something to hold on to

Apr 16, 2020 poetry appreciation

Waking at 5.25 this morning I got straight out of bed and went to the wood behind my house where I walked slowly round, revelling in the full glory of the dawn chorus. I was still in my pyjamas so I’m glad I was there before the first dogwalkers and runners (in these days of lockdown they are infesting the times and places that—did they but know it—are actually MINE. I know; sorry.) But even though I didn’t get caught I was aware that this wasn’t exactly Normal Behaviour. I mean, sure, I walk pretty much every morning. But I usually get dressed first. It just didn’t seem worth it today.

I mention this partly because I’m hoping to hear about Abnormal Behaviours blossoming in all of you in the current strangeness and, hearing what you’re up to, feel a bit less alone. More than that, though, I mention it because being in nature is one of the things which (for me) belongs in the last stanza of this fine poem by Jane Hirshfield, ‘The Promise’. Being out in the green is one of my ‘loves’, and it is constant.

I prize the honesty of this poem—the terrible, beautiful unadornedness with which it speaks of the human longing for things to stay still and the fact that Things never do. Or almost never: that’s the gift in this poem. All seems stripped away; but at the end we are reminded that ‘our loves’ stay. That final word ‘Always’, set against those pleading repetitions of ‘Stay’ and given the weight of its own line—aaaahhhhhh. That is what we have; what we have to make do with. It seems hardly a counterbalance set against all that change in ‘flower… leaf… spider… body… earth’ and yet, if we are to carry on living through loss and trial and strangeness, it has to be enough.

And this morning, for that half hour, shivering in my pyjamas in the April woods, it was.

2 thoughts on “something to hold on to”
  1. What a lovely simple poem. I am enjoying the small and steady things in nature – just seen more swallows flying in. They don’t know anything about this human disaster (although maybe the skies were emptier than usual)

    I’m sure Lucy’s pyjamas are decorous!

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