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Word from Wormingford

24 April 2015

Ronald Blythe is glad that a poet is remembered in a cathedral window

A SUMMER day in April. The windows wide, the robins noisy. A visit to the old horse-pond to see the marsh marigolds in all their glory. Their Latin name comes from kalathos, Greek for "goblet". Their leaves hide the water, and their petals are cupped above the frog spawn. The artist John Nash adored their annual sowing. "Never pass up a pond," he used to tell me.

Mine - one at the top of the garden, and one below - are spring-fed, their surfaces out of sight. The plough horses drank from them before and after work, swigging up such gallons of water that it looked as if they would drink them dry. Now they are wildflower oases from which I rake last summer's leavings.

Pear and apple blossom is on the point of showing, and the vine on the south wall is in bud. Who could stay inside? "Me," the white cat, no lover of fresh air, says. "Give me a nice radiator any day."

Bloomsbury-set reminiscences on the radio. How sickly they all were. No antibiotics. Nash used to regale me with Garsington antics, and how Lady Ottoline Morrell would often be at her wits' end to keep her "lions" happy. Once, Nash said, she made them play football in the barn on a wet day, D. H. Lawrence included, and herself as goalie, and when he was running a cold, sent him home in a huge motor-car, wrapped in her fur coat.

For hostesses, country-house weekends were perilous, with boredom and discomfort nibbling at the edges. The wonderful short-story writer Saki Munro, killed on the Western Front in 1916, made them the venue of his most pitiless tales. And, of course, the home of Tobermory, a gossiping cat.

But my cat has something better to do than to tell tales. Such as to worship the sun, or find a good lap. Idleness to her is a profession, and one has to look one's best to practise it.

This is the moment when the Traherne Association sends me its newsletter. A new window in Hereford Cathedral captures his appreciation of the earth, never more so than at this moment. He could not tell the difference be- tween poetry and prose. He was a young man in a leather suit who thought that the best way to live was to lie under a tree. We - you and I - live in an "endless sphere" of "endless pleasures", or we should: otherwise, something is amiss.

When I think of Traherne, I also think of those who continue to celebrate him in his own countryside, Herefordshire, and in his own parish, Credenhill, and with his own "singer", Richard Birt.

The teachers, saints, and singers of the English Church have a habit of dropping out of sight until a knowing hand recaptures them, and places them where they belong in the lectionary. Never more so than Traherne, that ecstatic voice.

I met him through the poet James Turner, when I was a youth; he died ages ago. His widow said: "Choose one of his books to remember him." So I chose his Traherne: Poems, Centuries and Three Thanksgivings, edited by Anne Ridler. "A stranger here Strange Things doth meet, Strange Glories see."

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