Entry 58: Open Season– We live in perilous times and in perilous places, wondering all the while whether the complexion of the universe is benign, malign or merely indifferent.
I found a ball of grass among the hay/And progged it as I passed and went away/And when I looked I fancied something stirred/And turned again and hoped to catch the bird/When out an old mouse bolted in the wheat/With all her young ones hanging at her teats/She looked so odd and so grotesque to me/I ran and wondered what the thing could be/And pushed the knapweed bunches where I stood/When the mouse hurried from the craking brood/The young ones squeaked and when I went away/She found her nest again among the hay./The water o’er the pebbles scarce could run/And broad old cesspools glittered in the sun.
There is a microcosm here, in, as finely detailed as any found in theological or cosmological treatises on the matter. John Clare knew privation and the prospect of a bird at hand no doubt stimulated his salivary glands. The odd and grotesque sight stimulates his curiosity and he runs to see more but soon turns away and notices now the broad old cesspools which glitter in the sun. But the world of the mother mouse and her young ones has been considerably disrupted.
The god-like overview the poet projects here soon loses the certitude of being the prime mover in a very short time, and one imagines that Clare is speaking personally when he writes:
I am—yet what I am none cares or knows;/My friends forsake me like a memory lost:/I am the self- consumer of my woes.
I am the self-consumer of my woes- what a profound statement- yet who knows this little known poet? Confined to an insane asylum by friends, he seems to have been given better treatment than most people in similar circumstances two centuries later. He is a bit like Kit Smart, who was also considered a lunatic in the previous century, but who, instead of focusing on a mouse, recorded his cat, Jeoffry,
…I will consider my Cat Jeoffry./For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him./For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his Way./For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness./For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
This was written in an age that knew nothing of the problems of feral cats in Australia, today. There are lots of people in the antipodean great south land that consider cats as servants of Satan rather than the living God. There was a time when hunting the whale was a worthy, indeed heroic, undertaking. This makes me wonder which activities that attract approbation today will be considered barbarous in our grandchildren’s world. God! Did they actually kill mosquitoes back then! This, after scientists discover that the mozzie is the only thing standing between us and the worst impacts of climate change.
Who knows? Writing this entry at 3:30 a.m. I was distracted by a beautiful sound- listening to a streaming audio, I thought it was part of that effusion. Then I realised that it was something else. Still curious, after all these years, I got up from my desk and wine, and wandered outside to hear the sound of a freight-train, trying to- maximise? – the clangour by slowing down as it passed by. The metal wheels made weirdly harmonic music and I stood transfixed. If only I were as talented as, say, Phillip Glass or any one of the minimalists, I would now be notating another masterpiece of minimalism based on those squeaking, screeching and craking sounds.
But I have promises to keep: porterhouse steaks to sear and a breaking in of the Weber barbeque- this must happen tomorrow if I am to be accorded full acceptance into the pantheon of Aussie manhood- or so my wife asserts, especially as it will be Australia Day. Yet, in the 1970s, as I recall, I wielded tongs over an Hibachi on North Beach, Wollongong and scorched some meat that passed muster. But now, in the 21st Century, I have to search out strange herbs and spices, uncommon cuts of meat, in-fashion fish and source-matching wines to be in the race, it seems.
It’s hard to live comfortably with this beneficence after viewing online a still photograph of a mother and child in Syria standing in front of a ruined streetscape in a village near the Turkish border, liberated from Islamic State. There is something in the eyes that hooks your soul; like the Steve McCurry photo of the Afghan girl, and the Madonna and child image from Ethiopia in the 1980s, there is a cri de Coeur here too,
No man is an island,/Entire of itself./Each is a piece of the continent,/A part of the main./If a clod be washed away by the sea,/Europe is the less…/Each man’s death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind./Therefore, send not to know/For whom the bell tolls,/ It tolls for thee.
These lines, from John Donne’s Meditation 17, still apply.