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Ronald Blythe makes a discovery while working on a wigwam

AND so at last it arrived, the warmth. It entered the trees and the rooms, it burst the lilacs, and turned the white cat upside-down. On the evening of its coming, I mowed the long walk until I could no longer see, just feel the bliss of it. I could hear badgers snuffling and grunting, bark creak¬ing, and late birds settling. It was too good to go in.

The other day, digging about, I exhumed an 18th-century pistol, its trigger cocked in the rust, a shred of its oaken butt intact. So, when my friend from the British Museum came to lunch, there was something worthy of his glance. He picked it up gingerly, and we heard it going off in c. 1750. So what was a farmer doing with such a weapon? I was making the runner-bean wigwam when it turned up, bold as brass, a duelling gun. Red rust now, not red blood.

In church, we had heard two lessons, which spoke of singing trees, and of the redeemed singing a new song. I preached on being young in Vézelay ages ago, and singing in the lovely basilica on the hilltop on Ascension Day, while the hirondelles swooped around crying, and a youth cooled the flagstones with a watering can.

Later, I looked through the gate of a garden where Colette’s mother, the peerless Sido, had taught her daughter to plant and sow, smell and gather. And all the time there was this Ascension warmth and song. I had sat all noontime on the wall that secured Vézelay to its hill, gossiping with some Jesuit students and staring over Burgundy. The past is so obliging. It offers itself in digestible amounts.

In church, they sang Aeterne Rex altissime, in which angels will “tremble when they see How changed is our humanity”. Like the gun from the bean bed, what comes to light is fragmental, yet shapely.

Among the first words of Acts are: “And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up and a cloud received him out of their sight.” This is the cloud of unknowing. An unknown author wrote a whole book about it in the Middle Ages. He describes what he calls “the blind stirring of love”, and of “hearing the happy music of the blessed”. He also tells us to take care not to put a cloud of forgetting between us and the natural world. And he doesn’t mean dementia. He means sloth. He takes us to task.

“Do not think that the cloud I am telling you about is the sort of cloud you see in the sky or the kind of darkness you know at home when the light is out. . . By darkness I mean a lack of unknowing between you and God.” The unknown — and fascinating — writer is dealing with visions of both the natural and mystical universe. It is St Paul’s misty Roman glass.

Never so many fields of rape. The world is Van Gogh from horizon to horizon. The long rains have made it very tall, and extra yellow. Skylarks mount from hidden barenesses in¬side it. And never such wildflowers open to the sun. The Lower Bottoms, filled with little swollen streams, are another yellow.

And then, of course, there is the may — dense, dizzy-making, sump¬tuous, and mind-blowing. Grand¬mother wouldn’t have it in the house. Or lilac (“lalocs”). Big pots of it stand in the ancient kitchen to cen¬sor it. To make me think of Walt Whitman’s poem.

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