Hilaire Belloc bought King's Land (in Shipley, Sussex), 5 acres and a working windmill for £1000 in 1907 and it was his home for the rest of his life. Belloc loved Sussex as few other writers have loved her: he lived there for most of his 83 years, he tramped the length and breadth of the county, slept under her hedgerows, drank in her inns, sailed her coast and her rivers and wrote several incomparable books about her. "He does not die that can bequeath Some influence to the land he knows, Or dares, persistent, interwreath Love permanent with the wild hedgerows; He does not die, but still remains Substantiate with his darling plains."

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Monday 31 October 2011

Belloc and Wine - 'Awake, Ausonian Muse, and sing the vineyard song!'

"Man has a body as well as a soul, and the whole of man, soul and body, is nourished sanely by a multiplicity of observed traditional things."

Well, in the interests of balance I thought a post on wine would be appropriate. It does, after all, go rather nicely with cheese.

Belloc was more 'philosophical' about wine than he was about beer. In poetic terms it certainly gave him more imaginative opportunities: '...the gigantic shade / Of Hercules adores him from the West. / Dead Lucre: burnt Ambition: Wine is best.'

Burgundy was his favourite and he had something to say about it. By way of an aside, it was in Burgundy that the Cistercian monks developed the concept of cru vineyards.

He had more to say about wine in general. One of my favourites is 'Advice to a Young Man in the Matter of Wine':

''The first, the most essential canon, is that wine of every sort, so long as it is pure, must be taken seriously as a chief element in life. It is the concomitant, and perhaps the foundation, of all our culture."

But please don't drink too much:

"For your plain man one bottle of red wine at a meal is a just measure. Indeed, it is thus that the bottle came to be what it is, holding one meal's provision, about one-sixth of a gallon. It is enough - but not too much. It is the very symbol of temperance."

Bellocian temperance! Now there's an oxymoron.

His most famous endorsement (and it's a ringing one at that) of this fine beverage is his Heroic Poem in Praise of Wine:

To exalt, enthrone, establish and defend, 
To welcome home mankind's mysterious friend 
Wine, true begetter of all arts that be; 
Wine, privilege of the completely free; 
Wine the recorder; wine the sagely strong; 
Wine, bright avenger of sly-dealing wrong, 
Awake, Ausonian Muse, and sing the vineyard song! 

Sing how the Charioteer from Asia came, 
And on his front the little dancing flame 
Which marked the God-head. Sing the Panther-team, 
The gilded Thrysus twirling, and the gleam 
Of cymbals through the darkness. Sing the drums. 
He comes; the young renewer of Hellas comes! 
The Seas await him. Those Aegean Seas 
Roll from the dawning, ponderous, ill at ease, 
In lifts of lead, whose cresting hardly breaks 
To ghostly foam, when suddenly there awakes 
A mountain glory inland. All the skies 
Are luminous; and amid the sea bird cries 
The mariner hears a morning breeze arise. 
Then goes the Pageant forward. The sea-way 
Silvers the feet of that august array 
Trailing above the waters, through the airs; 
And as they pass a wind before them bears 
The quickening word, the influence magical. 
The Islands have received it, marble-tall; 
The long shores of the mainland. Something fills 
The warm Euboean combes, the sacred hills 
Of Aulis and of Argos. Still they move 
Touching the City walls, the Temple grove, 
Till, far upon the horizon-glint, a gleam 
Of light, of trembling light, revealed they seem 
Turned to a cloud, but to a cloud that shines, 
And everywhere as they pass, the Vines! The Vines! 
The Vines, the conquering Vines! And the Vine 
Her savour through the upland, empty heaths 
Of treeless wastes; the Vines have come to where 
The dark Pelasgian steep defends the lair 
Of the wolf's hiding; to the empty fields 
By Aufidus, the dry campaign that yields 
No harvest for the husbandman, but now 
Shall bear a nobler foison than the plough; 
To where, festooned along the tall elm trees, 
Tendrils are mirrored in Tyrrhenian seas; 
To where the South awaits them; even to where 
Stark, African informed of burning air, 
Upturned to Heaven the broad Hipponian plain 
Extends luxurious and invites the main. 
Guelma's a mother: barren Thaspsa breeds; 
And northward in the valleys, next the meads 
That sleep by misty river banks, the Vines 

And now the task of that triumphant day 
Has reached to victory. In the reddening ray 
With all his train, from hard Iberian lands 
Fulfilled, apparent, that Creator stands 
Halted on Atlas. Far Beneath him, far, 
The strength of Ocean darkening and the star 
Beyond all shores. There is a silence made. 
It glorifies: and the gigantic shade 
Of Hercules adores him from the West. 
Dead Lucre: burnt Ambition: Wine is best. 

But what are these that from the outer murk 
Of dense mephitic vapours creeping lurk 
To breathe foul airs from that corrupted well 
Which oozes slime along the floor of Hell? 
These are the stricken palsied brood of sin 
In whose vile veins, poor, poisonous and thin, 
Decoctions of embittered hatreds crawl: 
These are the Water-Drinkers, cursed all! 
On what gin-sodden Hags, what flaccid sires 
Bred these White Slugs from what exhaust desires? 
In what close prison's horror were their wiles 
Watched by what tyrant power with evil smiles; 
Or in what caverns, blocked from grace and air 
Received they, then, the mandates of despair? 
What! Must our race, our tragic race, that roam 
All exiled from our first, and final, home: 
That in one moment of temptation lost 
Our heritage, and now wander, hunger-tost 
Beyond the Gates (still speaking with our eyes 
For ever of remembered Paradise), 
Must we with every gift accepted, still, 
With every joy, receive attendant ill? 
Must some lewd evil follow all our good 
And muttering dog our brief beatitude? 

