The grass could do with a trim. But there’s something stopping me taking out the push mower. I simply can’t do it.
It’s not because I’m tired after a long weekend spent in the company of friends I haven’t seen for years – though I am. It’s not because I can’t be bothered, though that does tend to happen. And it’s all the more likely when I know anthro-man willbe back soon and will see to it as a priority. He does like an orderly patch of grass.
Why then, this reluctance of one woman to go to mow our not-even-nearly a meadow?
It’s because of the jewels, the picture, the vignette nature has painted for me in one corner. I simply can’t disturb it.
The sun is fitful, but as I stand and stare, several paces away, it’s beaming full down on our little garden. Gorgeous colours glint where its rays fall. Jewel-bright flashes of emerald, sapphire, ruby. Well, not quite ruby. More a crimson mixed with scarlet which glistens, rather than glints.
The jewels are in motion. Rising and falling. But the red is still. Motionless. Resting on a lattice of ivory white bones.
There is a blackbird nest in the garden. Not very well sited, I fear. And here, in the corner, not far from that nest, are the raw red remains of a young one. Not a baby, not so small. A meatier size than that, a blackbird adolescent.
The feathers lie some distance away. Most of the flesh has been stripped, but the vibrant red remains offer plenty of sustenance for the flies.
I can’t go anywhere close, I know I would feel sick. Squeamish suburban westerner that I am.
But I still, reluctantly, see the beauty. I see it in a fleeting way, for a particle of time before my knowledge of the substrate kicks to the surface, the beginnings of admiration turning to disgust.
And I think of John Clare, a poet I find easy to read, and easy to admire.
Does knowledge of his troubled life and death in madness make his work more appealing to me? Or is it simply his vision of another world, a world more connected with all other living things?
Here is a poem I go back to now and then, fascinated by his innocent view of flies.
These tiny loiterers on the barley’s beard,
And happy units of a numerous herd
Of playfellows, the laughing summer brings,
Mocking the sunshine in their glittering wings,
How merrily they creep, and run, and fly!
No kin they bear to labour’s drudgery,
Smoothing the velvet of the pale hedge-rose;
And where they fly for dinner no one knows –
The dew-drops feed them not – they love the shine
Of noon, whose sun may bring them golden wine.
All day they’re playing in their Sunday dress –
Till night goes sleep, and they can do no less;
Then, to the heath-bell’s sunken hood they fly,
And like to princes in their slumber lie,
Secure from night, and dropping dews, and all,
In silken beds and roomy painted hall.
So merrily they spend their summer day,
Now in the cornfields, now the new-mown hay,
One almost fancies that such happy things,
With coloured hoods and richly burnished wings,
Are fairy folk, in splendid masquerade
Disguised, as if of mortal folk afraid,
Keeping their merry pranks a mystery still,
Lest glaring day should do their secrets ill.
Later in life, in Northampton Asylum, he wrote of ‘House or window flies’:
These little indoor dwellers, in cottages and halls, were always entertaining to me; after dancing at the window all day from sunrise to sunset they would sip of tea, drink of the beer, and eat of the sugar, and be welcome all summer long. They look like things of mind or fairies, and seem pleased or dull as the weather permits. In many clean cottages and genteel houses, they are allowed to creep, fly, or do as they like; and seldom ever do wrong. In fact they are the small and dwarfish portion of our own family, and so many fairy familiars that we know and treat as one of ourselves.
I wonder, would he have felt the same had he known the secret of the fly? Its hidden payload of life-threatening germs?
I also wonder, seeing jewels where Clare saw fairies, if jewels – the hard, cold ones we set in rings and regal treasures, crowns and tiaras – are equally ugly, or even cruel, beneath the glamour? Signifiers of conquest? ‘Mortals, mere mortals, look on us and beware.’
Blood diamonds, if they could speak, would surely answer yes. But perhaps the hard labour of the poor on which almost all jewel mining depends makes them all things of conflict, of pain, of darkness.
Beauty, feeding on pain.
I leave that thought with you.
Time to wash the dishes after breakfast. To bring some order back into the domestic chaos before the wanderer returns.
But I’m leaving the lawn, with the legacy left it by those beautiful birds, the magpies, to him.