Kingfishers

Words are fools
Who follow blindly, once they get a lead.
But thoughts are kingfishers that haunt the pools
Of quiet; seldom-seen …

Siegfried Sassoon
from Limitations

“Words are fools / Who follow blindly” said Sassoon, the poet of the First World War – who loved the glories of measured words, whilst well understanding that they’re a tool that can be misused with sometimes catastrophic consequences.

In post-EU Referendum days here in the UK we’re feeling what it is to be a society convulsed by words-induced panic. I, for one, am glad to observe that there appears to be a great deal of feeling being experienced in the midst of it all – for it’s often the case that when human beings really feel something at gut and heart level they’re a little less likely to be brow-beaten by orators great and small.

My little X-in-the-box on Referendum day was not so much informed by words as by emotion. And that emotion, that feeling, tells me – every bit as much today as it has ever done – that what human beings can do together, what nations and continents can do together, we ought to do together.

Perhaps the present leadership vacuum need not be wholly lamented since it affords at least a little space for  kingfishers that haunt the pools / Of quiet; seldom seen …

The Wind on the Downs

The Wind on the Downs

I like to think of you as brown and tall,
As strong and living as you used to be,
In khaki tunic, Sam Brown belt and all,
And standing there and laughing down at me.
Because they tell me, dear, that you are dead,
Because I can longer see your face,
You have not died, it is not true, instead
You seek adventure in some other place.
That you are round about me, I believe;
I hear you laughing as you used to do,
Yet loving all the things I think of you;
And knowing you are happy, should I grieve?
You follow and are watchful where I go;
How should you leave me; having loved me so?

We walked along the towpath, you and I,
Beside the sluggish-moving, still canal;
It seemed impossible that you should die;
I think of you the same and always shall.
We thought of many things and spoke of few,
And life lay all uncertainly before,
And now I walk alone and think of you,
And wonder what new kingdoms you explore.
Over the railway line, across the grass,
While up above the golden wings are spread,
Flying, ever flying overhead,
Here still I see your khaki figure pass,
And when I leave the meadow, almost wait
That you should open first the wooden gate.

Marian Allen
from The Wind on the Downs,
Humphreys, 1918

Friendships, peace, and freedom of movement in Europe and beyond are of profound importance to me.

I’ve always failed to understand the attraction of too-proud-nationalism – on the battlefield or the sports arena. I cannot begin to imagine the horror of being required to take up arms against another person.

I cannot be persuaded that my political, religious or social beliefs and opinions are the only ones worth having. I have virtually no inclination to set myself in competition with anyone. I’m frequently dumbstruck by the casual violence implicit in the way some people speak of others.

I smiled wryly when I recently read an earnest report about the (relatively benign) effects of light pollution, wishing dearly for higher concentration instead on the thumping noise pollution that blights town and countryside alike. I’m genuinely and generally horrified by the uninvited racket that accompanies such a great deal of cinematic and television output, and even just ordinary social engagement.

And I am frequently beleaguered by the impression that some in our society are absolutely obsessed with gratuitous violence as forms of filmed and televised “entertainment”.

I was touched to the core when I first read Marian Allen’s The Wind on the Downs. I felt I knew her. But more, more even than that, my heart was touched by the millions of other hearts who, for similar reasons, have written poems like this one throughout human history; and by those who are writing similar poetry today, and will be – perhaps with stubby pencil on scraps of paper whilst crammed on board a dangerously overloaded inflatable boat, or perched in the midst of bombed-out dusty concrete dereliction in Syria, tomorrow.

Here still I see your khaki figure pass,
And when I leave the meadow, almost wait
That you should open first the wooden gate.

I want to learn from Marian Allen’s humility, and from the sacrifice of her beloved. And I pray for a personal way of life, and for a humankind, whose first and last priority is – here-and-now – a generously humble, inclusive, quietly reflective and loving heart.

Starry night

It’s a clear-skied starry starry night, penetratingly cold, and I am at prayer, awe-struck as I gaze upwards. The slender new moon calls for my attention and delight, every bit as much tonight as it did when I was but a very small boy, and beneath this grand dome I know myself a very small man. Though the marvel of my capacity for contemplation and wondering seems great and wonderful a thing indeed, we humans don’t know as much as we would like to think we know!

Last evening I revelled in moving pictures of life in Jaipur, India – colour, exotic cuisine and candle-lighting prayer ceremonies beside the Ganges River – all beamed to a small tv screen in the heart of my home in England by innumerable wonders working together. India seems so far away – a culture largely beyond my imagination and outside my personal experience to date, like those of Asia generally, and Africa, the Americas, much of Europe, Australia, and Antarctica.

Huge continents to my little eye – as the cottage garden must appear to the field mouse living in our wood store – yet for all the infinite variety and diversity upon earth, it’s a little planet “just” 8,000 miles in diameter, floating for the past 4.543 billion years in a universe whose proportions humankind is really only just beginning to contemplate and “measure”, warmed and illuminated by a burning sun 92 million miles away. Oh, and look! – there’s Betelgeuse in the constellation of Orion, 642.5 light years away from earth, with a diameter of approximately 850 million miles – about 1000 times greater than that of the sun.

And in these awe-struck moments, craning my neck and gazing up into the mystery, and the silence, and the little groups of stars that I try to count but always end up lost amongst, I sense it may well be that the most important thing that our evolving humankind needs to fine-tune is our sense of perspective – before, in taking our tiny selves and our limited opinions too seriously, we do ourselves too much more damage.