Saturday, January 9, 2010

This is all there is

One of my friends has trouble with my ideas about the “peace that passeth all understanding”: She requires a peace that relates more practically to world affairs. So I’ve done some more thinking.

A grief that is honoured, and with the obscenity of Paul’s death and the depredations of multiple sclerosis I know all about grief, such a grief does not leave the mind grey and sludgy. It confers a poignancy, the black is blacker and the white is whiter. In such a state of mind, I sat under my cherry tree.

This is all there is:
far removed
from the world's dereliction,
a bee in a foxglove
persistently exploring
with me, caught in the sunlight,

The peace that this confers, is a peace that offers certainties, certainties that all questions will be answered; it offers connectedness – that I am connected to all living things and am therefore in my right place – a peace that cannot be explained.

If I am “far removed from the world’s dereliction,” I am also removed from the world’s cruelty and greed. So this spiritual state, however tenuous, has an ethical dimension. Although this is no more substantial than a glimpse of a monarch butterfly out of the corner of the eye which, when I turn my head is no longer there, it is satisfying to the heart and intuition.

It is the mind that asks the unanswerable questions. Such a state requires time and solitude, both middle-class attributes, which have no part in crowded, bustling, working-class lives. My response to beauty whether the beauty of classical music, great literature or nature, requires me to inhabit a certain world. I live in this tree-enclosed garden because I inherited money; I have the necessary education and exposure to high culture.

This is one caveat, the other is even more telling. What part would such experiences play in a concentration camp or an area devastated by ethnic cleansing or suicide bombs? How solid can a spiritual structure be, when it is erected on such a flimsy foundation? Does that mean my experience is relative only to me and could not apply to a victim of Auschwitz or Baghdad?

The difficulty is that these experiences are accumulative; they are a reason in themselves and create a yearning for more. You only have to read the later poems of Wordsworth to see his grief that such experiences have vanished. I am nearly 71 and rejoice that I can still be so totally absorbed by the sunshine, a bee and a foxglove.

That I am not the only one to feel this way is attested to by the following poem:

"Folk Tale"

By R. S. Thomas

Prayers like gravel
Flung at the sky's
window, hoping to attract
the loved one's
attention. But without
visible plaits to let
down the believer
to climb up.
to what purpose open
that far casement?
I would
have refrained long since
but that peering once
through my locked fingers
I thought that I detected
the movement of a curtain.

1 comment:

  1. Diana,
    Have I sent you this poem before?

    You Reading This, Be Ready

    Starting here, what do you want to remember?
    How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
    What scent of old wood hovers, what softened sound from outside fills the air?

    Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
    than the breathing respect that you carry
    wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
    for time to show you some better thoughts?

    When you turn around, starting here, lift this
    new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
    all that you want from this day. This interval you spent reading or hearing this, keep it for life-

    What can anyone give you greater than now,
    starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

    -William Stafford

    We celebrated Devin's birthday this past weekend at the coast and I included this poem in his card; thought it appropriate for the occasion. What better gift than poetry!
    love, diane