Tag Archives: Spring

8 May: VE Day, The Cherry Trees.

The cherry trees bend over and are shedding
On the old road where all that passed are dead,
Their petals, strewing the grass as for a wedding
This early May morn when there is none to wed.

Edward Thomas

This is a war poem. All Edward Thomas’s poems were written with the Great War in the background, here we have loaded words, shedding, dead, followed by the hammer blow, ‘There is none to wed.’ The men were gone to war, as he was going, never to return.

The cherry trees in Thomas’s day would have been like these, with sheep, swine or geese grazing under them. The fruit would have been picked using a wooden ladder, tapering at the top to get between branches, but you could walk between and beneath the trees. The orchard is a fortnight or so before its flowering time, but the ornamental cherry at Saint Mildred’s, Canterbury, was shedding petals this week, strewing the grass.

No weddings this May, due to the corona virus. Edward Thomas could have been writing for us but his wife Helen was an appreciative reader, saying proudly that he found beauty where other people could not see it.

On this VE Day let’s pray for eyes to see the flowers of the field in all their divine glory. Let’s be thankful for all that has been done, these past 75 years, to bring peace to Europe, reconciling former enemies, and over the last 30 years, remedying some of the harm done by the Iron Curtain. Let us pray that peace and understanding will continue growing despite the setbacks of recent times.

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May 1. Hopkins: All this Juice and all this Joy

campion.cowparsley.pilgr.2019.sm.jpg
Nothing is so beautiful as spring—
   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
   Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
   The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
   The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
   A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. Have, get, before it cloy,
   Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
   Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.”
 “Spring” by Gerard Manley Hopkins
‘Weeds in wheels’: Wheels in Hopkins’ time would have been wooden, with spokes radiating from the central hub, not unlike the petals of flowers such as the red campion above. The white cow parsley’s florets stand at the end of spoke-like stems; perhaps something like these flowers was in his inward eye as he wrote. Pear trees then would have been tall, not the dwarf orchard plantations generally seen today; brushing the blue would have seemed a more natural metaphor. 
Listen to the thrush at this link.
Hopkins straightforwardly links earthly nature with its creator and with human, childish innocence; children of God chosen by Christ, and so ‘worthy the winning.’ A bold assertion for a Victorian! 

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24 April: Two or three days in the year.

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A version of this posting has appeared  on the Will Turnstone blog.

Abel was coming away from the L’Arche Glebe garden when his eye was arrested by the round, tan-coloured husks beneath the hollow yew outside Saint Mildred’s church. They must really be discarded cones, since the yew is a conifer – with no recognisable cone. 

I was half reminded of when Mrs T and I went to see the cowslips near Brogdale, happily growing on the chalk. Another chalk-lover is the beech tree, one I loved to climb as a boy, and a mile or so on from the cowslip field our walk took us through a beech wood. Unlike the above picture from last year, it was a grey day, the path was wet, but we could still appreciate Edward Thomas’s observation in The South Country. By which he meant the South of England; where else could he have recorded this scene?

Then in the early morning the air is still and warm, but so moist that there is a soul of coolness in the heat, and never before were the leaves of the sorrel and wood sanicle and woodruff, and the grey-green foliage and pallid yellow flowers of the large celandine, so fair. The sudden wren’s song is shrewd and sweet and banishes heaviness. The huge chestnut tree is flowering and full of bees. The parsley towers delicately in bloom. The beech boughs are encased in gliding crystal. The nettles, the millions of nettles in a bed, begin to smell of summer. In the calm and sweet air the turtle-doves murmur and the blackbirds sing — as if time were no more — over the mere.

The roads, nearly dry again, are now at their best, cool and yet luminous, and at their edges coloured rosy or golden brown by the sheddings of the beeches, those gloves out of which the leaves have forced their way, pinched and crumpled by the confinement. At the bend of a broad road descending under beeches these parallel lines of ruddy chaff give to two or three days in the year a special and exquisite loveliness, if the weather be alternately wet and bright and the long white roads and virgin beeches are a temptation.

beech husks2

There is never enough traffic on this bridleway to order the husks  into parallel lines, but there they are, colouring the path. The nettles are in evidence ahead; we would discern the white of cow parsley if we were closer, but the pale celandine was not yet in flower here. (The bright, low-growing, lesser celandine is all but finished.)

beech husks1

Close to, the russet husks are indeed cool and luminous. Who would have said that brown could shine?

