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Word from Wormingford

27 September 2013

Ronald Blythe delights in the natural world, as St Francis did

"THE hunt will be coming by on Monday," Stephen says. I do not tell the white cat. Sufficient unto the day, etc. It makes her tremble all over - the very sound of it.

My old friend from the British Museum comes to matins. I am to show him the Earls of Oxford's tombs in St Stephen's Chapel - Countesses, too - all in alabaster state, although their dust is elsewhere. Their name is de Vere - boar. Before this, I take matins at Little Horkesley, where those who sang to God in the Middle Ages sleep beneath our feet. Dust, dust. And angel voices ever singing. And the long, long days of Trinity, neither feast-day nor fast.

I preach on "Brother Nature", having witnessed quite suddenly our stripped fields, not having heard so much as a far combine humming to the sky. In 1225 (when the Earls of Oxford were setting the carvers to work on their tombs), St Francis, a different kind of patrician, sat in his Assisi garden and wrote a hymn to nature, calling it "Brother Sun and his Creatures", as he related himself to the natural world.

His family tree was the oak or ash or dark cypress. He was brother to the flowers, to the birds, to the hares. Like his Lord, Francis had moved away from the concept of the natural world's being a larder for the benefit of humanity to the concept of its being a related family.

Inherent in Christ's experience of his countryside is his wonder and delight in it. The crops, the blooms, the scenery, the creatures. He was much outside all his life, now and then complainingly so. He picks and chews corn as he walks, and as we did as Suffolk children. We ate fresh hawthorn buds, and called them bread and cheese. We gnawed raw carrots. We were the inheritors of glut when it came to fallen plums. We pretended to enjoy crab apples. Best of all, we drank from the spring waters, a hilly meadow stream near our home, and paddled in them, our white feet startling tiny fish.

All this came to mind when I reached up to feel if my Victorias were ready. Just about. And the greengages - pick now! Aiden keeps the late-summer grass in order, and will shortly scythe the seedy overgrowth. After which the nuts will fall - what the birds have left of them. Cherry trees pale before St Stephen's Chapel, where the Earls sleep. Drizzle masks the famous view. Duncan's white barn guides me to Bottengoms Farm, from here no more than a smudge.

I am standing where the teenage Edmund stood for his coronation. It was Christmas Day. And they had all climbed Cuckoo Hill - singing, of course. Some carol about the Lord Jesus, and his coming into the world. After which there would have been a feast, and much kneeling to the boy God and the boy king. And incense, not Mr Rix's onions, although I rather like the way that they have scented the Stour Valley. Short-term economy has scattered it with pylons, alas.

The little river is lost in its fading summer growth, just giving a glitter here and there. The harvest fields have been raked and freshly seeded. Never a pause. Lots of duck and geese in echelon flight. According to Francis, they are my relatives. Benedicite creatures.

The poet Thomas Traherne insisted that we should want God's creation, should desire it - be greedy for it.

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