The dearest freshness deep down things
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things. A theological blog 4 – vi – 20
Pentecost. “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” wrote Hopkins.
Imagine you are crossing from platform to platform on the London underground. The environment could hardly be more artificial. You are surrounded by bright neon lights and concrete and shiny white tiles. Nobody says much. A crowd flowed through Kings Cross so many, I had not thought death had undone so many. And then you come out and see a cherry tree in blossom. I find thinking of its antidote makes me begin to understand perhaps what Hopkins meant by the dearest freshness deep down things. Just what is it that the cherry blossom has that the underground passages, those echoing corridors through Hades, lack?
For years I’ve wanted to find again and read a report that Neville Cardus wrote for the then Manchester Guardian in the early thirties. He’d been to watch an early season game between Lancashire and Kent at Dover (“a field of tents and waving colours”) and was on his way back to Manchester on the train travelling through the Kentish orchards on fire with apple blossom. The great romantic wasn’t far behind Hopkins when it came to realising there is a dearest freshness deep down things, atheist though he may have been. The only thing that might have made me vote for Brexit was the still painful memory of the way the Kentish orchards were grubbed up when we joined the EU because golden delicious from Europe were cheaper. Not that I can see Boris Johnson planting a symbolic apple tree somewhere near Maidstone. Cheaper from California mate.
One of the things I’d like to do before I die and now never will is to see the half dozen or so old cherry trees that I believe are still left in Kent. To see these sixty foot giants in all their glory in early May must be one of the great sights. The point I want to make, though, is that to get there the most convenient way would be to use the London underground at Kings Cross. I don’t want to get rid of the London underground. But we have become trapped in it. We’ve been so busy taking things apart to see the atoms and molecules and genes inside them we’ve almost killed the things themselves, so fixated on squinting through our microscopes we can no longer see the great beauty that is blazing everywhere throughout the world. Hirst’s dead shark, let alone his grinning skull encrusted with diamonds? Emin’s dirty unmade bed? Rachel Whiteread turning the insides of things into concrete? With what deadly accuracy do the artists tell us who we are.
Yet in increasingly few small corners the sweetest fire, this dearest beauty deep down things, still rages on. There can’t be one beauty for apple blossom, a quite separate one for the Niagara Falls and yet another for primroses. There can only be one beauty. The best explanation for this dearest freshness that seems to be singing out with such purest note from all natural things that I can think of is the Holy Ghost, but as that sounds a bit old-fashioned and makes you think of Monty James’s ghost stories, the Holy Spirit as we now decorously call her. I wonder how Neville Cardus would have explained it?