Book Review: The Morville Hours

It is only within the last two weeks that my garden has sprung to life. With the bitter, and very long, winter that has just passed, evidence of spring in the garden was late arriving and, longing for fine weather, I found myself contemplating one of mt favourite garden books.

The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift was published in Great Britain in 2008 by Bloomsbury Press, which was the edition I read. According to the frontispiece, Swift was a rare-book librarian in Oxford and Dublin. In 1988, she became a gardener and writer full-time, with her articles on gardening receiving wide distribution in the gardening press.

At the time she changed careers, Ms. Swift moved to a new home, the Dower House at Morville, in Shropshire, England. The Morville Hours is an account of how Swift built a garden in her new home. As she tells her account, the text follows the meditative path of the Hours of the Divine Office. The Hours of the Divine Office is the set of prayers that mark the hours of the day. These are ancient Christian prayers, common to both the Eastern and Western rites. The book that contained the prayers was known as the Breviary and originated in medieval times. Swift calls it the “bestseller” if its day. (Page viii)

As the Breviary was meant to be used for meditation, Swift meditates upon her home, her garden and her life in this book that is at once peaceful, but also a provocative reminder of our need for rootedness. Here is what she says about her life at Morville:

“And gradually I began to see that in the Hours – with their joyful Te Deum and litanies of praise, their Office of the Dead and Penitential Psalms, their despairing De Profundis and final serene Nunc Diminitus – was reflected the arc not only of a single day or a single year, but of a whole lifetime, with its trajectory from darkness into light and from the light into the darkness once more.” (Page 11)

For those who never had a liberal arts education, this is a work of literature that will educate you about some of the more important aspects of that education. Illustrated with woodcuts, filled with poetical references and scenes from her own life, this book can be read again and again at many different levels.

I reread my copy in corners of my garden, imagining myself to be any one of the persons that Katherine Swift is: an accomplished gardener, a classical scholar, a skilled writer – or a woman who has examined the her own life with compassion and found her way home at last.

(Note: My copy of The Morville Hours Is the 2008 Bloomsbury edition.)

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