Thursday, July 25, 2013

Book Passage I Like

Brother Cadfael was standing in the middle of his walled herb-garden, looking pensively about him at the autumnal visage of his pleasance, where all things grew gaunt, wiry and sombre. Most of the leaves were fallen, the stems dark and clenched like fleshless fingers holding fast to the remnant of the summer, all the fragrances gathered into one scent of age and decline, still sweet, but with the damp, rotting sweetness of harvest over and decay setting in. It was not yet very cold, the mild melancholy of November still had lingering gold in it, in falling leaves and slanting amber light. All the apples were in the loft, all the corn milled, the hay long stacked, the sheep turned into the stubble fields. A time to pause, to look round, to make sure nothing had been neglected, no fence unrepaired, against the winter.

He had never before been quite so acutely aware of the particular quality and function of November, its ripeness and its hushed sadness. The year proceeds not in a straight line through the seasons, but in a circle that brings the world and man back to the dimness and mystery in which both began, and out of which a new seed-time and a new generation are about to begin. Old men, thought Cadfael, believe in that new beginning, but experience only the ending. It may be that God is reminding me that I am approaching my November. Well, why regret it? November has beauty, has seen the harvest into the barns, even laid by next year's seed. No need to fret about not being allowed to stay and sow it, someone else will do that. So go contentedly into the earth with the moist, gentle, skeletal leaves, worn to cobweb fragility, like the skins of very old men, that bruise and stain at the mere brushing of the breeze, and flower into brown blotches as the leaves into rotting gold. The colours of late autumn are the colours of the sunset: the farewell of the year and the farewell of the day. And of the life of man? Well, if it ends in a flourish of gold, that is no bad ending.

- - Ellis Peters, Brother Cadfael's Penance.

This was her last Brother Cadfael book, written when she was in her eighties. I've wondered if she was already then resigning herself to the ending that Brother Cadfael contemplates here. The series ends well with this book, it is a fitting conclusion, but I naturally yearn for just one more, to hear Cadfael's happiness at being united openly with his son and son's family, and also to discover if he was punished for violating the Rule of St. Benedict in going to seek for his son without leave from his abbot.


Anonymous said...


I gotta agree with you there. That is a beautiful, and painful passage.

Cadfael was and is one of my relaxations; Miss Peters packed more good, and accessible and interesting philosophy and theology ( and history) into her books than could be found in a dozen college-level texts. I passed a graduate level political science admissions examination by writing a 5 page essay on the civil war between Stephen and Maude, almost completely based on what I had learned from reading Cadfael. All credit to Dame Peters.

I too wonder about Olivier, and Cadfaels godson - what became of them - I shudder at the possibility that someone else might try to pick up the characters.

Some things, though, are best left where the master left them.



ProudHillbilly said...

Lovely. But I don't think I read that one. Will have to rectify.

I, too, used the Cadfael series as a jumping off point for learning about Stephen and Maude.

Bob said...

@greg tag: Thanks for visiting. Unless Peters gave permission in her will, no one will be able to use her characters while her books are still under copyright, I'm thinking.

@ProudHillbilly: If you dropped the series somewhere in the middle it would pay to go back and pick it up where you left off; Brother Cadfael's Penance, although it can be read as a stand-alone novel, really features too many links to the previous books to be fully enjoyed if you do so.