No need to wonder what heron-haunted lake
lay in the other valley,
or regret the songs in the forest
I chose not to traverse.
No need to ask where other roads might have led,
since they led elsewhere;
for nowhere but this here and now
is my true destination.
The river is gentle in the soft evening,
and all the steps of my life have brought me home.
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
A treasure found between
promise and memory,
a bracketed beauty, the searched-for house
revealed itself – pretty, gabled, white,
a farmhouse once, perhaps no longer –
perched above clean-swept yard,
a low wall setting the house apart
All I knew was of a man who lived here once,
nearly two hundred years ago;
his son, who left, but in the end
came home to die.
Then and now, sheltering trees behind,
light screen of more across the road. Beyond,
gentle mile upon mile of wooded valley,
gold hills, blue hills, undulating
into far distance.
On the way,
by the winding road, a woman
had come to her gate, directing me
with the zest and drama of someone
sociable, living in isolation, for whom
a stranger’s query was a happening.
The house began to live.
And after, remembering it, remembering
the beauty of those great benign
solitudes, filtered through drooping boughs,
I felt the discovery of this place was not
simply enclosed by the journey there
and then the thinking back, but mingled
with all of that, in a blurring of time
and feeling – joined with more, too.
There seemed no gulf
between the falling in love, so suddenly,
with this discovered place, and any human love;
for each embraced the other, each was now
more deeply felt for this conjunction.
Into the same
mystery, their roads ran on.
Sometimes Ruth Bidgood’s poems present life’s ‘treasure found’ in the most exquisitely tender way. Tonight I (and perhaps you?) shall doubtless ponder what changes might be brought to bear in any person’s life when and if they’re able to look at anything, anywhere, with such an acute and loving eye. What sight of treasures – pretty, gabled, undulating, winding, directing, filtered, discovered, embracing – might touch us, and change us, for the better, forever?
There’s the usual debate about the sense or otherwise of bank holidays in the UK press today. Millions hoping to head into the stuff of dreams wind up overheated, frustrated and angry in miles long traffic jams on the motorway. When I have the choice between home or away on a bank holiday weekend I’ll pretty much always opt to stay. But dreams are important. I was enormously touched by one of Ruth Bidgood’s poems this evening:
Train to the Sea
When she was old, contented,
I think, with her inland home,
she said ‘One of these mornings
I’m going to get on a train
by myself, and go to the sea.’
It became just something she would say,
repeated with no urgency,
little conviction. No one felt any need
to help her set out on that small adventure.
No one thought she would do it, or even
that she truly wanted to go.
Yet after she died, I found her list
of trains to the sea, crumpled a bit
and thumbed, as if she had often
peered at it, making her plans.
But always in the end it seemed
a formidable, rash and lonely thing,
that little journey, and she calmed
her heart with small domestic things,
or saw rain coming, or heavy heat, and stayed.
The candle-lighting theme of the last ten days or so is still striking a chord with me as I light both the log stove and candles in my dear little sanctuary of a study – looking out at shadows across the winter garden, remembering the colours of last summer and looking forward to the next.
Lights, quietness and warmth lend themselves often to poetic recollection and prayer. The poetry itself, like Divine Order, plays its part in re-collecting me, “bringing me – or restoring me – to my senses”. Anyway, the Welsh poet Ruth Bidgood comes to mind tonight:
Tonight, after a storm, lighting candles,
I remember a picture I have seen
of Indian women at night
launching candles on leaf-boats
to float away downstream,
carrying prayers into the dark.
Tonight, lighting candles, I think
of the dark faces, the dwindling lights,
night closing back, the water
black again, reflections gone,
boats all sailed away, and the prayers
now rising from some further reach
of the sacred river. Out of sight
the dancing end of the little flames.
Tonight I light candles.
What prayers were waiting
for these new bodies of fire?
Standing outside, I see
upon a dark and turbulent sky
my house launched, with a freight of light.