Bringing the Past to Life in Art and Poetry 2010

An opportunity to discover the world of the Paston Letters in the home of one of the Paston family – the magnificent Oxburgh Hall – was offered  on the weekend of September 4-5, 2010.

Oxburgh Hall is the home of descendants of the Paston family and provided an ideal place to experience many facets of the lives of some of the most important people in the history of Norfolk. The exhibition continued until September 15 and in beautiful weather got an enthusiastic response from both the public and from the National Trust, which owns the property.

As well as an exhibition centred on the historic Letters and featuring art and poetry inspired by them, there was the opportunity to view the amazing handmade book, The Pastons' Country, and to work with two of its originators, Annette Rolston and Tim Lenton, in a print-making/poetry workshop.

Also on display was a DVD of the making of the book, plus live music from the time when the Pastons flourished: Minstrels' Gallery performed music from the world of the Pastons during the weekend. There was also be an opportunity to see paper-making, calligraphy and other related skills in action. 

Annette and Tim encouraged the workshop members to think about the Letters and the history of the Hall, and they came up with the following poems, all of which were illustrated.

I HAVE GIVEN MY TROTH

I have given my troth
and am come inland
to this red house –
captured by the depths of love,
locked four-square close
within a silent moat.

Only carp swim there
which this and every night
stare stiff from the platter.

My docile mare, wedding gift
from a loving husband,
steps safely through the quiet woods
beside the winding Wissey
where pigeons moan in the trees
and a kingfisher may light the willows.

But when the north-easter howls at dawn
and the wainscot shifts,
I am a girl again,
galloping Flint along the shore,
wind whipping through his loosened mane,
shingle hissing as the water slackens.
Gulls swoop and scream
and in the white-flecked sea
seal-heads come and go in the breakers

As the sun comes up
I reach for my husband's arms
and am content
with my imprisonment

Diane Jackman

MEDIEVAL LADIES

Middle-aged ladies
Tricked out in gowns
Middle age colouring
Ochres and browns
Under the marquee
In the hall grounds

On folding tables,
Time's medleys wait
Swords from old firewood
Silvered with paint
Shield of bent plywood
Trying to be quaint

Presses for paper
Web-like and frail
Spinning and carding
And knitting (chain mail)
Cardamon cookies
(And poems that fail)

While cross the drawbridge
Tall-windowed towers
Watch our endeavours
And smile down the hours

Dr Claire Hill

HOMELY REMEDY

There is much scope with Scrope, child.
Marry, I trust you will put aside your foolish pride
And consider your estate.

John, your brother, and I remain
Authors of your fate.

The book is not written by yourself –
A complex volume indeed –
You are a footnote in this conversation, child,
A present medicine for a family need.

Jill Napier

THE TREE

A thread of music unfurls from a first-floor window
As generations come and go

Flag-waving griffins and a tiger-skin trophy watch
As generations come and go

Mary's sad stitching and priest-hole graffiti waiting
As generations come and go

An ancient oak stands unmoved

Jane Ironside

MARGARET

She stands on the shifting bridge of time
Caught between history and visions
Between the unforgiving fading lace
Doorway to an unknown future

Dot Lenton

TIME'S ARROW

Time's arrow passes as the shadow falls,
the gnomen piercing
below the crenellations;
guarded by griffins and fleur-de-lys,
echoes of music float above the moat

and drift down,
past bricks full of years,
stitched in even threads,
a still slice mirrored in quiet water

Kit Price-Moss