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The Reverie of a Gardener In Springtime Belfast

By Alf McCreary / May 24, 1993



Nothing is so beautiful as Spring -

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When weeds, on wheels, shoot long and

lovely and lush.

THE poet Gerard Manley Hopkins had a lyrical and romantic way of heralding spring, but he certainly cannot have been a dedicated gardener! Weeds may indeed "shoot long and lovely and lush," but dandelions, daisies, and other associated intruders that so disfigure lawns and flowerbeds are not particularly welcome or romantic harbingers of spring to down-to-earth gardeners like me.

In such a mood of philosophical rectitude, I sat in a comfortable old chair in my garden in Belfast last evening, in the gathering dusk, and watched the last light fade on the western horizon. It had been a glorious day by Northern Irish standards, with a warm, rather than hot, sun radiating heat from a cloudless sky and reassuring the tender plants that it had been worth their while to have made that daring push through the hard earth that still had traces of the cold Irish winter.

The mellow warmth hung in the dusk air as if to reassure the garden and the gardener that this had been no one-day wonder and that spring really had arrived. There was something very special, too, about the evening light on that western seaboard that filled the sky long after darkness had fallen over continental Europe. I recalled, with affection and amusement, the amazement of a university colleague visiting from historic and beautiful Siena in Italy who had been rendered speechless with wonder at a sim ilarly long Irish sunset in spring.

As I ruminated to myself on old friendships and the words of much-loved poets including Hopkins, the peace of my garden was a solace for the pain of the world. Realistically I knew that not far from my back-garden in Belfast there were most probably police and Army road checks in place to try to prevent terrorist bombs being smuggled into the heart of the city. The possibility of swift and deadly violence, as always, was present - though no worse than in a score of American or European cities. But the he adlines about violent Belfast have become such a cliche that the world expects little else from this much-publicized area of conflict.

Yet, as I savored the lingering light on this first real day of our Irish spring, the sense of peace in my garden - in the middle of troubled Belfast - was profound. Perhaps the peace was not only geographical. It was internal, a peace based on the seasonal reminder that however harsh or long the winter, there is always a rustle of spring. In our climate, it can last for three weeks or only three days, but its mellow warmth, its cloudless skies, and its long sunsets are a reassurance that quickens the sp irit as it banishes the winter darkness for another year.

My dusk reverie was further enhanced by the rich evensong of a blackbird that had perched on a large copper-beech tree at the bottom of our garden and announced to its audience that whatever was wrong in the economy, or the global warming, or with the sad, warring humanity of Beirut, Bosnia, Belfast, and so many other places, all was right with the world.

AS the beautiful sounds enriched the peaceful garden, I was reminded too of an eminent professor of music who suggested most persuasively on television, and with technical evidence, that a humble blackbird does not trill aimlessly but that its sound can be as unique and as creative as a snatch of Beethoven or Brahams. Certainly this blackbird that used my garden as a platform for its evening recital pronounced a perfect epilogue to this memorable day, with that first rustle of spring. Perhaps Gerard Manl ey Hopkins was right - nothing is so beautiful as spring, weeds and all. And as I slipped indoors after my evening meditation, some words from another Hopkins poem, "God's Grandeur" spoke to me:

The world is charged with the grandeur of

God...

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep

down things;

And though the last lights off the black

West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward,

springs -

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with

ah! bright wings.