I was invited to this on Friday evening – not just a flower festival but an evening of song and poetry. I guess it was the poetry that swung it, as I’m not generally a huge fan of cut flowers. However, I have to admit that the displays were stunning – and very inventive; in fact someone was heard to comment that the arrangements were ‘better than Chelsea’. I’ve never been to Chelsea:
but I found the arrangements at the cathedral very individual and not at all cliched. The first thing that struck the eye – apart from the wine stall, naturally – were the shield arrangements on the pillars, the splashes at the foot of the lectern just as if flowers were a spray of water frozen in time, and the rows of white and yellow at the foot of the windows. But I had no time to look at any more as we were summoned to take our seats for the performance. John Florance of radio Leicester read the poems, and brought a lot of expression to them, for which I was grateful as I have been to too many poetry readings where the poems are simply massacred (this includes Ted Hughes’ reading of his own work!) But the evening started with a soprano singing the timeless ‘Gather Ye Rosebuds’ by Herrick: apparently the Cathedral has connections to the Herrick family. Then John Florance read Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’ while my eye (my inward eye!) flashed around and caught explosions of marigolds – red, orange and yellow – gladioli, white roses and a profusion of mingled red flowers clambering down from the rood screen in front of the chancel.
The soprano and piano harmonised beautifully on three more songs, and while I listened I took in some more of the floral exuberance around me: a bridal suite adorning another screen, some trumpeting lilies blaring from the pulpit, a baptismal arrangement near the font, and out of the corner of my eye I catch a rich, ruby-red burst of flowers like a sacred heart.
It was time now for the octet of singers to rise and play their part – or parts: soprano, alto, tenor and bass – and they gave us five flower songs by Benjamin Britten. These featured some interweaving melodies which, like Bach, give the mind plenty to deal with and the senses a great deal to enjoy, not least the beautiful harmonies: I was particularly struck by the amazing and unexpected resolution at the end of the second song.
During the interval I wandered round with my glass of wine and notebook (not easy) and found that there were many more displays than I had realised – too many to take in during the course of one evening. Many of the displays were on a particular aspect of loyalty, such as marriage, which had a white and silver theme. There was also a Battle of Bosworth arrangement, featuring arrows and helmets woven into the red and white flowers (no poppies, though) and an incredible display just called ‘King Richard III’.
I was touched to see that, only one day after the event, the cathedral had placed a commemorative prayer corner where visitors could light candles for the family who died in the fire in Leicester:
There was also a waterfall of red commemorating St Martin’s act of charity in cutting his cloak in half to give to a beggar.
After the break there were more poems, including Blake’s ‘The Sick Rose:’
followed by some devotional poems and then a couple by Marvell. The only poem I really disliked was by Tennyson:
but a dollop of Emily Dickinson and a slice of Robert Service put me back on track.
‘the golden sunshine is
the laugh of God’
I’ll leave you with that thought.
Today, it seems, is the last day of the flower festival: