We wonder if we are through the worst of the pandemic, but the news of the vaccine was accompanied by news of mutated variants of the covid virus. The times we are living through are difficult, and feel unpredictable and hazardous.
We think of the scope of life, the lives of those who have gone before us, the lives of the young who have almost everything invested in the future. Meaning is what no amount of knowledge is able to provide. There can be, in reaching maturity, a sense of exhilaration, the sense of being self-sufficient, of untold possibilities. Added years can only diminish that sense, so that love and connectedness to others grows in importance. Humour, seems to me, to bridge the gap where understanding fails.
About ten days before my father died, some twenty years ago, I visited him in hospital and left there to have lunch with a friend. As I parked my car the phrase ‘Perhaps it happens like this, the death of the body before the death of the mind’ came into my head unbidden. Over lunch I said to my friend that I felt a poem coming on, and as I drove home I felt as if I was going down with ‘flu. Back at home I wrote the poem in about forty minutes. The final image of a bolt of cloth being unrolled and cut is a childhood memory of my mother buying fabric to make curtains on the top floor of a department store in Richmond, Surrey. I can still picture the brass rule running along the edge of the wide counter, although that didn’t find a place in the poem. Months later I saw that the image contained something elemental, a part of our collective unconscious, if you will. The three fates, one who spins the thread, one who measures its length, and one, Atropos, who cuts it. Here is the poem:-
Perhaps it happens like this: the death of the body before the death of the mind and the mind waiting, the mind as it were in suspense, an in-held breath or longed for meeting postponed, nothing new - just the past piling into the present, a feeling of change which deepens without change of feeling, like peering for landmarks in fog and coming on nothing, or tunnel vision where sight doesn't know of itself its diminishing scope and only a jolt from outside, from the world of touch, reveals that something is different, except that there's nothing outside, all the tracks lead back to the self and simplification, a murmuration of starlings plunging this way and that towards home until gathered by dusk, or an unrolled bolt of cloth smoothed flat by the sweep of a hand before being cut.