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Word from Wormingford

29 November 2013

For Ronald Blythe, silent, wheeling seagulls call the Holy Spirit to mind

GULLS are so meditative. Not the greedy, noisy ones I used to see at Aldeburgh, but those on my hill field, who wheel in silence over what remains of the horse feed. This for an hour or two, then they are away. The radio speaks of a "City of Culture". A nonsense, really, since every city is this. How could it not be? Switch over to silence. The white cat breaks this with little cries of starvation.

A subdued November day, pleasantly empty and waiting to be filled. I take letters to David's postbox. He drove it into the orchard grass at the end of the track so as to save the postman a tidy walk. Shining mud from turning cars.

Advent is near, tremulous and as exciting as it is threatening. "Come, thou long-expected Jesus." Brian, master-ringer, waylays me. "Can you take the bell-ringers' service?" Of course. When didn't I? Joanna Sturdy made two of our bells when Shakespeare was writing "These are but wild and whirling words".

My berryless holly hedge shines in the distance where the gale has brought down a branch of aspen; so there is much clearing-up. And some re-reading of the Advent carols - a favourite being Eleanor Farjeon's "People, look east". It contains a nice bird-verse, which suits my breakfast view of seagulls:

Birds, though ye long have ceased to build,
Guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen
He for fledging-time has chosen.
People, look East, and sing today:
Love the Bird is on the way.

The notion of the Holy Spirit becoming a bird called the Paraclete has always enchanted me. It balances on the head of the Father on the tip of the chancel at Blythburgh, as it takes off for the sea. Except, being stone, it is about to take off for ever. Frozen in its carver's art, it is Spirit solidified. As is all great sculpture.

Long ago, I sat with Henry Moore, and we talked about Turner. The debate at the time was where to put his great bequest, the suggestion then being Somerset House, and we signed a petition. But now he spreads himself in the Tate.

Henry Moore infused great masses of stone and bronze with his spirit - which is what genius alone can do. At Blythburgh, a medieval mason breathed into a lump of Barnackstone, and set it on the wing for centuries, reminding those on land and sea of the ever-flying Paraclete. A seagull must have sat for it. Or rather winged for it.

The River Blyth is estuarial here, widening from little more than a meadow-hidden stream into a broad bay, and this in turn into the North Sea itself, and in less than a dozen miles. And thus the Bird of Promise is oceanic.

Lapwings have made their annual call on what we call the lapwing field. It has been ploughed, and their irridescent greenish-white-and-black plumage is part of the November farming. They travel in flocks on rounded wings, crying sadly. The lapwing field is a port of call, and has been, maybe, since a stone bird perched on the church.

November is filled with cries and restlessness. Something is about to happen.

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