The Talking Family

With the early morning tea
Start the day's debates.
Soon the Talking Family
Gathers, gravitates
To the largest room and bed,
That all may share in what is said. All the Cats forgather too,
With a calm delight,
Tab and ginger, long-haired blue,
Seem to think it right
That they should share to some extent
In this early parliament. Perhaps they only want a drink
(Which of course they get)
But myself I like to think
That the Cats are met
Because this animal rejoices
In the sound of human voices. What they are we do not know,
Nor what they may become.
Perhaps the thoughts that ebb and flow
In a human home
May blow to brightness the small spark
They carry through the vasty dark.' - "Perque pruinosas tulit irtequieta tenebras". - Ovid.
Ruth Pitter (b. 1897)

Ruth Pitter CBE (1897-1992)

Ruth Pitter

Ruth Pitter was a well regarded 20th century poet who lived in Long Crendon from 1953 to her death in 1992. She published some 18 volumes of poetry from the 1930's onwards on a variety of subjects being influenced by her love of nature; her religious faith; her passion for gardening; and her love of cats. She became the first woman to receive the Queen's medal for poetry in 1955. She was also well known for her contributions to BBC radio programmes and was a regular contributor to the BBC's "The Brain's Trust". She was appointed a CBE in 1979. She had a long standing friendship with C.S Lewis and was a friend to many literary figures of the day.

In Long Crendon she had a small artisan business with her friend and partner Kathleen O'Hara producing decorative trays. She created and maintained a well loved garden which attracted birds and wild life. Sadly this garden no longer remains but her connection is commemorated in the housing development Pitter's Piece. Ruth also had an important contribution to the mystery plays. Ruth's grave is in St Mary's churchyard marked by a simple, bold stone. No flowers mark her grave.

It would be very interesting to know whether anyone has memories of Ruth, her poetry, garden or her decorative trays. Does anyone have any photos of her which they could post on the Long Crendon website together with memories of her contribution to village life? Please forward these to caroline.bevan@long-crendon.com

A few photos of her – including a couple of her in her garden - can be found on a website "The Ruth Pitter project" created by Don King of Montreat College who is compiling information about Ruth to bring her to wider attention. His website is http://www.montreat.edu/Academics/AcademicDepartments/EnglishLanguages/Faculty/
DonKing/CourseSyllabi/tabid/1308/topic/The%20Ruth%20Pitter%20Project/Default.aspx
He has also written a biography of her life which can be purchased at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb049/is_3_58/ai_n31974921/ Please find the summary of the biography.

Most people know of Ruth Pitter, if at all, as the woman who might have become Mrs. C.S. Lewis. Some years before being surprised by Joy Gresham, Lewis remarked that, had he not been a confirmed bachelor, Ruth Pitter was the woman he would have liked to marry.
But Pitter deserves much better than to be known as Lewis's near-miss wife. She was a most accomplished poet, a true twentieth-century metaphysical, who produced seventeen volumes of verse during her long life, 1897-1992. Her A Trophy of Arms (1936) took the Hawthornden Prize for Poetry, and in 1955 she won the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry; as the first woman to receive this award, she was presented with the medal by the Sovereign in person.

Little critical work has been done on Pitter. Hunting the Unicorn is "the first step in correcting this critical oversight" (xiii); it provides both a biographical survey of Pitter's life and discussions of her important volumes of verse. As such, it is a pioneering study, and not just a first step, but also a huge step--the sort of scholarship that future generations will look back on with gratitude. Don W. King has acquitted himself with distinction and put us all in his debt by admitting us to a world that is fascinating and valuable in numerous different respects. Let me mention just three.

First, and most importantly, Pitter's poetry itself. It consists mostly of short lyrics, which concern themselves with closely observed moments of spiritual intensity, often provoked by a tableau from the unspoiled countryside in Essex where Pitter grew up. In these tableaux, Pitter discerns something that can barely be put into words, something fugitive yet pregnant with significance. For example, in "Rainy Summer" she tries to "remember, though we cannot write it, the delicate dream," a dream in which

The secret bird is there.... betrayed
By the leaf that moved when she slipped from her twig by the door,
As the mouse unseen is perceived by her gliding shade,
As the silent owl is known by the wind of her flight.

It is characteristic that Pitter's wisdom, like the owl of Minerva, takes flight in the silent dusk, secret, unseen. All through her best work is this same sense of a sudden, fleeting, even unsought perception of spiritual unity. It is a Wordsworthian note, but Pitter's intimations of immortality, her immersions in "spots of time" are usually on a much smaller scale than Wordsworth's. This is partly because Hainault Forest in Essex does not have the grandeur of the Lake District, partly because Pitter did not have the horizon-broadening effect of a university education nor the wider political interests that Wordsworth enjoyed, and partly--if this can be said without awakening a storm of abuse--because Pitter had what might be called a characteristically feminine focus on the intimate and personal. She is the poetic version of the novelist, Barbara Pym. Or, to compare her with a much greater artist, a comparison by no means inappropriate, Pitter, like Jane Austen, typically works with a fine brush on a little bit of ivory, two inches square. As it happens, Pitter spent most of her working life as an artisan, painting decorative trays and other household items, and the same delicacy that she brought to her work in colors she brought to her work in words. And yet for all the smallness of her poetic visions, Pitter's world encapsulates something of the essence of the universe and maybe even of what lies behind the universe: the microcosm gives access to the macrocosm.