I wrote this in 1999 after being in Cambridge, England, for several weeks, while Len was attending a workshop at the Isaac Newton Institute at Cambridge University. I was thinking of this long-ago experience when I watched a performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Shakespeare in the Arb last week.
|1999: Riding my bike in Grantchester, near Cambridge, England.|
|Anglesey Abbey, a National Trust Property (Source: the Abbey Website)|
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.
See you our little mill that clacks
So busy by the brook?
She has ground her corn and paid her tax
Ever since the Domesday Book.
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.
She is not any common Earth,
Water or wood or air,
But Merlin's Isle of Gramarye,
Where you and I will fare.
The first chapter of Kipling's Puck thus sets a scene that enchantingly calls up my experience at Anglesey Abbey and especially in the fields surrounding it, and the mill that it now owns (though the actual setting of Kipling's story is quite far from there.) While lots of other fairy tales evoke similar fields and streams, I find the childhood discovery described in this book to be the most appealing.
In reading Puck of Pook's Hill, I was astonished that Puck/Kipling depicted a figure from medieval Jewish history as a key to understanding the events of the twelfth century. I waver between fascination and dislike for the characterization of Kamiel, the Jew who has the gold -- and I'm particularly unfond of Kipling's poem attributing possession and love of gold to a Jewish destiny. However, I do love the character Puck in both Shakespeare's and Kipling's works.