Sometimes it’s just a line that leaps out of a poem. And the line stays with you all day.
‘Empty, it fills with light …’
A Brass Bowl
Worn to brightness, this
bowl opens outward
to the world, like
the marriage of a pair
we sometimes know.
Filled full, it holds
not greedily. Empty,
it fills with light
that is Heaven’s and
its own. It holds
forever for a while.
Spellbound by ITV’s Sunday evening series Tutankhamun, I’m quite taken aback by emotional and visceral excitement experienced (moved to tears by first sight of the unearthed tomb), though long familiar with the outcome of Howard Carter’s labours.
The priceless treasures are unparalleled marvels in themselves. A boy king. The times. Ancient history. Utterly fascinating.
But tonight I wonder just what drives men like Carter? ‘Something’ assured him absolutely that if he kept going he’d find buried treasure that was his chief passion. He did. Was it just chance? Where does that kind of ‘genius’ and determination come from?
We bought a little hibernation house for a small hedgehog we’ve called Tucker – after the food we assiduously set out for him. We understand that hedgehogs are not much minded to share their garden space with slugs. This little fellow stands out in the crowd. Tucker is content to tuck into his tucker in company with the slugs who dine on it with him. They and he are creatures of habit, appearing at the same time most evenings.
So the setting up of the little house, camouflaging it, taking care not to leave our human scent on it, and scattering a few leaves inside to give him a head start, has been great fun. The thought of safe hibernation for our admired (if hapless) Tucker through the winter months warmed us. Until we thought he’d been sped on his way to hedgehog glory by the wheels beneath an internal combustion engine.
For four nights our evening hours have stuttered along between normal evening activities and frequent pulling back of the kitchen curtain, checking, without hope, for signs of a returned wanderer. We’ve both been sad. The little hedgehog hall was an unnecessary luxury. Except that tonight … and though hard to articulate, a small hedgehog’s reappearance, in company with garden slugs, has us hardly able to contain our delight.
Perhaps it’s a time of life thing, I don’t know, but I’m struck every day by the wave of warmth that exists in the heart of humanity and I want to talk that up, to bring it centre stage and open mic.
Not because I live in some sort of comfy little rabbit hole, somehow not noticing catastrophic tragedies in personal and world affairs, but rather – and precisely – because I have noticed, and am often sick to the pit of my stomach by so much I see and hear.
Myriad undisputed tragedies cannot blind us to the reality of corresponding goodness, and the abiding potential in millions for something better, richer, higher – hope for humanity’s future instead of succumbing to the notion that all things will always be dire.
And whilst some poison our days with processed predictions of doom, I want, always and everywhere, to flag up other world views – of goodness and hope and self-giving – the billions of gifts in the world that make life worth living.
Paint a picture of a world going to hell in a handcart and our progress thereto quickens. Love and notice healthy aspiration, deep contemplation, positive education, sustaining meditation, and the temperature changes. Hard edges soften.
We can be hopeful, and maybe more useful, a little more often.
I’ve kept company this week with some of the bravest, most self-giving, kind, imaginative and warm people one could meet. None of them are presidents or prime ministers. Some of them, with sometimes extraordinary back-stories, have been baking cakes on a television show and their goodness has touched me.
With others I’ve celebrated the gift of writing and the richness that directs and informs every sentence or stanza. We’re inter-connected. I’m aware, too, of journalists, peace-keepers and exhausted surgeons, giving of themselves to the limits of human endurance, who couldn’t be asked for more, but give more anyway.
Money and self-interest are not, in the final analysis, the only things that make the world go round. Not the things that make any of us great, ever, still less again.
I’m seeing greatness in little hospitalities, life-enhancing generosities, hospital runs, tea and buns, charity giving, letters, poetry, stories, outstretched hands, encouragement, teaching, reaching, listening – the everyday nudges to keep on living this gift-of-a-life to the full.
Warmth, warmth, warmth in the heart of humankind. May I not be blind to the reality of that presence – or too casually forget to contribute to it.
One of the oft-noted joys of meeting up with old friends (as I’ve done today), even after years, is the way conversation can be gladly picked up just where it last left off. The love and friendships I encounter along life’s way profoundly touch me, teaching me, every day.
