A FEW yards to the right, along the
ancient road, just before you reach the high-rise accommodation for
the mining bees, there arrives, June by June, a paradise of
grasses. Not a patch of grass such as mad kings -Nebuchadnezzar -
and mad poets - John Clare - devoured, but a few yards of
It is not a sin, however, to know
nothing about grasses. Even members of the Wild Flower Society,
such as myself, feel little shame in seeing "grass", and not
grasses. Only, it is a pity.
And here, on the edge of the dead rape
field, are these tall grasses, each one marvellously distinctive if
only I paused to see them. In next to no time, Jonathan, the grim
reaper, will be having their heads. But today I will get out my
Grasses, Sedges, Rushes and Ferns book, and brush up my
Monocotyledones/Gramineae; for the residents of this patch deserve
Scripture is full of "grass", but
empty of identity. Its highest use of it is a philosophy for death.
Never mind the living glory of my bank: we "fade away suddenly like
the grass. In the morning it is green, and groweth up: but in the
evening it is cut down, dried up and withered."
This imagery was spoken countless
times on the lawn-like surface of our churchyard grass, and,
somehow, it remains comforting. The grim reaper turns into the
natural pastoralist. At home, I mow the long walk, making lines.
But under the fruit trees, grasses, sedges, rushes, and ferns grow
tall until September.
On the table, some of them plead for
identification. "My name is not 'grass', but Great Brome, Orange
Foxtail, Sweet Vernal, Bearded Fescue, Darnel, Quaking, Meadow,
Bent, Feather, Silky - I could go on . . ."
We have been to St Edmundsbury
Cathedral, which is about 24 miles away, to see a kind of grassy,
sedgey, rushy children's exhibition. If it doesn't take our breath
away, it makes us wonder. It is both fantastic and yet ordinary,
incredible and yet logical. Some notion was sown in their heads,
and then they were told to dream on. Is it an oriental view of
Suffolk, maybe? One that has to be made before you grow up? And the
size of it!
Outside, headstones sink or swim in
the great churchyard. Knotty lime trees reach for the sky. St
Edmund's dust could be here. He was 29 when he was turned into
England's Sebastian. I see him sprawling in summer grass, and
watching butterflies, listening to sheep-bells and letting his
silver crown tangle with eglantine. The raiders who slaughtered
him wanted half-shares in his kingdom, but he had refused. Or it
was something like that.
He was our "river prince", governing
the banks of the Brett, Lark, Blyth, Linnet, Stour, Orwell,
Waveney, Ouse, etc. Sedges and rushes galore. Mace, taller than
him. Water, water everywhere.
My friend David Porteous-Butler has
painted Bury St Edmunds, and we look at his pictures. The familiar
streets and towers are animate. A pub rocks with young people.
Trees admit sunshine. The town glitters, and is both new and
ancient, all at once. His palette knife gives edge to the scene.
Shall I, I muse, say at the next funeral, "We fade away suddenly
like Sweet Vernal"?