Sunday, January 14, 2007

Poems for Pleasure 10

All spiritual traditions, especially those with mystical or meditative aspects, view the goal of spirituality as living in the present or the “now.” This experience of the “now-ness of being”, of the “awareness of such now-ness” is a lifelong quest or journey. Everyday, I try to live in the present by trying to forget or sidestep the guilt feelings or regrets which adhere to the psyche like molluscs on the bottom of an old boat, or to deflect or sidetrack my perceived and real fears for the future. It’s not that easy to sidestep our regrets or sidetrack our fears, but we know if we are to live somewhat happy and content lives we must do so. Another poet whom I admire greatly is the famous Welch poet R.S. Thomas (1913-2000). On the one hand, Philip Larkin in letters referred to him as "Arsewipe Thomas," while Professor M. Wynn Thomas said: "He was the Alexander Solzhenitsyn of Wales because he was such a troubler of the Welsh conscience. He was one of the major English language and European poets of the 20th century." Two contrasting views, but the balance of views are with the professor rather than with the poet. Most critics and poets confirm the assessment that R.S. Thomas was a master of language and a genuine poetic genius. I love his poem “The Bright Field” because it is a spiritual one which actually echoes or rather gets to the heart of what I have written in the first ten lines of this post.

The Bright Field
by R. S. Thomas

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

To see the “sun break through” and to be “illuminated” by it is surely akin to living in the now. While R.S.Thomas was an Anglican Vicar in Wales, one could argue in a certain sense that what the poet is on about here is akin to what Buddhism means by “enlightenment” – read this for Thomas’s word “illumination”. The “pearl of great price” is the ability to live in the now, in the now-ness of this world. “Life is not hurrying/ on to a receding future, nor hankering after/ an imagined past” may be interpreted as the twin major sources of pain and suffering – that is, preoccupation with concerns or worries or regrets from the past on the one hand and the fears and anxieties for the future on the other. The ability to see the “lit bush” is parallel to being able to be aware or to be awake to the potential contentment of living in the now.

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