around during lockdown, we came to Saint Stephen’s church. Many years ago we came here regularly for Roman Catholic Mass. Today the church, like all churches, is closed, but not the churchyard. We found one stone with a passionflower, bottom centre of the disc, amid roses, a morning glory (?) and others that must have meant something to the bereaved husband. There are oak leaves and acorns in the triangular panels below the disc.
This verse is my best reading of the damaged inscription. It speaks of hope.
A happy world, a glorious place Where all who are forgiven Shall find their loved and best beloved And hearts like meeting streams that flow For everyone in heaven.
HDGB is working from home in East London, so walks are often on city pavements, but not without blessings and rewards. This view is changed since Francis Thompson wrote The Kingdom of God. He was deeply wounded by life and in his homeless days was all too acquainted with the \London’s pavements.
O WORLD invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!
Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air—
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumour of thee there?
Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!—
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.
The angels keep their ancient places;—
Turn but a stone, and start a wing!
Tis ye, ‘tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.
But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry;—and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.
Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry,—clinging Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water
Not of Gennesareth, but Thames!
There’s a virus about, so maybe we don’t want to look at skulls or gravestones right now. But Henry Brown of this town (Fordwich near Canterbury) has some fine lettering above his plot as well as the two skulls. Whatever else was wrong in England in January 1720/1, there were skilled stonemasons about, and they needed no W.B. Yeats to urge them to cast a cold eye on death.
The date 1720/1 does not indicate that the mason did not know exactly when Henry Brown left his town. It just shows the confusion that prevailed between England and Continental Europe in the years between Pope Gregory XIII introducing the calendar that bears his name in 1582 and its adoption by Britain in 1752. Although the Gregorian was more accurate and sorted out most of the slippage between the earth’s year and the calendar year, the British were not going to accept this crazy, Catholic, continental innovation. Not in 1720/1 anyway.
Why was I in Fordwich? Despite the virus, I’m still allowed exercise and I was preparing the way for a L’Arche pilgrimage, and Fordwich to Canterbury is the last 5 km stage. No major hazards is the good news!
Under bare Ben Bulben’s head In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid, An ancestor was rector there Long years ago; a church stands near, By the road an ancient Cross. No marble, no conventional phrase, On limestone quarried near the spot By his command these words are cut:
Cast a cold eye On life, on death. Horseman, pass by!
(from “Sappho: One Hundred Lyrics” by Bliss Carman)
I’m not sure I agree with the last three lines, but perhaps it is up to us to be audacious and visit some of those who lack the warmth of human contact; the elderly should not depend on memory’s long thoughts alone to warm their hearts.
Mrs Turnstone came in from her night shift and went to bed, but a few minutes later I heard the floorboards creak in the back bedroom. As ever of late, the wood pigeons and collared doves were filling the air, keeping her awake. I was reminded of Robert Frost’s Minor Bird:
I have wished a bird would fly away, And not sing by my house all day;
Have clapped my hands at him from the door When it seemed as if I could bear no more.
The fault must partly have been in me. The bird was not to blame for his key.
And of course there must be something wrong In wanting to silence any song.
We, the half-barrel group of gardeners at L’Arche Kent – had been looking forward to the Big Bird Watch since Christmas, so it was good to gather again at the Glebe to see who might fly in.
The moorhen just walked in from the river alongside, otherwise the rest flew in. Four robins were twice as many as we might have hoped for. The bird table must be shared territory, but one of them was prepared to chase all comers – except his mate – from the feeder by the river gate. Even the bird table was only grudgingly shared and there were a few ruffled feathers when three or four robins were there together: rights to the table had to be asserted!
There were at least seven sparrows, that being the most we saw at any one time. I think that was more than last year. The highlight for L and G was seeing a pair of dunnocks. They managed the feeder but were happier pecking about on the ground. But two dunnocks were two more than last year, and they were too shy to present themselves for the photoshoot a couple of days later.
What else? blue tits, great tit, wood pigeon and collared doves, blackbirds, and a blue-green Kubaburra bird-man flapping his wings and frightening the others away.
Having fed the birds, the humans fed themselves and looked forward to a new season of gardening. Watch the weather and watch this space!
Mrs Turnstone and I find ourselves at the water’s edge in Wales. We should mark Dylan’s Birthday! These are the last three stanza’s of his birthday ‘Poem in October.’
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
Streamed again a wonder of summer
Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child's
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
Through the parables
And the legends of the green chapels
And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
These were the woods the river and the sea
Where a boy
In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
And the mystery
Still in the water and singing birds.
And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.
It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
O may my heart's truth
Still be sung
On this high hill in a year's turning.
May each one of us find the child’s key to heaven that opened the gate for Dylan that day when he whispered the truth of his joy.
Views of Laugharne, where Dylan walked.
I hope you can listen to Dylan reading the poem here:
The Holy of Holies refers of course to the innermost chamber of the Temple in Jerusalem – and before that in the tent that went through the desert with the Israelites. Blake reminded us that God is present in a grain of sand; here is Chesterton meeting him on a Spring morning. These cowslips are growing in pastureland, where sheep will safely graze later in the year. We were told that the farmer seeded the field with wild flowers. Thank you to him!
‘Elder father, though thine eyes Shine with hoary mysteries, Canst thou tell what in the heart Of a cowslip blossom lies?’
‘Smaller than all lives that be, Secret as the deepest sea, Stands a little house of seeds, Like an elfin’s granary,
‘Speller of the stones and weeds, Skilled in Nature’s crafts and creeds, Tell me what is in the heart Of the smallest of the seeds.’
‘God Almighty, and with Him Cherubim and Seraphim, Filling all eternity— Adonai Elohim.’
The scattering of white feathers showed where a black-headed gull had been killed; the corpse lay a couple of feet away, the breast picked almost clean by the second bird, the sparrowhawk who has become quite familiar in this part of town. Satisfied with its meal, it had flown away already.
The third bird was totally unconcerned by this drama, and a real surprise on Abbot’s Hill. Sitting on a stump nearby: a smart, robin-like creature which was indeed a stonechat. I don’t recall seeing one locally before but he was singing as if he owned the place and had no intention of going west to the old brown hills. I feel sure he will though.
It’s a warm wind, the west wind, full of birds’ cries; I never hear the west wind but tears are in my eyes. For it comes from the west lands, the old brown hills. And April’s in the west wind, and daffodils.