This weekend my friend A. kindly did all the driving so that we could attend the Sixth Annual TS Eliot Festival at Little Gidding, Cambridgeshire. Yes, a TS Eliot festival. You can see the programme here.
So a mixture of poetry readings, academic papers, music, and fannish squee, all a hundred yards from the church that inspired Little Gidding (which long-term followers of my life will know is my favourite poem). Ted Hughes reads: here and here.
The dull facade and the tombstone
Inside the church
Simon Armitage did a fantastic job reading Little Gidding. He came across as quite shy and self-effacing: spoke only a little in the discussion afterwards about the pleasure of vocalizing Eliot’s words, and let the other academics enjoy testing each others’ exact knowledge of the references to Dante. (Other picture: Éowyn and Faramir from the Broship of the Ring.)
Simon Armitage read us a poem
Members of the Eliot Society had the opportunity to read, and my favourite reading was given by an elderly and rather frail gentleman, who chose to read Marina. Not a poem I knew very well before. Tremendously touching. (Read by TS Eliot here.)
Ronald Schuchard, from Emory University, who is the person in the world that knows the most about TS Eliot, gave an update on the publication of the “complete Eliot”, which looks set to be a very full website of sources – including blurbs and readers’ reports that Eliot wrote at Faber, and speeches given to schools, and so on. Apparently Eliot rarely gave the same lecture twice, which is pretty remarkable. I’m looking forward to getting lost in this resource.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the very playful lecture by Daniel Albright on “Non-Euclidean Aspects of the Four Quartets”. We jumped from geometry to Stravinsky’s setting of The Dove Descending (part 4 of Little Gidding), and there was just a touch of the science fiction fan about it all. Good fun.
We passed on going into the church for Evensong on the Sunday, and instead walked a little way into the grounds. After a very hot and sunny day, there had just been a sudden heavy shower. We stopped in the shade of a horse chestnut tree to look at this view:
On a summer’s afternoon, near a secluded chapel
Suddenly we could hear the singing from the chapel behind us, as must have been happening for centuries. Intersection of the timeless moment. Amazing.
Thoroughly enjoyable couple of days. And the cakes were fabulous.