We don’t tend to recycle old posts but this one, from January six years ago, follows well yesterday’s reflection by Emily Dickinson on the forgotten grave. Mary Webb looked forward to her own grave as a haven from the sufferings of this life, especially from the unkindness of other people. Her face was disfigured by Graves’ Disease which can now be successfully treated and she was sensitive about this.
We began the post with another woman’s death and burial.
We buried our friend Mrs O a few days ago. She had a good send-off, the church comfortably full. I was comforted an hour earlier, to see a rainbow, arched over her house as the rain drifted away into the North Sea. A promise that she will not perish! And the thrush and blackbird were singing.
But here is Mary Webb, feeling downhearted as she writes. May she rest in peace and rise in glory!
‘Safe’ by Mary Webb.
Under a blossoming tree Let me lie down, With one blackbird to sing to me In the evenings brown. Safe from the world’s long importunity – The endless talk, the critical, sly stare, The trifling social days – and unaware Of all the bitter thoughts they have of me, Low in the grass, deep in the daisies, I shall sleep sound, safe from their blames and praises.
Last summer I spotted Helen, a colleague from L’Arche, standing near our gate, staring into the sky. She was watching for swifts, those well-named insect-eating migrants who scream around our homes when the weather brings the flies near enough to the ground. At other times they may be far away or high above the earth, gathering food for their nestlings, but generally in groups. I was able to tell Helen that I generally saw about eight birds flying together. Did I know where they were nesting? I had not observed this, but our neighbourhood has many late 19th Century houses with gaps under the roof sufficient for swifts to enter and breed. However it’s not easy to identify the spot where they get in, so a census is difficult to take. But there are roughly half as many swifts as there were 20 years ago.
Another time we met outside Saint Dunstan’s church, where there are swift nesting boxes on the outside wall of the church hall. In the few minutes we stood there, we observed no birds going in or out. Past experience suggests that a new-smelling box will not be used in its first year, so no need to despair there.
Other local birds are really ‘over and gone’, and not just for one winter; especially the house martin, another migrant fly-eater. To think: they nested in this street when we moved here, but one house had table tennis balls hung from the eaves to deter martins from building their mud-brick houses and, yes, dropping their excrement on the path below, but even so.
The RSPB tell how to make a swift box here. We are sharing this now to allow readers in Europe time to make and install boxes before the swifts return.
How at Once by Edward Thomas
How at once should I know,
When stretched in the harvest blue
I saw the swift's black bow,
That I would not have that view
Until next May
Again it is due?
The same year after year—
But with the swift alone.
With other things I but fear
That they will be over and done
And I only see
Them to know them gone.
(from "Poems" by Edward Thomas)
A jolly, hopeful poem from Christina Rossetti. Laudato Si’.
Every valley drinks,
Every dell and hollow:
Where the kind rain sinks and sinks,
Green of Spring will follow.
Yet a lapse of weeks
Buds will burst their edges,
Strip their wool-coats, glue-coats, streaks,
In the woods and hedges;
Weave a bower of love
For birds to meet each other,
Weave a canopy above
Nest and egg and mother.
But for fattening rain
We should have no flowers,
Never a bud or leaf again
But for soaking showers;
Never a mated bird
In the rocking tree-tops,
Never indeed a flock or herd
To graze upon the lea-crops.
Lambs so woolly white,
Sheep the sun-bright leas on,
They could have no grass to bite
But for rain in season.
We should find no moss
In the shadiest places,
Find no waving meadow-grass
Pied with broad-eyed daisies;
But miles of barren sand,
With never a son or daughter,
Not a lily on the land,
Or lily on the water.
(from "Poems" by Christina Georgina Rossetti)
I turned the corner into our street; at almost 4.00 p.m. dusk was falling, so why was a woman crouched down outside the piano workshop looking through her phone towards the dental surgery? Surely not to capture their new paint job, which needs a few brush strokes where the scaffold had stood.
A jerky movement in front of the photographer revealed a pied wagtail, rather whiter about the head than this one, maybe three metres away from her. She will have gone home happy for having seen this trusting creature up close and personal, and at least having tried to take its picture.
And so did I rejoice in bird and birder! Well, I had discovered something of human nature as well as having a good look at the wagtail.
Father James Kurzynski in his blog for the Vatican Observatory, questions the use of three verbs in this short piece: capture, take, and discover. ‘Capture’ and ‘take’ both have hints of violence and taking possession of something. ‘Discover’ – did I dis-cover something or was I made aware of it? Was it rather revealed to me? My smile was real enough.
You will smile more than once reading Fr James’s article, I promise.
Pied wagtail by Charles J Sharp, Sharp Photography
I have wished a bird would fly away, And not sing by my house all day;
Have clapped my hands at him from the door When it seemed as if I could bear no more.
The fault must partly have been in me. The bird was not to blame for his key.
And of course there must be something wrong In wanting to silence any song.
Photo by Tony Hisgett via Wikimedia Commons, male Eurasian Blackcap in Staffordshire, England.
Down at L’Arche Kent’s Glebe garden the other day it was coffee time. My friend said that he hadn’t seen our robin for a couple of weeks, only for the redbreast to burst into song a few metres away in the cypress tree. No chance of spotting him in there.
