And There Could I Marvel

[Sunset, King’s College, Cambridge, U.K., October 2009.]

Today I am 31 and am drinking tea. Four days ago, on another birthday, Cambridge shone in sun and light clouds, and we ‘punted’ down the river hearing about Lord Byron and all the old poets. Evensong at King’s College nearly made me cry: the sweetness of the choir in that old cathedral, that pure light streaming in through the high stained-glass windows, the hard pew under my hands. We came out to sunset staining the sky rose-pink and blue. The air was cool against my face and as the sun faded against the cow fields the lights came on in the stone buildings and burned softly out into the purple dusk; I wished I could stay for always. Then I had a Guinness and ate Turkish food for dinner.

So far there has been lots of: tea, coffee, pints (Guinness always tastes better ‘cross the pond), my friend’s delicious homemade lasagna, toast, crisps, baguettes with brie and cranberry, “Little Britain America,” driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, sheep spying, conversation. Vacations are marvelous, especially when spent visiting friends-who-are-family.

[Cambridge, U.K., October 2009.]

So today is my birthday and I cannot help but to think that birthdays are funny creatures — every fall round this time I am by turns melancholy, introspective, elated, quiet. This year I am fortunate enough to be spending mine with two of my best friends, near London, which is one of my very favorite places in the whole world. I am soon to go for a proper English breakfast and finally feel over jetlag. And I am reading Dylan Thomas, as is appropriate for any October baby.

Back soon.

[On the Cam, Cambridge, U.K., October 2009.]

Poem in October

It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
And the mussel pooled and the heron
Priested shore

The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the webbed wall
Myself to set foot
That second
In the still sleeping town and set forth.

My birthday began with the water-
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
Above the farms and the white horses
And I rose
In rainy autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days.
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
Over the border
And the gates
Of the town closed as the town awoke.

A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
Blackbirds and the sun of October
On the hill’s shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly

Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
To the rain wringing

Wind blow cold

In the wood faraway under me.

Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
With its horns through mist and the castle
Brown as owls
But all the gardens
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
There could I marvel
My birthday
Away but the weather turned around.

It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
Streamed again a wonder of summer
With apples
Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
Through the parables

Of sun light
And the legends of the green chapels

And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
These were the woods the river and sea
Where a boy

In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy

To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
And the mystery
Sang alive
Still in the water and singingbirds.

And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.
It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
O may my heart’s truth
Still be sung
On this high hill in a year’s turning.

Dylan Thomas (b. Oct. 27)

Join the Conversation

  1. ok wait: i didn’t wish you a happy birthday (“hippo birdie”) on your BLOG! omG i hope you had the happiest of birthdays in london w/our wonderful friends.

    ok wait (again). i need to sing to you:

    hippo birdie two ewes
    hippo birdie two ewes
    hippo birrrrdie dear nicoliiiiina
    hippo birdie two ewes


  2. Happy Birthday! Glad you are off enjoying it with dear friends in a beautiful place. And thanks for sharing with us.

  3. I spent a very similar afternoon in Cambridge once, complete with punting, evensong, and a trip to a wonderful pub. Perfect days like that tend to stay with you, even four years later. Have a wonderful birthday, and thanks for sharing one of my favorite poems.

  4. Beautiful! What a wonderful way to start on your next year of life.

    Happy birthday!

  5. Beautiful post! Happy birthday to a beautiful person. Well done!

  6. Happy Birthday! You trip looks beautiful.

  7. happy birthday, baby! lovely photos, lovely girl.

  8. Happy Birthday! Recently discovered your blog through your NPR contribution. So far have enjoyed your quinoa and lavender recipes. Also reading the column on peanut butter made me dash for a quick peanut butter run and eat bananas with peanut butter. Thanks for sharing. -Payal

  9. Happy Birthday from one October baby to another. Love your blog! Have a wonderful vacation.

  10. Your pictures of Cambridge are ineffably lovely. Happy birthday!

  11. Happy birthday!! I hope you get to celebrate this special day in the lovely London-town :)

  12. Beautiful (not to mention a perfect post for me to read today)! Happy Birthday!

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