Monday, 4 August 2014

Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

Rupert Brooke remembered in the quotation outside Peacokgreen in Lord Edward Street, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

Lord Edward Street is a street that has great potential, and with signs of economic hope beginning to spring up here and there, it is interesting to see the number of tourists thronging Lord Edward Street in the summer sunshine, making their way from Trinity College Dublin and Dame Street, up past Dublin Castle to Christ Church Cathedral and from there on, perhaps, to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, or the Guinness Hop Store.

After preaching in Christ Church Cathedral at the Cathedral Eucharist on Sunday morning [3 August 2014], I had a short but delightful lunch in the Falafel Lounge, a small, delightful Lebanese vegetarian restaurant on Dame Street.

Strolling back up Lord Edward Street towards the cathedral the summer sunshine broke through after the previous night’s stormy rains, and I noticed the awning outside Peacockgreen in Lord Edward Street, a bright café that also runs the café in Christ Church Cathedral.

The words on the awning read: “Stands the church clock at ten to three, and is there honey still for tea?”

There is a slight variation in the punctuation and the versification, but these are the closing lines the poem Old Vicarage, Grantchester (1912) by Rupert Brooke:

Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?


The Old Vicarage, Grantchester remains one of Rupert Brooke’s most popular poems. Last summer, I visited Grantchester, the small village of Grantchester, near Cambridge, where Brooke lived for a time after 1909. But he wrote this poem in a café in Germany in 1912, two years before the outbreak of World War I.

The poem expresses his nostalgia for an England far away, and reflects his patriotism and homesickness:

And laughs the immortal river still
Under the mill, under the mill ...
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?


The poem was written in the midst one of the most turbulent periods in Brooke’s life that ended in a nervous breakdown. Brooke spent several months in rehabilitation, when he was not allowed to write poetry. He had recovered enough that summer to travel to Germany, and then went on to the US and the South Pacific.

Brooke returned to England in the spring of 1914. When World War I broke out a few months later volunteered for the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve.

In The Soldier, his most famous and most patriotic poem, Brooke imagines his own death, but sees it as a noble sacrifice for his country:

If I should die, think only this of me,
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England.


Rupert Brooke’s name on the war memorial in the churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

On Easter Day 1915, the Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, the Very Revd William Ralph Inge, read aloud The Soldier during his sermon. Brooke died three weeks later: in February 1915, he had been ordered to sail to the Dardanelles for the Gallipoli landings. During the journey, he contracted malaria and blood poisoning from a mosquito bite on the lip.

Brooke died on 23 April 1915 on his ship in the Aegean and was buried in an olive grove on the Greek island of Skyros. His death ensured his name was always be intertwined with the war sonnets.

Looking out at Lambay Island from The Quay, Portrane, on Sunday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Later yesterday afternoon, I took a break from the Heart to hand sale in the Lynders home at The Quay in Portrane, and went for a walk on the beach below the house where my grandmother once lived. As I looked out to Lambay Island from that small beach and at the the yachts sailing from Skerries and Rush, I thought not only of Rupert Brooke, but of my grandfather, who first met my grandmother in that house, and how he later sailed to the Dardanelles and the Gallipoli landings, before being moved to Thessaloniki, where he too was bitten by a mosquito and contracted malaria.

He was sent back to Ireland in May 1916, and death came more slowly ... he died in January 1921, and is buried in Saint Catherine’s, the old Church of Ireland churchyard in Portrane.

Saint Patgrick’s Church, Donabate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

On my way back through Donabate, I stopped briefly in Saint Patrick’s Church, Donabate, the church my grandfather had worked on, where he was married and where he was buried from.

This morning [4 August 2014], we mark the centenary of the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Over the next four years there are countless lives to remember. Unlike Rupert Brooke and Stephen Comerford, however, the vast majority may not be recalled and may remain forgotten as, in the words of Rupert Brooke, “the centuries blend and blur.”

