Elizabeth Goudge: A Sense of Otherness
In a Devon Wood

The magic of moor and hill

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"I think that in my heart I have always believed in fairies," writes Elizabeth Goudge in her autobiography, The Joy of Snow; "not fairies as seen in the picture books but nature spirits whose life is part of the wind and the flowers and the trees. Born in the West Country, and returning to it in middle life, how could I do anything else? But alas, I have never seen them.

"William Blake saw fairies, but he was a unique person, and so was a Dartmoor friend of mine who used to see them, and how I envied her! But if I did not see them I could feel how magic ran in the earth and branched in one's veins when one sat down. The stories that some of my Dartmoor friends told me would be laughed at by most people, but they were sensible persons and they did not laugh. I think that probably the one among my friends who experienced most was the one who said the least about it, Adelaide Phillpotts, Eden Phillpotts' daughter. She lived for years upon the moor and she loved it so deeply that she was not afraid to spend whole nights alone on the tors; but she is a mystic and mystics seem always unafraid. Her book The Lodestar is full of the wild spirit of the moor.

Faery King & Queen by Alan Lee

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Cowslip faery by Brian Froud"The friend who saw fairies, when she first went to live in her cottage on the moor, was visited early in the morning by a little old woman, wearing a bonnet, who walked quietly into the kitchen where she was preparing breakfast. Friendly and smiling the old woman refused breakfast but sat down to chat. She wanted to know exactly what my friend intended to do in the garden. What flowers would she have? What vegetables? She had very bright eyes and nodded her head in approval as they talked. She seemed a happy old woman, very much at home in the kitchen, but when my friend turned away for a moment she found on looking around again that her visitor had left her. She was never seen again and when the neighbors were questioned they denied ever having seen such an old woman in the village.

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"Another friend was driving back to her home on the moor one summer evening when she found herself in the most beautiful wood. She had no sense of strangeness but drove through it entranced by the loveliness of the evening light shining through the trees. Coming out of the wood she found herself at home, put the car away and went about the normal business of the evening, and only gradually did she remember that her road home lay through an open stretch of moorland. There was no wood there; not now. The next day she went to see an old man who had lived all his life on the moor and told him what had happened. He nodded his head. 'I know the wood, ma'am,' he told her. 'I've been there myself. But only once. You'll not see it again. It's only once in a lifetime.' "

Fairy Folk by Arthur Rackham

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Although Goudge never saw fairies herself, she did have a mystical experience in Devon:

"My mother and I had a cottage in an apple orchard at the edge of a village," she explains, "and behind the cottage, between the orchard and the village, there was  a steep hill. To the right, Dartmoor was visible, but otherwise the place was a little valley in the hills that had a magic of its own. There were a few other small dwellings besides our own, an old house behind a high wall, a farm and some cottages, and so strictly speaking the place was not a lonely one, and yet, because of its particular magic, it was. Especially in the early morning and especially after a snow-fall. There is something very lonely about a deep snow-fall and Devon snow, because the average rainfall is high, is almost always deep. One is walled in and cut off. The world seems very far away and the heart rejoices.

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"In spring, in Devon, there is often a sudden late snow-fall taking one entirely by surprise. I remember once seeing irises and tulips with their bright heads lifted above a deep counterpane of snow, and boughs of apple blossoms sprinkled with sparkling silver. But the snowfall [on this occasion] was earlier in the year. There were only the low-growing flowers in bloom in the garden and they were all buried out of sight. There had been no wind in the night, no suggestion that the last snow of the year was falling, and when I drew the curtains early in the morning I was astonished to see the white world. And what a world! I had never seen a snow-fall so beautiful and I was out in the garden at the first possible moment. The snowclouds had dropped their whole treasure in the night and were gone. The huge empty sky was deep blue, the air sparkling and clear. The sun was rising and the tree shadows lay blue across the sparkling whiteness. The whole world was pure blue and white and it seemed that the sun had lit every crystal to a point of fire. There was a silence so absolute it seemed a living presence. And then came the singing.

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And a Fairy Song by Arthur Rackham

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"It was a solo voice, ringing out joy and praise. One would have said it was a woman's voice, only could any woman sing like that, with such simplicity and beauty? It lasted for some minutes, and then ceased, and the deep silence came back once more.

"I stayed where I was, as rooted in the snow as the trees, but there was no return of the singing and so I went back to the cottage and mechanically began the first task of the day, raking out the ashes of the dead fire and lighting a new one. The light of the flames helped me to think. None of us, in the little group of dwellings in the valley had a voice much above a sparrow's chirp. No one in the village that I knew had a voice like that. It was war-time and visitors from the outside world seldom came. Even if by some extraordinary chance some great singer had descended upon us, what would she be doing struggling down the steep lane from the village in deep snow at this hour of a cold morning? And wouldn't I have seen her? I could see both lanes from the little terrace outside the cottage and had seen no one. There were only two explanations. Either I was mad or I had heard a seraph singing. Later when I took my mother her breakfast I told her of the singing. She looked at me and, as usual, made no comment whatsoever.

