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Word from Wormingford

by
17 November 2010

Leaves are under Ronald Blythe’s feet, and in his reading

DANK days. Mulch. Slanting rains. The first leaf-carpet is ash and aspen. The latter’s grand name is Populus tremula from the trees’ trem­bling in the wind, but now their music is reduced to a squelching under my feet. Scores of seagulls wheel fretfully over the hill, presumably searching for something better than horse leavings; for they rarely descend.

The atmosphere is richly sad — pensive. No humans about. Does the ancient farmland mourn its labourers? Just David now, who seeds and reaps it, slashes its hedges into shape with “the murderer”, and commands it from on high. Our faith, like most faiths, is drawn out of pastorality, out of agriculture, out of days like these, when mud and rottenness, wet feet, and cold hands had to meet as part of the bargain.

A dizzy climber on the east wall breaks its strings and falls flat, which allows me to give it a good back and sides before tying by the door. My ladder sinks before settling, as we all must, I suppose. (You see what a wet November afternoon does to the spirit.)

Tugging off my boots, I might read a favourite Barbara Pym, A Few Green Leaves. She wrote this lively novel on her deathbed, and when she was writing to me about the recep­tion of T. S. Eliot into the Church of England, which took place in her village church on 29 June 1917, St Peter’s Day. It was Finstock, Oxford­shire, Barbara’s own church. Here the doors were locked before Tom had the waters of regeneration poured over his head in the presence of his godfathers, B. H. Streeter and Vere Somerset.

Barbara thought that the following lines from “Little Gidding” might refer to this mighty episode in the Church of England:

Thus, love of a country
Begins as attachment to our own
field of action
And comes to find that action of
little importance
Though never indifferent.
History may be servitude,
History may be freedom. See,
now they vanish,
The faces and places, with the self
which, as it could, loved them,
To become renewed, transfigured,
in another pattern.

Thus, love of a country
Begins as attachment to our own
field of action
And comes to find that action of
little importance
Though never indifferent.
History may be servitude,
History may be freedom. See,
now they vanish,
The faces and places, with the self
which, as it could, loved them,
To become renewed, transfigured,
in another pattern.

In A Few Green Leaves, Tom the Rector finds Miss Lee “doing what she called ‘her’ brasses”. He also finds, to his shame, that the lectern is not brass but oak, and that al­though he had been in the parish for years, he had noticed the polishing but not what was being polished. Did Miss Lee sometimes regret that it was not a brass lectern? “Oh, no, Rector, I love that old wooden bird, and I love polishing it. A brass one may look more brilliant, but wood can be very rewarding, you know. . .”

Our lectern at Wormingford is made of wood, and was carved by Joliffe Tufnell, our squire. Should this eagle fly off, it would be out of the north door. It is a mighty creature, fully armorial, non-benign, and heavy with message. The Authorised Version is spread on it, and shortish people have to mount a box to read it. A microphone carries its lessons near and far.

Mr Clegg is the gamekeeper in A Few Green Leaves, and one is grate­ful for it. There are no flying bishops, only flying words, not all of them kind. The dark afternoon falters and streaky yellow bands are coldly illuminating for an hour or so.

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