Eagles and isles and uncompanioned peaks,
The self-reliant isolated things
Release my soul, embrangled in the stress
Of all days’ crass and cluttered business:
Release my soul in song, and give it wings;
And even when the traffic roars and rings,
With senses stunned and beaten deaf and blind,
My soul withdraws into itself, and seeks
the peaks and isles and eagles of the mind.
Wilfrid Wilson Gibson
Eagles and Isles: from Islands, 1932
I’ve had a lifelong appetite for quietness, even when I’m not deliberately seeking silence. Here, for me, the poet’s use of “embrangled” is a good description of the distress in the lives of countless human persons “stunned and beaten deaf and blind”. It rings clear – “befuddled” has a similar effect – and is probably the word in this poem that calls to mind for me Wendell Berry’s And we pray, not / for new earth or heaven, but to be / quiet in heart, and in eye, clear. / What we need is here.
One of the many quietly peaceful attributes my grandmother possessed – undimmed even in her later years by the discomforts of extreme old age and infirmity – was her ability to appreciate all that she had. I can’t think of a single occasion when she expressed dissatisfaction with her lot. Neither materialist on the one hand, nor blind to the joys of safety, good food, her faith, her husband, home and family on the other, she was rarely, if ever, agitated.
Can I be content with my lot? Perhaps I (or any of us) can if I spend less time wishing for a “new earth or heaven” (or more money, or better governance, or power, or …) and contemplate instead – along with eagles and isles and uncompanioned peaks – that for the most part what we need is here. Idealism! Idealism! – I hear the cry. And of course I’m well aware of the plight of countless nations and peoples who are in genuine need. But the world’s wars and roars of discontent appear to be adding only to its stresses. I can’t help but think that I’ll live better upon the earth if my daily starting point first recognises the goodness and the provision in what’s already here.