Thoroughly Alive

We must hunger after the beautiful and the good...


Steady Eyes and Lovely Sights

On our first day in England, we stared down jetlag, checked our luggage at Paddington, and took the Tube to Covent Garden.  The air was damp and darkling blue when we emerged from the underground station. The day had reached that hour when Christmas lights glimmer into the shadow, not merely bright, but with a burning depth of light that is a challenge to the coming dark. Sheets of pale blue stars were strung across the streets and a mighty Christmas tree shimmered at the entrance to the open market. As I waited for Joel and Mom to finish something at the (gigantic) Apple store, I leaned against the chill, weathered pillar just outside to savor the light and watch the countless faces mill by. That's when I saw the man below. He stood just feet away. In the ten minutes that I watched him (surreptitiously, of course) he never took his eyes from the Christmas tree. He stood there, eyes fixed on the lights, a smile gathering about his mouth, entirely in his own wondrous world. He never even noticed when I (very stealthily) snapped his photo. Home now, as I page through my photos, I feel in great sympathy with this steady-eyed man. I feel that I looked upon England with the same fixed, gentle, happy wonder. My whole trip this time was full of a quiet reveling. Even as I pounded miles down the streets or meadows, shopped, listened, talked, and laughed, the inmost me was simply watching. Day after day, I peered out from within my soul, happy, calm, at rest in the sight of the beauties that crowded my sight. Perhaps the pictures below will beckon you to the same gladsome quiet, the same slowed pulse and easy soul to which they led me. Isn't the world a lovely place?


 If only I knew his name.


I'm not sure what he thinks about that wreath on his head. But he does manage to wear it with dignity.


There's a reason English roses have the reputation they do.


 For some reason, this sight struck my funny bone. All three of us rather chuckled when we stumbled upon it.


 ..."England's green and pleasant land..." (Blake)


 I feel that this is the kind of door behind which someone like the good Miss Goudge might have lived. Or at least one of her characters. Maybe one of the lovely old ladies from The Dean's Watch.


 "Thou'st made the world to beautiful this year/ My soul is all but out of me..." (Edna St. Vincent Millay)


A tower of teacups. Well, I never.


 I reacquainted myself with those sister trees on a reminiscent ramble down the river footpath near my former Oxford flat. No wonder my soul felt so at peace in the evenings when I used to wander.


 Breakfast (Joel's birthday breakfast) at our Oxford B&B. Golden leaves shimmered out the window every morning, a good pot of tea piped hot on the table each day, and the yogurt I love when I'm overseas was my breakfast staple. Rather ideal. But why doesn't yogurt in America taste as good? I have never figured this out.


 The desk of the good C.S. Lewis. I wonder if literary genius can seep into the atmosphere of a home. And does it rub off on visitors?


 A side view of The Kilns, Lewis' home just outside of Oxford. That, I do believe, was his window, and that, I think, was the tiny porch on which he used to set up a telescope and stare at the stars. I keep on discovering more reasons to like him.


 I went for a long walk every day. Sometimes twice.



Christmas splendor at Covent Garden.


Westminster by night.


 Westminster by day. I spent most of two days with my neck back and my eyes fixed upward.


 A golden end to the day of the Lewis dedication and memorial in Westminster Abbey. We walked for miles after the service and saw that sunset right at Trafalgar Square. The we went for a nice big tea. Inspiration, long walks, deep thought, and friendship make us ravenous.


And the tea was all that even we could wish for. (I do hate to admit that we are rather opinionated when it comes to what constitutes a strong cup of tea. So few seem to share our convictions in this area.)


This merry band kept up a rousing round of high-spirited classical pieces, and they even danced in place. The violinist actually clicked her heels once!


 One of my favorite ever tea rooms. Freshly discovered. Fully savored.


The West doors to Ely Cathedral, one of the few places on earth I have ever been that felt grand enough to sate my soul. I truly love that place.


 The meadow view of King's College Chapel, in Cambridge. It's been six years since I spent a summer in Cambridge and I had forgotten the loveliness of that sight, one I saw every day as I walked into town. The inside, though I didn't see it this time, is its own marvel. And the choir that fills that chapel with song... a wonder. If you enjoy English choral music, you should look up the yearly live broadcast of "Nine Lessons and Carols" from King's College. They do it every Christmas Eve. I'll be tuning in, hot chocolate in hand.

And wishing I was back in England.

Sarah Clarkson6 Comments