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Word from Wormingford

14 September 2012

Ronald Blythe takes an unknown road, and is pleasantly surprised

HUMAN hollering is in fine voice. People are paying good money to shout. And now the American election roars away. What do other creatures make of it? I put this question to the white cat, no one else being around. She answers it with her exquisite silence. Stadium sound is historic. One must include the House of Commons in this, and also, most pulsatingly, Welsh rugby.

For me, it has always been voices off. The Olympics have raised yelling to the heights. I cannot imagine joining in - although one never knows. To reach our town cemetery, I have to cross the Roman amphitheatre, where 20,000 ticket-holders, they tell me, once hollered for all they were worth.

The garden, too, is unruly, since it is mid-September. It is doing what it likes. The old seat grows moss, the beds anything they fancy. Sweetpeas rise above it. Such scent, such quietness. But convolvulus, too, climbs whatever happens to fade beside it: hollyhock stems, seedy daisies, a gaunt rose. We all need something to hold on to.

Here, it is pick-your-own blackberries. A big bowl of them raw for dinner, plus cream. I whet Roger's scythe, and lay the orchard grass low. The immortal rise and fall of all things - what a relief to know this. At village funerals, I omit the skin worms, but never the grass in Psalm 90. The words are so beautiful that it is almost worth dying to experience them. When one is very old, one passes through medicine to philosophy, and through faith to acceptance.

Speaking of passing, what a lot one misses by not taking a turning. Last Sunday, we turned off the familiar Cambridge road to a handful of parishes that were as new to me as some territory in the wilds of Italy. Villages with lovely names: Weston Colville, Westley Waterless.

We had come to pay homage to a rustic poet, James Withers, and in his own church. Twin elderly sisters had arranged wild flowers in it. Deep lanes in undulating fields. Late sunshine. Evensong, perfectly, although a little uncertainly, sung. Intercessions with profound pauses from the back. All as it should be.

I spoke from the pulpit on John Clare, the finest of all village voices. And read his nightingale poem to the most apprehensive of birds. In it, a boy longing to see its nest creeps through the undergrowth, nearer and nearer to where it sings; not like John Keats's nightingale, in palaces, but in a thicket.

How curious is the nest. No other
Uses such loose materials or
Their dwellings in such spots:
  dead oaken leaves
Are placed without, and velvet
  moss within,
And little scraps of grass - and
  scant and spare
Of what seems scarce materials,
  down and hair. . .

A funny year for fruit: almost no Victoria plums; tiny blackberries; few apples. But, surprisingly, considering the rain and the last-minute sun, pretty good corn. And now this hot September, with novels and a drink on the wobbly garden table, and giant convolvulus winding its way up Duncan's generator to the stars.

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