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Word from Wormingford

12 April 2013

Ronald Blythe is on duty in the garden - and in the house

THERE is quite a lot of noise about silence at the moment. Quietness suits me better. Silence cuts out the wind in the plum trees, Mozart, etc. Is quietness the diminutive of silence? Not to me. It is too great for that. Dean Swift said that the best doctors in the world were Doctor Diet, Doctor Quiet, and Doctor Merryman. Not that I take my quiet medicinally. It lies around me in various states of non-noisiness, which are broken now and then by the white cat falling off a radiator.

I am doing duty in the long walk, a three-hour job once a year, when the winter litter is raked up and the spring grass made ready for the mower. All kinds of destinations lead from it: for my badgers, the way to the boundary stream; for me, the way out. I try not to stick to the narrow way so as to avoid making a bare patch. A couple of cuts and the long walk will deserve being written in capitals. But not yet. Though the grass is green. The badgers snout about in it for worms.

Such winter-spring skies; such rowdy birds travelling across them, blown-about gulls and the like. Such shafts of sunshine. Yet an April quietness prevails. And the clean grass looks hopeful.

Soon, I must come in and correct some proofs. To do this, I must stop reading, and follow the text line by line. This is a nice, mechanical task that takes ages, and that cannot be hurried. And is best done in silence, or at least quietly. The study clock ticks through the sentences and would miss out tea, given a chance.

Now and then I think of popes, archbishops, etc., settling in, hang- ing up their new clothes, staring at their new names on the envelopes, trying out their new blessings in the mirror. St Jerome said: "The face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart." He also said, reading Ephesians: "Never look a gift horse in the mouth."

So, what must I read, with Easter passed? With my proofs done? With the birds kicking up a row? With the angel announcing Mary's pregnancy? With bluebells budding in Arger Fen? With the long walk looking a treat?

First, I must finish William Morris's Icelandic Journals, which are not as cold as they sound. Warm-hearted, in fact. He was 37, and losing his wife to Dante Gabriel Rossetti; so, drawn by the sagas to an unlikely destination, he set sail for - Iceland. And its surprising flowers. Famous as the author of The Earthly Paradise, he was received by the Icelanders with honour and love.

The Victorians journeyed to Iceland in order to find a society nobler than their own. Not a paradise, necessarily, but a better place than Dickens's Britain, and its gross materialism. Morris arrived there in July 1871. Now read on. He returned two months later: "So there I was in London at last, well washed, and finding nobody I cared for dead," and his head full of flowers, and his pockets full of diary, and his heart full of Socialism - a dear, great, still young man. "Topsy" to his friends, and an antidote to our current thinking.

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