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Word from Wormingford

14 March 2014

Ronald Blythe recalls a dear friend, as he attends her funeral

ASH WEDNESDAY: even Joel wails in the wilderness, "Repent, repent!" The white cat slumbers on a paid bill, the sun hot on her breast. The horses converse under the bare may-tree. The garden is covered with flowers. The spring has come.

For T. S. Eliot, it was the Ash Wednesday of 1930 as he asked:

Who walked between the violet and the violet
Who walked between
The various ranks of varied green
Going in white and blue, in Mary's colour,
Talking of trivial things . . .

Waiting for the funeral to begin, dressed in our robes under the vast arch, we talk of the sky-high builders of the church as they cling to the scaffold ropes, carving an angel here and there, or painting glass for the clerestory.

It is Stoke by Nayland, where, as boys, we climbed the tower to see if you could really see the sea; for this is what they said. The verger would holler "Come down you young varmints!" But on and on we would go, round and round, until we hit the firmament on high.

The cortège arrives. It is Marjorie, dear, dear friend. Marjorie, who settled her husband down after he had taken the service with "Dear, you did well." And a glass of sherry. And here she comes, hidden in lilies. Both departed and present. For that is what death does: it takes you away and leaves you here. For:

Here are the years that walk between, bearing
Away the fiddles and the flutes, restoring
One who moves in the time between sleep and waking, wearing 

White light folded . . .

The doors of this church are worth a journey; for they are white light folded. Angels, archangels, and princes made silvery by the Suffolk air soar as we enter.

How odd it is to stand at the lectern and talk about Marjorie, who should have been cooking our lunch. I hear her in my head. She should have been saying: "Dear, you did well." But there it is, this going and staying.

From the corner of my eye, en passant, I catch the tablet to Canon Clibbon, whose daughter read poetry for me at the literary society. Ash Wednesday, maybe. All this a long time ago, as Eliot said.

I read Joel, who interrupted the temple services with his passionate oratory, his white-light-folded words.

The garden waits, or rather it grows like mad. The birds sing. The grass waves. Spring is a green ocean racing on and on. Wordsworth's little daffodils gather under the nut trees. The mud in the track shines between flints. The priest will mark my brow with ashes from incinerated palms. Dust I am, and to dust I will return.

After the funeral, we talk about Omar Khayyám in the pub. He was good on dust. Rose dust, human dust, stardust. Starving before Lent, on account of two consecutive funerals, I devour the sandwiches and feel well and very much alive. As one does in the presence of the dead. It can be their final gift, their making us grateful for the sun.

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