For me England isn’t so much a place as a name, an ideal, a dream. The name is attached to a little Western isle, set, as Shakespeare observes, in the silver sea. Or rather, if I may correct Shakespeare’s observation, it is attached not to the whole isle but only to half of it, the other half being divided between the neighbouring countries of Wales and Scotland. Even within that little half there are so many varieties of place and climate as to defy all attempts to reduce them to a simple unity.
The ideal is a shining vision which has to be seen, like the light of the sun, not in itself but in its various refractions. England, as Shelley says of life, may be compared to “a dome of many-coloured glass” that “stains the white radiance of eternity”. She – for I think of her as a lady – is one in Canterbury and another in York, one in her cities and another in her countryside, one in her Southern counties and another in the Midlands and East Anglia, and yet another in the wild lands North of the Humber. England is different in different places, and yet in them all and above them all she remains herself, as Shakespeare says of himself, ever one and the same.