Like a lot of people, I am using some of my lockdown time to sort out things in the house. Actually I had already decided to do that because my mother died last autumn, and making room for the stuff from her home we didnt want to give away or sell meant some de-cluttering was necessary in any case. But the peace of social distancing has encouraged me to go further with this than I otherwise might have done.
My bookshelves are full of books which I bought and never got round to reading, or read long ago and have forgotten about. One of the great pleasures of enclosure has been finding and reading or rereading some of these:
Sara Maitland’s book of stories inspired by the Stations of the Cross in St John’s Bethnal Green. I read Simon of Cyrene in my Passiontide meditation, but the others too are well written, and several moved me to tears. The story of Veronica is also deeply moving – it emerges she was the woman whose haemorrhage was cured by touching the hem of the garment Jesus was wearing, and so wiping his face was a small repayment for her healing. That will defintely come out next Lent.
A book written by a patient of mine twenty-five years ago when I was in London; I probably read it at the time but had forgotten all about it. I reread it and found it was a well written, thoughtful fairytale which like Tolkien or the Narnia stories tells great truths about the nature and purpose of life. I found the email address of the author on the web and got back in touch with her, to our mutual delight.
I found and re-read “The Hound and the Falcon” – a strange but fascinating set of letters by Antonia White, written during her return to faith in the early days of World War II. Some people have compared the current crisis to those times, but reading a contemporary account makes it clear it was very different and much, much more terrible – not least because it was unleashed deliberately by human beings on each other.
A E Housman’s “A Shropshire lad” was lodged between two scores in my printed music collection. How it got there I cannot imagine but finding it again I cant resist sharing one of my favourite poems in it:
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
Sorting out the CD’s has produced some finds too; Dvorak’s Mass in D I sang on a tour in Avignon twenty years ago – a lovely and underperformed piece. Underperformed too are the Bach Cantata’s which we bought as part of a very cheap box of his collected works some years ago. There are over 200 and many of them contain music as fine as in the Passions and the Christmas Oratorio which we hear regularly. I’ve printed off a list and hope to listen to them all in time, though we will probably have a vaccine for Covid 19 before I have finished them.
Not everything is worth keeping; the garage is slowly filling with boxes to go to the charity shops when they reopen. But I amrealising that by having fewer books, less stuff in general, it is easier to see and appreciate what I do have and to use it properly. Perhaps a metaphor for life in general.
This morning I found a book of French poetry which includes this gem I had never read before, by Marcelene Desbordes- Valmore whom I had never heard of:
‘irai, j’irai porter ma couronne effeuillée
Au jardin de mon père où revit toute fleur ;
J’y répandrai longtemps mon âme agenouillée :
Mon père a des secrets pour vaincre la douleur.
J’irai, j’irai lui dire au moins avec mes larmes :
” Regardez, j’ai souffert… ” Il me regardera,
Et sous mes jours changés, sous mes pâleurs sans charmes,
Parce qu’il est mon père, il me reconnaîtra.
Il dira: ” C’est donc vous, chère âme désolée ;
La terre manque-t-elle à vos pas égarés ?
Chère âme, je suis Dieu : ne soyez plus troublée ;
Voici votre maison, voici mon coeur, entrez ! “
Ô clémence! Ô douceur! Ô saint refuge ! Ô Père !
Votre enfant qui pleurait, vous l’avez entendu !
Je vous obtiens déjà, puisque je vous espère
Et que vous possédez tout ce que j’ai perdu.
Vous ne rejetez pas la fleur qui n’est plus belle ;
Ce crime de la terre au ciel est pardonné.
Vous ne maudirez pas votre enfant infidèle,
Non d’avoir rien vendu, mais d’avoir tout donné.
Very comforting for someone who often feels like a flower that is no longer beautiful.