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Word from wormingford

14 June 2013

In the early morning, Ronald Blythe makes plans - and dreams

"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 order.

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 warm furze."

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.

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