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Word from Wormingford

09 November 2012

Ronald Blythe tidies up ready for Christmas, and hears a confession

ALL HALLOWS. A furtive sun, a drift of, mercifully, unblemished ash-leaves. They sail across the study window, semi-shrivelled and blotched like old hands. But the rose John Clare flowers, and a yucca promises to, any minute now. Which is unwise of it. The season is both lively and deathly. Winter wheat is ruled across the fields down by the Stour. And, to maintain the geographic pattern, echelons of geese fly over the old roof as regular as clockwork.

My old farmer neighbour, a Framlingham boy, has died. His sons are into onions in a big way. Strings of them, red and white, dangle in my larder. Enough to last a year. I have taken the tender plants in from the frost, scythed the orchard, and am about to tidy up, in a fashion. For nothing approaching neatness will be accomplished until after Christmas. At the moment "The King of Glory passes on his way."

James, from the University, arrives, to confess that he does not write letters. He emails. Sloth, of course. He devours cake. Never? He shakes his head, and I shake mine. I point to two shelves of Letters in my library, and there he is, a professor, without a letter to his name. A succession of visitors make their way down the muddy track, and are granted audience. The white cat sits on them in turn, dribbling with joy. The village is pensive. The surface of the lanes shines. The hedges are machine-cut to within an inch of their lives. They are what is called a parallel universe.

But the water beneath the bridge swirls about any old how on the surface, though with deep, dark thoughts. Another fall, another bitter time to come. This is where Widermund kept the ford. I see him as one of those St Christopher young men, splashing across shallow rivers with dace and carp swimming between his legs. He would have waded a dozen steps from Suffolk to Essex, heard the watermill, witnessed the kingfisher. "Do you keep a diary?" I ask the letterless teacher. He shakes his head. "Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host."

Ladies appear to sell me a poppy. People on the telly wear them weeks before Remembrance Sunday. Why is this? It seems more to do with respectability than with mourning.

Last Sunday, I preached on Amos, a hero of mine. An unlicensed preacher, this young fruit-farmer from Tekoa had the nerve to "lift his voice". He lifted it against liturgy and contentment, against national happiness. God said: "Prophesy unto my people."

"He showed me a basket of summer fruit and said: 'Amos, what do you see?' And I said: 'A basket of summer fruit.' And God said: 'The end is come upon my people.'" We hear the sadness in his voice.

Summer fruit ends the orchard year. Only this year, there was no fruit. Not a pear, not a plum. I imagined Amos and God in the sycamore fig orchard. A burst of October wind rattled my trees. Now and then, civilisation begins to crumble, and an unprofessional person says what has to be done. And those in power say: "Who gives him leave to speak?"

God tells his orchardman, "I will smite the winter house with the summer house. . . I will not hear the melody of your viols. . . I despise your feast days." This was too much for the high priest. He told Amos to go where he couldn't hear him and prophesy there. Minor prophets can be a trial, especially when they write so well.


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