Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Strange blessings

... famished field and blackened tree
Bear flowers in Eden never known.
Blossoms of grief and charity
Bloom in these darkened fields alone.
What had Eden ever to say
Of hope and faith and pity and love...?

The other Orcadian poet was Edwin Muir (who had tutored George Mackay Brown), and I spent some of my time on Retreat with him. In the process, I rediscovered this restatement of one important feature of the endless debate about the ‘problem of suffering’; it is close to something I’ve thought it important to try to express but have always struggled to do so satisfactorily

The thought cannot be thrown around too cheaply near those most grief-striken, yet in the Queen’s message about the 9/11 attack the line was, I think, ‘grief is the price we pay for love’, and here Muir invites us in to something similar.

The poem is One foot in Eden; the other foot, of course, being in this world as it is, and the two are (as the Gospel parable suggests) totally entwined:

... strange the fields that we have planted
So long with crops of love and hate.
Time’s handiwork by time are haunted,
And nothing now can separate
The corn and tares compactly grown...
Evil and good stand thick around
In the fields of charity and sin...

The poetic invitation is to see not simply that the two cannot now be separated but that eliminating the source of one would eliminate the source of the other.  So he ends

Strange blessings never in Paradise
Fall from those beclouded skies.

The picture was taken from Broch at Midhow on Rousay.

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