On 16th June 2008 some 120 people gathered in St. John's, the larger of the two Bemerton churches, to hear a talk by award-winning novelist and poet Vikram Seth. Since moving to live in Bemerton in the Old Rectory, once the home of George Herbert, Vikram Seth has felt inspired to write a group of six poems entitled 'Shared Ground' based on six of those included in 'The Temple', penned by Herbert nearly four hundred years earlier.
Vikram Seth explained the background to his decision to purchase the Old Rectory in 2003, and spoke about his feelings on living in surroundings that were so familiar to the much-loved seventeenth century religious poet. He told the audience something about his early life, and the influences that drew him to George Herbert's works. He explained that his six 'Shared Ground' poems were actually written not in Bemerton, but at his family home in India in a remarkably short time.
In reading each of his six poems, Vikram Seth commented on their special features and discussed their relationship to the matching poem in 'The Temple':
He drew attention to many aspects of George Herbert's poetic style, pointing in particular to the visual and alliterative qualities, and showed how he had reflected these in his own poems. He also explained how it was possible for editors of Herbert's poetry to lose some of these qualities in transcription.
There followed a general discussion during which Vikram Seth dealt with various points raised by members of the audience. These included his reliance on single-syllable words, and the extent to which both his and Herbert's poetry had been influenced by music. He talked about the musical setting of his 'Shared Ground' poems by composer Alec Roth, and also about 'Another Music', a recent publication of new hymn settings for several of Herbert's lesser known poems. He drew attention to a locally published extract from 'Divine Landscapes' by the eminent writer Ronald Blythe (who was in the audience), focussing on George Herbert's time at Bemerton.
After his talk, members of the audience were kindly invited to gather in the garden of a local riverside property to see for themselves something of the idyllic environment in which George Herbert spent the last three years of his life. Refreshments were provided.