The Work of a Winter 8
St Antony’s Leuven 1643
The brother has gone in and left the fire and a woman’s voice from the Begijnhof
wafts in with the blue smoke of leaves, gentle as the midnight singing in the dark
of the Clares of Lough Ree. I went there near the end to copy the book of their rule,
a workaday one for the hard life they live day in day out – I felt almost guilty
to be putting their austerity down so stark and I cannot say I was not glad to leave them.
It’s a sore existence they have there in the wet heart of Ireland. They all take a part
in the drawing of turf and water for the house, tending a mucky garden in the rain
in neither shoes, nor socks, nor stockings. They wear rough wool against their skin
like the robes of St Clare, who thought the homespun velvet and the rope a jewelled belt,
her wooden slippers gleaming gold in the tiny light of Mary’s altar.
They say she loved the rain on the hills of Spoleto because it was a link to him
but rain was rare in Tuscany – we had no such problem, there was always rain.
They prayed so hard and so unceasingly that midday seemed like midnight
and even then they’d be up and at the matins. I stayed two days and they are praying
for me now and will be at my death, that was their promise for the book.