Neither Scottish burn nor chalk stream, but a brook in the way, roll-rocking down a Polish Mountain.
He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head. Psalm 110.7
I was reading a letter written ninety years ago by Fr Arthur Hughes, MAfr, later an Archbishop. He told his sister how he regretted that rain and subsequent Hampshire mud meant he would not be able to go down to a brook near Botley and there, as was his custom, drink, citing Psalm 110.
Then, on the train home I read an advertisement for an urban survival course; readers might feel confident they could find water in the wild, but after a disaster, could they find water in the city? Hughes had a reputation for finding fun in the Scriptures – by my reading drinking from the brook was a concrete prayer, laughing at himself in the process.
The apocalyptic warriors sound paranoid. Weren’t cities abandoned when disaster struck, from Great Zimbabwe to Roman Canterbury? Plenty of water elsewhere outside the city, and more food!
Hopkins’ poem Inversnaid, describing a brook very different to the clear waters of Hampshire, is a prayer without the name of God being mentioned. Is the beadbonny ash perhaps the rowan or mountain ash? (This one grows beside Canterbury’s chalk river, the Stour.)
This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.
A windpuff-bonnet of fáwn-fróth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, féll-frówning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.
Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet,
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.