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"And so, for some years, I inclined to the former view and told no one else about the singing. And then, one day after the war had ended, a very sensitive and sympathetic cousin came to visit us and told me about a holiday he had had in the wilds of Argyll. He had always wanted, he said, to talk to someone who had heard the singing and at last he come upon an old crofter who could tell him about it. The old man had been alone in the hills when he heard a clear voice, unearthly and very beautiful, singing in the silence. He could see no one, he could distinguish no words in the singing and the song was one he did not know. He tried to hum the air and my cousin tried to write it down, but they neither of them made much of a job of it. 'You never heard it again?' my cousin asked and the old man said, like the old countryman who was in the wood only once, 'No, never again.'

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The Fairies' Tiff with the Birds by Arthur Rackham

"My cousin told this tale so beautifully that I was too awed and shy to tell him, then, about my own experience. Besides, the great paean of praise I had heard in the snow seemed at that moment a little theatrical in comparison with the soft unearthly singing in the hills of Argyll. But, some years later, I did tell him. He was very kind, and he did not doubt my sincerity, but somehow I seemed to see at the back of his mind the figure of a stout opera singer from Covent Garden who had somehow, even in war-time and deep snow, got herself hidden behind the fir trees at the corner of our Devon garden.

'It does not matter. I remember that singing every morning of my life and I greet every sunrise with the memory. The birds, who had been singing so riotously, had been chilled to silence by that snowstorm. I have decided now that she, whoever she was, sang their dawn-song for them."

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Chagford viewed from Nattadon Hill

Three books by Elizabeth GoudgeWords: The passage by Elizabeth Goudge is from The Joy of Snow: An Autobiography (Hodder & Stoughton, 1974); the poem in the picture captions is from Marrow of Flame by Dorothy Walters (Poetry Chaikhana, 2015); all rights reserved by the authors. Pictures: "King & Queen of the Faery Hill" by Alan Lee, "Cowslip Faery" by Brian Froud, and three fairy pictures by Arthur Rackham. The books in the last photograph are Linnets and Valerians, The Little White Horse, and Island Magic by Elizabeth Goudge; the quilt was made by Karen Meisner. Related posts on Devon folklore: Tales of a Half-Tamed Land, The Wild Hunt, and Following the Hare.


My Daughter At Four Called It "Ponsa Time."

Ever after when fairy tales float
Around my head, an unseen rainbow,
Sparkles and "take me away
To fairy land," I have the ticket!
Comes, I remember my daughter
Making up a fairy tale, "Ponsa Time."

"Ponsa Time" is between old tales
Cinderella, Snow White, Puss
And Boots, that have endings,
"Ponsa Time" goes on and on,
Over hills and into them where
Strange songs are sung, and
A fairy ends up with getting lost.

For All our live the mix of magic,
And sweeping up and doing dishes
Fairy tales come like a small crown
About two inches above our head;
It is "Ponsa Time." Let the butterfly
Wings, the magic wands, the long
Long traveling, into fairy-land
Or almost...but near enough

I will remember Ponsa Time! Thanks, Phyllis. And here's mine.

Blossom Water

“Drink water pressed from blossoms”
--Dorothy Walter

Every day this summer
blossoms heavy with dew
hang down their heads,
colorful flags
in a hard rain.

What is small for us,
is huge for them,
an ocean’s weight
pressing a flower wine
that could succour the world.

Babies in the Sahara
might be fed on it,
Migrants transgressing
a sea of sand
could be saved.

All in a flower cup
of water from blossom,
a sip that fairies take
without notice
every summer day.

©2016 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

What a brilliant, beautiful post. Love it. Thank you.

Thank you for this Terri. This is wonderful.

I absolutely love this! And feel, too, that the magic exists in the spirit of the flower, the wind, the tree with its roots, the rock and all the creatures that dwell besides them. There is a divine sense of being that echoes throughout nature, her climate and her creatures. I have always felt when the land first awakens in Spring, something of a maiden spirit awakens with it, some entity ,be it goddess, fairy, essence etc., that blesses the landscape, all-knowing and caring.