The Old Vicarage was Rupert Brooke’s home and is celebrated in his nostalgic poem from 1911 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Old Vicarage, Grantchester, by Rupert Brooke (1912)

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...
Du lieber Gott!

Here am I, sweating, sick, and hot,
And there the shadowed waters fresh
Lean up to embrace the naked flesh.
Temperamentvoll German Jews
Drink beer around; – and there the dews
Are soft beneath a morn of gold.
Here tulips bloom as they are told;
Unkempt about those hedges blows
An English unofficial rose;
And there the unregulated sun
Slopes down to rest when day is done,
And wakes a vague unpunctual star,
A slippered Hesper; and there are
Meads towards Haslingfield and Coton
Where das Betreten’s not verboten.

eithe genoimen ... would I were
In Grantchester, in Grantchester! –
Some, it may be, can get in touch
With Nature there, or Earth, or such.
And clever modern men have seen
A Faun a-peeping through the green,
And felt the Classics were not dead,
To glimpse a Naiad’s reedy head,
Or hear the Goat-foot piping low:...
But these are things I do not know.
I only know that you may lie
Day long and watch the Cambridge sky,
And, flower-lulled in sleepy grass,
Hear the cool lapse of hours pass,
Until the centuries blend and blur
In Grantchester, in Grantchester...
Still in the dawnlit waters cool
His ghostly Lordship swims his pool,
And tries the strokes, essays the tricks,
Long learnt on Hellespont, or Styx.
Dan Chaucer hears his river still
Chatter beneath a phantom mill.
Tennyson notes, with studious eye,
How Cambridge waters hurry by...
And in that garden, black and white,
Creep whispers through the grass all night;
And spectral dance, before the dawn,
A hundred Vicars down the lawn;
Curates, long dust, will come and go
On lissom, clerical, printless toe;
And oft between the boughs is seen
The sly shade of a Rural Dean...
Till, at a shiver in the skies,
Vanishing with Satanic cries,
The prim ecclesiastic rout
Leaves but a startled sleeper-out,
Grey heavens, the first bird’s drowsy calls,
The falling house that never falls.

God! I will pack, and take a train,
And get me to England once again!
For England's the one land, I know,
Where men with Splendid Hearts may go;
And Cambridgeshire, of all England,
The shire for Men who Understand;
And of THAT district I prefer
The lovely hamlet Grantchester.
For Cambridge people rarely smile,
Being urban, squat, and packed with guile;
And Royston men in the far South
Are black and fierce and strange of mouth;
At Over they fling oaths at one,
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,
And Barton men make Cockney rhymes,
And Coton’s full of nameless crimes,
And things are done you’d not believe
At Madingley on Christmas Eve.
Strong men have run for miles and miles,
When one from Cherry Hinton smiles;
Strong men have blanched, and shot their wives,
Rather than send them to St. Ives;
Strong men have cried like babes, bydam
To hear what happened at Babraham.
But Grantchester! ah, Grantchester!
There's peace and holy quiet there,
Great clouds along pacific skies,
And men and women with straight eyes,
Lithe children lovelier than a dream,
A bosky wood, a slumbrous stream,
And little kindly winds that creep
Round twilight corners, half asleep.
In Grantchester their skins are white;
They bathe by day, they bathe by night;
The women there do all they ought;
The men observe the Rules of Thought.
They love the Good; they worship Truth;
They laugh uproariously in youth;
(And when they get to feeling old,
They up and shoot themselves, I’m told)...

Ah God! to see the branches stir
Across the moon at Grantchester!
To smell the thrilling-sweet and rotten
Unforgettable, unforgotten
River-smell, and hear the breeze
Sobbing in the little trees.
Say, do the elm-clumps greatly stand
Still guardians of that holy land?
The chestnuts shade, in reverend dream,
The yet unacademic stream?
Is dawn a secret shy and cold
Anadyomene, silver-gold?
And sunset still a golden sea
From Haslingfield to Madingley?
And after, ere the night is born,
Do hares come out about the corn?
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?

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