Tuesday, February 14, 2017

I Love This Quotation

Two things have constantly pulled at cross-purposes in me: one a deep homing instinct, a desire beyond all words to be at home always, with the same beloved faces, the same familiar shapes and sounds about me; the other an impulse to seek hard things to do, to go on quests and fight lost causes. And neither thing, neither the quiet home life nor the perilous adventure, has ever brought me any content.

Those are the words of Patrick Pearse, the famous Irish nationalist, poet, educationalist, insurrectionist, and all-round idealist. I had his poem "The Fool" off by heart in my teens, and it expressed my rampantly idealistic view of the world perfectly.

Today, I have much more ambiguous feelings about the 1916 Rising, and the loss of civilian life it caused. But I remain fascinated by Pearse, and wholeheartedly admire his cultural nationalism.

I went to the Pearse museum, housed in the building where he ran an experimental school, only a few weeks ago, and saw the manuscript in which those words are written.

I love the quotation itself, quite aside from its connection to Pearse. It expresses my own feelings.

Nothing seems more delicious to me, in one mood, than friendship and companionship, easy and good-humoured conversation,  playfulness, peace, shelter, safety from unpleasantness and acrimony, even the sensation of being hidden away. From at least my teens I've had a recurring fantasy of just staying in bed all the time and never having to see anybody except people I like. I would be ashamed to admit how elaborately I've spun this fantasy, and similar fantasies, over the years. The song "Mull of Kintyre" expresses this feeling for me very powerfully.

But there's another side of my personality that-- to be frank-- really wants a fight. As long as it's a battle of ideas, of ideals, rather than a clash of personalities. And this part of me only feels really alive when I'm in the thick of it, in some way. (This is why I was so crushed not to get to speak on that TV programme about political correctness.)

The thought came to me because I've just been commenting on a liberal Catholic blog. I get really absorbed in something like that, and then I think: "Why did I do that? I'm going to get lots of grief now. I won't look at it again, I don't want to see the bitching." And sometimes I don't look again, but other times I do. I've often sent strident and politically incorrect letters to the newspaper and then, waking up in the morning, found myself thinking: "God, I hope they didn't publish it". But I'm over that by my first cup of tea.

I remember, when I was a boy, my mother bought me a packet of plastic soldiers when I was sick. Then, the next day (I was still sick), she bought me another packet "so they can have enemies to fight against". I thought this was very motherly and sensible.

Speaking of getting up in the morning, here is a poem by A.E. Housman that expresses how I feel every single time I have to get up earlier than I want to:

Yonder see the morning blink:
The sun is up, and up must I,
To wash and dress and eat and drink
And look at things and talk and think
And work, and God knows why.

Oh often have I washed and dressed
And what's to show for all my pain?
Let me lie abed and rest:
Ten thousand times I've done my best
And all's to do again.

I wonder how common the fantasy of simply staying asleep indefinitely is? It often strikes me. In my early twenties I read a Clive Barker novel called Sacrament in which a photographer is mawled by a polar bear, and a good chunk of the novel is flashbacks of his early life while he's comatose. I found that deliciously cosy. In my almost-publishable novel The Bard's Apprentice, available in its entirety on this blog, the main character spends weeks in an artificial sleep inside a magical lake, reliving his life. I put it in because I liked the idea of such a womb-like refuge. "The Chorus of the Lotos Eaters" by Alfred Tennyson expresses a similiar idyll, and I constantly recited it to myself in my perpetually-exhausted early teens:

We have had enough of action, and of motion we,
Roll'd to starboard, roll'd to larboard, when the surge was seething free,
Where the wallowing monster spouted his foam-fountains in the sea.
Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,
In the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined
On the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind.

"To Helen" by Edgar Allen Poe is one of my all-time favourite poems because it manages to combine both these ideas-- of homecoming and of quest. ("On desperate seas long wont to roam" is a miracle of a line. I can hear and feel the motion of the tides in it.) The best line I have ever written myself, in my view, is the final line of the poem I read to my wife at our wedding reception: "When I see your face, what I am looking at is home." I believe that is what men find in feminine beauty; a homecoming.

Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicéan barks of yore,
That gently, o'er a perfumed sea,
The weary, way-worn wanderer bore
To his own native shore.

On desperate seas long wont to roam,
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy Naiad airs have brought me home
To the glory that was Greece,
And the grandeur that was Rome.

Lo! in yon brilliant window-niche
How statue-like I see thee stand,
The agate lamp within thy hand!
Ah, Psyche, from the regions which
Are Holy-Land!

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