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.
In her long poem, The Soul’s Travelling, Elizabeth Barrett Browning is by the sea as well, though not at Broadstairswhere we were yesterday. In a previous stanza she described a hollow where she could hear, but not see, the ocean ebbing and flowing across the beach. Broadstairs is a bit more open than that, but in the next bay after the pier I used to snatch a few minutes of silence in a hollow at the foot of the cliff. The curlews and other sea birds were calling right through winter, but the silence was still all around.
Except that sound, the place is full
Of silences, which when you cull
By any word, it thrills you so
That presently you let them grow
To meditation's fullest length
Across your soul with a soul's strength:
And as they touch your soul, they borrow
Both of its grandeur and its sorrow,
That deathly odour which the clay
Leaves on its deathlessness alwày.
from The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning Volume II.
Another beach for silence in the sounds of the sea is Aberdaron in West Wales – follow the tag to read more posts about it. The church is at the top of the beach and the sea’s singing accentuates the message embroidered on this seat runner. You don’t need external silence to be still; the Lord is on your side wherever you are, you vessel of clay, holding his treasure! (2 Corinthians 4:7)
He in the evening, when on high
The stars shine in the silent sky,
Beholds th' eternal flames with mirth,
And globes of light more large than Earth;
Then weeps for joy, and through his tears
Looks on the fire-enamell'd spheres,
Where with his Saviour he would be
Lifted above mortality.
Meanwhile the golden stars do set,
And the slow pilgrim leave all wet
With his own tears, which flow so fast
They make his sleeps light, and soon past.
from Poems of Henry Vaughan, Silurist, Volume II via Kindle
Eddie was writing about the stars yesterday, so an opportunity presents to complement his reflection with a poem. I was talking to a friend who had been moved to tears by a television drama, and remarked that certain saints had written of 'the gift of tears'. My friend was grateful that the fountain had welled up within her.
Here we have a 17th Century poet, writing in English though living in Wales. He was twenty years old when Galileo died. Science did not erode his faith but enhanced it, intellectually and emotionally, the sight of the 'fire-enamell'd spheres' moving him to tears of awe at creation.
It is Dylan Thomas’s birthday, a time to listen to him and ‘love the words’ that came to him. Do not be deceived by the simplicity of the Reverend Eli Jenkins’ evening poem from Under Milk Wood. Every word is meant both by Eli and by his earthly creator, Dylan Thomas who wrote “for the love of man and in Praise of God, and I’d be a damn fool if they weren’t.”
Every morning when I wake,
Dear Lord, a little prayer I make,
O please to keep thy lovely eye
On all poor creatures born to die.
And every evening at sun-down
I ask a blessing on the town,
For whether we last the night or no
I'm sure is always touch-and-go.
We are not wholly bad or good
Who live our lives under Milk Wood,
And Thou, I know, will be the first
To see our best side, not our worst.
Oh let us see another day!
Bless us all this night, I pray,
And to the sun we all will bow
And say, good-bye -- but just for now!
And if you go to our search box and ask for Dylan Thomas, you’ll find a few more reflections on the human condition, written for love of humankind and for the glory of God.
September! We are moving into Autumn, fruit, grain harvest, swelling pumpkins … return to school, reluctant scholars yet glad to see their friends. remembering Oscar Wilde yesterday, here is the XVII Century English-speaking Welsh poet, Henry Vaughan, looking for the luxuries of out-of-season flowers and fruit. He’d find them today of course, rushed to us from around the world. But note his conclusion!
The tender vine in our garden suffered from the North’s cold wind last winter, but we have a few bunches of grapes swelling; are they to be food for humans or starlings?
Who the violet doth love,
Must seek her in the flow'ry grove,
But never when the North's cold wind
The russet fields with frost doth bind.
If in the spring-time—to no end—
The tender vine for grapes we bend,
We shall find none, for only—still—
Autumn doth the wine-press fill.
Thus for all things—in the world's prime—
The wise God seal'd their proper time.
Another blog by Eddie Gilmore of the Irish Chaplaincy in London. Thank you Eddie, as always.
“You don’t realise how much you’ve missed something until you have it again.”
