Soon amid the inviolable places Will green, rustling steeples chime again With the sweet, glassy bell-notes of the wren. Soon the plain shall lie beneath blue spaces– Bold and broad and ruddy in the sun, Long and lean to the moon when day is done.
Soon will come the strange, heart-lifting season When through the dark, still dawns, where nothing was, Steals the mysterious whisper of growing grass; And a joy like pain possesses the soul, without reason, Between the budding of day and the lapse of night, With the clear, cold scent of wet starlight.
‘Soon’: a word of promise. Observe the signs of the times: the wren singing amid the brambles, the red, ploughed soil, blue sky. Soon will come joy so intense it hurts. Let’s try to see the signs of the times this Lent, and look out for Easter Joy.
From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. (Matthew 24:33)
Sometimes we have to trust that the dawn will come, despite the seemingly endless dark night. The orchid and bluebells in the picture were putting out roots through the winter to be able to flower in the Spring.
We had gone up North, despite the railway strikes, for an important family funeral. But thanks to the railway strikes, we travelled early and had time to meet family members and to remember Sheila together, as well as to enjoy a few reflective walks. The restored Huddersfield Narrow Canal offers easy, dry-shod walking; we found warm accommodation in Greenfield village. On a day of showers and sunshine we turned a corner to witness this autumn scene: a watery sun shining through the golden leaves of the beech, the hedge behind it still hardly changed. Can spring be far behind?
The solemnity of today will be overwhelmed by the joy of Easter, but there were tokens of the coming feast for those with eyes to see.
Before the sun was properly up I was looking into the back garden. What was that hunched figure inspecting the flowerpots? A hedgehog woken from hibernation and going about its business, ridding us of a few pests. That was enough to mark the day.
After the prayerful L’Arche Good Friday service some of us found our way to the Glebe garden, where a shrine had been built of willow wands. If this was intended to be a place of quiet reflection it soon became a meeting place for people who had barely seen each other during covid; another hint of the resurrection to come.
Flitting across the garden was a brimstone butterfly, a caterpillar died but transformed into a creature of beauty no less wondrous for being totally expected.
Then to my task of adorning the church porch. The Easter garden needed the finishing touches, Mary’s jar of ointment and the grave cloths hidden behind the door (a scallop shell to be rolled to one side). What concerned me was the Easter lilies. We had some in flower the last two years, but it had been touch and go this time. Since today was warm, the first flowers were unfurling to be bright and white on Easter Day.
In the evening down to the Cathedral to hear Faure’s Requiem, with its upbeat finish: May the Angels welcome you to Paradise, may the martyrs meet you and lead you to the Holy City of Jerusalem.
Walking home from the Cathedralin the glowing dusk, under the Easter full moon, three blackbirds, singing their hearts out, serenading the new life hatched in their nests. They will be busy tomorrow, as no doubt will I, but by these tokens and by other sure evidence I know that my redeemer liveth.
Sheila Billingsley has had her eyes open! On the edge of Saddleworth Moor, spring has arrived! She gives this poem the title ’14th March 2022′. We hope Spring is enchanting your eyes, ears and sense of smell. Those cherry trees . . .
14th March 2022.
Today Spring arrived!
Slipped in!. . . Quietly!
Bright blue sky,
Pushing out thoughts of rain,
. . . until tomorrow!
The cherry tree in the lane is in blossom.
Delicate, tiny, hardly pink blossom.
Not the blowsy in-your-face Japanese,
Today the gardener arrived too,
To clear the detritus of winter.
Cheerful and happy within his whiskers.
Did many thank you?
Did many even notice?
That your world was still struggling to obey you,
Despite what we do?
At least your world obeys you,
While we fight and kill and poison.
Do they know that you exist ?
Do they know that you suffer?
I just wanted to record that Spring arrived today.
I that was born in Wales
Cherish heaven's dust in scales
Which may at dust be seen
On every village green
Where Tawe, Taff or Wye
Through fields and woods goes by,
Or Western Towy's flame
Writes all its watery name
In gold, and blinds our eyes;
For so heaven's joys surprise,
Like music from mild air
Too marvellous to bear
Within the bell's wild span,
The pausing, conscious man,
Who questions at what age
The dead are raised? To assuage
The curious, vision smooths
The lids of age, and youth's.
Even man's defeated hopes
Are variants of those stops
Which, when the god has played,
No creature stands betrayed.
From Collected Poems of Vernon Watkins, p214.
Tawe, Taff, Wye and Towy are rivers of Wales.
Watkins notes that 'every argument but the silent prayer of the dust itself, expecting resurrection, is an evasion of truth, swayed by a too optimistic hope or a too impatient despair from its true music.'
