Saturday, 10 October 2020

Monty Don and Henry Vaughan

 For a while last night, misled by a deceptive headline, I thought Monty Don was about to quite Gardeners' World. As this would be, for me, about on a par with the sky falling or the Queen dying (God save her), I was alarmed, and lost no time in establishing that, happily, Monty was not about to leave Gardeners' World. Despite all that's going on in this mad world, so long as Monty's in situ it feels as if things can't be all that bad... 
In the course of my Monty researches, I came across a perhaps surprising fact: when he was on Desert Island Discs, he chose as his book (in addition to the Bible and Shakespeare) the Collected Poems of Henry Vaughan. This shows excellent taste: Vaughan is one of our finest devotional poets, and his works are replete with beautiful lines and images – 

'I saw Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright…'

'There is in God, some say,
A deep but dazzling darkness…'

'They are all gone into the world of light, 
And I alone sit ling'ring here…'

'Happy those early days when I
Shined in my Angel-infancy…'

'The Sun doth shake light from his locks, and all the way
Breathing perfumes, does spice the day…'

And a poem like this one – 'Retirement' – would surely find an echo in Monty's heart –

Fresh fields and woods! the Earth's fair face,
God's foot-stool, and man's dwelling-place.
I ask not why the first Believer
Did love to be a country liver?
Who to secure pious content
Did pitch by groves and wells his tent;
Where he might view the boundless sky,
And all those glorious lights on high;
With flying meteors, mists and show'rs,
Subjected hills, trees, meads and flow'rs;
And ev'ry minute bless the King
And wise Creator of each thing.
I ask not why he did remove
To happy Mamre's holy grove,
Leaving the cities of the plain
To Lot and his successless train?
All various lusts in cities still
Are found; they are the thrones of ill;
The dismal sinks, where blood is spill'd,
Cages with much uncleanness fill'd.
But rural shades are the sweet fense
Of piety and innocence.
They are the Meek's calm region, where
Angels descend and rule the sphere,
Where heaven lies leaguer, and the dove
Duly as dew, comes from above.
If Eden be on Earth at all,
'Tis that, which we the country call.

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