Friday, December 16, 2005

Reflections on Jefferies' idyll

The following article was published in the Swindon Advertiser last Saturday.

One of their journalists has "tried to recreate some of Jefferies' writings to see how he might have described a walk near the new campus, should it go ahead".

It falls far short on both accounts.

Swindon Advertiser

10 December 2005 - page 16

Next chapter..... What would Swindon author Richard Jefferies think of the plans for his former home at Coate?

Reflections on Jefferies' idyll

Writer Richard Jefferies is to Swindon, like Thomas hardy is to Dorset.

The town's most esteemed writer is not celebrated in the same way as his counterpart from Dorchester, but his life has been pushed into the spotlight with the controversy surrounding his birthplace.

Jefferies was born in 1848 at the family home in Coate, which is now a museum of his life.

He was never a best-seller, but experts feel he was one of the finest writers of his generation.

The internet teems with references to and quotations from him, while every second-hand book seller knows his name, and recognises him for beautiful stories, and wondrous descriptions of nature.

Ray Morse, a members of the Richard Jefferies Society which aims to preserve the writer's memory said: "Richard Jefferies is a well-known name across the UK and internationally, but it's always been somewhat of a mystery as to why he's not as well known in Swindon. He made a great contribution to English Literature. Jefferies had a way with words, his descriptions of nature and country life were truly remarkable, but he had a tragically short life. He died just before his 39th birthday but he made a big contribution, writing many books and papers over those short years. He has been truly inspirational.

Jefferies died suffering from what doctors believed at the time to be tuberculosis.

He took great inspiration from Coate.

Now the landscape he once described faces controversial plans for development by the University of Bath in Swindon for its new campus.

We have tried to recreate some of Jefferies' writings to see how he might have described a walk near the new campus, should it go ahead.


I Left the old house at Coate, and wandered through the wood towards the lake.

The summer evening was bright and warm, the beams of light arced through the trees.

Ducks fluttered, rising out of the water, drops of water reflecting on their underside. Nearby, swans looked on, their graceful arcing long necks moved with delicate, precision, their bodies creating a silent wave shimmering the surface of the water.

A slight breeze gusted the trees, and hapless leaves struggled against the life-force of air, again and again.

The wind was stronger here, the tall buildings beyond sent the wind rushing between the grand designs of our modern age.

The giants towered over the trees, and the warm gentle evening light glowed upon the many a clay brick, the strong-armed steel structure and the bright translucent panes of glass, reflecting the nearby hills.

Gone are some of the sounds of nature's forces, replaced by the silent rumble of air-cooling machines. They somehow make life comfortable for those on the inside, but the insistent humming and droning, is incessant.

And one is never allowed to forget the rumbling of the highway.

How does nature try to fit in with such monoliths of mankind? It gives, gives, gives and somehow succeeds.

Pigeons are among the many new arrivals. Dozens sit atop the grand structures.

They enjoy the warm air, they do not swoop or swift through the wind but fly with intent and purpose, staring at all the nature below. They are undistressed, but far from tame, and the slightest disturbance would send them off.

On the ground, young people with essays on their minds go about their daily routine, chattering and laughing as they scurry to lectures in sleek, angular prisms, which rise from their soft, green haven.

Nature's life force remains, succeeds but struggles against mankind's forces, but always shall overcome.