LIKE most of the dogs in Britain, George and Zara are both pleased and puzzled at seeing so much more of their owners. Fortunately, they — and we — are still free to go for walks.
As they lead me blithely along familiar paths towards the clear flowing stream of the Granta, I can feel the spring warming and unfolding all around me. Just as we are locking down, the earth herself seems to be opening up and breathing her flowers into being — not only the crocuses and daffodils that we have been enjoying for a while, but now the delicate white blossoms of flowering thorn transfigure the hedges, and the trees are quickened and sticky with the first buddings of what will soon be tender green leaves. The Granta itself, whose stream had of late been so muddied and swollen, darkened with floods and detritus, now runs clear and limpid, purling swiftly over its gravel bed, translucent and sparkling in the warm spring sun.
For the dogs, this is all of a piece, but we poor humans feel the contrast between the outer and the inner weather.
Fellow dog-walkers and I keep the requisite social distance from one another on the rare occasions when our paths cross, although “social distancing” has, in fact, made us far more sociable. We make sure to greet one another, to enquire after health, to exchange news of anyone who may need messages taking or shopping delivered. But, even as we speak, six feet apart, we sense each other’s anxiety. We feel the contrast between all the promise and allure of spring and our own experience of hunkering down through dark days, of waiting out the worst.
And yet the sun still shines and the buds open, and our terse exchanges are interrupted by bright scatterings of birdsong. Do we belie the promise of spring, or does the spring hold a hope for us, a rumour of resurrection?
I find myself remembering the wonderful passage in C. S. Lewis’s essay “The Grand Miracle”:
“The miracles that have already happened are . . . the first fruits of that cosmic summer which is presently coming on. Christ has risen, and so we shall rise. . . To be sure, it feels wintry enough still: but often in the very early spring it feels like that. Two thousand years are only a day or two by this scale. A man really ought to say, ‘The Resurrection happened two thousand years ago’ in the same spirit in which he says, ‘I saw a crocus yesterday.’ Because we know what is coming behind the crocus. The spring comes slowly down this way; but the great thing is that the corner has been turned.”
So, however worried my mind may be, I will open my heart to the spring as it comes, and receive it as a sign of hope. And, while George and Zara sniff the wind and “feed on air, promise-crammed”, I will recite the little spring blessing with which I concluded my last poetry collection:
With each unfolding seed, with every Spring,
He breathes the rumour of his resurrection,
As birdsong calls your hidden heart to sing.
So may this season be his benediction,
To lift your love, and bid your prayer take wing,
To thaw your frozen hope, to warm your mind,
For spring has come! Can Heaven be far behind?
Malcolm Guite has launched a new YouTube channel: A Spell in the Library.