I hear the opening words, ‘Stand still’, as a calm voice of invitation rather than instruction. They recognise the fear which can go with feeling lost and seek to respond to it, offering—in response to the unspoken question “Where am I????“—the answer ‘Here’. You are always ‘here’; it’s just a question of having a look round and getting a sense of where here actually is. (And maybe also having to accept that at times we may not like here very much; though not on this occasion.)
I really like the way this poem de-centres us. The idea that ‘Here/ …[is] a powerful stranger [and you]/ Must ask permission to know it and be known’ invites us to be respectful and act with humility. The poem challenges our assumptions about our place in the world, reminding us that here exists in its own right—has its own being and needs quite apart from our own. That here is personified, though, invites us us to enter into relationship with it—really to experience what is around us, be present to it, respond to it. Here is powerful, if we will let it be.
But we can hear an ominous note, too, in the claim that ‘If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,/ You are surely lost’. On one level this is a statement about the value of being, of humility, of knowing our place in things; but—inevitably perhaps at the moment—it can also be heard as a truth about the state of the planet. Our failure to attend to ‘what a tree or a bush does’ may indeed mean that all is lost. All the more important, then, to stand still and listen as often and as carefully as we can.
It’s not surprising that ‘Lost’ pops up on all sorts of mindfulness sites and blogs, and is associated with the Forest Bathing (Shinrin Yoku) movement. It’s similar to Wendell Berry’s classic ‘The Peace of Wild Things‘ in that hearing or reading it, surrendering to the music of the images and sounds, is a powerful experience which simultaneously stills and transports you, ‘for a time’ at least. ‘Lost’ seeks to remind us that perhaps being, not doing, is what we need. And how lovely to think that ‘The forest knows/ Where you are. You must let it find you’: like kindness last week, sometimes here will lift its head and see us when we can’t manage that ourselves.