It’s very often time for Mary Oliver, I find, though I know those who do not agree. For those readers, best pass by. Today I wanted to read ‘Wild Geese‘, so I am. I know most people have already read it. I know that (like other Oliver texts) it’s been plundered for Pinterest posts and self-help-seminar titles and many, many Inspirational Items (posters, mugs, t-shirts, who knows what). Still, its beauty and wisdom persist—just as the Mona Lisa survives being a jigsaw. So: enjoy ‘Wild Geese’ all over again (with the plus of hearing Oliver read it).
I was prompted to read it because earlier today, watching the sky for five minutes while trying to muster the strength to do the washing up, I saw three or four straggly, wobbly Vs of geese tacking their way across the light grey September sky. As I watched, I was pierced with several different feelings at once—joy and sorrow, anguish and relief, loneliness and comfort. “I’d love to write about that”, I thought, then remembered that Mary has done it for us. ‘Wild Geese’ needs nothing from me by way of gloss or introduction; I just want to rhapsodise about the way it captures that simultaneity of opposites: ‘despair’ and ‘the world go[ing] on’; ‘lonely’ and ‘your place in the family of things’. I love, too, how it invites us to trust ourselves—’let the soft animal of your body/ love what it loves’—and the natural world, also, which contains ‘the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain’, those many varying landscapes. It is all there and we are a part of it.
This whole experience caused me to think about what it is to try to write—to create at all, I guess—when everything has already been said and thought and painted and conjured in music. This feels very current for me as I have been wanting for several months now to write about an encounter with a deer on a night road in early April. I’m struggling because the wondrousness of Ted Hughes’ ‘Roe-deer‘ hobbles me. What could I possibly add? His description of how they ‘rode their legs’ is so breathtakingly, heartbreakingly accurate, as is the whole evocation of that snow- and deer-fuelled encounter with the Other, with the numinous… Pen down, Crispin. You may leave the examination hall now.
I was talking with a friend about this and he suggested that were I Wendy Cope I would write a poem about the difficulty of getting Ted Hughes out of the way so that I could think about and “see” my own deer. I had to laugh. But now of course when I try to see the dear deer I’ve got Hughes and Cope hovering there in peripheral vision. Sitting up in the bleachers. Perhaps if I imagine them cheering me on it might help?
But it feels useful to remember that any given creation expresses (and reveals) the creator as well as the thing which has inspired s/he/them, as was touched on last week with the pie/poetry situation. Only I can write about my experience of seeing “my” deer. Hughes can only write his poem, and Oliver hers. So the issue is really one of trusting your own particular vision.
And that thought then took me, unlikely as it may seem, to Robbie Williams (yes, really)—probably because I was listening to one of his albums a few days ago, not having done so for a couple of years. I was struck all over again by the way unexpected dimensions of him are revealed in his work. His headline shenanigans in his younger years were often not endearing but the words of his songs, when you take the time to listen to them, as well as being witty and deft are often thoughtful, self-revelatory and deeply moving. I think he’s a very talented lyricist. See what you think, for instance, of ‘Advertising Space‘: those who only know him in his ‘Millennium’ or ‘Angel’ modes might be surprised by this track about Elvis in which there’s a lot of empathy as well as insight. ‘No-one learned from your mistakes/ We let our prophets go to waste/ And all that’s left in any case/ Is advertising space’ is a delightfully compact and poignant critique of fame and celebrity culture. What a lot Williams sees; and what a lot he shows us of himself in the act of sharing his vision.
So there were are: this unlikely-seeming trio of Oliver, Hughes and Williams (I’m looking forward to seeing how odd the tag cloud looks when I post this!) helps encourage me to hold out for the way to write about my deer, trusting that it will appear as mysteriously and unpredictably as the deer itself did. I’m also reminded of how Clive James always argued that there was no need to choose between “high” and “low” culture; no division in fact. There’s just culture; which, granted, may be more and less to your taste. I agree.