Eternity is a very long time


Eternity is a very long time – especially towards the end, quipped Woody Allen – possibly quoting other sources. I regularly attend a Zen group that is part of the Wild Goose sangha . This week, Marcus read to us about ‘the now’ and talked of intimacy requiring us to live everything, even our must unwelcome emotions, in this particular moment.

Poetry – and life of course – is an endless chain of connections and associations.  Marcus’ comments reminded some of us of the opening stanza of William Blake’s poem of paradox, Auguries of Innocence:

To see a world in a grain of sand

And a heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

And eternity in an hour.

– which over tea, we managed to mis-remember and misquote in a surprisingly numerous variety of ways.

That thought took me back to March and a workshop I attended at the Much Wenlock Poetry Festival – I date my intensely busy period from that time.  David Morley suggested we look for ‘worlds’ in the small things we found in the ruins of the priory at Much Wenlock. I wrote about forget-me-nots and forgot those poem drafts which are waiting somewhere in a notebook.  I’ve just come to the end of several projects and the time feels right now to go back and revise and revision the past few months.

A parallel train of thought – set in motion by my last post featuring Jane Kenyon’s poem Otherwise, was to order and read Donald Hall’s The Painted Bed, his collection of laments and eulogies written after her death.  It’s compelling and rich in so many ways and yet the word that came to mind was ‘devastating’.  That’s a paradoxical word for poems that ‘lay waste’ to emotions and reflect the chasm of emptiness that characterises profound grief – but are also of detail and resonance.

The closing poem Affirmation is so accurate and real that I find myself reading it over and over again but my emotional reactions change each time.  Is the title angrily ironic? What about the last three lines?  Does the speaker really want us to affirm ‘that it is fitting / and delicious to lose everything.’? Of course, we will lose everything, that’s a given, but how far should we accept that and how much rail against it?

On a lighter note, I receive a humourous and philosophical ‘Note from the Universe’ email each day. Yesterday’s, appropriately, read  Eternity is a really, really, really long time, Vicky. I think we’ll be able to squeeze everything in. Relax.  On which note, on another hot day with a clear blue sky, I’m headed to the heaven of the garden – have never seen so many butterflies.