(This brief chapter on the village of Horton is taken from the Staffordshire volume of a series of books entitled The King’s England. This was my first encounter with the story of George Heath.)
(ed. Arthur Mee, publ. Hodder and Stoughton, 1937 - 5th edition 1951)
The Sad Little Poet of Spring
HORTON. It is near the lovely Rudyard Lake after which Kipling was named, and it is the last resting-place of Staffordshire’s own poet of the moorlands.
The church, mostly 16th century, although its north aisle is a century older, has a plain medieval font, a simple 15th-century screen in the tower arch, and a 400-year-old brass of John Wedgwood with his wife and eight children. The churchyard has an ancient yew over 20 feet round and a timbered lychgate. Here is a grey stone telling us (we need not believe it) that Mary Brooks was 119 when she was laid to rest in 1787, and near by is the grave of George Heath, the poet they brought here nearly a century later, when he was only 25. He was born in the spring, and in the spring he died. As a boy he worked on his father’s farm, but later he became a builder’s apprentice, and it was while he was helping to restore this very church that he caught the chill which led to his death from tuberculosis. He was writing poetry when he was 20, and published a book of Simple Poems when he was 21, but his story is one of tragic unfulfilment, and sadness was the keynote of his work.
In his diary one day in May 1864 he wrote “Praise God for one more day,” and on the following day his spirit fled. The grey stone cross above his grave has these few lines found among his papers, among the best lines he wrote:
His life is a fragment—a broken clue.
His harp had a musical string or two;
The tension was great, and they sprang and flew,
And a few brief strains, a scattered few,
Are all that remain to mortal view
Of the marvellous song the young man knew.