I have noticed how colour has emptied itself out of everything. In this period of biding for spring, even the dotted stars of winter jasmine and the purity of the first snowdrops appear to be pale, flushed-out, lacking their sparkle, and somehow distant.
"... There are times that walk from you, like some passing afternoon Summer warmed the open window of her honeymoon And she chose a yard to burn, but the ground remembers her Wooden spoons, her children stir her Bougainvillea blooms
There are things that drift away, like our endless, numbered days Autumn blew the quilt right off the perfect bed she made And she's chosen to believe in the hymns her mother sings Sunday pulls its children from their piles of fallen leaves
There are sailing ships that pass, all our bodies in the grass Springtime calls her children 'til she lets them go at last And she's chosen where to be, though she's lost her wedding ring Somewhere near her misplaced jar of Bougainvillea seeds
There are things we can't recall, blind as night that finds us all Winter tucks her children in, her fragile china dolls But my hands remember hers, rolling 'round the shaded ferns Naked arms, her secrets still like songs I'd never learned
There are names across the sea, only now I do believe Sometimes, with the window closed, she'll sit and think of me But she'll mend his tattered clothes, and they'll kiss as if they know A baby sleeps in all our bones, so scared to be alone ..."
'Passing Afternoon', by 'Iron & Wine', from 'Our Endless Numbered Days'
365 days are gone, and so the year, is done. Whether we like it or not, time takes us through all of our joys and sorrows. Even a stopped clock tells the correct time twice a day. But for me, I experience time rather like a handless clock that is still ticking. Time continues to pass, and I dearly hope that life will not pass me by. Nick Drake’s words ring so true for me right now:
Days and years come and go, but we always sit on the brink of a new day. So for the coming days, I sincerely hope that my life will be able to go beyond the psychological threshold that will enable my actions to be of tangible benefit to others. I long to be of ...
“Some hard Simple Undeniable Use
Oh Like a
Or Oh Like a
Or Oh Like a
Or Oh Like a
To be of use
On a horse Over palms laid On the threshold Of the coming day
Coming day Coming Day Come"
from ‘To Be Of Use’ by Smog
And So Goes Out The Year
Sitting on the cusp of a new year prompts time for self-reflection, meditation, communion and contemplation. But once we have done all this naval gazing, I feel we have to try and speak about our feelings with a degree of clearness, simplicity and plainness. And, on the turning point of the year, A. E. Housman does this like no other:
"Now dreary dawns the eastern light, And fall of eve is drear, And cold the poor man lies at night, And so goes out the year.
Little is the luck I've had, And oh, 'tis comfort small To think that many another lad Has had no luck at all."
Poem XXVIII from ‘Last Poems’ by A. E. Housman
Approaching The Year’s Empty Tomb
"I approach the years' empty tomb. What has time done with itself? Is the news worth the communicating? The word's loin cloth can remember little. A thin, cold wind blows from beyond the abysm that I gawp into.
But supposing there were bones; the darkness illuminated like a museum? In glass cases I have peered at the brittle bundles, exonerating my conscience with mortality's tears.
But here, true to my name, I have nothing to hold onto, an absence so much richer than a presence, offering instead of the skull's leer an impalpable possibility for faith's doubting fingertips to explore"
‘Easter’ by R. S. Thomas
As we approach the end of the year, our expectant waiting continues. I truly hope the coming year will fill all the emptiness in your lives, that the news you encounter is worth the communicating, and that all your shadows are illuminated with inextinguishable Light.
“… Winter is blue Living is gone Some are just sleeping In spring they’ll go on Our love is dead Nothing but crying Love will not find even One more new morning
Why must I stay here Rain comes I’m sitting here Watching love moving Away into yesterday
Winter is blue Everything’s leaving Fires are now burning And life has [no] reason I am alone Waiting for nothing If my heart freezes I won’t feel the breaking
Why must I stay here Rain comes I’m sitting here Watching love moving Away into yesterday …”
‘Winter is Blue’ by Vashti Bunyan
This song is a bonus track at the end of the re-issue of Vashti Bunyan’s 1970 album ‘Just Another Diamond Day’ which describes a summer spent travelling by horse and cart to the Isle of Skye.