I’d only gone down to the newly re-opened library to return the couple of books that I’d had out since last year and to borrow a new one. As I came out of the main entrance onto Canterbury High Street I was greeted by an unusual sight. There were seven elderly-looking ladies about to start some kind of performance. They were dressed identically in grey headscarves and billowing black shawls and each had a zimmer frame. To the accompaniment of a slightly eerie soundtrack, they began to push their zimmer frames around one another and were looking more and more distressed and agitated. Their expressions then softened, as did their movements, and suddenly they all pushed away their zimmers and began to dance. Next, they undid their headscarves and flung them into a captivated crowd and ripped off the black shawls to reveal colourful dresses. A solitary man appeared with a large drum, onto which he was beating a flamenco rhythm. The spectacle ended with the setting off of party-poppers and the women throwing rice over the bystanders, before disappearing, dancing, round the corner. I was utterly enchanted and deeply touched. It was the first live dance performance I’d seen in over a year, the first live anything, and it was so good to experience it again.
As I went round to the other side of the library to get my bike I came across the women in their flamenco dresses, looking very pleased with themselves. “That was wonderful,” I gushed. “Thank you so much.” And I added, almost in tears, “You don’t realise how much you’ve missed something until you have it again.” One of them asked if I’d like more rice strewn over me. “Oh yes!” I replied, and was duly anointed. I felt truly blessed.
The day after that I was having a well-earned coffee with a couple of the guys I’d done my Saturday morning club cycle ride with (and what a treat it is to be riding in a group again). We were basking in the sun by the Argentinian café in the Dane John Gardens in Canterbury, and it was great to see people out and about again. I’d been chatting with Conor en route about coming out of lockdown and I’d told him about how much I’d enjoyed seeing a live dance performance again. Just then I spotted a couple in the nearby bandstand doing a tango. “Look!” I exclaimed to Conor and Chris, “there’s a couple dancing.” Chris then told us of how he had practised for months the first dance, to an 80s song, he did with his wife at his wedding, and the conversation went onto other songs from the 80s. Then I told Dublin-born Conor about a nice scene from the film ‘Sing Street’ in which the protagonist, a boy who forms his own band, gathers a load of fellow-pupils at his Dublin school to be dancers at the first gig and implores them to “dance like it’s the 80s!”
One of my favourite scenes from ‘Mamma Mia’ is where all the women, young and old, dance down to the harbour to the tune of ‘Dancing Queen’ and then leap into the sea. An especially touching bit of that scene is an older woman casting off the large pile of sticks she’s been carrying on her shoulders, joining the joyful procession, and crying out, “Oh YEAH.” A few months ago my ninety-one year old mum was sent a wind-up dancing leprechaun by one of her sisters in Newry. The care home where she lives sent a gorgeous video of her standing up and doing a little jig alongside the leprechaun. This from someone who needs a zimmer frame these days to get around.
The day after the Argentinian coffee and tango in the park was Trinity Sunday and Yim Soon and I were at our customary zoom Mass. Part of a reflection from one of the women present was the playing of a Nina Simone song ‘I wish I knew how it would feel to be free.’ During the song several of us present began to sway and dance, and David the priest was moving from side to side the icon of the Trinity, so that it looked as if the Trinity themselves were dancing. It was a special moment.
I’ve always been taken by the Hindu belief that the Lord Shiva danced the world into existence. On this theme, the most well-known song of Sydney Carter is ‘The Lord of the Dance’, whose lyrics go ‘Dance, dance, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the dance, said he.’ As a child I was convinced that this lyric was, ‘I am the Lord of the dance settee.’ When we were young my sister and I used to jump up and down on the settee in the living-room, and it seemed to me very fitting that God would be jumping up and down with us! The image of the dance settee has, happily, never really left me.
Yim Soon and I are delighted to have just been invited to a wedding, the first such invitation in ages. It’s friends who are musicians and as well as the prospect of good music one of my first thoughts was that we’ll hopefully be able to have a good dance as part of the celebration. I’ve written before of my August holiday in Barmouth, which is an annual reunion of old friends (who met in the 80s!), plus their now mainly adult children, which began in 2000. One of the traditions of the week is a concert night and one of the traditions of the concert night is the singing of ‘500 Miles’. At what was to be the final performance before Covid, the song turned into a long conga of people snaking around the concert room and that led in turn to everyone dancing, old and young together, to other 70s and 80s classics. It was one of the highlights for me of Barmouth 2019.
