Tag: life

To A Granddaughter, Aged Four

Here’s another stab at a poem I posted a while ago. I think it’s sufficiently different to warrant a fresh outing. Click this link to see the original version – Beached

 

So you – sights set upon horizons – ask
For tales of bygone days when I was young
And just set sail myself. What spring to mind
Are moments when, for me, an unknown world
Emerged in truth from sugar-coated sham –
Awakenings in sudden storms, high seas.

The shore you leave with newly-opened eyes
Is where I ended up once time and tide
Grew tired of play and cast me skin and bone
Above the last-gasp breaker. Don’t confuse
These stray salt-streaks upon my face for tears
Nor think me thoughtless when I let fine sand
Fall soft through slackened fingers, so to speak,
For childhood’s visions are as hard to grasp
As specks of gold to sift from sediment
Or meanings to distil from mists of time.

And who can truly claim that he recalls?
So much is lost in transit – fire burned down
To faintly-glowing embers – vivid frames,
From floors of cutting-rooms, rough-spliced at random.

Take your pick. I’d sooner sit before
The fire and dream aloud than watch some movie
Made of smoke and mirrors. Photographs,
Those barefaced little fibbers, capture skin
But hardly give a hint of what’s within.

I’d show you glossy albums packed with stills
Or reels and reels of camera-conscious motion
Should any trace remain of who I was
And what it felt like out upon on the ocean.

No slideshow, then – nor sideshow, come to that,
When all you want is just the Main Event!
So ask me, as you do, what it was like
When I was five – or six or seven – or eight.

I’ll close my eyes and wait for anecdotes
To wander into view – old vinyl plucked
From deep within my whirring jukebox brain –
Epiphanies that sing again, their joys
Released and any sadness alchemised
By healing time and telling into mirth.

So at the death we journey towards birth.

 

Image result for boat on tropical beach

 

Image: Pinterest

Non, je ne regrette rien (2/3)

There are many things I ought not to have done in my life but, like Edith Piaf, I regret nothing. Those mistakes have made me the person I am today – more careful, more collected, more considerate than the callow and somewhat confused youth I once was.

Life, said the poet John Keats, is a process of soul-building – an extraordinary insight from one who had to cram a whole lifetime’s self-construction into 24 years. Terminal illness robbed Keats of his chance but sadly some young people with their lives ahead of them become so jaded that they toy with the idea of taking their own lives or even the lives of others.

My emergency message to them would be this Buddhist advice: don’t just do something, sit there. I’d follow that up with: hang on in there, my fellow-sufferers, give life a chance to work its slow magic and one day you too can reap the fruits that only time will bring.

To continue the metaphor: pick the blossom and the fruit won’t grow. Ripeness is all, as Keats’s adored Shakespeare once and forever put it. And as that famous modern philosopher Ian Anderson (aka Jethro Tull) once sang – and still sings – life’s a long song.

Ha, cue music!

 

I’ve said it before, but our certain knowledge that the tune comes to an end is what gives it sweetness. We share a common sense of its poignant, fragile beauty and if we have a purpose it is surely to cherish and nurture that sense in ourselves and in others. We cannot wish away pain but we can sometimes gain solace by subsuming it in the deeper communications of art. It won’t always be obvious what is meant because what is meant is sometimes too deep for laughter or tears:

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

Unsettling it may be but then so is existence. That’s probably the reason kids keep asking us all those crazy questions – who, what, where, when, why? I’m still a kid. What I want to know is, why do they keep asking me stuff I don’t know?

Talking of big questions, this astronaut comes back from the red planet and all these scientists cluster round asking, Is there life on Mars? The astronaut replies, Only on Saturday night …

Ah, punchlines … as Terry Jones of Monty Python realised, Spike Milligan showed that if the sketches are funny enough (funny haha or funny peculiar), you don’t need ’em! Spike who, you ask? All is explained in my previous post (and lovesick fan-letter) https://davekingsbury.wordpress.com/2015/11/10/spike-in-audience-ratings/

Where was I? Oh yes … art … as opposed to kitsch, perhaps. The difference? Kitsch is considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but is sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way. Kitsch, in other words, is cliché. Whereas art seeks to give voice to what is yet unspoken – to discover the key to a once and future kingdom.

Perhaps.

If anyone ever deserved to feel regret it was Pandora who turned a key in the forbidden lock and unleashed blind hate, conflict and ignorance upon the world. But without those awful furies how would we be able to picture the love, peace and understanding that underpins the still unwritten constitution of our new realm?

