Ronald Blythe waits in the dark and cold for the sun to rise
THE weatherman proclaims an amazing sunrise. I cannot recall him saying this before. At the moment, the window frames total darkness. It is 6 a.m. Not a person to miss a touch of glory, however, I keep my eye on the outside. A Stansted-bound plane hovers in view, moving like the Epiphany star, brightly, delib¬erately, to its rightful destination. Then an even darker darkness. It will be a long time before the promised splendour.
There is a slight frost. Not at all like the one in Coleridge’s poem. He is in his 20s, in the cottage at Nether Stowey. It is glory time, too. His wife has gone to bed. The fire in the grate is no more than a flutter. He rocks the cradle and promises his baby son a glorious life. Outside:
The frost performs its secret ministry
Unhelped by any wind. . .
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings. . .
Long ago, I sat in that same room, stilled by its confusion of privacy and fame as the youthful father’s eyes turned from his child to his page. I now wait for the sunrise in an older, larger room that faces due east. Some say that the old people preferred to live in this direction as disease came from the south. Possibly it was because the wells and ponds were polluted by the summer heat. Or it could have been a religious thing. We still lie east to west in our graves.
Gradually, taking its time, reminding itself that it is Phoebus making his entrance, the sun comes up over the barn, a truly fantastic sight, all golden lances and display, shooting radiance everywhere. And at 8 a.m. precisely. It throws everything before it into silhouette.
As this house creaks in the intense cold, Coleridge promises his son a country life for all seasons — one where God is “the Great Universal Teacher”. Outside my ancient farmhouse, the scene quietens down, as it were. Gold becomes yellow; black grows green; shadows become familiar objects.
My Epiphany sermons take in the Dark Ages, which, as we now know, were not dark at all. Think of the light of Sutton Hoo. But, before Christ, there was this melancholy, this northern-Europe fatalism, this lack of conviction that the spring and summer would return. This acceptance of Valhalla as a mead hall in which only the brave in this life had entrance.
The theme brought me back to the naming of England, where eventually the raiders would settle, grow corn, follow a star. They were called Angles because they came from an angle-shaped province in Germany. Angle-land became England. Except here, where both dawn and sunsets are part of a unique climate of what is still called East Anglia.
Another little boy lies sleeping, as intellectuals as well as ordinary folk peer down at him. A young clergyman writes an Epiphany hymn in his son’s exercise-book. It is “Brightest and best of the sons of the morning”