When I saw this week’s prompt for The Mag, I did a double-take. The picture is called, ‘Chilmark Hay’ by Thomas Hart Benton, painted in 1951, and for a split second I thought it was the Chilmark in England which I know so well. The haymaking scene was a familiar one to me as I drove through the Wiltshire countryside, although these days the farmers use tractors not horses of course, just as I’m sure they do in the Chilmark of the painting, which is situated in Massachusetts. The buildings, farm, hay stooks and even the dry-stone walls took me back to the English countryside.
The church spire in Benton’s painting could almost be St Margaret of Antioch in the English Chilmark, and both remind me of the magnificent spire (the tallest in Britain) of Salisbury Cathedral just twelve miles away from the village. The quarries at Chilmark also provided the 75,000 tonnes of stone used to build the cathedral.The area was known for farming as far back as the Domesday Survey of 1086, when the parish had lands for fourteen plough teams, and over the centuries farming was one of the main forms of employment.
So how did my Chilmark come to be connected with the one in the painting? The answer of course is emigration, starting back in the time of the Pilgrim Fathers .The connection continued into the twentieth century, and in 1957 a replica of The Mayflower recreated the original journey. Within the ship were goodwill documents and letter from Chilmark in Wiltshire to Chilmark in Massachusetts. The reply to the English villagers was signed by a descendent of Thomas Mayhew, one of the original settlers from the original Chilmark to the new one, and hangs in the church of St Margaret.
Until three years ago, when we ourselves emigrated (to Lanzarote), Wiltshire was my home. Chilmark was known to me as a couple of villages down the Salisbury Road from the school where I had my first headship. On the day of my interview the candidates were given a pub lunch in Chilmark’s ‘Black Dog’ Inn and I could never pass through the village without remembering how nervous I was on the day. Rural scenes like the one in the painting still exist and the whole of the Nadder Valley is full of beautiful Wiltshire Villages with a rich history. I love to return there whenever I am in UK and my affinity with the place may explain that curious excitement I had when I first saw today’s image prompt.
I can’t reproduce the next picture due to copyright restrictions, but if you click on this link, I think you’ll be as amazed as I was. It’s called ‘Rural View (farm from Chilmark)’ by a modern artist, Francis Farmar, and it shows the Wiltshire Chilmark. See how similar it is to to the Benton painting. Two artists, two Chilmarks, but both depicting with great sympathy a gentle rural way of life. Farmar gives a contemporary flavour to 'prospect' pictures, a tradition which stretches back to the Seventeenth Century, appearing to fly above the landscape - bending and stretching it in order to describe more than can be seen from a single earth-bound viewpoint. Benton’s picture has us viewing the scene from a barely raised perpective; it’s as though we have stopped for a rest on a country walk and we can almost hail the farmer and pass the time of day with him. The painting made me recall the words of A.E. Housman from his volume ‘A Shropshire Lad’ and I suppose sums up some of my own sentiments, though I am not so regretful, because I know that I can return.
Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
A.E. Housman (XL from ‘A Shropshire Lad’)
So, after all that, here’s my own humble take on the prompt.
It was one of those snapshot moments,
The dawn breeze warm and dry,
Clouds forming dreamlike pictures,
A spire rising from the wooded hills,
The only sound, the creaking cart,
over-laden with the field’s rich bounty,
The horse, trusting, sensing his master’s every move,
quietly plodding forward,
each new forkful increasing his burden,
and slowing his step.
Ahead, the opening in the old stone wall,
as master and beast trod the well-worn furrow.
The clicking of the farmer’s tongue,
signalled the homeward run.
© Marilyn Brindley
Image of Chilmark Church:ChurchCrawler [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons