Sunday 26 February 2012

Descending, Ascending Those Stairs

Exclusive: that try-line conversation in full -
Leigh Halfpenny: Ref, may I refer you to Berkeley's "A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge" and specifically his theory of objective idealism?
David Strettle: But contrast John Locke's robust exegesis of objective reality.

Warm sunshine in February - can't quarrel with that and I spend much of the weekend outside in shorts and shirtsleeves, only ducking inside yesterday to see the drama from Twickenham.

Metaphysicians endlessly debate whether events wholly unwitnessed and unrecorded by humankind can be said to have happened at all - a conundrum raised by George Berkeley in 1710 and only made more complex by quantum mechanics where Schrödinger's cat may be alive or dead or both (look it up - I'm not going to explain).

I would gently refer these tiresome philosophers to the no-nonsense rules of the International Rugby Board: no (credible) witness so no try (sorry England), a famous victory and the Triple Crown goes to Wales. Mind, they will have to fix that line-out or the French will punish them for sure.

While I agonise in the closing minutes Mrs Blog continues to transform our garden from the quaint and aesthetic mix of flowers, terracotta and a few veg (which I used to essay when I was still doing any gardening) into an industrial food-production unit with plastic agricultural containers and similar like a proper allotment or nursery. It's evidently her unsentimental farming background and I'm not arguing as I get to eat well - and cheaply - year round. I can see excellent purple sprouting broccoli is on its way already to stave off the scurvy.

In spite of all the other fun I still have time to read a novella by Julian Barnes lent by Hafal Chair Elin Jones which I recommend. Elin says she understands the subtext of The Sense Of An Ending is an exploration of the writing of history and I think I see that; it also exposes neatly the myth of "reasoned suicide" by people of superior intellect; finally it is also a successful example of a literary device (of which I have made an idle study) where a whole lifetime is encapsulated by juxtaposing just the beginning and the end. Barnes' 150 pager sends me off to look at R S Thomas' rightly famous poem A Marriage...

We met
under a shower
of bird-notes.
Fifty years passed,
love's moment
in a world in
servitude to time.
She was young;
I kissed with my eyes
closed and opened
them on her wrinkles.
`Come,' said death,
choosing her as his
partner for
the last dance, And she,
who in life
had done everything
with a bird's grace,
opened her bill now
for the shedding
of one sigh no
heavier than a feather.

And Thomas Hardy's less successful (and slightly overplayed?) On One Who Lived And Died Where He Was Born...

When a night in November
Blew forth its bleared airs
An infant descended
His birth-chamber stairs
For the very first time,
At the still, midnight chime;
All unapprehended
His mission, his aim. -
Thus, first, one November,
An infant descended
The stairs.

On a night in November
Of weariful cares,
A frail aged figure
Ascended those stairs
For the very last time:
All gone his life's prime,
All vanished his vigour,
And fine, forceful frame:
Thus, last, one November
Ascended that figure

On those nights in November -
Apart eighty years -
The babe and the bent one
Who traversed those stairs
From the early first time
To the last feeble climb -
That fresh and that spent one -
Were even the same:
Yea, who passed in November
As infant, as bent one,
Those stairs.

Wise child of November!
From birth to blanched hairs
Descending, ascending,
Wealth-wantless, those stairs;
Who saw quick in time
As a vain pantomime
Life's tending, its ending,
The worth of its fame.
Wise child of November,
Descending, ascending
Those stairs!

But it's a bit unfair to compare one of RS's best with one of TH's slighter efforts.

Back to Barnes: if you are anxious about eternity - especially after reading the above poems - you can do worse than read his thoughtful and amusing meditation Nothing To Be Frightened Of.