Walahfrid Strabo is always at work on the grounds of my local cathedral. The ninth-century abbot who tutored Charlemagne’s grandson is remembered in the garden, where a stone baptismal font is surrounded by plants he described in a poem. Gardening gave Walahfrid the metaphors he needed to talk about the world. Plurima tranquillae cum sint insignia vitae was the sum of his teaching: “A quiet life has many rewards.”
More than eleven centuries later, Walahfrid would probably be as troubled as today’s neighbors were when they learned the cathedral is closing its greenhouse.
In “On the Cultivation of Gardens,” Walahfrid wrote that a plot full of flora was evidence of hard work repaid, a notion that made him an optimist:
True, that part there
Below the high roof is dry and rough from the lack
Of rain and the heaven’s benison; true, this
Part here is always in shade, for the high wall’s
Solid rampart forbids the sun to enter.
Yet of all that was lately entrusted to it, the garden
Has held nothing enclosed in its sluggish soil
Without hope of growth.
Friends of the greenhouse aren’t nearly as hopeful; the cathedral insists its decision is final. Walahfrid, who found poetry easy but gardening hard, would likely see metaphors here.
The closing will make us one metaphor poorer. In a city that thrives on ephemeral matters, it’s a pity to lose a place that hints at the timeless rewards of a quiet life.
One thought on ““When everything’s quiet, will you stay?””
“How vainly men themselves amaze
To win the palm, the oak, or bays ;
And their uncessant labors see
Crowned from some single herb or tree,
Whose short and narrow-vergèd shade
Does prudently their toils upbraid ;
While all the flowers and trees do close
To weave the garlands of repose.
Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,
And Innocence, thy sister dear!
Mistaken long, I sought you then
In busy companies of men :
Your sacred plants, if here below,
Only among the plants will grow ;
Society is all but rude,
To this delicious solitude. . .”
The “busy companies of men” are getting it wrong again, alas. I’m really sorry to hear it.