Thursday, June 07, 2007

Terror Within!

“The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.”

In times of need we turn to various sources of comfort. Some turn to poetry, others to favourite pieces of music, others to art, others to the Bible and yet others to a favourite film or activity. Some walk, some run and still some play games. Others seek refuge in a quiet country stroll – others in a garden or a walk by the sea. Indeed, some of us may seek refuge in more than one of these activities.

Those of an addictive nature may seek refuge in drink or in drugs. While we all like a social drink, to seek refuge in the end of a glass is not a healthy alternative at all.

For me, I turn to poetry and music, interspersed with a little walking. A poet to whom I turn again and again is none other than the great Robert Frost (1874-1963). I have always loved his poetry because somehow his themes resonate with some deep wellspring of meaning or more correctly with a deep desire for meaning within me. Yet again, I was introduced to him by the late great teacher and lecturer John Devitt. In fact, John only died in the last few days – Resquiescat in Pace. John was a marvellous English and Latin scholar. It was his enthusiasm for his subject that lit the fires of love for language and literature in me while at college.

Here is one of my favourite poems by Frost – “Desert Places.” I suppose I, as well as all my colleagues and pupils, together with their parents were in such waterless wastelands over the past few weeks with Seán Nolan’s untimely and tragic death. Frost sums up how I feel at this moment in time.

Desert Places
by: Robert Frost

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

The woods around it have it--it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.

And lonely as it is that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less--
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars--on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

I feel that the last two lines are wonderful and like the refrain of a good poem or song are worth repeating: “I have it in me so much nearer home/To scare myself with my own desert places.” Dear God, I have many such desert places within me. Who hasn’t? And this goes on to resonate with further thoughts of terror and to the famous Pensées of the beloved Pascal, which are so full of beauty and wisdom and pearls of great price. Let this thought from the French philosopher and sage ring in your heart: “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.” This sounds wonderful in the original French: “Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m'effraie.”

Truly at heart we are mystery to ourselves. There are heights of passion and of dreams, the gold of the imagination within us as well as the depths of insights and wisdom. Then there is the breadth of our ever-expanding knowledge and the very desire to know it. There are the great Love of Truth and the Truth of Love which both reside within us, often clouded by the fogs of hate and resentment. Truly we are strange folk indeed!

Above is a picture of Orion's famous Horsehead Nebula

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