DAWN, and I am listening to
the third movement of its chorus. Should I rise and shine, or
think? Scatterings of this and that fill my head. Queen Victoria
used to say that religion made one think of what otherwise one
would not think of. I am actually thinking of another hot day. The
willows crack in anticipation. The chorus breaks off suddenly into
silence. The little stream takes over.
What happened yesterday? I
opened the fête in the next village - the one in which Selina,
Countess of Huntingdon, opened a chapel for her Connexion. The
friend who has been introducing me as the fête-opener now lives in
it, and has gravestones in his garden. Lady Huntingdon decided
that, as a peeress, she had a right to appoint as many Church of
England chaplains as she liked.
She certainly appointed my
old friend Gordon's farm to subsidise this chapel. When the Scots
came down from Ayrshire before the First World War, they preferred
it to the parish church. But the strict Methodists built themselves
a tin chapel. It was painted pale green.
But should I get up? These
ramblings are unseemly. Also, I can hear the white cat at the door,
like a starving man at the gate. The big thing this week has been
to keep out the tennis - or much of it. As mother used to say,
infuriatingly: "It is only a game, dear." The result of such
dispar- agement is that I have never quite learned the rules of any
game. But the aesthetic look of the courts - provided they are not
filled with howling ladies - the skill and the beauty of the
players, not to mention their ferocity, are a pendant to summer.
Like strawberries for breakfast.
They are haymaking at
Duncan's. Their little French dog rushes about in ecstasy, and the
cry of the girls calling him echoes through the valley.
It is later now, and I am
thinking of what to say at the John Clare Festival next weekend.
This is my favourite literary pilgrimage. We shall set off at 7.30
for Helpston, once in Northamptonshire, now in Cambridgeshire, and
with miles of motorway en route. Our East Anglian plaster
will turn to Barnack stone. The sky will be different - or appear
to be. But Helpston will be the same, as will the Clare followers -
a few Japanese; for Edmund Blunden, the great rural poet's first
20th- century disciple, taught there.
What I like is the way that
what is profoundly parochial becomes universal. Like the teaching
of Jesus. He took both the language and the wonders of the temple
into the lanes and fields, joining them to his stories, and often
on a morning like this, when birdsong fades and a sun like a
burning glory rises quickly in the east.
Crowds simmer in the heat,
immense gatherings under the sun. I preached on them to a
chancel-size congregation. It was cool in church. Four hymns for a
matins handful. The collect that says: "O God, who hast prepared
for them that love thee such good things as pass man's
understanding," and old, blind Mrs Leach, in her new grave by the
door. I had preached on "crowds" and on blind men in a crowd.
"What do you want me to do
"Sir, we want our sight."