Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Ember days

When I was a child we kept this first Wednesday after Ash Wednesday as the Lent Ember Day. Traditionally, the year is marked by four special days, one in each quarter of the year, when we thank God for the gifts that each season brings.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:
All things have their season,
and in their times all things pass under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.
A time to kill, and a time to heal.
A time to destroy, and a time to build.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh.
A time to mourn, and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather.
A time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.
A time to get, and a time to lose.
A time to keep, and a time to cast away.
A time to rend, and a time to sew.
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak.
A time of war, and a time of peace.

Keeping the Ember Days is no longer a regular practice in most churches but I think it is good to mark the changes in the year. Spring is full of signs of light and life and rebirth and so, like Autumn with its fruits and harvest, a wonderful time to make children aware of the splendours of the world we live in.

This is one of my favourite Spring poems, not perhaps for children:

Nothing is so beautiful as spring --
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush's eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth's sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. -- Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid's child, thy choice and worthy the winning.
Gerard Manley Hopkins


  1. Ooh, I loved this Monix. You post this stuff, so I don't have to! Ember day. What a good day to start on the garden, get those seed beds ready, perhaps plant out some garlic or broad beans.

  2. Thank you for the reminder. I love both the passages you quoted, isn't Hopkins marvellous? He always stops me in my tracks.

  3. Yes, Carole, Hopkins is one of my favourite poets. I find phrases from his poems springing into my mind when I see a stunning sight. I always recite Pied Beauty to myself as I walk up the hill to church, looking down on the 'landscape plotted and pieced - fold, fallow and plough'.

  4. Is that a current picture?

    I have received Kilvert's Diary, and it's interesting, thanks for your tip.

    It's nearly sumputuous: gilded cover with faux stamped binding, with a tipped on drawing of K's house, coated paper, large quarto, contemporary color photographs of the area, old photographs from Kilvert's time.

    Decorated throughout with small color photographs of pressed flowers

    All for a quid.

    Two things I have a hard time wrapping my American head around: How small and old Britain is.

    In the space that, in my village, separates my house from the grocery, there apparently would be 2 or 3 parishes. quite distinct, around Kilvert's church.

    And, by chance, last July I had read David Underdown's 'Revel, Riot and Rebellion,' which was about Wilts, Dorset and Somerset in the early 17th c. I see already that some of Kilvert's parishioners still had living memories of the Civil War, though it was as distant from them as the American Revolution is from me.

    Lastly, I never fail to be amused by Englishmen who suffer and sweat in the searing heat of April.

  5. Harry
    I am feeling quite envious of your copy of Kilvert's diary with all those trimmings. I think I ought to try to track one down for myself.

    I think we English tend to forget how small and insignificant we really are. If we hadn't started the Industrial Revolution and built an Empire, we would simply be a collection of small islands with atrocious weather. I think that is why there is currently such a revival of interest in Queen Victoria and the Victorian age.

    I think old is appropriate here, I've always lived in old houses (current one built around 1650) and they do feel right for our environment. However, as I myself grow older, I have a yearning for modern comfort and convenience. I would love to be able to retire to the US.

    The picture BTW was taken in February last year. This year we had snow and frosts and the spring flowers suffered badly.


I love to read your comments and promise that I will reply as soon as I can leave my garden, sewing room or kitchen!