*** DEBUG END ***

Word from Wormingford

08 July 2016

Ronald Blythe on a poet of Cornwall

TODAY, I found myself thinking of my old friend Charles Causley. He’d be looking around my ancient house and saying, But you can’t live here! But I do live here, Charles. With all this garden? Charles detested gardening.

When we met in Cornwall, he would take me to see such sights as Sabine Baring-Gould’s grave, for the Virgin under the east window of Launceston Church, into whose stone lap we would throw pebbles.

Charles was a schoolmaster who taught at Timothy Winters’s school. He’d also served in the Royal Navy for six years, a plight he was witty about. Our Cornish encounters inevitably led to the kind of adventures that only Charles could devise. They were poetic and funny.

Once, I remember we strayed into a village wedding. Like those scriptural guests, we were improperly clad: ourselves in jeans and everyone else in hired tails. Apologetically, we began to make our exit, but the bridegroom, who may have recognised Charles, said, No! So we danced with the bride herself: a lovely girl, straight out of a Thomas Hardy novel.

But it was Baring-Gould’s grave that both awed and fascinated Charles. Here was the author of “Onward, Christian soldiers”. Here, too, was someone from Essex whom Charles thought I ought to meet. It was made of 1920s white marble. Charles touched it dutifully, then entered the church and picked up this mighty hymn on the organ, now and then glancing around nervously as if the author might be striding up the aisle.

But mostly we sat in the Launceston pub and talked about our work. He had done his teacher-training at Peterborough, from where he had biked into the John Clare country.

When it was suggested that he should become president of the newly created Clare Society, he said, No, an East Anglian like me should have the honour. And so, every year, for much of my lifetime, I have given the Clare Lecture. Until today, that is; for all good things must come to an end, particularly presidencies. So three Great Oaks are to be planted in John Clare’s birthplace: one for him, one for Edmund Blunden, and one for me. They will grow vast at a spot called Swordy Well.

Blunden lived in Long Melford, close to my birthplace. We met now and then. I thought of him because of the TV programme On the Western Front, and of his great book Undertones of War, which he published in 1928. He once gave me some lecture notes in his wonderful handwriting. Later, I would help to unveil the memorial plaque to him from the house in Long Melford, which Siegfried Sassoon gave him. It was a mile or two from where my teenage father set off for Gallipoli.

The art of such connections is to hold fast to a shared past, while living vividly in the present, each new morning being such a gift. Or so I find. Also, Christopher is here, to size my orchard; so that this summer’s seed will fall into the damp earth. And last summer’s climbing roses must be pruned. Two new cats, named Alice and Dinah, watch all this nervously.

In church, I preach on the elemental nature of God’s giving. Then I let Charles Causley take me back to his Cornwall and our youthful dance at the strangers’ wedding, and the music of its violins. And his address returns vividly to me — 2 Cyprus Well, Launceston, Cornwall.


Ronald Blythe’s new Wormingford collection, Stour Seasons, is now available from Canterbury Press, £14.99 (CT Bookshop £12.99).

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear alongside your letter.

Forthcoming Events

Church Times/Canterbury Press:

Fire in the Heart: An online Advent Retreat with Julian of Norwich

Saturday 25 November 2023

With Rachel Mann, Clare Gilbert, Richard Carter, Julia Mourant and Malcolm Guite. 

10am - 1pm

Online tickets


Church Times/RSCM:

Festival of Faith and Music

26 - 28 April 2024

See the full programme on the festival website. 

Early bird tickets available


Church Times/Sarum College:

Traditions of Christian Spirituality

January - May 2024

This is a five-part series on major strands of the Christian spiritual tradition.

Book individual session tickets or sign up for the full programme


Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)