The wonderfully exuberant short, trivial, twee and inconsequential songs make the days of that summer seem so special, as if it was a time when Vashti felt like she owned the whole world and nothing seemed wrong.
For me, ‘Winter is Blue’ serves as an epilogue to those happy days which, at the time, we thought would never end, but inevitably always do. It illustrates that our days and lives aren’t solely constituted by ‘Diamond Days’. It opens up the heartbreak of the realization that when that one perfect summer comes to an end, it can never be replicated. This is accompanied with a tinge of regret, that perhaps there were missed opportunities when special times could have been enjoyed more fully, but that these chances cannot be retrieved.
The response to this is an emotional exacerbation - that even 'dull freezing' is preferred, hoped and even longed for in order to avoid the acute feeling of the actual heart breaking:
"... If my heart freezes I won’t feel the breaking ..."
And so what can you do?
"… Winter weather is not my soul But the biding for spring ...
… Like I’m a southern bird That stayed north too long
Winter exposes the nest Then I’m gone …” from ‘Palimpsest’ by Smog
On my way to Morris Dance on Boxing Day I drove through Coalbrookdale. The road down the valley (called Jigger’s Bank) is quite precarious with lots of very steep and windy bits – I find it’s best to keep Betsy in 3rd gear and let the engine hold us back. Anyway, you go past the ‘World Heritage Site’ sign, go under the railway bridge and past the 30mph sign. It is then, if I don't force my attention on it, but allow a panel to slide forward by glancing quickly to my right, I can snatch a glimpse, like a fast, shuttered camera frame, of Dale House and the Quaker Burial Ground behind it on the hill. They have become special places for me. Telford Quakers hold a Meeting for Worship at Dale House on the last Sunday of the month from April – October. Whenever I go, which is never as often as I would like, I try to arrive in Coalbrookdale a little earlier so I can go and spend some time sitting on the bench in the Burial Ground.
Last October I carried myself up the hill and the steps to the burial ground. I was a little out of breath. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears. I had a mild headache and felt a little light-headed. This was due to me not having had enough to eat for breakfast, although I always try and have a larger-than-usual breakfast before Meeting in an attempt to avoid my stomach embarrassingly ministering in tongues out of the silence. I walked through the gates and found my sanctuary within the high brick walls of the steeply–sloped burial ground, lined with the small headstones of Friends, whose inscriptions are now barely readable. The primroses that I saw in the spring had gone, but the sun still shone. I sat down on the bench and tried to settle, conscious that I only had 5 minutes before I had to leave to go to Meeting. I wondered – “am I at home amongst my silent Friends?” I reached into my trouser pocket for my little red Gideons' Bible, which was given to me at school when I was 11 years old, and that I have recently begun to open, and gazed on 2 short passages Matthew 11: 28-30 and John 14: 27. I found myself humming the tune to ‘Sadie’ by Joanna Newsom. The gently rocking lullaby lilts merged into the words of the song:
"... And all day long we talk about mercy Lead me to water, Lord, I sure am thirsty Down in the ditch where I nearly served you Up in the clouds where he almost heard you
And all that we built And all that we breathed And all that we spilt Or pulled up like weeds Is piled up in back And it burns irrevocably And we spoke up in turns 'Til the silence crept over me ..."
And the silence then crept over me, and the place became becalmed. I stood up, and walked away. I went to Meeting for Worship. I glimpsed a gathered stillness. A Friend ministered about mystical experience. A Friend came in very late, but I was glad that she was with us. A fly buzzed around the room for ages. I felt the acute need to be sat on the bench in the Burial Ground again. If I had stayed true to my spiritual leadings I would have quietly stood up and walked back up there. But instead I imagined I was there – 200 yards away up on the hill, feeling the latent heat of a dilute, watercolour autumnal sun on my ears, my corduroy jacket a little crumpled from sitting down, my thumb gently stroking the slightly dog-eared and feather-thin leaves of my little red Gideons’ bible, my hair, in need of a cut, ruffled by the exhaling wind. A bird singing before winter.