I have recently changed my signature. Waking into town I was thinking of this and now I'm seeking to recapture the line of thought. I suppose the idea of "living in the moment" means that I should have been looking at the gardens as I passed them by or at least making sure that a HGV didn't knock me flying. But in the "moment" of walking into town my mind was wandering. The story of my life. What price "mindfulness"?
Thinking back, I remembered again a long dead wordsmith by the name of Malcolm Muggeridge. I think, once his libido had weakened somewhat he became a Catholic convert, inspired by an interview he had with Mother Teresa, which he called "something beautiful for God". Anyway, Mr Muggeridge was someone I admired in my late teens. As I say, a wordsmith. he had a way with language, and I read one or two of his books.
At school, poetry had bored me. In those days there seemed to be no Children's Poetry as such, not like today, and the only poems we were introduced to were hoary old nonsense of historic British valour, Trafalgar and Agincourt and suchlike. So I left school with no love of poetry. But Malcolm Muggeridge often quoted a couplet or two of William Blake in his own books, and these always took my fancy. Then one day, while browsing in a bookstore I spied "The Portable Blake". It was cheap so I bought it. The section that really caught my attention was Blake's "Songs of Innocence and Experience", simple poems that yet held profound meaning, like "The Tyger" (which up until them I thought was about the river, not knowing about Blake's eccentric spelling)
Well, the love of Blake led me towards other poets, those who until then - if I thought about them at all - I saw as old fogies sitting at desks in musty old garrets, waffling on about the Western Wind ("thou breath of autumns being") and other such irrelevant nonsense. One day I drifted into the British Museum and there was an exhibition on, I think of the Romantic Poets. I remember idling along the exhibits and a small notebook caught my eye. It was the actual notebook of Percy Shelly and was opened at the page were he had composed the poem beginning "When the lamp is shattered." My own mind was shattered, to see the actual notebook that had been on the desk where Shelly sat, the ink on the page that Shelly had put there - there were crossings out where better words had come into his mind, better expressions, and it shocked me into knowing Shelly as a human being, alive, vibrant, just like myself. Seeing that exhibition led me to the love of biographies, biographies of literary figures of the past, Wordsworth, Keats and so forth.
Eventually I found myself picking up the biography of Wilfred Owen, known for his poems of the First World War, of his experiences on the Western Front. This led to Seigfried Sassoon and Isaac Rosenberg, two other poets associated with WW1. Up until then the subject of war, any interest in it at all, had not been part of me. But after this while browsing in the local library I came across a little book that was the diary kept by a soldier during his time in the trenches in WW1. Not a literary figure at all, but I read the book with relish. Which in turn led me to others on the Great War and the experiences of the soldiers who had fought and died in it. Of the terrible fate of many in the so called "Pal's Battalions" of Kitchener's New Army. The promise had been that if you joined up together you would stay together. And fight together. And die together. On the first day of the Somme one sweep of a machine gun and all the men of a whole road (or whatever) were swept to their death. Which by then, reading about it, made me think of a poem by one of my favorites, Philip Larkin, "MCMXIV", which among other things speaks of the death of innocence, of how the Great War swept away so much.
There are poems of WW1 that dress up the soldiers as virtual people of a world apart - I suppose much like my own idea of poets in musty garrets - and they are spoken of as almost ethereal beings as in the lament of Wilfred Gibson.....
We who are left, how shall we look again
Happily on the sun or feel the rain
Without remembering how they who went
Ungrudgingly and spent
Their lives for us loved, too, the sun and rain?
A bird among the rain-wet lilac sings—
But we, how shall we turn to little things
And listen to the birds and winds and streams
Made holy by their dreams,
Nor feel the heart-break in the heart of things?
All well and good, but I prefer to think of those men as marching along singing some of the more down to earth songs, such as "Do Your Balls Hang Low?", apparently sung often by the men of the Great War. (Just looking it up, once General Douglas Haig heard the song being sung and immediately rode to the head of the column to remonstrate with the battalion commander, only to find the Colonel singing as heartily as his men)
Which almost brings me to my point, and where my musings and thinking had led me. That the full beauty of this world is open to the very "lowest" - a "little child shall lead them" as the Good Book says.; and as G K Chesterton once said, "great things are seen from the valleys, only small things from the heights". The instinctive love of a mother for her child can trump all the books on ethics. This is not sentimentality. It, at least for me, is engrained into the fabric of reality. Once, some time ago now, not long after my mother died of dementia, I was suffering from a couple of years of depression. It was Christmas Eve and I had been running around the town buying the last things for Christmas. I knew I needed a little sketch pad for my daughter, then six, which I had promised to get. But my pockets were empty and those were the days when Credit Cards were quite new, and to pay with one involved machines, signatures, and "tut tuts" in the queue behind you. I picked up a pad and lined up in the long queue and looked with trepidation at the very harassed looking young lady who was serving. Eventually it was my turn......."Sorry, I have no cash left, can I use my credit card?". If that young girl had snatched the pad and looked at me with enmity, in the state I was in then, who knows? How deep can depression go? Where does any road end? But no. She took the pad and smiled, a beautiful smile, and said "I think we are all out of cash now". Even now, thinking back, it almost reduces me to tears - of gratitude. I have always remembered that smile. Which cost nothing yet was worth everything.
I suppose I can say that my life now is to try to give that smile back to others in my own small way.
So, "When a scholar is born they forget the nembutsu".
Edited by tariki, 12 January 2017 - 08:26 AM.
Its "Lamp is shattered", not "lam" !