Word from Wormingford
Ronald Blythe defies warnings, and enjoys the harvest weather
WHAT an early October! I have given myself up to it. Let Robert and Stephanie, the Angels of Mammon, pour out their dire warnings, I cannot understand what they are saying anyway.
I have sat in the sun. I have read poems and books about butterflies. David rang to say that he has been haymaking in Buckinghamshire, and I have crunched over the warm dry mast from my oak trees, picked quinces, and seen the 7.40 flight of the Stour Valley geese.
Harvest Festivals loom. Phyllida will have saved a sheaf from the dusty threshed field to focus our gratitude. Archdeacon Annette will mount our pulpit. There will be an anthem. And God will “restore the voice of joy and health unto our dwellings”. Thus “We offer unto thy Divine Majesty the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, lauding and magnifying thy glorious Name for such thy preservation and providence over us.”
When the Essex and Suffolk Hunt ran through Bottengoms like a horse-and-hound river, ecstatic, noisy, the white cat took to the trees. Since when she has dozed on a brick pier, gazing down on me with green eyes as I tidy the dying beds, a kind of feline Simeon Stylites, or pillar ascetic.
Simeon started low, but gradually built his pillar up to 40 cubits, and there he sat for years and years, preoccupied with adoration, and looking down on lesser beings. All this in the cause of Chalcedonian orthodoxy. The white cat descends fast at the mere hint of food. Or love. Late roses act as censors.
Friends are terribly ill as their time runs out. They buy plots and choose hymns. The autumn warmth creeps into their rooms. “It must be nice outside.” Fresh flowers and unread books on the table. “How about a nice little drink?” Oh, yes. When to arrive, when to leave.
I have been listening to Hildegard of Bingen, her voice as soaring as ever it was after close on 1000 years. We heard it in an ancient church where it climbed around the Norman brickwork and out into the evening air, the girl singing it rapt and beautiful. Nothing dies, the song says. I was actually sitting below a plaque I had unveiled years ago — but to whom? I have to read it to find out.
Joaquim telephones from Berlin. He is preparing for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. There will be crowds in the synagogue, and fasting, and thrilling singing by the cantor. He sounds happy and busy. He designs gardens and rides a motorbike. What is the weather like? “Gorgeous.”
I imagine the late sun on the face of the Lord, as he picks and nibbles corn. Corn is instantly understood, but manna means “What is it?” We walked through prickly harvest fields when we were children in Suffolk. The heat and rough going wore us out. We were not tall enough to walk in this way. “Catch up!” the grown-ups would cry. We disturbed larks, and the dog crashed ahead.
The church was like a green¬grocer’s. Nothing merely symbolic. Just “Plenty”. Grapes swinging from the oil-lamp brackets, apples tumbling, marrows like airships. Brown eggs in hay nests. Home-made wine, elderberry — very heady. And the last congregations to be aching with toil. There was this rich smell of produce, of locality.