Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
I loved Keats when I was a student doing English Literature at the University of York almost forty years ago, & at this time of year, I am often reminded of these opening lines of his “Ode to Autumn”.
As October dawns & the cycling year begins to fade with the approach of Autumn, it’s good to embrace this “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” and all it brings with it. It’s been a good year for soft fruits, for apples & especially for blackberries – I have collected them on walks with Sophie, & have enjoyed them with my morning yogurt!
Early this morning I was privileged to see 2 black storks flying over fields near our house in France on their way to Africa. These are rare, shy birds that nest atop tall trees in remote northern Eurasian forests. Recently, I have also seen white storks going the same way. White storks are not shy, however, and tend to nest on church towers and other high buildings, trees and pylons across Europe, but only rarely in Britain. Also, I’ve seen wheatears passing to a similar destination from northern latitudes. Pied and spotted flycatchers have been sallying forth from our elm trees to catch flying insects on the wing as they sojourn before flying to West Africa. Swallows and other hirundines have also been gathering on overhead cables ready to fly as far as South Africa. These are in turn hunted by a small falcon called the hobby.
Chiffchaffs, a type of small leaf warbler, still sing their name as they migrate south, past where we are. You may also hear them in Sussex as they head for the coast and beyond. Chattering starlings are also gathering. They do not usually migrate far, but they can form vast flocks that fly at sunset wheeling and diving like a single organism, often chattering as they do so, in an aerial dance called a murmoration.
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The Church Times Diary July 2019
I recently heard a talk by the Historian and Television Presenter Bettany Hughes, and very good it was too. At one point she was talking about myths and history: and off the cuff she remarked that in the opinion of some neuroscientists, we can’t as individuals have a future thought without accessing a memory. In other words, in our minds the past not only roots the present but in a concrete way embodies the possibilities of the future. This resonated with me, especially in terms of prayer life.
Prayers – particularly repetitive, formal things like Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer and the psalms – accrete layers of meaning when we recite them, which spark off associations and memories, which in turn can speak to where we are in the present. They are like a palimpsest - a thing of lost strata and accretions.
A palimpsest is primarily a medieval or older manuscript with writing and illustrations which are later scrapped off for re-use for other layers of writing: so layers are built up, with older text sometimes showing through like lost memories. But my favourite palimpsest is actually an ancient fresco, in Santa Maria Antica in Rome which I saw when I was on sabbatical three years ago. Originally part of a guard room and temple complex built and decorated by the Emperor Hadrian at the foot of the Palatine Hill, it was in the 5th century turned into a church, and over the next three centuries another five or so layers of paint were built up before the church was lost in an earthquake in 847 A.D. The Palimpsest Wall, as it is called, is a beautiful but uncanny thing, an image of the Virgin Mary shown as Queen of Heaven (the oldest example of this image in existence ) looming out of the painted strata like a spectral Byzantine Empress, lost in time. In a similar way fragments of texts, scripture and liturgy float in and out of focus as we pray, the past making its claim on, and giving form to, the present.