Ah, hush! Tread softly through the rime,
For there will be a blackbird singing, or a thrush.
Like coloured beads the elm-buds flush:
All the trees dream of leaves and flowers and light.
And see! The northern bank is much more white
Than frosty grass, for now is snowdrop time.
It’s a while since we tapped into Mary Webb, but she gives pause for reflection. Rime is the soft hoar frost that coats the ground and trees and disappears as the sun gets to work. This short poem is full of hope, inviting us to look and listen and ‘dream of leaves and flowers and light.’ And the snowdrops are a promise that those things will come.
Once you could buy posies of violets or snowdrops bundled with glossy ivy leaves. The snowdrops someone planted a few yards from our door are increasing, year on year. They are working towards a self-sustaining community with the trees above them – and below them, for tree roots run deep, bringing nutrients up to where the bulbs can harvest them.
It was only at the end of Britain’s National Insect Week that I ever became aware it existed, but I am pretty sure the bees, bugs and beetles won’t mind being translated to July. In my occasional blog, ‘Will Turnstone’ I was able to mark the week on 27 June, its last day:
Here’s a bee, to remind us of how important they are. Thanks to the bees, this pyracantha, or firethorn, will be covered in flaming yellow, orange or red berries come the autumn. Our blackbirds love them. There’s always something to look forward to in the garden. Laudato si!
And if you’ve no garden of your own (and even if you do have a garden of your own) enjoy other people’s as you pass them by. And be thankful for their artistry and effort.
As she was going out to choir practice one evening in February, Mrs T said, ‘While I’m out you can play any music you like.’ Temptation: I can’t usually get away with Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, for example. Mrs T says that’s fine for the Cathedral, but not for the kitchen or living room. But I was baking and did not want to be changing discs with floury hands, so opted for Through the Night on BBC Sounds.
Brahms was giving me music while I worked when I stopped and listened and paused the music. ‘Our’ blackbird – the one we had last year, with the white chevron on his head – was singing in a neighbour’s fir tree. I left the door open and enjoyed his repertoire until another blackbird’s alarm call silenced him.
I was reminded of my distracted thought at Mass. The image of starlings murmurating, flying in ever changing formation, merged into ‘O filii et filiae’ of Eastertime. Here are the words. As for musical fireworks, I found the recordings below – no need to choose between the blackbird and the choir, enjoy them both! And Happy Easter: Christ is risen, Alleluia!
1. O filii et filiae, Rex caelestis, Rex gloriae, morte surrexit hodie, alleluia.
2. Et mane prima sabbati,
ad ostium monumenti
accesserunt discipuli, alleluia.
3. Et Maria Magdalene,
et Jacobi, et Salome,
venerunt corpus ungere, alleluia.
4. In albis sedens Angelus,
in Galilaea est Dominus, alleluia.
5. Et Joannes Apostolus
cucurrit Petro citius,
monumento venit prius, alleluia.
6. Discipu lis adstantibus,
in medio stetit Christus,
dicens: Pax vobis omnibus, alleluia.
7. Ut intellexit Didymus,
quia surrexerat Jesus,
remansit fere dubius, alleluia.
8. Vide, Thoma, vide latus,
vide pedes, vide manus,
noli esse incredulus, alleluia.
9. Quando Thomas Christi latus,
pedes vidit atque manus,
Dixit: Tu es Deus meus, alleluia.
10. Beati qui non viderunt,
Et firmiter crediderunt,
vitam aeternam habebunt, alleluia.
11. In hoc festo sanctissimo
sit laus et jubilatio,
benedicamus Domino, alleluia.
12. De quibus nos humillimas
devotas atque debitas
1. O sons and daughters of the King, Whom heavenly hosts in glory sing, Today the grave has lost its sting! Alleluia!
2. That Easter morn, at break of day,
The faithful women went their way
To seek the tomb where Jesus lay. Alleluia!
3. And Mary Magdalene,
And James, and Salome,
Came to anoint the body, Alleluia!
4. An angel clad in white they see,
Who sits and speaks unto the three,
“Your Lord will go to Galilee.” Alleluia!