What the late and great journal keeper and poet May Sarton wrote about the natural world she believed also, I think, of the special gift of long friendship …
… if one looks long enough at almost anything, looks with absolute attention at a flower, a stone, the bark of a tree, grass, snow, a cloud, something like revelation takes place. Something is “given”, and perhaps that something is always a reality outside the self. We are aware of God only when we cease to be aware of ourselves, not in the negative sense of denying the self, but in the sense of losing self in admiration and joy.
Journal of a Solitude, page 99
Just so, for me, in honoured and treasured friendships – near or far.
First frosts have finished off the dahlias this week and an extraordinary feast of mixed-wood colours are floating and fluttering through the Cumbrian air everywhere, like enthusiastically thrown confetti at a well-loved couple’s well-attended wedding.
That the proud dahlias should come to such a mushy end is truly and annually a sad affair, as is the departure of the house-martins beckoned by South African sunshine. But it’s also true that the morning’s cold and twinkling decoration makes for café coffees, hot chocolates, log stove fires, deeply vivifying lakeland cycling, and unmatched clearing of the air.
And all of the above fuels my day-dreams about the eternal round: as flowers and leaves return now to their source, so in a little space they’ll rise up again in glory, sage, seasonal, smiling, sustained and sustaining, from their now frosted, then fed and fertilized, warmed and watered ground.
The now orange leaves of
the Japanese Acer
in our English cottage
garden skitter – a new
Sunday morning’s quiet
autumn dawn – and a light
turn of an Upstream page
like salmon’s sunlit flight
is early wandering
through riverside landscape
with Mary Oliver
while each alone – and in
their own parts – sings new and
silent sabbath-songs deep
in observing hearts
(* Upstream, is a new Penguin Press collection of Selected Essays by Mary Oliver)
That coursing on, whate’er men’s speculations,
Amid the changing schools, theologies, philosophies,
Amid the bawling presentations new and old,
The round earth’s silent vital laws, facts, modes continue.
Walt Whitman Sands at Seventy, 1888
Let the poet’s perspective be my anchor and guide.
Indoors, I heard them before I saw them, and whatever it was they were up to sounded very much like major celebration. So I raced outside and the blue sky seemed full of gleaming sunlit underbellies. And had there been solo honking earlier it had ceded now to full chorus. No photographic exhibition will host the images I made hastily with only my iPad to hand. But I shall keep the grainy reminder that allowed me, after the event, to count a flight of 110 wild geese above our house, as I swallowed the lump in my throat, celebrating the harmony and hymnody of their communion.
There’s a simple slate memorial slab on the wall of the old church in Martindale near here. Remembering a former priest of the parish, it bears an exquisite inscription from the Song of Songs, 2.12
The time of the singing of birds is come
Cloud-capped Blencathra, bathed in sunshine as we cycled by, made for an atmospheric ride, despite collisions with the millions of midges also thriving (those that weren’t snapped up by birds on the wing not busy singing) – in the humid warmth of a lakeland autumn afternoon.
Eycott Hill holds a profound silence and space that I’m always awed by. Very few things indeed are better antidote to this world’s contemporary anxieties than deep silence beneath the rich blue dome of the sky. Here, as in the ultimate cycling onwards into the peace of all eternity, the time of the singing of birds is, indeed, come – and these quieter songs effectively drown out the raucous cacophany of some of the very much louder ones!
The craft’s art in linseed-oiled silk-smooth oak stirs
a deep response before we’ve stepped fully
into the gallery-space and one senses
immediately the artisan pride
in the room and even sight of the curtain
brings to hearing the clatter of a loom
like the one in the three storeyed weaver’s house
a friend set to restoring forty years
ago where I could close my eyes and yet see
before them the handwritten indenture
that certified a joiner’s licence to hew
and fashion extraordinary ceiling
beams in seventeen fifty two – and here
today’s table is such a craftwork too
When all the world appears
quite mad her peoples ought
not to be so sad that
we fail to see human
views as illusion and
that life’s confusion took
shape aeons ago and
we cannot know where the
future will go or how
we’ll grow but still we may
aspire to ways of peace
see the sun set and the
sun rise and celebrate
yet our little sojourn
on earth – and often when
least we expect it some
glad and joyful surprise