What is it that links landscape so closely with the human heart? We’re all aware of a ‘sense of place’ at times, but which is too deep for words.
A Sense of Place
As a youngster our grandson (above) loved kite flying on the South Downs in winter. This part of Sussex is a special place we’ve grown to love and respect and where we’ve gladly put down roots. If we moved away a large part of our heart would be left here. This is a sentiment shared by many other local people who watched the delightful BBC 4 documentary on the South Downs presented last year by Peter Owen-Jones. Peter, vicar of three Downland parishes, expressed so well what so many of us feel about these beautiful downs.
Edward Thomas whose beloved place was around the South Downs in Hampshire, like so many other creative people, was tragically killed in France in the first World War.
“…the move to France was a move further south, but not to the south; the compass is not the index of the heart, and when standing at the entrance of his dugout, he looked north and saw, or dreamed he saw, Sussex with her gentle downs… Hampshire with her hangars of beech and yew…these dear places he was never to see again, never again…to seek the far horizon which bounded the south country and know the peace which only that could bring him.”
Quote from Helen Thomas the widow of Edward Thomas.
A deep sense of place has influenced the creative work of many of the famous British writers, poets and painters. We think again of Gilbert White of Selbourne, Wordsworth of the Lake District, John Clare of Helpston and Thomas Hardy of Wessex. Then there’s the Bronte sisters of Haworth on the grim but grand scenery of the Yorkshire Pennines and Tennyson of the Isle of Wight. More recently we have Edward Elgar of Malvern, Albert Wainwright of the Lake District, Dylan Thomas in Wales and Nan Shepherd of the Cairngorms, whose book ‘The Living Mountain’ featured as a BBC documentary recently and whose image now appears on the Scottish £5 note.
John Constable spent much of his time painting his beloved Dedham Vale. He repeatedly added his ‘trade mark/signature’ in the shape of the tower of Dedham Church in the background.
“…The sound of water escaping from mill dams,…willows, old rotten banks, slimy posts and brickwork. I love such things ….As long as I do paint I shall never cease to paint such places. They have always been my delight.. I should paint my own places best– painting is but another word for feeling. I associate my ‘careless boyhood’ to all that lies on the banks of the Stour. They made me a painter.” Elsewhere speaking of his beloved Dedham Vale, he said: ” I love every stile and stump and lane in the village, as long as I hold a brush I shall never cease to paint them.”
These artists, writers, poets and musicians have all been inspired by their own landscapes. Travelling around where they lived and worked it’s not hard to see why. It’s the landscape that has largely made them what they are. Perhaps, hopefully, our own landscape is beginning to ‘make’ us too!
Our Own Place
“This is still the best place to do most things, to post a letter, to go for a walk, to buy a book, ..to stand on a hill and take in the view. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I like it here, I like it a lot, more than I can tell you.” Bill Bryson speaking of his ‘sense of place’ about his ‘adopted’ Britain.
from ‘Notes from a Small Island’
When ‘all is hush’d and the heart listens’ we begin to see, hear and feel the landscape, it becomes part of us and we start to be shaped by it. John Claire’s delightful comment illustrates this. When asked where he found his poems he replied:
‘I found the poems in the fields.’
Thank you for your company
Enjoy the place where you live and tell us what’s special to you about it.