Another Mary Webb poem to enjoy, especially if her melancholy is a mood you can share. When will her love come to her? Even the wet stones are beautiful, the wind’s roar abates within the wood so that on the lee side he can pause to pay court to the blackthorn, one of the first trees to flower in Spring. But when will her love come to her?
Even Mary Magdalene did not recognise he beloved Jesus on Easter morning; how many times do we miss an encounter with him, though he sets dawn, sunlight and morning birds to call to us: oh, my love! when will you come to me?
Dawn glimmers white beyond the burning hill Where sunbeams light a fire in every tree. The morning bird is singing clear and shrill; And oh, my love! when will you come to me?
The daisies whitely sleep beneath the dew; On the wet road the stones are fair to see; Cloudy, the blackthorn floats upon the blue; And oh, my love! when will you come to me?
The wind came walking in the shaken wood; He shouted from the mountains and the sea. By the pale thorn he paused, in lover’s mood– And oh, my love! when will you come to me?.
My heart has blossomed meekly as the thorn; It has its dews, and daisies two or three. The heavens quicken, green as April corn– And oh, my love! when will you come to me?
Beach-combing. Turnstones are adept at it, turning stones and scraps of weed and plastic to find food. Mary Webb, here writing in romantic mode, never came across the detectorists, sweeping the sands for coins fallen from tourists’ pockets, though my daughter, digging in the sand rather than flipping pebbles, once found enough to buy all the family an ice-cream! A red letter day. So what did Mary Webb find? A casket of the sea; a shell.
What has the sea swept up? A Viking oar, long mouldered in the peace Of grey oblivion? Some dim-burning bowl Of unmixed gold, from far-off island feasts? Ropes of old pearls? Masses of ambergris? Something of elfdom from the ghastly isles Where white-hot rocks pierce through the flying spindrift? Or a pale sea-queen, close wound in a net of spells?
Nothing of these. Nothing of antique splendours That have a weariness about their names: But–fresh and new, in frail transparency, Pink as a baby’s nail, silky and veined As a flower petal–this casket of the sea, One shell.
I think this shell came from Portobello beach in Scotland, just a short ride from Edinburgh. That’s one story a shell could tell: what’s your name and where do you come from, but Mary Webb turns hers over in her palm and gives us a little hymn of praise. Laudato si’.
From the Epistle to William Simpson by Robert Burns
Ev'n winter bleak has charms to me,
When winds rave thro' the naked tree;
Or frosts on hills of Ochiltree
Are hoary gray;
Or blinding drifts wild-furious flee,
Dark'ning the day!
O Nature! a' thy shews an' forms
To feeling, pensive hearts hae charms!
Whether the summer kindly warms,
Wi' life an' light;
Or winter howls, in gusty storms,
The lang, dark night!
The Muse, nae poet ever fand her,
Till by himsel he learn'd to wander,
Adown some trottin burn's meander,
An' no think lang:
O, sweet to stray, an' pensive ponder
A heart-felt sang.
Three wintry verses from Robert Burns. Silence and solitude seem to be his prerequisites for hearing the heart-felt song forming in his mind. The Scots dialect is not too difficult here, but just a couple of translations from our third verse.
Burn: brook; it crops up in English place-names, Saltburn, Blackburn, etc..
Grandson Abel was very pleased when starlings nested under his roof. Of course they did not stay long in town but took off to the countryside for the summer once the chicks were fledged. Mary Webb enjoyed them too, in Shropshire, with their howls and hoots and shrieks and whistlings.
Their enemy in this part of Canterbury is not the owl but the sparrowhawk: one caught a starling right beside me in the back garden a few years ago, and last month I surprised one with a kill just 100 metres away. I also helped the young hawk by frightening off the thieving magpie!
It’s good to witness a previously persecuted bird establishing itself in our city, though the neighbour who generously feeds the little birds might not be too happy about the little piles of feathers that appear near here house from time to time. Enjoy Mary Webb’s poem, and Laudato Si’!
Starlings by Mary Webb
When the blue summer night Is short and safe and light, How should the starlings any more remember The fearful, trembling times of dark December? They mimic in their glee, With impudent jocosity, The terrible ululation of the owls That prey On just such folk as they. ‘Tu-whoo!’ And rusty-feathered fledglings, pressed Close in the nest Amid the chimney-stacks, are good all day If their indulgent father will but play At owls, With predatory howls And hoots and shrieks and whistlings wild and dread. Says one small bird, With lids drawn up, cosily tucked in bed, ‘Such things were never heard By me or you. They are not true.’
For more than thirty years we have resisted hanging net curtains in the bay window of our front room. We all, from visiting grandchildren to the oldest inhabitant, like to look out and wave to our neighbours and friends. Only yesterday Melvyn told me he always looks in case I’m there to exchange waves. But the other day brought something different. We spotted this damselfly on a loosely woven blanket by the window. The colours did not make for a good photograph, but black and white enhanced it all, especially the veins of the wings.
I wonder if the creature came from our pond? We soon opened the window and gently sent her on her way to snap up a few mosquitoes. It was encouraging to see a big dragonfly this morning by the river, but too high for a photo unless we get a drone! We would almost certainly crash it into the trees if we did.
Are dragonflies or damselflies mentioned by name in the Bible? I fancy not, but just look at Genesis 1:22, almost an exact description! And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. That sounds like a dragonfly or damselfly to me, coming forth from the waters to fly above the earth in the open firmamnet of heaven. LAUDATO SI!
Yesterday we looked at eternity and this world; love being the link between the two. Today school holidays are upon us again in England, and grandparents get to join in these days, keeping the third generation safe and occupied.But perhaps they – and we – should be allowed to experience a few butterfly’s days, ‘without design’, going nowhere ‘In purposeless circumference’, till sundown. If we let go of our business for a day, it’s possible that Another might get a word, idea or image in edgeways.
