9th july 2016

Could we but look more clearly and wisely
We might discover somewhere in the garden
A strange new flower and an unnamed star.
        From ‘Hope’ by Czeslaw Milosz (Polish poet and Nobel Prize winner,     1911-2004)
 9th July 2016

 f you don’t know about Milosz then I suggest you Google him and maybe look up some poems on Poem Hunter – because this man is one of the greats, but I don’t have the time or space to tell you why. Born in Lithuania of partly Polish and partly Lithuanian parentage, he spent the latter part of his life in the USA and was a close friend of Seamus Heaney.

I chose these lines because we are all in need of some uplifting thoughts at the moment – in need of hope. Each day I look at Facebook (a mistake, I know) and am still shocked by the abuse, despair and pessimism surrounding the result of the referendum. Two weeks later it’s as bad as ever, with people refusing to accept the plebiscite and indulging in rage and fear. I would become depressed at the end of civilized discourse among allegedly liberal people – but refuse to give in to that.

In this week’s column my ‘And Finally’ section is about this issue – and it was naturally in my mind when I picked the quotation for the top. The poem is part of a long, beautiful sequence called The World, and it struck me as summing up exactly what is needed during these days of uncertainty: the determination to look carefully ahead and recognize that there might be good things lying hidden and waiting to be found.

In the poem Milosz uses the analogy of a garden we cannot enter because of a gate, and yet we know it is there. So we have to look ‘clearly and wisely’ over the gate into the garden, and if only we could do that, we ‘might discover’ wonders therein we have not even dreamt of. This act of looking requires faith as well as hope (and Faith is the preceding poem in the sequence) but of course, if you look over the gate with your eyes closed you will see nothing at all. You will also be cheated if you assume that as soon as you turn your back (the poem goes on to say) the garden ceases to be there at all.

This, it seems to me, is how too many people are looking at the future. Yes, of course we have no idea what it will hold. But that is no excuse for lacking ALL faith and ALL hope. Which is the case with so many people who voted to Remain within the EU (which I refuse to call ‘Europe’) for as many good reasons as others had when they voted to leave that political structure.

We have to wait and see what happens. Things may seem bad for a while but I believe they will settle down – as they have so many times in the past. But then, I have always been able to look into a mysterious garden and glimpse the flowers and stars. May that be the case with you – if you take some deep breaths and look for hope. After all, what else is there to do?