"FOR, lo, the winter is past, the rain
is over and gone," Brian reads, bringing me up with a start, for
these are the words I had carved on John Nash's tombstone. But
lichen is eating them up. Not that the artist would have minded.
His gardening friend brought a great spray of blossom to his
funeral, but took it back home afterwards.
These rites soon become fragmentary,
these graves indecipherable. It is as it should be. Massive
Georgian memorials rise from the mown grass and tell us nothing.
Today's marble tells us what The Churchyards
Handbook says, little more. Hart's tongue takes refuge in the
crevices of a table-tomb so that the mower won't get at it.
At Little Horkesley, I meet a teenager
in a crash helmet laying flowers on his father's neat mound. "He
was 40," he tells me. "So young," I reply. "Yes, so young," echoes
the helmet. A motorbike lolls by the hedge.
As the poets have said, a country
churchyard - and in every country - is still the most contemplative
spot on earth. Dust to lichen, to thought, to acceptance.
The other garden, the one with runner
beans and bedraggled roses, is drying itself out. I read No
Name by Wilkie Collins in it, an amazing novel, set in
Aldeburgh, and a lesson to us all. The parents of Magdalen and
Norah have for- gotten to change their will; so all the money goes
to an uncle. Norah does nothing, but Magdalen does everything she
can, fair and foul, to get it back.
It was written in a tall clapboarded
house a few yards from the sea - and only a few steps from a little
balconied cottage where Margery Sharp wrote The Foolish
Gentlewoman. Everywhere, fugitive, compelling fiction is
created. Late in the evening, I would pass Sharp's balcony and see
her in the lamplight smoking a cigarette, or playing cards with her
husband at a little table, the day's work done.
My day's work is far from done, and I
close No Name with a jolt. Just because there is no one
here to tell me, that doesn't mean that this is not the time to
A long way off, the athletes have been
strenuous, and the City negative. I turn to music. There was a time
in this old farmhouse when if you wanted music, you had to sing a
song. I put on Herbert Howells - the music he wrote for his little
dead son. It is seriously beautiful, not so much sad as elatedly
tragic. And profoundly English.
I look in the lectionary for what I
have to say and do on Sunday. And think. It says Jeremy Taylor,
Florence Nightingale, and the Blessed Virgin Mary. It says: "Take
your pick." It says that the long, long Sundays of Trinity are with
us at last. It says you preached on that last year. One altar
candle will burn up, and the other will hardly burn at all.
But light will fall on Jane Austen's
great-aunt's slab in the sanctuary. A second marriage brought her
here and out of her way. Not that she would have read her niece's
novels. She went too soon for that.
I plead, for the chancel-bound
collection of us, God's defence, he being the author of peace.