"LIVE this day as if it were thy last," commands the old hymn.
As its author, Thomas Ken, wrote it for schoolboys, one may
emphasise its hopefulness rather than its likelihood.
I have always been a fan of the morning, rain or shine. Waking
up early, getting up early, is among my treats. I feed the white
cat, take tea to guests, do not listen to spoilers such as the
News, never watch television, but exist in a kind of tumult of
plans and dreams which only chores manage to keep in some sort of
And, contrary to Ken's advice, I live the day in the expectancy
of a great many days like it, being far too old to "improve my
talent" - or anything else, for that matter.
The garden is heavy with lilac and may, mown grass, and fresh
water, the latter pouring without stop to the river. The old rooms
are still where once they would have been turbulent with farm
children rush-ing to breakfast and then across the meadows to the
village school. The windows are open wide to birdsong.
According to Ken, I should be hearing the night's angels still
singing in full voice. And I must "guard my first springs of
thought and will". Or am I too ancient for this? Or can I not
include myself, even now, in the morning's newness? Is not this the
secret of living?
Also, I have to create a Songs of Praise service for the Mount
Bures fête and flower service. "No hurry, but if we could have it
by tomorrow." I stay enchanted with this event. With the
tree-covered mount, or mott; with the meadows tumbling towards
another river; with - I hope - the harebells having escaped the
mower. Decade after decade, I lecture the churchyard keeper on the
glory of the Mount Bures harebells by the vestry door.
Harebells, Campanula rotundifolia, are more pagan than
Christian, they say. But never mind. The patch of them in Mount
Bures churchyard is a sight to be seen. This, some say, is the
bluebell of Scotland. As late as October, the poet John Clare found
it in bloom. "Took a walk in the fields - gathered a bunch of
wildflowers that lingered in sheltered places as loath to die - the
ragwort still shines in its yellow clusters - and the little heath
bell or harvest bell quakes to the wind under the quick bank and
So it may quake to the wind for ever at Mount Bures - a witch
flower, admittedly, but to men, not God. And blueing the turf where
the parish buries its priests.
Swallows, and Tom's little plane swoop overhead. But mostly the
sky is an enamelled featureless cobalt from an Italian nativity. No
hay-making as yet - no activity in any direction. A string of
walkers make a magpie descent towards me, then swing north.
I write a sermon on my knee for Wormingford matins, drop off,
come to, become bright, grow incoherent, and am reprehended by Ken.
"Improve thy talent with due care." It is a bit late for that.
My old ash tree groans: "I shouldn't wonder that I don't fall on
your head one of these days." My neighbours' bees from south and
east are ravishing my borders, are classically industrious. I watch
them idly. Observance is my occupation, I tell myself.
"Direct, control, suggest, this day," Ken tells his God. I like
the "suggest". It leaves room for the imagination.