As we will be reminded tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, we are dust, and unto dust each one of us will return. Dust is one of the smallest things we can see, but it is glorious when it dances as motes in the lowering sun at dusk.
No creature will stand betrayed by God, says Watkins. Saint David told us to be faithful in the little things; the dust to which we will return deserves our faithful consideration, polluted as it has been by humankind - you and me. Let us be pausing, conscious men and women throughout this Lent.
Mrs Turnstone likes to remind us that this is the day of the year that the Sun first appears in Greenland. It is also her birthday. While our son is happily settled in London, she feels she has lived there for as long as she ever wants to, but she’ll visit the town, take Abel to an exhibition, or meet up with friends.
After Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who left London to elope with Robert, here is Mary Webb who moved to London to foster her career as a writer. The move brought her little joy, for she was a deep-rooted Shropshire Lass. So here is a melancholic poem from her pen, but one that looks to the ‘stately sun’, symbol of undisdainful death as well as of new life. One of the symptoms of the hyperthyroid Graves’ disease that she endured was swelling of the face which made her feel ‘unlovely’, and aware of ‘slights and lies and unkindnesses’ that more robust souls would have shrugged off.
Despitethe melancholy, the blackbird, who is now in good voice, transports Mary to the Shropshire Hills, landing there in Spring, aware in her whole being of Shropshire under the rain and sun. Her kinder life, will it be in heaven only, or also in the golden air of the Welsh borders? I like to think it was experienced on this earth as a gentle preparation for life eternal.
Sing on, dear bird! Bring the old rapturous pain, In this great town, where I no welcome find. Show me the murmuring forest in your mind, And April's fragile cups, brimful of rain. O sing me far away, that I may hear The voice of grass, and, weeping, may be blind To slights and lies and friends that prove unkind. Sing till my soul dissolves into a tear, Glimmering within a chaliced daffodil. So, when the stately sun with burning breath Absorbs my being, I'll dream that he is Death, Great Death, the undisdainful. By his will No more unlovely, haunting all things fair, I'll seek some kinder life in the golden air.
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.
Vain wish ! Me fate compels to bear
The downward season's iron reign;
Compels to breathe polluted air,
And shiver on a blasted plain.
What bliss to life can autumn yield,
If glooms, and show'rs, and storms prevail,
And Ceres flies the naked field,
And flowers, and fruits, and Phoebus fail?
Oh! what remains, what lingers yet,
To cheer me in the dark'ning hour!
The grape remains! the friend of wit,
In love, and mirth, of mighty pow'r.
Haste—press the clusters, fill the bowl;
Apollo! shoot thy parting ray:
This gives the sunshine of the soul,
This god of health, and verse, and day.
Still—still the jocund strain shall flow,
The pulse with vig'rous rapture beat;
My Stella with new charms shall glow,
And ev'ry bliss in wine shall meet.
Ceres: Roman goddess of harvest.
Phoebus Appollo: Roman sun god.
(from Volume 1 The Works of Samuel Johnson, Ll.D., in Nine Volumes)
It is about now that the Beaujolais Nouveau wine is released, so ‘haste – press the clusters’ is about right. Johnson was also capable of admitting that too much of a good thing was possible. The pollution in London today is from gas and petrol rather than wood and coal fires, but just as real. Despite the pollution, Jonson was never tired of London.
Hundreds of times I have cycled past this gate, rather fewer times have I walked past Saint Mildred’s church on my way to work at L’Arche’s Glebe garden. This morning I had to stop and fix the church’s banner that had come adrift in a high wind; and I found myself beside the gate and able to read its dedication.
I had little to do with Saint Mildred’s church before I returned to L’Arche some ten years after the gate was given, and I never knew the Dinnages; as the years pass by there will be fewer and fewer who have any memory of them. How many are like me, in passing by without thinking?
Well, here are a few thoughts.
The gate opens into the area where the cremated remains of parishioners are interred. It is at the East end of the churchyard that surrounds the church on three sides; all but the North. The East is where the sun rises, where the light comes into the world, day by day, so naturally enough churches were aligned East to West, with the altar at the East end and the congregation facing that way. The people laid to rest here will be facing the rising sun and the Risen Lord, despite looking towards a multistorey car park, the old gas works and a wall that is a graffiti hot spot.
If Joan and Leslie Dinnage are likely to be forgotten as the years roll by, I’d guess that most of those beneath the tombstones to the rear of the picture are known only to particularly assiduous local historians. Yet the Lord will call them home, as here he leads Adam and Eve away from the gates of Hell.
In Christian solidarity, otherwise known as the Communion of Saints, let us pray for Joan and Leslie; for all laid to rest in St Mildred’s churchyard, and all those who have died from the covid infection.