Thank you Edward Thomas!

And Laudato Si!

(Since this was written, a neighbour told me that the buds were once used for sewing, the points piercing the fabric with relative ease. Some of the husks in the picture still show that point. With a solid bud inside them, the buds would be sharp – for a little while. Poor people always had to work hard and even foraged for sewing needles.)

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Going viral XXI: seeing Herb Robert clearly

Let us add another post about seeing clearly, bout using our eyes to find beauty even in difficult times. Herb Robert is a humble plant. Here it is growing in a crack between pavement and wall. It’s likely to be passed by, unnoticed, but look at those beautiful leaves in red, pink and green.

I hope there are beauties for you to enjoy wherever you are allowed to walk – Laudato si!

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Going viral XVII: a magnificent magnolia.

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.”

PS 34:4

This verse jumped out at me the other morning. This is a single line that needs no context to be understood, but it comes in three parts: ‘delivered me from all my fears’ is the last, not the only part.

First: ‘I sought the Lord’: walking along Orchard Street, I was not consciously seeking anyone, but I had made the decision to get active and not sit around inviting feelings of self pity. Stepping outside myself, then; surely this is turning to God?

Second: ‘He answered me.’ On this occasion with a magnificent magnolia.

Third: Even if only for a moment, enjoying the tree, and the old brick wall beneath, I am set free from my fears. Perfect love casts out fear, and perfect love gave every passer-by, as well as the householder, this beautiful tree. Enjoy the spring so that you can bring your fearlessness – it was there for a moment! – to those around who need it.

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1 March: Violets from Saint David’s.

violets.pembs

 

These last few days I have been enjoying the gradual appearance of the violets along the path beside our house, but instead of getting down on my hands and knees to take a picture of them let me share these from the little Welsh city of Saint David’s. We were there in Spring a few years ago and these were by a path leading to the saint’s birthplace. ‘Be faithful in the little things’, he told his followers as he lay dying, back in the late 6th Century.

Let’s be faithful to the little things of this earth and always to have room for a few violets, or even daisies, beside our paths.

And Laudato Si!

A version of this post appeared last year on Will Turnstone’s own blog.

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4 November: Death and God’s Mercy in the Frozen North.

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Sir Edward Leithen, a Scottish Lawyer is snowbound in Northern Canada, dying of TB in the company of trappers, Indians, and a Quebecois business man who has lost his bearings. Leithen finds his Calvinistic, predestinarian beliefs challenged in the face of the realities he is facing in the North.

The trappers kept a fire going to keep Leithen alive. Picture from SJC

 

Here in this iron and icy world man was a pigmy and God was all in all. Like Job, he was abashed by the divine majesty and could put his face in the dust. It was the temper in which he wished to pass out of life. He asked for nothing—”nut in the husk, nor dawn in the dusk, nor life beyond death.” He had already much more than his deserts! 

Now there suddenly broke in on him like a sunrise a sense of God’s mercy—deeper than the fore-ordination of things, like a great mercifulness… Out of the cruel North most of the birds had flown south from ancient instinct, and would return to keep the wheel of life moving. Merciful! But some remained, snatching safety by cunning ways from the winter of death. Merciful! Under the fetters of ice and snow there were little animals lying snug in holes, and fish under the frozen streams, and bears asleep in their lie-ups, and moose stamping out their yards, and caribou rooting for their grey moss. Merciful! And human beings, men, women, and children, fending off winter and sustaining life by an instinct old as that of the migrating birds. … Surely, surely, behind the reign of law and the coercion of power there was a deep purpose of mercy.

The thought induced in Leithen a tenderness to which he had been long a stranger. He had put life away from him, and it had come back to him in a final reconciliation. He had always hoped to die in April weather when the surge of returning life would be a kind of earnest of immortality. Now, when presently death came to him, it would be like dying in the spring.

John Buchan, Sick Heart River, 1941; Penguin edition 1985.