5. And the Apostle John Quickly outran Peter, And arrived first at the tomb, alleluia.
6. That night the apostles met in fear;
Among them came their master dear
And said, “My peace be with you here.” Alleluia!
7. When Thomas first the tidings heard
That they had seen the risen Lord,
He doubted the disciples’ word. Alleluia!
8. “My pierced side, O Thomas, see,
And look upon my hands, my feet;
Not faithless but believing be.” Alleluia!
9. No longer Thomas then denied;
He saw the feet, the hands, the side;
“You are my Lord and God!” he cried. Alleluia!
10. How blest are they who have not seen
And yet whose faith has constant been,
For they eternal life shall win. Alleluia!
11. On this most holy day of days
Be laud and jubilee and praise:
To God your hearts and voice raise. Alleluia!
12. For which we humbly dedicated and duly Give thanks, Alleluia. Tr. Edward Caswall, apart from vv. 5 & 12.
The village school’s reception class is called the Butterflies, and they brought a hint of Spring to a winter’s day at the L’Arche garden.
The four and five year olds came to learn and exercise a few gardening skills, to meet some of the community and enjoy the winter sunshine. Of course, the sun shines as brightly in the village as in the city. And it’s generally quieter there, unless a tractor or chain saw is on the go. The inner ring road runs roaring past the garden so it’s never really quiet. But we, sometimes grudgingly, ignore it and so did the children, though one boy noticed the trains accelerating from the station, something he would not hear at school.
Everyone noticed the sirens as the two fire engines raced past. Drama that does not happen in the village! I looked up from my planting to see three of the girls, arms linked, dancing in a circle, chanting nee-naw, nee-naw, taking pleasure from the sounds, taking pleasure from being alive on a sunny winter’s day in the youth of the world.
And my mind’s ear remembered the blackbird who lifted a telephone warble into his song, and the thrushes and starlings who also make music of our human racket, even getting me halfway down the garden path to answer a starling’s phone call, and I thought, why not? Why not dance when the world is young, and your friends are around you, and you have a day off from routine, and so much to be grateful for? Words are not always enough.
Out in the fresh, green world, where thrushes sing so madly, the sweets of the morning are waiting to be gathered – more than enough for all, low at our feet, higher than we can reach, wide enough even for the travelling soul. Joy rushes in with the rain-washed air, when you fling the window wide to the dawn and lean out into the clear purity before the light, listening to the early “chuck-chuck” of the blackbird, watching the pulse of colour beat higher in the east.
Joy is your talisman, when you slip out from the sleeping house, down wet and gleaming paths into the fields, where dense canopies of cobwebs are lightly swung from blade to blade of grass. Then the air is full of wings; birds fly in and out of the trees, scattering showers of raindrops as they dash from a leafy chestnut or disappear among the inner fastnesses of a fir. Pinions of dark and pinions of day share the sky, and over all are the brooding wings of unknown presences.
The east burns; the hearts of the birds flame into music; the wild singing rises in a swelling rhythm until, as the first long line of light creeps across the meadows, the surging chorus seems to shake the treetops.
Michael McCarthy, commented in The Independent recently on the lack of birdsong at this time of year:
The reason is simple: the business of mating and breeding is over and done with, and song is no longer needed. (An exception is the robin, which carries on singing as it defends its territory right through winter).
Walking to church on Sunday, we passed audibly through at least four robin territories. But there is another bird singing – the starling.
My wife called me into the garden. ‘What is the matter with the starlings?’ They were present in numbers, singing from next door’s birch tree. Not asserting individual territory, for they were happy in each other’s company. But singing they were, alleluia!
Clapping my hands did nothing to disturb them. ‘You’re wasting your time,’ said Janet, and I doubt they’d have heard less than a cannon shot.
They were also mass-murmuring in the lime trees along the road. I expressed my fears for the grapes to a neighbour, but they seem to be off the starlings’ radar. A few years ago there were very few starlings locally, and our grapes faded from their memory; the raiders now are blackbirds who operate singly.
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.