an old phrase burning

V'dorp 19-12-13

December’s mild furnace of long hot days and  even hotter winds through the mountains. Many of the Xhosa farm workers have left for the Eastern Cape and the town is sleepy and quiet. Busy planting drifts of  Dietes grandiflora and  a succulent bush of spekboom (Portulacaria afra) on the  north side of the house, bought in a hurry from Marinda’s neglected  nursery because I must  cool down that wall. The little spekboom will grow to 2.5m high and reminds me of the  Karoo noorsveld, thickets of singing birds and  green even in the toughest drought . Great carbon sequestration too, and on the stoep I now have  newish secondhand pots filled with basil and  peppers.

Up before dawn to  chew my way through the  Office and  sit out listening to birds as the dawn turns yellow across the valley. Bothered by flies. A beautiful Advent all the same and reminded of this  favourite Advent poem from Patrick Kavanagh  when I saw it chosen by Carol Rumens in the Guardian.



We have tested and tasted too much, lover –
Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.
But here in the Advent-darkened room
Where the dry black bread and the sugarless tea
Of penance will charm back the luxury
Of a child’s soul, we’ll return to Doom
The knowledge we stole but could not use.

And the newness that was in every stale thing
When we looked at it as children: the spirit-shocking
Wonder in a black slanting Ulster hill
Or the prophetic astonishment in the tedious talking
Of an old fool will awake for us and bring
You and me to the yard gate to watch the whins
And the bog-holes, cart-tracks, old stables where Time begins.

O after Christmas we’ll have no need to go searching
For the difference that sets an old phrase burning –
We’ll hear it in the whispered argument of a churning
Or in the streets where the village boys are lurching.
And we’ll hear it among decent men too
Who barrow dung in gardens under trees,
Wherever life pours ordinary plenty.
Won’t we be rich, my love and I, and please
God we shall not ask for reason’s payment,
The why of heart-breaking strangeness in dreeping hedges
Nor analyse God’s breath in common statement.
We have thrown into the dust-bin the clay-minted wages
Of pleasure, knowledge and the conscious hour –
And Christ comes with a January flower.


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