Saturday, 2 January 2010
In my beginning is my end with sky lanterns, Les Murray, Sean O' Brien and Little Gidding.
I have returned from northerly climes, where snow lay deep and crisp but uneven. Much time was spent bonding with Beloved Only Offspring and wondering if David Tennant’s Hamlet quite hit the spot and reading Sean O’Brien’s novel Afterlife which made me laugh at the way he puts his finger on some of the more uncomfortable ways poets can network and operate, the poems more in the service of overweening ego than art. From this I returned to read some Les Murray who I have heard read on three or four occasions and each time his sheer hold on the importance of humanity and physical and emotional landscape has always impressed me. It Allows a Portrait in Line Scan at Fifteen is still one of the most agonising honest poems I have ever read, it contains no self pity. It is so minutely observed you almost need to blink yourself to stop the poet’s eyes searching the subject. Yet amidst all this minute close observation there is contained a love so huge it can barely be contained within the poem
I and friends celebrated the arrival of 2010 by setting off eco-friendly sky lanterns with hopes for 2010 written on them. Once we got the knack and we managed to avoid one setting fire to the leylandi and a neighbour’s extension it was an unexpected emotional moment watching those hopes rise up and sail away into a beautiful night, stars, full moon, the way nights are when you imagine beautiful nights.
New Year Resolutions? Research has shown that up to 80% of all New Year Resolutions never stick past mid January. The best way apparently is to plan a resolution well in advance and ensure you tell all and sundry about it and put in small achievable markers of success which you can chart your progress by. Private resolutions whispered to yourself at one minute to midnight on 31st December are doomed before the snowdrops even appear. Some resolutions are full of common sense; give up smoking, diet, lower alcohol consumption, be more resolute about all sorts of things that require constant resolve if they are to flourish.
I wandered off to Little Gidding just before New Year with a friend, it was damp and bone numbingly cold. The sun-roof in my car had leaked overnight so I and friend (who valiantly did not complain of a damp backside until I owned up to having one) sat on slightly cold damp seat until we arrived at our destination. The ride may have been an insight into slight incontinence problems yet to come, although friend is far too young to have to worry about that just yet, other things maybe but not incontinence. The little church there never ceases to work its particular magic on me despite cold, wet and slightly sodden bum. It is a tiny church , its door facing out onto open fields. In 1185 the church there was granted to the Order of Knights Templars and in 1312 when they were disbanded it passed to the Knights Hospitallers . Any mention of the Knights Templars can lead to some going into a frenzy of strange theories courtesy of Mr Dan Brown but the truth is always so much more mundane, they wanted the revenue the small church might bring. No esoteric knowledge was left in code here other than Eliot’s poem maybe. Little Gidding, way back then, was such a tiny impoverished place that the Templars never gained anything from it all and not a single Templar ever set foot there. In I348 the Black Death arrived and everyone in the village died and it became a church without any parishioners. A few households (6) came back in the early 16th century but by 1594 there were no houses left in the village. It was in 1625 that Nicholas Ferrar bought the land, the church and the small manor house and stated to rebuild what had crumbled away.
Ferrar was a London merchant and Deputy of the Virginia Company that founded the American Company but then as now there was a huge economic downturn and the company was wound up and he faced bankruptcy. From this Nicholas decided that renouncing materialism was the way forward and a plague in London finally pushed them out into the wilds of Huntingdonshire. This redoubtable family within a few years had set up a school for the children of various family members who came to join them, almshouses for some aged and sick people and a dispensary to give medicines and soup to the locals in need. These were people bent on prayer and doing good after the financial world gave them a good kicking. That Protestant ethic of good works was never to be sneered at in the days when they were usually the only source of hope in hard times. I wonder how many bankers and high city fliers will turn to doing good works and living the spiritual life post credit crunch and the fall from grace of the house of money.
As for my New Year resolutions any I make I make in the knowledge that they will require work and what I think I want is not what I may need and purpose in life is sometimes a trickster so I’ll play my resolutions close to my chest. The first section of Little Gidding says something similar.
If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade
And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment.