A walk to Fen Ditton in the company of texts and poems by Jacob Bauthumley, Thomas Hardy and Derek Starkswood

At the beginning of the week I wandered over to St Mary the Virgin church in Fen Ditton (the photo to the right is of one of the splendid eighteenth-century gravestones in the churchyard — click on it to enlarge) to eat an apple, drink a flask of tea and re-read a little of my favourite text from the English Revolution, the (still to me astonishing) The Light and Dark Sides of God (1650) by Jacob Bauthumley. Here's a taste of it taken from the text’s opening section:

O God, what shall I say thou art, when thou canst not be named? What shall I speak of thee, when in speaking of thee, I speak nothing but contradiction? For if I say I see thee, it is nothing but thy seeing of thy self; for there is nothing in me capable of seeing thee but thy self. If I say I know thee, that is no other but the knowledge of thy self; for I am rather known of thee, than know thee. If I say I love thee, it is nothing so, for there is nothing in me can love thee but thy self; and therefore thou dost but love thy self. My seeking of thee is no other but thy seeking of thy self. My delighting enjoying thee, is no other but thy delighting in thy self, and enjoying of thy self after a most unconceivable manner . . . thou being the life and substance of all creatures, they speak and move, yea, live in thee; and whatever any creature is, it is that as it is in thee . . . Lord, whither shall I go from thy presence? For it is thy presence and being that is the substance and being of all creatures and things, and fills heaven and earth and all other places . . . Nay, I see that God is in all creatures, man and beast, fish and fowl, and every green thing from the highest cedar to the ivy on the wall; and that God is the life and being of them all, and that God doth really dwell, and (if you will) personally (if he may admit so low an expression) in them all, and hath his being no where else out of the creatures . . .

For those (like me) with a fondness for the vocabulary (if not the metaphysics) of pantheism (I’m too much of a religious naturalist and new-materialist to be this) it remains a captivating text. Reading it, especially in an English churchyard, inevitably put me in mind of Thomas Hardy’s magnificent poem from a couple of hundred years later:

Voices From Things Growing in a Churchyard

These flowers are I, poor Fanny Hurd,
Sir or Madam,
A little girl here sepultured.
Once I flit-fluttered like a bird
Above the grass, as now I wave
In daisy shapes above my grave,
All day cheerily,
All night eerily!

I am one Bachelor Bowring, “Gent,”
Sir or Madam;
In shingled oak my bones were pent;
Hence more than a hundred years I spent
In my feat of change from a coffin-thrall
To a dancer in green as leaves on a wall.
All day cheerily,
All night eerily!

I, these berries of juice and gloss,
Sir or Madam,
Am clean forgotten as Thomas Voss;
Thin-urned, I have burrowed away from the moss
That covers my sod, and have entered this yew,
And turned to clusters ruddy of view,
All day cheerily,
All night eerily!

The Lady Gertrude, proud, high-bred,
Sir or Madam,
Am I — this laurel that shades your head;
Into its veins I have stilly sped,
And made them of me; and my leaves now shine,
As did my satins superfine,
All day cheerily,
All night eerily!

I, who as innocent withwind climb,
Sir or Madam.
Am one Eve Greensleeves, in olden time
Kissed by men from many a clime,
Beneath sun, stars, in blaze, in breeze,
As now by glowworms and by bees,
All day cheerily,
All night eerily!

I’m old Squire Audeley Grey, who grew,
Sir or Madam,
Aweary of life, and in scorn withdrew;
Till anon I clambered up anew
As ivy-green, when my ache was stayed,
And in that attire I have longtime gayed
All day cheerily,
All night eerily!

And so they breathe, these masks, to each
Sir or Madam
Who lingers there, and their lively speech
Affords an interpreter much to teach,
As their murmurous accents seem to come
Thence hitheraround in a radiant hum,
All day cheerily,
All night eerily!

All the above put me strongly in mind of a poem kindly sent to me by Derek Starkswood whom I’ve had the pleasure to get to know in recent months:

The Lord of the Green-Wild-Wood

As I wax strong on this May day,
Come hearken all to what I say.

By ‘Forest Sprite’, the ‘Hunter God’
You know me by such names.
‘Jack-in-the-Green’ and ‘Pan’ and ‘Herne’
Or ‘Puck’ of Shakespeare fame,
‘Wodewose’, ‘Robin Goodfellow’,
‘Cunernos’  (some may claim).

Yea, I’m the Lord of the Green-Wild-Wood
I dance beyond your door,
Each year reborn of Mother Earth
I’ll live for ever more.

For I am Life, I sow my seed
Where’er I choose to tread.
I bring forth bud, then flower and fruit
And I receive your dead,
And from such soil I grow the corn
That dies to give you bread.

You can’t sow bricks, you can't grow roads,
You can’t eat coin of gold.
When all Man makes has gone to dust
I’ll dance my dance of old.

Your engines, books and temples
All these must rust or rot,
So dance with me or turn away,
To me it matters not;
My power and my provenance
Will never be forgot.

Your cities, dams and viaducts
Won’t last for ever more,
I am the Lord of the Green-Wild-Wood
I dance beyond your door.

© Derek Starkswood 2010

And, since he gave me permission to publish the poems he sent me, here’s a second which I have very much enjoyed:

Look up!

Look up! Those vasty depths seem barren — to a mortal eye —
That teem with life beyond the ken of minds like you or I.
For in the sparse and icy reaches of non-finite space
There fly unbound great energies no human ought embrace.
Fierce protons, waves and gravitons exotic beyond sight;
Gamma rays and microwaves from Big Bang’s sear first light.
These cascade sparks — of change — like neurones in a mind divine
Through nebulae fluorescing blue-magenta: the star-mines.
The lacy ghosts of former worlds, those veiling billows bright
Condense and swirl in dusty discs until their cores ignite.
The disc new planets forms, attendant round that new born sun
And so from ancient systems’ ruins a new one is begun.
Sometimes the rocky planets arc within a golden zone
Where water flows and life evolves — to consciousness enthrone.
Within those worlds ’tis likely some have eyes upon the stars
that reckon too, “That vast array is surely not just ours?”
Yet life is precious, far between, to greet them there’s no chance,
for none can live the centuries to bridge the great expanse.
Earth’s speck so frail, alike, upon its water filmy crust
In aeons past bore life untold, from comet-seed out-thrust
As elements begot in atom forges, deep and dread
In hearts of far-flung stars, long lived and now long dead.
Each sun, according to its mass, a different fate will meet.
Some brightly burn and die in youth’s bright cataclysmic heat.
Some shrivel cold, like dying coals, their satellites grow chill.
Some redly swell, their own offspring — their planets — now to kill.
Others, blue-white mantles cast abroad in nova’s blaze
Or shrink so dense their very atoms bruise in their last days.
In stately dance, millennia one single step to turn,
Those suns, in thready billions twirl, in galaxies that burn
So clear that, half a cosmos off, upon our gentle sky
Their smudges dim have spanned the void to meet our naked eye.
Yea space and time themselves are bound to reign momentum in
That all there is, is twisted such it ends where it begins.
For in the hearts of galaxies the forces are so stark
That light itself cannot escape that space-time hole all dark.
There space itself is broken off and time seems in reverse
Beyond each black horizon’s warp: another universe.
The maths supports each universe its own black holes may spawn
And one of those may be the cause our universe was born.

© Derek Starkswood 2012


Thomas Taylor said…
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Greetings. Thanks for being in touch. Glad to see that Bauthumley is remembered by some of his descendants, even whilst not sharing his views. As you will have realised, I, more or less do and continue to find him an inspiration and good companion along the way.

With every best wish,