JUNE, and Pentecost. I scythe some of the orchard growth to give
the Rambling Rector roses a bit of light and freedom. Tied to
greengage trees, they have grown apace. Nesting robins fly around
in distress; so I give up. I am invasive. In church, the Flower
Festival takes over - plus, of course, Songs of Praise. The new
priest, John, has a good voice; so has everyone, at this moment.
"Sing out!" I say, encouragingly.
Every year, it is strangely affecting, this ancient building
bursting with hymns, the high sills filled with blooms, the scent,
the tower clock going tick-tock in the spare silences, the trapped
bee or butterfly, the all-too-soon blessing. For, having got into
our stride, we should have sung till midnight.
They asked St Augustine,"What is a hymn?" "A hymn", he replied,
"is the praise of God by singing. A hymn is a song embodying the
praise of God. If there be only praise, but not praise of God, it
is not a hymn. If there be praise, but not sung, it is not a hymn.
For it to be a hymn, it is needful, therefore, for it to have three
things - praise, praise of God, and these sung."
The hymn-singing faces on the screen, when not over-rehearsed,
are holy and absorbed. I sometimes think of the 18-year-old Thomas
Hardy at evensong in his parish church.
On afternoons of drowsy calm
We stood in the panelled pew,
Singing one-voiced a Tate-and-Brady psalm
To the tune of "Cambridge New".
We watched the elms, we watched the
The clouds upon the breeze,
Between the whiles of glancing at our books,
And swaying like the trees.
So mindless were those outpourings!
Though I am not aware
That I have gained by subtle thought on things
Since we stood psalming there.
The "swaying" is interesting. Hardy's continued churchgoing
after he had renounced his faith worried his friends. The beat of
the Anglican liturgy sets the timing of his great poems. And it
still sets the timing of our days for many of us, faint as a
heartbeat though it may be. A great or a not very good hymn will
set us going, as it were.
When Charles Wesley was in Bristol, he was told about a little
girl who dreamed that she had gone for a walk with Christ. "While
we were walking, he said 'Sing!'"
"What shall I sing?"
"Sing praises unto the King of this place."
The summer windows are wide to the dawn chorus. I hear it at
about five. Then it stops - like a hymn. Reaches its