‘Two mighty songs this week: the Benedicite, and the nightingale’s - the latter on tape, for the singer is not yet due. But they disturb the universe. Each year I say the same thing: “We now have the Benedicite instead of the Te Deum, because it is springtime as well as Lent”, and off we go, “Praise him and magnify him for ever!”
No cuts and nightingales, unless we include them in “All ye fowls of the air”. But otherwise a pretty full litany of nature. And with “Ye spirits and souls of the righteous”, departed congregations join in.
It is what the holy children sang to Nebuchadnezzar from the fire, and what Christians have sung from the earliest times; an earthy as well as a celestial song, which Saint Francis might well have had in mind when, in 1225, he sat in the garden of San Damiano at Assisi and wrote his “Canticle of the Sun”. “Be thou praised, my Lord, with all thy creatures, above all Brother Sun”.
And the March sun makes Aldeburgh glitter as we fill the Jubilee Hall for Richard Mabey’s lecture on “The Barley Bird”, i.e. the nightingale. He and I would sometimes listen to it at Tiger Hill, where I heard it as a boy; the long, operatic thread of notes from the hidden performer, the disturbed woodland, the silenced humanity.
Back home, the Flower Festival committee meets, its theme this year being - the Benedicite. One parish has a theme, the other does not, simply piling the blooms around. it is ingenuity and/or profusion, to avoid competition. O all ye Green Things upon the earth.
Back home, book proofs have arrived, and must be read with a fine-tooth comb lest some terrible word gets into print. The white cat and I check them with diligence, although she cannot spell. Animals like to find us at some mechanical task, breathing regularly, set in our ways. These are essays written long ago, so that I keep running into my previous self, sometimes with admiration, though not always.
Did the author of the Benedicite run through his list thinking, “Have I left something out? Yes, whales”. Was the song a spontaneous invention by all three Children, verse after verse? Did crazy Nebuchadnezzar join in? Who couldn’t? Did they all hear Mesopotamian nightingales?'
from Village Hours, 2012, by Ronald Blythe CBE
Fr Lee Kenyon