This red admiral was seen at the L’Arche Kent garden as it basked in the summer sun. Get ready to bask in an ‘audience of idleness.’
Enjoy your holidays and be grateful for moments of idleness!
THE BUTTERFLY’S DAY
From cocoon forth a butterfly As lady from her door Emerged — a summer afternoon — Repairing everywhere,
Without design, that I could trace, Except to stray abroad On miscellaneous enterprise The clovers understood.
Her pretty parasol was seen Contracting in a field Where men made hay, then struggling hard With an opposing cloud,
Where parties, phantom as herself, To Nowhere seemed to go In purposeless circumference, As ‘t were a tropic show.
And notwithstanding bee that worked, And flower that zealous blew, This audience of idleness Disdained them, from the sky,
Till sundown crept, a steady tide, And men that made the hay, And afternoon, and butterfly, Extinguished in its sea.
Here are a couple of paragraphs from Pope Francis’s Laudato si’, his teaching on the environment, and how we can care for it or destroy it. Humankind, he warns, has abandoned trust in God, in each other, and in the earth we inhabit. We need to acknowledge the harm we have done and continue to do, although we are much more aware of it than just a few years ago.
Sadly, the pandemic over, it seems people are scrambling to ‘get back to normal’ when our previous way of life was definitely not normal. It lacked respect: for God and his laws, which are the laws of true human living; for our neighbours, and for our mother earth and all that lives on her. But let’s read Francis’s own words. (The footnote links lead to the original document.)
66. The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality. They suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself. According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin. The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations. This in turn distorted our mandate to “have dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), to “till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). As a result, the originally harmonious relationship between human beings and nature became conflictual (cf. Gen 3:17-19). It is significant that the harmony which Saint Francis of Assisi experienced with all creatures was seen as a healing of that rupture. Saint Bonaventure held that, through universal reconciliation with every creature, Saint Francis in some way returned to the state of original innocence. This is a far cry from our situation today, where sin is manifest in all its destructive power in wars, the various forms of violence and abuse, the abandonment of the most vulnerable, and attacks on nature.Ex 23:12). Clearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.
69. Together with our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly, we are called to recognize that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes: “by their mere existence they bless him and give him glory”, and indeed, “the Lord rejoices in all his works” (Ps 104:31). By virtue of our unique dignity and our gift of intelligence, we are called to respect creation and its inherent laws, for “the Lord by wisdom founded the earth” (Prov 3:19). In our time, the Church does not simply state that other creatures are completely subordinated to the good of human beings, as if they have no worth in themselves and can be treated as we wish. The German bishops have taught that, where other creatures are concerned, “we can speak of the priority of being over that of being useful”. The Catechism clearly and forcefully criticizes a distorted anthropocentrism: “Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection… Each of the various creatures, willed in its own being, reflects in its own way a ray of God’s infinite wisdom and goodness. Man must therefore respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any disordered use of things”.
Saint Kevin lived an ascetic life, close to nature and animals, but a man of joy rather than the melancholy set before us tomorrow by Rabindranath Tagore. A good saint when we are trying to set our priorities aright regarding the world God has created us to care for. Only a man of Hope would live as ultra frugally as Kevin did. There is more to us than our petty desires that can never satisfy for long.
Let us pray for a generous, merciful heart, inspired by the Spirit to be loving to our fellow creatures, and to find ways to help them thrive, and in so doing be partners in God’s Creation.
A prayer to Saint Kevin of Glendalough
A Chaoimhín le caoineas do mhéine Fuair an-chion ainmhithe is éanlaith; I do láthair ba ghnáth leo go léir a bheith Gan scá romhat I bhfásach an fhéir ghlais. Bímisne, a Chaoimhín na féile, Dea-iompair le dúile gan éirim: Dia a chruthaigh is a chuir ar an soal iad Is cúiteoidh Sé linn an croí truamhéile.
Kevin, with your kind nature, you were loved by animals and birds; they stayed in your presence without fear in the green grassy growth. Let us all, O generous Kevin, behave well towards dumb creatures: God created them and put them into this world and he will reward us for a merciful heart.
Donla uí Bhraonáin (ed.), Paidreacha na Gaeilge: Prayers in Irish (Dublin: Cois Life, 2009), 122–3.
It’s another of those social sins where we are implicated willy-nilly; it’s as if someone sins on our behalf whether we like it or not. When we can avoid the willy-nillyness of life and be conscious of what we are doing, that’s what we should do.
Some years ago I was correctly told to stop trying to recycle the blister packs from medicine tablets and capsules as they could not be processed. Well, think again Mr Turnstone!
Since February 2021, TerraCycle, an international recycling company, has been working with Superdrug and other pharmacies to recycle these complicated little packages, earning a contribution to charity.
There are other schemes that benefit chosen charities directly; the churches of Saints Dunstan, Mildred and Peter in Canterbury are collecting them for Marie Curie Cancer Care, but Superdrug is in the city centre.
Waters above! eternal springs!
The dew that silvers the Dove's wings!
O welcome, welcome to the sad!
Give dry dust drink; drink that makes glad!
Many fair ev'nings, many flow'rs
Sweeten'd with rich and gentle showers,
Have I enjoy'd, and down have run
Many a fine and shining sun;
But never, till this happy hour,
Was blest with such an evening-shower!
From "Poems of Henry Vaughan, Silurist, Volume II.
This was not an April shower, but a March one; a morning but not an evening shower yet I'm sure Henry Vaughan would have appreciated it, as I did, seeing the raindrops on the willows shining on the osiers. Laudato Si'!