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Word from Wormingford

05 May 2017

In this archive column from 2000, Ronald Blythe enjoys the effects of spring rain in the country

SPRING RAIN. With no winds to drive it, it falls in sudden verticals like the glass-bead curtain of the cake shop through which we pushed our way as children, our greed hampered and impeded. The yellow rape is drenched; the trees allow it to pour through their greening tips. It drums on conservatory roofs, and dimples the purple surface of the river, causing pike to stir muddily.

Cyclists hiss through it, their lyres casting wakes; and I walk in it to listen to the birdsong which such sudden showers quicken. Willow warblers in the willows, of course, and so many larks overhead that if I could locate their hovering-spot it should be possible to find a bit of cover. A sopping-wet hare runs by, tacking its way to the horizon.

A rainbow appears. It has one foot in Polstead and the other in Layer Marney. There are nice big puddles in the track to reflect it.

Two Christian meditations on puddles. During the youthful Bunyan’s frantic search for salvation — he had convinced himself that he had committed a sin which lay beyond God’s forgiveness — he would walk for miles in the flat Bedford fields seeking for anything which would prove that he possessed just a mite of that faith which could move a mountain.

“One day as I was betwixt Elstow and Bedford, the temptation was hot upon me to try if I had faith, by doing of some miracle: which miracle at that time was this, I must say to the puddles that were in the horse pads, Be dry; and to the dry places, Be you the puddles.”

Much about the same time, a boy in Hereford who had outgrown the bliss of splashing into them stood by puddles, as Alice stood at first outside the looking-glass, longing to enter a reversed world. Thomas Traherne, the poet of joy, in his “Shadows in the Water”, wrote:


Of all the Play-mates which I knew
That here I do the Image view
In other Selves; what can it mean?
But that below the purling Stream
Some unknown Joys there be
Laid up in Store for me;
To which I shall, when that thin Skin
Is broken, be admitted in.


John, after Easter evensong, climbs the tower and descends, pregnant with flag, having stuffed it up his waistcoat the better to manage the ladder. Spring rains and no winds had condemned it to no more than a damp flap against the mast.

The church is aromatic with flowers and extinguished candle-wick, the smell of new hymn-books and, faintly, of rain. For, though it is as dry as the prophet Ezekiel’s bones before resurrection, the building, unlike the modern house or office, admits the scent of whatever weather happens to be going on outside, and especially that of spring rain.

The puddles in my track glitter with flint and cobbles, and common stones made precious in anyone’s sight.

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