To finish, here again are the immortal words of Sydney Carter, at least how I remember them:
‘And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be; for I am the Lord of the dance settee’!
Foul-cankering rust the hidden treasure frets, But gold that’s put to use more gold begets.
From “Venus and Adonis” by William Shakespeare
Shakespeare echoes the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) which shows gold becoming fertile in its own way, and also languishing useless underground. This happened to treasure that my brothers and I hid once when on holiday in Wales. Perhaps we felt that this hidden treasure was a sacrifice that would draw us back to the little resort where we had enjoyed a week of happiness with both our parents available. Our treasure was a hoard of beer bottle tops from the Border Brewery, which came in different colours according to the brew in each bottle, and carried a picture of a Welsh dragon. Our source was not our Dad’s empties, but a nearby pub’s backyard. We thought we’d marked the spot where we’d hidden them, 12 inches from the telegraph pole near the holiday house, but the next year we failed to find it.
If only we’d had a metal detector! I think the spot is covered by the North Wales Expressway now, so we can forget about looking for our treasure, and decades later, the tops will surely be fretted away, though I do know someone who would be very grateful for a set of tops from a long defunct brewery.
A more generally exciting buried treasure was discovered in Staffordshire a few years ago. Being largely of gold, it has survived, though battered at the time of burial and in the 13 or 14 centuries since. If you have an hour between trains in Birmingham, you should be able to get to the museum and admire what’s on show – if you can get yourself past the Pre-Raphaelite paintings and the other treasures there.
The processional crosses and other liturgical objects were saved from destruction, but whoever hid them may have been killed in battle before retrieving them, or like us boys, may have misremembered the clues. We can admire the art while regretting that this gold will never again be put to its original use. Not that that should stop us from offering a silent prayer of wonder and gratitude. These gloriously playful designs speak of artists at ease in their faith, bringing their joyfulness to their work, as Hopkins did in his poetry.
Rebound Books are stylish ring-bound notebooks, made by L’Arche Brecon using covers from old books that would otherwise have gone to landfill. Covid restrictions have caused a collapse in sales, since the community cannot go to their usual markets and sales that have been cancelled.
And so, they had a think and began working on textiles, making masks and bunting.
Since then, Jamie Tobin tells us, ‘We have created hundreds of masks, sending parcels all over the UK – and even a few over-seas. More fabric was donated, and we streamlined the process.’ Success on the rebound indeed.
You can read the whole of Jamie Tobin’s article here. And you can visit Rebound Books’ website here and place orders for notebooks, masks, or bunting. Other contact details appear at the foot of this post.
Masks ready for Posting
TELEPHONE 07794 396360
EMAIL ADDRESS firstname.lastname@example.org The Muse, Old Museum, Glamorgan Street, Brecon, Powys, LD3 7DW
We start with a prayer to Saint David, asking him to pray for the people of Wales. Unlike the other nations of Britain, Wales has a native born saint as its patron, born at the edge of the little city that bears his name.
Blessed David, you are an apostle and patron for the people of Wales. Grant, I implore, that through your prayers, your people will be enlightened by the truth which you taught, and they will obtain everlasting life. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
David was a true apostle, fondly remembered after 1500 years. he travelled the country, preaching and celebrating the Sacraments. His famous last advice to his followers was to ‘be faithful in the little things’; advice we could all usefully take to heart.
He was a vegetarian if not a vegan, so today we can enjoy a Leek and Potato gratin in his honour, though he would not have known potatoes, and would have eaten cheese only out of politeness. He did not condemn others who ate meat and dairy, but abstained from them as an act of penance; Lent all the year round. But today is a Feast Day, a day to celebrate in his honour.
We pray that our personal relationship with Jesus Christ be nourished by the Word of God and a life of prayer.
That’s Pope Francis’s intention. Perhaps we could recall when Jesus gave some clear advice on how to pray. We see him doing just what he advises when we read the Gospels.
And when ye pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, that love to stand and pray in the synagogues and corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men: Amen I say to you, they have received their reward.But thou when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee.And when you are praying, speak not much, as the heathens. For they think that in their much speaking they may be heard. Be not you therefore like to them, for your Father knoweth what is needful for you, before you ask him. Thus therefore shall you pray:
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.