Quick, now, here, now, always –
Here’s the first section of T.S. Eliot’s FOUR QUARTETS, BURNT NORTON – but if you have ten minutes to spare, click here to hear Ted Hughes reading it, transforming the words on the page into breath and music with the satisfying hiss of a reel-to-reel tape recorder in the background.
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
As ‘any fule kno’, the poem meditates on the nature of time and the desirability and difficulty in focusing on the present moment. It encompasses the divine, subjectivity and loss, drawing on Eastern and esoteric Christian texts in its imagery.
So, it is about everything and everything pointed to it this past week.
Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of reading and writing poems with Lyn White and Judith Dimond at Aylesford Priory. They focused on the Peace Garden as a source of inspiration, but the whole site was a revelation for me – I had no idea that it was such an important place of pilgrimage. The roses aren’t yet open but T.S. Eliot’s line that they ‘Had the look of flowers that are looked at’ was ever-present as the flowers revealed themselves in new ways in response to our gaze.
On Tuesday, I spent the evening with two dear friends whom I met on my first ever writing course on the island of Skyros almost twenty years ago. It was one of those pivotal encounters, a fortnight of wild writing and bad behaviour where something opened us up dramatically. The three of us lived at a heightened, (and unsustainable of course), pitch. Back then, I had the sense of a great shift in my life – and something similar seems to be happening now. Yesterday, I was violently ill, I think with some kind of virus, and spent it alternately vomiting and horizontal, talking intermittently with my friend, in another timeless state. It wasn’t pleasurable like learning about creative writing in the Greek sunshine, but the altered state of illness offers something that is out of the normal busy, distracted round of activity, a time of ‘neither arrest nor movement …/Where past and future are gathered.’
And on Sunday, I saw the movie, A Late Quartet, which opens with Christopher Walken, playing a cellist diagnosed with Parkinsons, reading the lines above to his students. The film, although there are a few hackneyed moments, is a moving study of how groups (in this case a string quartet) function and fail to function when there are changes imposed from outside. Of course, there’s much more in the film about the role of music in the lives of the characters.
One of the blogs I follow is by Jane Davis of The Reader Organisation, a social enterprise devoted to making reading more central to life. Coincidentally, her latest post relates to gardens and organisational styles, and she uses the idea of an orchestra as an ideal model for structure.
I want to think more about all this and listen yet again to the ghost of Ted Hughes. Meanwhile, it’s cold and wet outside and I have an engagement. A bit of reality and time’s illusion are calling me. The blue tits nesting outside the window say ‘Go, go, go’.