Saturday, 11 July 2009

Final answer

I kept my answers small and kept them near;
Big questions bruised my mind but still I let
Small answers be a bulwark to my fear.

I’ve been re-reading Elizabeth Jennings Selected Poems and it is to Answers, with these opening lines, that I keep coming back.

One reason is that of R.S. Thomas’ poems the one I value above almost all is The Answer with its image Christ’s empty tomb (the stone rolled away and only his burial cloths inside) and its sense that what bruises our thinking will simply become redundant:

There have been times
when, after long on my knees
in a cold chancel, a stone has rolled
from my mind, and I have looked
in and seen the old questions lie
folded and in a place
by themselves, like the folded
graveclothes of love’s risen body.

Jennings’ place is earlier in the process. She recognises that dwelling on the questions which preoccupy her is really a defence against this sort of moment:

Even when all the small answers build up to
Protection of my spirit, still I hear
Big answers striving for their overthrow
And all the great conclusions coming near.

At Matins this morning we finished reading through Job again. Just as Thomas Aquinas’ vision of God near the end of his life made him regard all he had written as ‘so much straw’, so, after forty chapters of disputation, Job says:

I knew you then only by hearsay;
but now, having seen you with my own eyes,
I retract all I have said,
and in dust and ashes, I repent

I took the picture of Grimsby Docks (with the the increasingly derelict ice factory at the centre)when I was upstairs in the Grimsby Telegraph building during the week.

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