A primal doom, inexorable, wise, 
Permitted, ordered, even these to rise. 
Even in the shadow of so bright a Lord 
Must swarm and propagate the filthy horde 
Debased, accursed I say, abhorrent and abhorred. 
Accursed and curse-bestowing. For whosoe'er 
Shall suffer their contagion, everywhere 
Falls from the estate of man and finds his end 
To the mere beverage of the beast condemned. 
For such as these in vain the Rhine has rolled 
Imperial centuries by hills of gold; 
For such as these the flashing Rhone shall rage 
In vain its lightning through the Hermitage 
Or level-browed divine Touraine receive 
The tribute of her vintages at eve. 
For such as these Burgundian heats in vain 
Swell the rich slope or load the empurpled plain. 
Bootless for such as these the mighty task 
Of bottling God the Father in a flask 
And leading all Creation down distilled 
To one small ardent sphere immensely filled. 
With memories empty, with experience null, 
With vapid eye-balls meaningless and dull 
They pass unblest through the unfruitful light; 
And when we open the bronze doors of Night, 
When we in high carousal, we reclined, 
Spur up to Heaven the still ascending mind, 
Pass with the all inspiring, to and fro, 
The torch of genius and the Muse's glow, 
They, lifeless, stare at vacancy alone 
Or plan mean traffic, or repeat their moan. 
We, when repose demands us, welcomed are 
In young white arms, like our great Exemplar 
Who, wearied with creation, takes his rest 
And sinks to sleep on Ariadne's breast. 
They through the darkness into darkness press 
Despised, abandoned and companionless. 
And when the course of either's sleep has run 
We leap to life like heralds of the sun; 
We from the couch in roseate mornings gay 
Salute as equals the exultant day 
While they, the unworthy, unrewarded, they 
The dank despisers of the Vine, arise 
To watch grey dawns and mourn indifferent skies. 

Forget them! Form the Dionysian ring 
And pulse the ground, and Io, Io, sing. 

Father Lenaean, to whom our strength belongs, 
Our loves, our wars, our laughter and our songs, 
Remember our inheritance, who praise 
Your glory in these last unhappy days 
When beauty sickens and a muddied robe 
Of baseness fouls the universal globe. 
Though all the Gods indignant and their train 
Abandon ruined man, do thou remain! 
By thee the vesture of our life was made, 
The Embattled Gate, the lordly Colonnade, 
The woven fabric's gracious hues, the sound 
Of trumpets, and the quivering fountain-round, 
And, indestructible, the Arch, and, high, 
The Shaft of Stone that stands against the sky, 
And, last, the guardian-genius of them, Rhyme, 
Come from beyond the world to conquer time: 
All these are thine, Lenaean. 

By thee do seers the inward light discern; 
By thee the statue lives, the Gods return; 
By thee the thunder and the falling foam 
Of loud Acquoria's torrent call to Rome; 
Alba rejoices in a thousand springs, 
Gensano laughs, and Orvieto sings… 
But, Ah! With Orvieto, with that name 
Of dark, Eturian, subterranean flame 
The years dissolve. I am standing in that hour 
Of majesty Septembral, and the power 
Which swells the clusters when the nights are still 
With autumn stars on Orvieto hill. 

Had these been mine, Ausonian Muse, to know 
The large contented oxen heaving slow; 
To count my sheaves at harvest; so to spend 
Perfected days in peace until the end; 
With every evening's dust of gold to hear 
The bells upon the pasture height, the clear 
Full horn of herdsmen gathering in the kine 
To ancient byres in hamlets Appenine, 
And crown abundant age with generous ease: 
Had these, Ausonian Muse, had these, had these….. 

But since I would not, since I could not stay, 
Let me remember even in this my day 
How, when the ephemeral vision's lure is past 
All, all, must face their Passion at the last 

Was there not one that did to Heaven complain 
How, driving through the midnight and the rain, 
He struck, the Atlantic seethe and surge before, 
Wrecked in the North along a lonely shore 
To make the lights of home and hear his name no 
Was there not one that from a desperate field 
Rode with no guerdon but a rifted shield; 
A name disherited; a broken sword; 
Wounds unrenowned; battle beneath no Lord; 
Strong blows, but on the void, and toil without 

When from the waste of such long labour done 
I too must leave the grape-ennobling sun 
And like the vineyard worker take my way 
Down the long shadows of declining day, 
Bend on the sombre plain my clouded sight 
And leave the mountain to the advancing night, 
Come to the term of all that was mine own 
With nothingness before me, and alone; 
Then to what hope of answer shall I turn? 
Comrade-Commander whom I dared not earn, 
What said You then to trembling friends and 
"A moment, and I drink it with you new: 
But in my Father's Kingdom." So, my Friend, 
Let not Your cup desert me in the end. 
But when the hour of mine adventure's near 
Just and benignant, let my youth appear 
Bearing a Chalice, open, golden, wide, 
With benediction graven on its side. 
So touch my dying lip: so bridge that deep: 
So pledge my waking from the gift of sleep, 
And, sacramental, raise me the Divine: 
Strong brother in God and last companion, Wine.

Château de Pommard - Burgundy