ON MONDAY, at about ten past three in the afternoon, the spring began. I was raking the winding paths I had made through the orchard when I felt and heard a resurgence in the landscape, in birdsong, in the air, as well as the meanest suggestion of less bitterness in the weather.
Wild daffodils, still in bud, shook round the apple-tree. The hunt was unseen in the valley, but was whooping away, hounds and horn in full cry — after nothing. A hundred rooks speared north, the sun catching below their wings and turning them a black silver.
Well, I thought, spring! I raked carefully between the butterbur (Petasites hybridus) rosettes, which the postmen thought were early lettuces, and rolled up a fitted carpet of moss from the base of my Rambling Rector (Moschata), and carried off a mountain of dry debris, while idlers wandered by calling out encouraging words such as “Rather you than me.”
At matins we sang the beautiful Benedicite, petition after petition, reminding nature to sing to God — as though it didn’t do so every second. It is the song which Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego sang in their decidedly unnatural situation. Did St Francis call it to mind in the garden of San Damiano when he wrote his Canticle of the Sun? O let the Earth bless the Lord. These petitions were muddling around in my head as I raked, and when spring started.
To Aldeburgh; for this is the time not only of the turtle, but of literature festivals. Far and wide they spring up. The North Sea is still piled up like a dull blue wall waiting to obliterate us; the Suffolk wind doesn’t wait to pierce us through and through; the shingle continues its clinking and rattling; and the Jubilee Hall is open to our wisdom.
To the north, the Atomic Energy Authority has laid a roc’s egg of a dome at Sizewell. In a hundred years, the conservationists will launch a movement to save it. To the south, the marshes glint warily and are excited by water birds. All is as it was.
Novelists and biographers bend before the implacable conditions of the hard little town. The children’s boating pond is a splintered mirror of ice. It was all home ground for me once, only in the olden days. There is where I propped my bike. There is Ben’s house. There is where the sea came in. There is where I wrote a story. There is where I sat in church, staring around as usual. There is where I helped to sing Britten’s Saint Nicolas cantata. There is the shed on the beach where I bought herring that were still wriggling from the sea. One shilling a handful. There is where I walked and walked, making up tales.
You would think that it had all been blown away long since. But some places have a climate that is a preservative, and Aldeburgh is one of them.
The only thing I try to give up in Lent is my fretfulness when I hear what other people are giving up. The truth is that we have no real tradition of fasting in the correct sense. I would have given up noise for Lent, but there isn’t much noise to give up where I live.
But I fill my Lenten addresses with encouraging silences. I preach the uses of silence. “Elected silence, sing to me,” I quote, although knowing full well that the poet was at that moment a romantic teenager seeing himself in a habit in a cloister. A marvellous quietness pervades the life of Jesus even where things were at their rowdiest.
In Lent, be still.