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Word from Wormingford

02 May 2014

Ronald Blythe alternates between gardening and Thomas Traherne

EASTER WEEK. The lectionary says that George is transferred to 28th. I transfer the tallest branches of my bamboo to a dark, empty bed to make a wigwam for the sweet peas. The birds sing their heads off, and ponies fly about the hill meadow opposite with streaming tails. It is mild and damp, with bursts of sunshine. Perfect growing weather.

Needing to think of happiness, I think of Thomas Traherne. I find his Centuries, the copy that once belonged to my first poet-friend, James Turner. There is a snapshot inside of him reading it. He has come out of hospital, and is in a deckchair, the green volume in his hands. I find the page.

"When I came into the country, and being seated among silent trees and woods and hills, had all my time in mine own hands, I resolved to spend it all, whatever it cost me, in the search of Happiness, and to satiate the burning thirst which Nature had enkindled in me from my youth.

"In which I was so resolute that I chose rather to live upon ten pounds a year, and to go in leather clothes and to feed upon bread and water, so that I might have all my time clearly to myself. . . So that through His blessing I live a free and a kingly life, as if the world were turned again into Eden. . ."

I am in gardening clothes which are too dreadful to describe here, but Bottengoms Farm is certainly Eden, and loud with birdsong. I sow the sweet-pea seeds, and draw a rake over them. Then it rains like an Amen. Then a second wigwam for the runner beans. Then idling walkers and ecstatic dogs. Then the white cat up an ash tree. Then indoors for some music. Then more Traherne - this time, his appreciation of nature.

"Sublime and perfect: it includes all Humanity and Divinity together. God, Angels, Men, Affections, Habits, Actions, Virtues . . . corporeal things, as Heaven, Earth, Air, Water, Fire, the Sun and Stars, Trees, Herbs, Flowers, Influences . . . the natures of His territories, works, and . . . clearing and preparing the eye of the enjoyer."

I have always loved that "clearing and preparing the eye of the enjoyer". Then everything rushes ahead to Mark the Evangelist. Including, of course, the weeds. Never such sumptuous buttercups, such yellowing of the meadows. Such golden (rape) fields. The neighbours' bees arrive. Tom flies overhead, his little plane banking, vanishing, pleased to have an outing.

Then one of those village funerals in which the dead neighbour should have been at the party with us. We talk and drink by the river. It goes its way under the budding willows. Swans pass in majesty. A photograph album is passed round, and there is our missing friend, talking in a garden like this, casting shadows, grinning, staring back at us with the eye of the enjoyer. The bell that tolled for him did so with a small thud, its clapper in a leather bag.

I read St Paul's statement on love, the one that meant everything to Traherne. The poet Anne Ridler called it a masterpiece written by a master of the Affirmative Way. It came to light many years after it was written, in a . . . bonfire! He addressed it to a neighbour called Susanna Hopton. Like bulbs and seeds, it was destined to lie in the darkness before it could flower.

Traherne said: "We never enjoy ourselves but when we are the joy of others. . . Thus we see the seeds of Eternity sparkling in our natures." Susanna said that he was a man of cheerful and spritely temper.

He died by the Thames, aged 37, an appreciator of the earth.

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