All Saints and Souls : and In July by Sir Henry Newbolt

Today (1st November) is All Saints (or All Hallows).  Tomorrow is All Souls.  For Roman Catholics the distinction is clear:  All Saints commemorates those departed souls who have attained the beatific vision, All Souls is for the rest, who are technically still in purgatory.

For Anglicans, inevitably and mercifully, the distinction is a little woolier.  Depending on when the days fall, there is a tendency to celebrate both at the same time.  Many churches offer a Service for the Bereaved, typically a simple service, often by candlelight, where the congregation remember those known to them who have died.

In the middle ages, incidentally, it was traditional for poor folk to go from door to door on All Souls (or, according to some authorities, All Saints), asking for food in return for saying prayers for souls in purgatory – a practice known as “souling”.  So, if a ghostly figure comes knocking at your door tomorrow demanding sweets and cakes, it might not be a trick-or-treater who’s got the dates mixed up but – given the thinness of the veil between this world and the next at this time of year – a ghostly souler.  The correct form, I believe, is to offer them a “soul cake”*.    

Anyway I thought I’d try to find an appropriate poem to mark these important festivals.  I’m not sure that I’ve succeeded, but here it is – In July, by Sir Henry Newbolt.

His beauty bore no token,

No sign our gladness shook;

With tender strength unbroken

The hand of life he took:

But the summer flowers were falling,

Falling and fading away,

And mother birds were calling,

Crying and calling

For their loves that would not stay.

 

He knew not Autumn’s chillness,

Nor Winter’s wind nor Spring’s;

He lived with Summer’s stillness

And sun and sunlit things:

But when the dusk was falling

He went the shadowy way,

And one more heart is calling,

Crying and calling

For the love that would not stay.

Susan Chitty’s biography explains the circumstances of its composition –

“A source of more immediate pain had been the death of Bernard and Helen Holland’s first baby, Christopher… Margaret had been there alone with Helen when it happened, the Duckworths being away “opening a Church or some other pious work” … when “some fool” selected the hymn ‘There is a place of peace, good angels know it well’  Helen broke down completely in Orchardleigh chapel.  Newbolt agreed that there was no comfort to be found in these words “They sounded unutterable twaddle (as they truly are) in the presence of real grief and real faith”.”

HN wrote In July instead.

 

 

* Here is a recipe.  I offer no guarantees as to its tastiness or authenticity.

Ingredients

3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup caster/superfine sugar
4 cups plain flour, sifted
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon allspice
3 tablespoons currants
a little milk
(see measure conversions for more information)

Method

– Cream the butter and sugar together until pale in colour and fluffy in texture.
– Beat in the egg yolks.
– Fold in the sifted flour and spices.
– Stir in the currants.
– Add enough milk to make a soft dough.
– Form into flat cakes and mark each top with a cross.
– Bake on a well-greased baking tray in a hot oven until golden.