, every tome
A harvest has been gathered home,
From every essay, poem and story:
And still the grounds are in their glory
Of gold and brown and yellow green
And mixtures hardly sung or seen.
To stroll amid the wilderness
And see the woods in autumn dress
Adds a fresh pleasure to the store:
Then back into the house once more!
For there are concerts to applaud
Upon the polished harpsichord,
And morning light that gilds and graces
The panelled rooms and fireplaces,
And portraits splendid in their frames
Of gay coquettes and haughty dames,
And Knights of centuries gone by
Who gaze with an approving eye.
Plush window seats, where I am certain
To hide behind th’embroidered curtain
And read for hours like Jane Eyre
Or even – dare I? – take the chair
Where Austen used to sit and write.
There is no end to my delight,
For there are shelves and stacks and hoards
Of Books en dishabille in boards,
Or paperbacks – pert springy nippers,
Or grave octavos in their slippers,
Or volumes – three or four together
All bound in fine Morocco leather,
Whilst slim selecteds – bold young turks –
Vie with august collected works
To entertain me with their art:
How sad that they and I must part!

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Upon Chawton House: A Poem

    • Thank you for reading. I’ve very much enjoyed the way your first two poems created vivid images of female claustrophobia without being victimising. ‘Bench’ is thus far my favourite, bringing back to me that luxury of fields to wander through, and the delight of walking back from Selbourne and knowing that I was enfranchised to trample past the ‘no trespassing’ signs and through the grounds on my way back to the Stables.
      I look forward to reading more from you.

  1. This poem reminds me of Tolkiens ‘Song of Durin’

    The world was young, the mountains green,
    No stain yet on the Moon was seen,
    No words were laid on stream or stone
    When Durin woke and walked alone.
    He named the nameless hills and dells;
    He drank from yet untasted wells;
    He stooped and looked in Mirrormere,
    And saw a crown of stars appear,
    As gems upon a silver thread,
    Above the shadow of his head.

    The world was fair, the mountains tall,
    In Elder Days before the fall
    Of mighty kings in Nargothrond
    And Gondolin, who now beyond
    The Western Seas have passed away:
    The world was fair in Durin’s Day.

    A king he was on carven throne
    In many-pillared halls of stone
    With golden roof and silver floor,
    And runes of power upon the door.
    The light of sun and star and moon
    In shining lamps of crystal hewn
    Undimmed by cloud or shade of night
    There shone for ever fair and bright.

    There hammer on the anvil smote,
    There chisel clove, and graver wrote;
    There forged was blade, and bound was hilt;
    The delver mined, the mason built.
    There beryl, pearl, and opal pale,
    And metal wrought like fishes’ mail,
    Buckler and corslet, axe and sword,
    And shining spears were laid in hoard.

    Unwearied then were Durin’s folk;
    Beneath the mountains music woke:
    The harpers harped, the minstrels sang,
    And at the gates the trumpets rang.

    The world is grey, the mountains old,
    The forge’s fire is ashen-cold;
    No harp is wrung, no hammer falls:
    The darkness dwells in Durin’s halls;
    The shadow lies upon his tomb
    In Moria, in Khazad-dûm.
    But still the sunken stars appear
    In dark and windless Mirrormere;
    There lies his crown in water deep,
    Till Durin wakes again from sleep.

    Maybe a bit too much…. Still it is a very good poem.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s