PENTECOSTAL skies, the returning birds all blown about, the
trees shaking their new leaves, the spring colours muted. I garden
in warm rain. The laburnums will bloom any minute now. The lilac
hedge is a sight. Whitsun weddings in the church, the brides
straight out of Thomas Hardy, the grooms all scrubbed up, the organ
bursting forth, ditto the bells, and ditto the congregations in
I remember helping to edit the works of Thomas Hardy, and kind
Mrs Jolly, who now owned Max Gate, his Dorchester house, giving me
tea, and letting me see his bedroom. They had lit the fire for his
last days, and thought he would like to toast a bit of bacon on it.
His second wife, Florence, stood uncertainly by.
After it was all over, as they say, rather like the holy house
of Loreto, his study was spirited away to the Dorchester Museum, to
put into a glass case. It was a curious thing to do for a great
writer, but then everything connected with Hardy's death was
strange, the strangeness overcoming the morbidity.
But here am I, back from the cinema and seeing in the
Wormingford Whitsun weddings the perpetuity of his characters as
refashioned by Philip Larkin - and, indeed, as refashioned every
late spring, the edible confetti being crunched into the gravel,
the church packed with strangers, the cars a mile long. And the
youthful people, unlike Hardy's congregation, silent when it comes
to hymns, just politely standing up and sitting down.
"O thou Light, most pure and blest, Shine within the inmost
breast Of thy faithful company. Where thou art not, man hath
nought; Every holy deed and thought Comes from thy Divinity."
I re-read Francis Kilvert. In May 1871, the handsome curate
walked to church early, "across the quiet sunny meadows. . . There
is usually one day in the Spring when the beauty of everything
culminates and strikes one peculiarly, even forcing itself upon
one's notice and a presentiment comes that one will never see such
loveliness again at least for another year.
"This is the day that Robert Burns delighted in, the first fine
Sunday in May. . . 'I went into the churchyard under the feathering
larch which sweeps over the gate . . . everything was still. No one
was about or moving and the only sound was the singing of birds.
The place was all in a charm of singing, full of peace and quiet
sunshine. It seemed to be given up to the birds and their morning
hymns. It was the bird church, the church among the birds. I
wandered round the church among the dewy grass-grown graves and
picturesque ivy- and moss-hung tombstones. Round one grave grew a
bed of primroses. On another, tall cowslips hung their heads. .
"The clerk began to ring the bell for service. My Father read
prayers and I preached on the Master washing the disciples'
I follow Paul through Asia Minor and into Europe. There were now
more than 100 Christians, and he had to get them out of shaking
rooms and into the world. Travellers all they had to be.
Bad news from North Carolina reminded me that I had walked
there, unlikely though it sounds. But I had. I found guns in a
cupboard, and the Book of Common Prayer by the side.