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26 May: Pilgrimage to Canterbury VI: a memory unlocked.

pilgrims way2

I was talking to Rupert, one of our contributors during Lent, at the L’Arche garden this morning. He reassured me that the walk uphill from Dover on the revised route is ‘doable’ if taken steadily, and he knows most of the potential walkers. It will be somewhat steeper than this section of the Pilgrims’ Way on the other side of Canterbury: use your imagination to see the Cathedral, tucked between the distant hills near the centre of the photo!

I have not walked that steep path since Easter some 40 years ago, when a few of the community were living in north Dover. On Maundy Thursday I was helping Sue, a Jewish assistant from Toronto, prepare for a community Passover meal, when we looked out and saw a thrush hopping around a snow covered lawn. (What’s that bird, Maurice? It looks like our Canadian robin but has no red feathers.)

By Easter Monday all was serene and sunny, so Sue and I decided to walk the footpaths to Barfrestone. We were not expecting to negotiate the construction site for the A2 road, but we got over that and arrived in time for our next shift.

At least this time we will be prepared for the busy A2, which carries traffic aiming for the ferries to the continent. The footpath is safely in a tunnel underneath. And it’s ‘doable’!

For Rupert’s posts, enter ‘Before the Cross’ in the Agnellusmirror search box and you’ll find his reflections and a few other people’s.

 

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3 May: Edward Thomas and the swifts.

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HOW AT ONCE

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
Another day
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
Suddenly
And I only see
Them to know them gone.

 

Dear melancholy Edward Thomas had great insight that speaks to our age – a century on from his death. The swifts, those fast-flying birds that truly earn their name, come screaming around our house over the summer, often after a couple of short spring-time visits, broken off when the weather turns too cold for their insect prey to fly.

This terracotta bird flies beside our door; it came from Pieve San Lorenzo, a Tuscan village where brown alpine swifts replaced our black ones, but the ladies who sold it assured me it was their look-alike, the swallow. Now there’s a bird we see less of than we did, and the house martin too. I fear that they will be over and done suddenly, and our children’s children will never have known them, only to know them gone.

I miss the martins that used to live in our street, but my children do not remember their nests. At least we can put up boxes for the sparrows and blue tits and leave the doves and pigeons to nest in peace in our trees. 

And we can watch and pray to discern how we can make our town and country a more welcoming place for these living pest controllers. The first thing is to acknowledge that we are all part of God’s creation, and not throw his gift back at him, but Laudato Si!

 

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February 6: And then comes what shall come— Brownings IV.

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Robert Browning is writing to Elizabeth Barrett, his secret fiancée. She has told him of her dependence on morphine, as prescribed by her doctor, who is reluctant to take her off it, but agrees to do so, ‘slowly and gradually’. Robert is keen for her to get out and about, for she has been housebound for a long time, and offers her some encouragement. He writes this day, February 6, 1846.

‘Slowly and gradually’ what may not be done? Then see the bright weather while I write—lilacs, hawthorn, plum-trees all in bud; elders in leaf, rose-bushes with great red shoots; thrushes, whitethroats, hedge sparrows in full song—there can, let us hope, be nothing worse in store than a sharp wind, a week of it perhaps—and then comes what shall come—”

Elizabeth (‘Ba’) had written of when the drug was prescribed:

I have had restlessness till it made me almost mad: at one time I lost the power of sleeping quite—and even in the day, the continual aching sense of weakness has been intolerable—besides palpitation—as if one’s life, instead of giving movement to the body, were imprisoned undiminished within it, and beating and fluttering impotently to get out, at all the doors and windows. So the medical people gave me morphine, and ever since I have been calling it my amreeta* draught, my elixir,—because the tranquillizing power has been wonderful. Such a nervous system I have—so irritable naturally, and so shattered by various causes, that the need has continued in a degree until now, and it would be dangerous to leave off the calming remedy, Mr. Jago says, except very slowly and gradually.

  • The drink of the Hindu gods, conferring immortality.
 from “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846”, available on Kindle or online. 
The Apricot is also in bud now, and will soon flower, leaving us to fret about late frosts killing off the developing fruit. Comes what shall come …

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