The Maiden Spring

In your veins, the rivers melt
and rush with clear water. In your eyes,
the greening of leaves, your lashes the stems
of wild leek and garlic. And in the roots
of your hair, the red bark of saplings
and sunrise that candles the sky
with virgin fire. Light that draws beast
and bulb from hibernation, that stirs
fish from their gelid sleep and inspires
song birds to nest. Around your body,
you drape a season of dreams and flowers
the wind soon scatters over hill, field --
the door sill of my mind. I open it
and become your shadow.
Thanks so much Terri
For the wonderful photos, writings of Elizabeth Goudge and remarkable poem by Dorothy Walters. Everything in this post shimmers with an enchanting splendor, an imaginative beauty!

My Best

Hi Jane

What an enchanting poem and perspective!! I love the way you define "blossom water" and capture its essence with this lovely and imaginative verse!

All in a flower cup
of water from blossom,
a sip that fairies take
without notice
every summer day.

Yes, I can both picture them and sense them nearby!

really enjoyed this!

Hi Phyllis

Ponsa Time" is between old tales
Cinderella, Snow White, Puss
And Boots, that have endings,
"Ponsa Time" goes on and on,
Over hills and into them where
Strange songs are sung, and
A fairy ends up with getting lost.

Love the idea of "Ponsa Time" and how you have conveyed its presence and importance in our lives and your own family's. What a lovely thing it is; and I have travelled, I think a few times as a child, into those distant hills looking for something magical beyond my comprehension!

So much enjoyed this!

Break my heart....this reminds me of "The Water Babies," as well as the sadness of the migrant babies..The whole world is watching and can do so little. But babies and little children are their own unsaid magic and that is a blessing.

And thank you about "PonsaTime." it just came to me and I'll send it to my daughter. Except for the baby when she was four and my other son was three, they went around spouting with poetry and stories. It was a lovely time.

You have an array of women and maidens in you poems. They are real to myth and always lovely. Virgin fire...lashes stems the stems of wild leek and garlic....body....season of dreams and flowers - I see and scent and feel her like a lively young goddess.

I have long loved Elizabeth Goudge. Linnets and Valerians is one of the best of children's literature and by that I mean of course that is it for all ages. You know Goudge was in touch with the spirit world when you read her stories.
Once I was in the southern US woods with friends, all of whom are psychic(me, not so much). We were happily walking when we heard a bell ringing...as if from high in the trees. We stopped and listened and then we heard laughter..as if to say, "Yes, ladies, we are here!"
We were so grateful.

This post is so beautiful. Especially at the very end - how I love the image of a fairy singing the birds' dawn song for them. Really, you and Elizabeth have given me a greater gift today than you will ever know.

Even here, in the deep urban heart of a post-industrial city, I hope the Nature Spirits are still with us. Was it you Terri, who said that the white foxglove is an indication that the Fair Folk are present? I certainly hope that's true because one grew mysteriously in our garden a couple of years ago. And we have a fine crop developing now. No flower spikes yet, but I'm hoping for whites.

Opening the door sill of the mind. . . .yes!!!

Hi Phyllis

Thanks so much for your kind words toward this poem and insight!! I so deeply appreciate it!

Take care,

Thanks Jane

So much for reading and commenting on this poem!! I am glad that phrase resonates!

Take care
My Best,

I am moving to the desert soon & look forward to being back in a place of natural land and glimpses of possible. At the moment I'm in a city (Los Angeles) and it always seems so much harder to find, surrounded by concrete and steel, though granted we have charming trees and plants as well.

I have wished I could experience the moors ever since reading The Secret Garden, where the supernatural and natural entwined in place and people, just as I thought it should. The moors seem special to me and somewhere I'd love to visit at some point.

I love the concept of Ponsa Time! I'm going to remember that phrase now.

I love the movement from delicate nature-and-faerie imagery to the life-death importance of water (Babies in the Sahara/
might be fed on it,/Migrants transgressing/a sea of sand/could be saved), and back again. That works beautifully.

That is the spirit of springtime precisely. I just love your imagery, and the way you use language, Wendy.

Now that's a very Elizabeth Goudge moment!

I'm so glad, Sarah. Your own blog has touched me so many times that I'm glad I can give the gift back.

Yep, that was me, in last summer's Foxglove post:


We've got a fine crop coming along in our garden, too -- though we rarely get white, just many shades of pink.

Aw, shucks. Thank you kindly.

Thank you, Lori. Elizabeth Goudge is just so wonderful; I can't believe it's taken me this long to read her.

Which desert are you going to? I was in the Sonoran desert (outside Tucson) for many years, and I miss it very much. Dartmoor is home now, but a piece of my soul will always belong to the desert.

Thanks so much Terri
for these gracious words and impressions toward my poem!
I deeply appreciate them!

Take care

I should have mentioned my daughter's name is Jayne. And she is still very inventive, a reader and loves masks and costumes for events.

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