Kipling is such a many-sided writer: some sides I don’t much like, some I like very much, and the side I like best of all is the English mythopoet you find in the poems and stories that make up ‘Puck of Pook’s Hill’ and ‘Rewards and Fairies’, and in certain other of his poems, where he taps into some deep vein of our national psyche. Tolkien may have set out deliberately to create ‘a myth for England’; Kipling found one already there, a worn and patchwork thing maybe, but still potent in his times. And is it still potent in our times – is there gramarye still to be found in Merlin’s isle? Surprisingly, more than you might think would be my answer, for those prepared to leave the beaten track and wander, preferably on foot. I have heard the bubbling of nightjars at twilight under ancient beeches in the New Forest; I have come over Dragon Hill at sunset and seen Middle England before me in a haze of gold; I have listened to nightingales in Suffolk woods; I have sailed the puffin-crowded waters off Skomer on a May morning that might have been the morning of the world; I have walked unpeopled hills and valleys in the beautiful Cheviots, quiet now after centuries of border strife…. Yes, there is still gramarye enough to be found in this isle of ours.
See you the ferny ride that steals
Into the oak-woods far?
O that was whence they hewed the keels
That rolled to Trafalgar.
And mark you where the ivy clings
To Bayham’s mouldering walls?
O there we cast the stout railings
That stand around St. Paul’s.
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.
(Out of the Weald, the secret Weald,
Men sent in ancient years,
The horse-shoes red at Flodden Field,
The arrows at Poitiers!)
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!
Happy New Year.
Thank you, and to you.
Gramarye [noun] – necromancy, magic, enchantment. The last section of your intro made me think of Roy Batty’s last speech in “Bladerunner”: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe… Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion… I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain… Time to die.”
Yes, gramarye goes back to the same root as grammar, glamour and also grimoire, a magician’s book of spells. When I worked as a computer programmer I kept on my desk a folder labelled GRIMOIRE. All it contained was sets of instructions for doing various routine computery things, but I felt it added a touch of romance to an otherwise mundane occupation…