More than a few years ago my brother became frustrated with the collared doves, billing and cooing right outside his bedroom window; since they were in a yew tree there was no spotting them either. Relief came when the black silkie bantam took her brood to roost in the yew. All attempts to bring them down simply made them hop up higher, as they would have done in the jungle. But they displaced the doves, and my brother could sleep on those light summer mornings.
Too many songs have been silenced as we have desecrated our Mother Earth. Could you buy or make someone a bird nesting box this Christmas?
There's nothing like the sun as the year dies, Kind as it can be, this world being made so, To stones and men and beasts and birds and flies, To all things that it touches except snow, Whether on mountain side or street of town. The south wall warms me: November has begun, Yet never shone the sun as fair as now While the sweet last-left damsons from the bough With spangles of the morning's storm drop down Because the starling shakes it, whistling what Once swallows sang. But I have not forgot That there is nothing, too, like March's sun, Like April's, or July's, or June's, or May's, Or January's, or February's, great days: And August, September, October, and December Have equal days, all different from November. No day of any month but I have said— Or, if I could live long enough, should say— "There's nothing like the sun that shines to-day." There's nothing like the sun till we are dead.
Edward Thomas challenged his melancholy by getting out of doors, with friends such as Robert Frost but often enough alone. November sun in England, especially against a south wall, or south cliff, is warming. Mid-November last year we went walking and foraged damsons, sweeter than they would have been a month earlier, but recorded that in prose, not poetry.
‘There’s nothing like the sun till we are dead’, and then? Why then we shall learn who the sun is like.
And there shall be no night there;
and they need no candle, neither light of the sun;
for the Lord God giveth them light:
and they shall reign for ever and ever.
We are moving slowly, gently, through Autumn into winter again. I passed this spot the other evening: it’s no longer a car park, but has been adopted by skate-boarders and roller skaters for practising their skills. The trees and bushes behind the railway fence are as inaccessible to humans as ever so provide safe roosting for little birds through the dark nights. Even our messiest corners can be used creatively by other creatures.
Last year we had the sparrows in residence, last week it was the starlings, chuckling away in chorus as I walked by. They were close at hand but out of sight in the gloaming, so here they are getting together one afternoon before flying off to gather in greater numbers on their way to the roost.
It’s the feast of Saint Bernard, one of the founding fathers of the Cistercian reform of monastic life. Our reflection is from Thomas Merton, writing in 1952. The celebration of the Eucharist has changed in religious communities as much, if not more than in parishes; there is one Community Mass each day, but there is still room for silence with God.
Our picture is from the trailer for Outside the City, a film by Nick Hamer about the Monks of Mount Saint Bernard’s Abbey in Leicestershire. Read on for Thomas Merton’s reflection on this day.
This week it is my turn to say the brothers’ Communion Mass, Our Lady’s Mass. It is always a Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin, always the same. I like it that way.
In the summer time, this Mass is said at three o’clock in the morning. So I leave the choir after morning meditation to go and say it while the rest of the monks recite Matins and Lauds. I generally finish the brothers’ Communions by the end of the second nocturne, and then go off into the back sacristy and kneel in the dark behind the relic case next to Saint Malachy’s altar, while the sky grows pale outside over the forest and a little cool air seeps in through the slats of the broken shutters.
The birds sing, and the crickets sing, and one priest is silent with God.
Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas, Hollis & Carter, London, 1953, p336.
It’s Mary’s feast today. She matters because she is the mother of Jesus. Let’s read the thoughts of a 19th Century Protestant Englishwoman.
Elizabeth Barrett published this suite of twelve verses in 1838, before she met Robert Browning. I say ‘suite of verses’ for each one can stand as a poem in its own right. In these first two verses Mary speaks tenderly to her Son, trying to establish what their relationship will become. Jesus new-born, sleeps on, exhausted. What will become of them both? We will publish a further selection of the verses over the next three days.
In the stained glass window Jesus is old enough to learn to read and be in Joseph’s workshop, with a rose bush and a palm tree outside.
THE VIRGIN MARY TO THE CHILD JESUS
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
But see the Virgin blest Hath laid her babe to rest. Milton's Hymn on the Nativity.
I. Sleep, sleep, mine Holy One! My flesh, my Lord!—what name? I do not know A name that seemeth not too high or low, Too far from me or heaven: My Jesus, that is best! that word being given By the majestic angel whose command Was softly as a man's beseeching said, When I and all the earth appeared to stand In the great overflow Of light celestial from his wings and head. Sleep, sleep, my saving One!
II. And art Thou come for saving, baby-browed And speechless Being—art Thou come for saving? The palm that grows beside our door is bowed By treadings of the low wind from the south, A restless shadow through the chamber waving: Upon its bough a bird sings in the sun, But Thou, with that close slumber on Thy mouth, Dost seem of wind and sun already weary. Art come for saving, O my weary One?
More from EBB tomorrow; the whole suite can be found on line.
Mrs Sparrow has got bolder over the last few days; you see that I have managed to take her picture.
When I was alone in the garden, eating lunch, she flew to the table – there’s a corner of it in the photograph – hopped to the edge of my plate, and took a beakful of sardines to feed the babies. She has come down when friends and family were present and entertained them, taking crumbs and morsels from the ground or table. Did people feed the birds around the Temple in Jerusalem?
I am glad there are no regular cats in the garden these days!