Tuesday, 2 December 2014

and gone my way and forgotten it

R S Thomas
I have seen the sun break through 
to illuminate a small field 
for a while, and gone my way 
and forgotten it. 

But that was the pearl 
of great price, the one field that had 
treasure in it. I realize now 
that I must give all that I have 
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receeding future, nor hankering after 
an imagined past. It is the turning 
aside like Moses to the miracle 
of the lit bush, to a brightness 
that seemed as transitory as your youth 
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.


Commentators on Thomas's fine poem sometimes miss the fourth line. But isn't that the most striking thing: that one can see the miracle, even know it for a pearl of great price, and then just go on to forget about it?

This one simple fact, it seems to me, could be the basis for a whole human psychology. We experience love, the balm of loving and being loved, we experience the repose this gives us, the settled wellbeing and vitality, the togetherness of mother and child not getting in one another's way, and in this moment of knowing the melting heart, the kindly gaze, the held hand, the contentment of joint attention, security and acceptance - we know with self-evidencing clarity that this is all that really matters - and then it just goes. And we don't even notice it going. And we don't even notice when it's gone. And then after a time of irritable bereft lostness, preoccupied by some or other agitation, we see it again, the sun illuminating the field again, and it melts and warms us, and it appalls and amazes us that we lost it.

Why do you leave me? When I find myself lonely, troubled, empty, irritable.... But, well, really you don't leave me, it's just that I somehow forget that you were ever there. And that's why I struggle. I forget about the balm of your love, I forget about the joy of loving you. Is it something like this?


[a song:]

there are times when i know what love is.
quiet times, when my toes nestle in the warm living earth, and
a smile shines in my eyes without me knowing it.

yes: those are times when i know who you are.
peeking round the corners of my wish and fear,
and i meet you so quietly, and listen to you there.

and, when i leave, you ask me to hold on
to you and, sure, i do try for a while - but the
great forgetfulness soon clouds over me -

and you are hurt without knowing why,
whilst i fly up towards a sun that’s all my own:
invincible, majestic, expansive, sullen.

or that so exciting, desirable face i
call yours is all i see - and this is so
hurtful to what is most human in you.

or my wings melt and now i am unreachable
and think you’ve left, though really i’m plummeting
down into the ocean’s loneliest blue.

sometimes, though, i’m wounded enough to be able to
give something to you open-heartedly,
sing to you directly, and listen quietly to you singing.

so sorry i am that i leave you without knowing it;
how i wish you could tether me in the warm living earth,
bind me to those times when i know what love is,

quiet times, times when i know who you are,
peeking round the corners of my wish and fear.
and i meet you so quietly, and listen to you there.