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Word from Wormingford

29 June 2012

We should appreciate what grows under our feet, says Ronald Blythe

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 incomparable grasses.

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 homage.

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"?

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