Oh, to be in England now that April’s there
And whoever wakes in England sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England – now!
Robert Browning (English poet, 1812-1889)
There are no deep reasons for choosing this week’s quotation at the top of my Mail column. There is no ‘message’ hidden in this choice, other than the very important one to go outside wherever you are and whenever you can and LOOK.
I’m lucky enough to live in the countryside, to hear birdsong and spot wildlife and feel the peace of a fairly traffic-free environment. But I was brought up in the city – on an estate called The Green, which you see ahead as soon as you swing off the motorway, entering the area called Broadgreen. Our flat faced the dual carriageway of Queen’s Drive; my lullaby was the sound of buses changing gear.
But even then I loved to collect wild flowers when we went on days out to Cheshire or up the coast to Formby, Ainsdale and Southport. At the age of 11, I wrote a poem about an owl, although I had never heard one. Imagining that I was leaning out of a ‘casement window’ listening to an owl calling in the darkness, I wrote the line,‘The night had entered through my eyes.’ Looking back I find it quite strange that a city child could have that strange insight…
In those days all primary school classes had a Nature Table (is that the case now? I hope so) to help us look and learn. Did anybody else strip the leaves off a stem of privet hedge (very urban, that) and bend it over to form a loop, so you could catch a spider’s web and study it? (No doubt the poor spiders weren’t very pleased!). So even though I did not know it at the time, Nature already had her grip on me.
That is what Robert Browning means when he uses the word ‘unaware.’ His famous ‘Home Thoughts From Abroad’ are nostalgic for England’s beauty – and quite right too. These famous lines awake the powerful feeling of patriotism that lies very close to my emotional surface. They have nothing to do with any government and they are not blind to our faults – yet I do believe that Great Britain is STILL ‘great’, and one of the best places to live in the world. This has a lot to do with natural beauty, which is why I am passionate about the Green Belt, among other things.
So celebrate the first bud you see today. Buy a bunch of narcissi to infuse your room with scent. Stop in a park to listen to birds you cannot name, singing for the sheer joy of song (as well as mating and territory, of course!).
You may not actively set out in search of the budding signs of Spring, yet they are there, waiting to surprise you and fill you with joy. In April, now!