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Strawberries and Cornels

When we were boys, born and raised in inland regions, we could already imagine the sea, after seeing some water in a little glass; but until we tasted them in Italy, the flavour of strawberries and cornels could in no way come into our minds.”

(Augustine, Ep. 7.3.6)

When the first taste came…
it was, I must confess, a disappointment.
We had read, as all good schoolboys do,
of how they feasted in the age of gold:
‘Contented with created foods, they gathered
wild arbutus fruits, and mountain strawberries,
and cornels clinging to their bramblethickets.’
We were raised in that forest of images
as wild boys, fending for ourselves –
what did we know of these Italian fruits?

Now here we were, Nebridius, we two
young Africans, up-and-coming men
in Roma aeterna, home-sick and sick-sick.
We heard a hawker cry in woeful Latin
fragi, corni – his neuters masculated.
We bought some dismal samples of his wares,
picked too soon and shrivelled in the sun,
the fruit of an age of iron, not of gold.
Well…
could ever such poor flesh match the image?

Three summers passed; and there I was
in that little country house outside Milan.
Alypius came in from the fields one day
with strawberries and cornels freshly picked.
I tasted them, and all at once I knew
their true flavour. And so I came upon,
through a small explosion of created beauty,
That Which Is.

But tell me this: could I have tasted joy
without the image, or the disappointment?

Author

  • Samuel is a PhD Candidate in Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto, writing on the development of the idea of evangelisation in early medieval Christianity. He was born in Vancouver to Northern Irish parents and grew up in Melbourne, Australia. He worships at Christ the King Anglican Church in downtown Toronto.

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