Do I regret embarking on this further raid on the inarticulate? In a word, non! Besides, there’s Part 3 to come, when all these disparate strands will miraculously weave themselves together into a set of new clothes fit for an emperor … whoops!

 

 

Image result for emperor's new clothes

 

Image: Totally Kathy 

Art Attack #3

Hmm, time to pull this rambling argument with myself together! Ah, time

The poet Andrew Marvell, frustrated by his lover’s reticence to commit herself, gently reminds her they’re not getting any younger:

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime …

… But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.

And the elephant in the room is … well, here’s a selection of euphemisms from those clever Monty Python chaps:

Image result for dead parrot sketch

Owner: Well, he’s…he’s, ah…probably pining for the fjords.

Mr. Praline: PININ’ for the FJORDS?!?!?!? What kind of talk is that? … ‘E’s not pinin’! ‘E’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!

The English language probably has more ways to avoid this subject than Eskimos have words to describe snow. Which subject, you ask? Well, er … look, I’m not being coy, it’s just … you see, moving from funny to serious ain’t easy! Right, deep breath, dive in …

Image result for blackadder goes forth

Laughter can be nervous. There is such a thing as gallows humour. Blackadder Goes Forth found plenty in trench warfare to laugh at but the final moments were filmed with admirable solemnity, ending in a memorable still frame which dissolved to a field of poppies:

Image result for blackadder goes forth ending

Image result for blackadder goes forth ending

Philip Larkin puts it as well as anybody:

Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word – the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages,
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.

from ‘MCMXIV’

Time heals, they say, but public feeling about World War One seemed to intensify in recent years. Was this because Old Soldiers approaching their natural end of life at last broke traumatised silence to speak of less fortunate comrades? Perhaps it was the sheer number of WW1 centenary events after 2014, its battles engraved on monuments and hearts in so many nations – the likes of Mons, Liege, Ypres, Anzac Cove, Suvla Bay, Verdun, Jutland, the Somme, Arras, Passchendaele.

Premature death is always shocking – a loss of human potential which prompts urgent political questions about the denial of entitlements. What, we wonder, might those young people have contributed to the common good? And where, we ask, is the machinery to stop such pointless suffering?

Death on such an industrial scale is a shared agony and betrayal and shame that creates a public demand for a community wider than the flag-waving armed camps that march to war. The cry goes up: Never again! And how often we hear of friends and families campaigning to protect the safety of strangers in the name of a loved one who has suffered an avoidable death … Never again! 

No one should live in vain. All life has value. And I would suggest that all death has meaning because without it life would have no shape, sweetness or intensity. Would each day be so precious if we could live for ever? Each day we hold others in our hearts who are not with us, dead or alive, and so become temples of eternity. We honour the living and the dead, even those ancestors we never knew, because they have fitted us for this moment.

Realising this can be an epiphany leading to a kind of apotheosis. The words may be religious but the ideas aren’t, though they are sacred to me. As Nietzsche said: Be faithful to the earth. I also take heart from novelist Lawrence Sterne:

When we are – death is not; and when death is – we are not.

Live in the moment and last forever. Growing older, I find, most desires fade away but one burns brighter: the desire for remembrance. I would like people to have a good time at my funeral, remembering they are still alive. And I would like to produce something which has a value to others after I am gone. Re-enchant the world, maybe, or at least give somebody a good laugh.

Ha, just remembered my previous post promised to answer this question: if nature is broken, can art mend it? Nah, is the obvious answer, but DH Lawrence offers a crumb of hope:

It is the way our sympathy flows and recoils that really determines our lives. And here lies the vast importance of the novel, properly handled. It can inform and lead into new places the flow of our sympathetic consciousness, and it can lead our sympathy away in recoil from things gone dead.

Include poems, songs, plays, films and other art forms and you could get something going to win hearts and minds for the good fight. If nature is broken, only we can fix it – if we’ve a mind to give up shopping and go living instead. Could the aesthetic rewards of friendly art wean us, perhaps, from the addictions of lonely consumption? Art is story and stories make good signposts.

Art, like love, can even transcend death. This is because art, like love, can only exist between us – a sacred unity, the two that is not two. I find paradox miraculous because it breaks down oppositions. Without Contraries there is no progress. It takes a writer and a reader to create meaning. Anger can become Compassion. Death and Life are one.

Image result for paradox

 

‘Everything is the opposite of what it appears to be.’    – John Lennon