Poet’s corner

30 June 2017

Malcolm Guite reflects on Lady Bridge

IN THE hot weather, one is glad of even the smallest glimpse of water. The cool clear stream of the Granta is especially attractive; so I lingered on the Lady Bridge and gazed awhile at the river.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro’ the wave that runs for ever. . .

Tennyson’s lines rippled through my mind, and there did, indeed, come one of those little
breezes for which one is so grateful. As the ripples came and went, the reflections in the water — the trees, the bridge, myself leaning on the rail — dissolved and recomposed, dissolved and recomposed. I wondered whether the sudden fluctuations in political fortune which we have wit­nessed of late, compelling, dramatic, important as they are in one sense, might also, in another sense, be no more than ripples on the surface of something deeper.

Suddenly, a bigger circle of ripples broke my reflection again, and I looked up to see Mussolini strutting, splashing, and generally disporting himself in the shallow waters.

I should, perhaps, mention that Mussolini is the local name for a fat white goose who can often be seen throwing his weight around and attempting to lord it over the more modestly proportioned ducks and ducklings in the river. He does them no harm, of course, and they seem unperturbed — however alarmed the ducklings may be at first. They soon learn from their mothers to pay no attention, and Mussolini’s fantasies of river domination, if he has them, get no further than his own little skull.

There’s something about his pompous gait that is intrinsically ridiculous, and everyone (Mussolini excepted) seems to know it. If only one might have said the same for his namesake; if only it had been sufficient for a few of the village girls to say “Oh, you silly goose” to put a stop to that goose-stepping, too. But, somehow, the human strutters and pretenders among us contrive to be taken more seriously.

I was roused from these reflections by the sound of a bell ringing out from the high church tower of St Mary the Virgin, where it shim­mered in the heat. The Lady Bridge takes its name, like the church to which it leads, from that other village girl, who sang a song to her cousin up in the hill country, a song that says everything that needs to be said to the Mussolinis of this world, past, present, and future.

The bell sounded and trembled once more through the still air, and I found myself longing for the cool shade and deep silence that awaited me in the ancient church. Soon, our morning hymn floated out over the surface of that silence:

As pants the hart for cooling streams
When heated in the chase,
So longs my soul, O God, for thee,
And thy refreshing grace.

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