In the Boars Head
In the Boars Head Press edition of Sapho, printed and published by Christopher and Lettice, my mother and father, there is a woodcut by Lettice which shows a small boy driving two sheep and a hog down a path illumined by the evening star. There is a thatch roofed cottage and cypresses arch overhead. A woman is collecting vegetables for the evening meal. Behind, rise the dark slopes of moorland.
The woman collecting vegetables is my mother. The little boy is me.
The book gives the translation of the poem the picture illustrates as; ‘Evening, thou bringest back all that the bright dawn took; thou bringest the sheep, the goat and, back to its mother, the child.’
About this time my parents sent out a Christmas card with a poem by my father which is dear to me because it appears to me to deal with events which led to my own conception.
Long waits the master for his mistress fair
in january iwis he sees her there
her naked body paler than the sleet
and snow right dark beneath her tender feet
in february when wanton winds blow
he feels her nighness in the fire’s glow
in march when snows are melting on the hill
he hears her tinkling laughter in the rill
when bels and flourets greet the april skies
he learns truths hid behind enamelled eyes
when lambs are bleating in the may morn
he seems to hear the cry of babes unborn
in june he plunges naked in the stream
a flood of ecstasy in a drifting dream
the july sun has gotten crops so fair
in harvest corn he sees her waving hair
in must of august grapes he sees her blood
like tears of pity shed on holy rood
september fruits are wreathed in autumn bloom
with painted pennons draping summer’s tomb
october days he feels the giant frost
numbing his heart while woods sigh lost a-lost
november days he strives to make good cheer
in wassail wine and song he feels her near
december nights he bows him lowly down
for christ was born to save with thorny crown
on christmas eve he bounds across the floor
who beats so late and lonesome on the door?
My memories begin with Eye Manor, the William and Mary mansion house, built in North Herefordshire for a wealthy merchant called Ferdinando Gorges in 1680. My parents loved Eye and my mother’s delight was manifest in another family Christmas Card in which she engraved me and my sisters Antonia and Juliet on the lawn of Eye and other things she cherished such as the weeping ash, the house itself, and Creeping Jenny, my grandmother’s horse-drawn caravan in which she had travelled over the Alps behind oxen, and the Great Western Railway station of Berrington and Eye.
Lettice was writing and illustrating a couple of children’s books about two pigeons called RooCoo and Panessa and their son Coo-My-Doo, and for models she had the forty fantail pigeons which lived in a dovecot high on a windy wall of Eye Manor at that time.
The house was a meeting place for the artists and writers commissioned by my father to work for the Golden Cockerell, the private press that had previously been owned by Robert Gibbings. A typical day is celebrated in a poem by their friend Christopher Whitfield;
Sunday at Eye, that house of rural calm,
Where History sleeps, her head upon her arm ...
The morning stirs, the children’s voices sound,
Lighting the house with laughter from all round;
And by the ha-ha, through the cold there goes
The parson, muffled to his dripping nose,
While singly from the solitary bell
The notes sound out, the solemn hour to tell.
A child or two and two old ladies go
Into the church; the Sexton follows slow.
Now the bell stops, and seeing all is clear,
Daphnis and Chloe and their Friend appear.
The pigeons flutter to the opened door,
Fed but an hour since, yet demanding more.
The car is started, and with Tigger too,
The rural trio seek for rustick pleasures new.
Daphnis and Chloe are my parents, thus named because my father had recently published their story. Tigger was their golden cocker spaniel. After a visit to the Black Mountains in Wales, they return for tea and,
Now to Eye’s fireside do the trio wend
Their way through dusk that marks the day’s chill
There the logs crackle, and with joy they see
Steam in their cups the aromatick tea.
The shutters closed, the curtains closely drawn,
They re-explore the day from dusk to dawn,
Take down the books that Daphnis’ press creates,
While Chloe for her children, stitching, waits.
The busy brood arrives, and games begin
That turn to wisdom Adam’s venial sin.
So goes the day. And when the house is still
And Chloe’s cares are done, they take their fill
Of wise converse, forgetting not the jest
That lends the serious hour its wonted zest.
Night draws on, and soon they take their way
To bed, and sleep, to meet another day.
The Friend awhile reads verse of ancient Greece,
By Daphnis printed for delight’s increase,
With fair engravings by fair Chloe made.
In war time, troops had been stationed at Eye. Galvanised sheds were built as garages for vehicles and ammunition store, and subterranean hideouts constructed by my father throughout the county. He slept by day. He was busy, usually by night, setting up an armed resistance movement to be brought into action in the event of enemy invasion. In the cellars at Eye there was a concealed guerilla headquarters with Christopher in control.
Although the war was over, shopping was still difficult because petrol was severely rationed. Twice a week my mother rode the four miles to Leominster on a bicycle with baskets fore and aft, returning laden with tins of powdered milk, small portions of whale meat. Sometimes I went with her and we did the four mile journey by train. The war was over but hens still perched in the shrubbery, pigs snorted in a specially constructed pig sheds, horses still grazed the once immaculate lawns.
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