ALL SOULS. “Have you a soul?” I ask the white cat. We stare at each other enigmatically. I read out the names of the departed in two churches, filling the pews. The rains have blown themselves out, and we are engulfed in a stillness that fits the service.
All Souls is a Benedictine remembrance from the tenth century, sombre and sad. It used to contain the tragic Dies Irae sequence, which may now be omitted from the masses for the dead. Our village dead, I feel, are far from wrath. Phillip, Gordon, Joan, all of them, are with God. So I commend them to his infinite love. Pages and pages of them.
The altar candles waver. I preach on that most symbolically used ordinary vessel in the Bible — the pot. What is it that tells the archaeologist most about human history, fragmented or whole, domestic or in the Palissy or Bernard Leach class? The pot.
The potter is his Maker. God made him out of clay, and he deals with clay, fashioning it with his hands, spinning it on his wheel (like Brenda sitting opposite me in the choir, who is our potter), and firing it. “We are in God’s hands as clay in the potter’s hand,” said Jeremiah.
There were claypits all around us when we were children, brickyards where they made the famous Suffolk Whites. Clay flowers such as coltsfoot grew in them. The remoulding of ourselves has always been an ambition. Omar Khayyám, that poet of the pot, wrote:
Ah, Love! could Thou and I with
To grasp this sorry Scheme of
Would not we shatter it to bits —
Re-mould it nearer to the
Edward FitzGerald, his translator, once lived just down the lane from me. His was an odd, lovable life. When he died, they put on his gravestone: “It is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves.” Maiden-hair grasses and dog daisies blew all around it. No Dies Irae thundered through his earthly existence, just genius and gossip.
It has been book-signing time, and I have travelled to foreign parts — Powys and Norfolk — writing “With kind wishes” or “With love” to strangers and friends. Yellow leaves stuck to car windows, and the tarmac shone.
It was late at night when Richard Mabey drove through Thetford forest, braking now and then to glimpse a deer. We talked shop. The huge comfort of old friendships. The big car hissed in the darkness. Polly and I quoted old East Anglican saws. “I went all the way to Swaffham to do a day’s thrarshin’.” . . . Midnight cocoa and then bed. And back to Bottengoms in torrential rain.
After, or between, All Souls, matins and evensong, I got the ladder out and tidied up the vine. You strip the long stalks off in November, and cut back to the third bud in January, when the sap is low. A handful of soggy grapes still hung from it.
This south wall is so high that I have to use the extension ladder. And the afternoon is so gloomy that I have to take care not to cut my telephone off. Pots tumble about in my head. God’s creation goes beyond its basic materials, I decide. A pot may be made of clay, but it becomes more than clay. The divine Potter sees to that. I hope I will remember these brilliant thoughts by the time I get to church.