Yesterday I didn’t get finished with ‘Quickness’ by Henry Vaughan. Sun is shining today in West Kirby and I want to get out for a walk or to the garden before the wind brings rain.  So I must be quick myself.

I begin today not by re-reading the poem (do that in a moment) but by looking up the word ‘quick’. One of my favourite sites, The Online Etymological Dictionary, tells me that in amongst the roots of ‘quick’ = lively,  ‘ there is a notion of ‘sudden’ or ‘soon over.”. Yes indeed. See all those spirits in Lincoln in The Bardo for more on that.

I re-read the poem:

Quickness

False life, a foil and no more, when
Wilt thou be gone?
Thou foul deception of all men
That would not have the true come on.

Thou art a moon-like toil, a blind
Self-posing state,
A dark contest of waves and wind,
A mere tempestuous debate.

Life is a fixed, discerning light,
A knowing joy;
No chance or fit, but ever bright
And calm and full, yet doth not cloy.

‘Tis such a blissful thing that still
Doth vivify
And shine and smile and hath the skill
To please without Eternity.

Thou art a toilsome mole, or less;
A moving mist;
But life is what none can express:
A quickness which my God hath kissed.

Yesterday seemed to be about  the distinction between  false and true and this morning as I read I’m still aware of that but also  of something about types of time. I wonder now how long Vaughan has been  aware of the ‘false life’ – is it about going along with things you know to be unreal? How, sometimes, in order to get along with other people everybody has to do that? It’s deliberate, the action of  life perpetuated by people who ‘would not have the true come on.’ Trying to think of myself doing this – it’s easy enough to think of others! –

Thinking about doing jury service, and how much of a false life was the life of that court, trying its faulty best for justice. How much a humanly arranged show, the dance laid out, the semi-tricks, presentational slants of the lawyers, the sorry human reality, the likely truth almost invisible, glanced between the cracks in the facade. Yet I didn’t stand up and say I refuse to do my jury service – take me to prison! Fine me! I went along with false life because having ‘the true come on’ was simply not possible in that set-up, under those conditions. That’s what we call, in the political arena, the art of the possible.

I’m remembering Matthew Arnold’s poem, ‘The Buried Life’.

And we have been on many thousand lines,
And we have shown, on each, spirit and power;
But hardly have we, for one little hour,
Been on our own line, have we been ourselves—

Hard , living in the human world, to  know even where your own line is,sometimes, despite ‘spirit’, despite ‘power’. But back to the sense of time  in ‘Quickness’. False life seems to take forever, (‘when wilt thou be gone?’) but real life seems both permanent, ‘fixed’ and yet also  ‘without Eternity’

Life is a fixed, discerning light,
A knowing joy;
No chance or fit, but ever bright
And calm and full, yet doth not cloy.

‘Tis such a blissful thing that still
Doth vivify
And shine and smile and hath the skill
To please without Eternity.

It is ‘no chance or fit’ , that’s to say not a random accident, not a stop-start thing, but ‘ever bright’. Yet I don’t think Vaughan thinks we experience it all the time. It pleases ‘without Eternity’.

As if it was  there, like the  sun, shining all the time, but we only experience it occasionally – maybe when the foil of false life somehow gets out of the way. And yet behind the cloud, the ‘moving mist’, life continues to affect us, it

Doth vivify
And shine and smile and hath the skill
To please without Eternity

Quickness, life, affects us by  vivifying us – bringing us to life, enlivening us.

I’m thinking of the ‘quick and dead’ (the phrase comes from the Book of Common Prayer, a work Vaughan was familiar with and means ‘ the living and the dead’), and of  the ways in which spirit is quickened – fleetingly, sometimes with an out-of-time experience. That makes me think that ‘life’ in this poem is more a state of being – a mystical state and suddenly as I reread the last few lines ,the thing seems blown open:

But life is what none can express:
A quickness which my God hath kissed.

I’m aware that real life is fleeting, that within that real life there are moments of otherness which seem to put me in a  different state, that is amazing that there is life – in all its forms –  and that something mysterious (‘my God’)  kisses stuff, matter, beings, time itself, into liveliness. That’s a miracle.

Henry Vaughan. Think I will read some more.

Clouds have blown over but I’m still going for the walk.

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