The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.
Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made
is star-stuff too?
– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –
dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.
Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.
Wednesday, 19 January 2022
Thinking as I do from time to time about Keats' profoundly simple statement that 'Truth is beauty and beauty truth' (I'm reminded in part because it's one of the few ideas couched in poetry that TM rates), it occurs to me that truth is to the mind what beauty is to the heart; and how we need both. It's exciting coming across an idea or concept that seems to have traction, to be of another plane, to convey what we sense but may not always be able to articulate. It's also exciting, and inspiring – and essential to the life of the heart – to experience beauty, through, as we usually do, the senses of the physical body (in this I include, say, meeting the eyes of another with love for example, as well as the more obvious access to the manifest beauty of the physical world).
I'm partly saying this because the students on my poetry course have recently been looking in some depth at Robert Hass' wonderful and difficult poem 'Meditation at Lagunitas', where, amongst many other things, he seems to be suggesting that profound human experience, akin to beauty, is found in the particular, the unique, the individual, the specific – and in his poem it's the recording of this rather than the abstract generalised conceptual truths that we feel moving our hearts. And yet it's against the backdrop of the abstract and eternal that the particular and transient reveals itself.
So I'm suggesting that 'truth' is an equivalent to the abstract 'backdrop', where 'beauty' is the matter of the world of the senses.
And I'm partly saying this too because in the last two weeks I've had occasion three times to remember the ever-presence of the nearness of death. In the last few years I've experienced a number of deaths of people, animals, ways of life that were dear to me; and of course we experience a perpetual cycle of births and deaths in smaller ways all the time. These three times, though, were more directly personal reminders. I've found myself this morning, after a night's sleep, utterly ecstatic to be outside in all the beauty of our world when walking the dog this morning. It's always a source of joy to me being outdoors, no matter what the weather (interior or external), but it's heightened by the reminders of our transience, isn't it?
Once again this morning I picked up a book that has lived by my bedside since I bought it at Glastonbury Festival in 1994. It's a modern book of hours: Soul of the Earth, by Phil Cousineau. Each page contains a passage or excerpt from a poem, accompanied by a stunning photo by Eric Lawton, and each day of the week is given a number of pages according to the old monastic tradition of praise-singing at set times of the day.
Here's a paragraph from the introduction: 'Contemplation of beauty is the consolation of the world. The soul needs the slow absorbing of beauty just as plants long for the sun and the sea craves the moon. Deep contemplation of beauty in the scudding clouds over an ancient Mayan temple, the shimmering blue-white of Vermeer's portrait A Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, the deep black god-tracks of Old English in the hoary pages of Beowulf is still our most creative human response to the shuddering of the soul.' He continues: 'And always after every encounter with the wonders of the world came a further wonder: How can I keep alive the astounding moments of my life so that I might withstand the turbulence, the soul-breaking moments?'
Make a book of beauty. Choose a big hardback notebook – one that you like the look and feel of – and dedicate it entirely to the collecting of poems, quotes, phrases, images that move your heart. Keep it by your bed. Bathe in it often. Allow it to remind you that in all the distress and suffering in the world the moments of beauty are right here, right now, too. They can save your life.
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