Tuesday, November 21, 2017

the Cross-in-Hand

The Cross-in-Hand, Gore Hill, Batcombe, Dorset -- late spring
[Image source: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/808323 . Photograph by Nigel Mykura.]

"I think I must leave you now," he remarked, as they drew near to this spot. "I have to preach at Abbot's-Cernel at six this evening, and my way lies across to the right from here. And you upset me somewhat too, Tessy—I cannot, will not, say why. I must go away and get strength. … How is it that you speak so fluently now? Who has taught you such good English?"
"I have learnt things in my troubles," she said evasively.
"What troubles have you had?"
She told him of the first one—the only one that related to him.
D'Urberville was struck mute. "I knew nothing of this till now!" he next murmured. "Why didn't you write to me when you felt your trouble coming on?"
She did not reply; and he broke the silence by adding: "Well—you will see me again."
"No," she answered. "Do not again come near me!"
"I will think. But before we part come here." He stepped up to the pillar. "This was once a Holy Cross. Relics are not in my creed; but I fear you at moments—far more than you need fear me at present; and to lessen my fear, put your hand upon that stone hand, and swear that you will never tempt me—by your charms or ways."
"Good God—how can you ask what is so unnecessary! All that is furthest from my thought!"
"Yes—but swear it."
Tess, half frightened, gave way to his importunity; placed her hand upon the stone and swore.
"I am sorry you are not a believer," he continued; "that some unbeliever should have got hold of you and unsettled your mind. But no more now. At home at least I can pray for you; and I will; and who knows what may not happen? I'm off. Goodbye!"

[A short while after they part, Tess meets a solitary shepherd.]

"What is the meaning of that old stone I have passed?" she asked of him. "Was it ever a Holy Cross?"
"Cross—no; 'twer not a cross! 'Tis a thing of ill-omen, Miss. It was put up in wuld times by the relations of a malefactor who was tortured there by nailing his hand to a post and afterwards hung. The bones lie underneath. They say he sold his soul to the devil, and that he walks at times."

(from Tess of the D'Urbervilles,  Chapter XLV)

Some stories say that there was the shape of a hand carved on the stone. Apparently there is none there now (though I seem to make one out in the late summer photo by Trevor).

Cross-in-Hand, winter

[Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batcombe,_Dorset]

Above, John Simpson's three-minute film of visiting the Cross-in-Hand.


Elisabeth Bletsoe's Landscape from a Dream (2008) contains, among other astounding and complex poems, one called "Cross-in-Hand". It begins, perhaps, with Tess's working hand. I'll quote that opening, up to the first of the prose annotations, just to give a sense (though by no means a complete one) of how far the poem opens out.  The poem is also about a walk from Cerne Abbas (Hardy's Abbot's Cerne) to Evershot (Hardy's Evershead); the walk would have passed the Cross-in-Hand about midway. It becomes, also, about other resonances in the touch of old stones and the simples of the field (Bletsoe drawing on her homeoepathic interests). But the violation meted out to Tess is figured through the whole poem.

no slack-twister I, see
my work-strong arms; gloves
    thick as a warrior's &
a rope of hair like a ship's cable

polishing grain against my side
my bones become milk:
see how the stalks
                              imitate me
moving in the wind's electric spindle

working the ricks, binding
               sheaves to me, the
wrist's bare skin scarified by
stubble &
                     the rain's arrows

To orient: to bring into clearly understood relations, to determine how one stands. Quincunxial signs I thread long by; A's magic well, church, folly, trendle, sky-notch. Beak through stone, the one who tracks me, and the other for whom I wait. High Stoy, Dogbury Hill wave a fringe of dark, concentrate the toxin rape-fields, xanthin and arsenic-yellow. One field flares and then another, under the wheel of cloud. Drunk on rare pollens I would dance on this floor of lights, finger-hoops of earth spraying, apricot-coloured and friable. Serrated with pig-huts, dry as a kex. To study the architectonics of hogweed. To unpack the poppy-bud of its outraged silk, corolla visibly hurt to the end of its days. 

I torce the necks of wounded gamebirds,
shock of come-apart cervicals .... 


High Stoy and Dogbury Hill are other eminences near to Gore Hill. (Hardy mentions them at the beginning of Ch II of Tess.)

Here's another piece I wrote about this poetry collection:


Cross-in-Hand, late summer

[Image source: https://trevorontour.me/2014/09/27/thomas-hardy-trail-part-2-behind-the-scenes/. Photo by Trevor Williams, used by permission.]

A photo from late summer, with wild marjoram at the foot of the stone.

Cross-in-Hand, early spring

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