Composing order

police tape

Home now, and grateful for home, the birds singing this morning as if nothing had had happened. Yesterday at another day of meetings in London, I walked up Buckingham Palace Road, around the Mall. Tourists were there, as usual , but quiet, sombre.  A large group of Japanese tourists stood for a photograph beneath a flowering cherry in Green Park, hands on each others shoulders, sedate, respectful.  Londoners going about their business as usual, but quieter. Two people spoke to me about the IRA bombings and how Londoners had lived through that time.

As I came out of Charing Cross Road tube I remembered that the night before, walking up Whitehall once we were let out of the no 1 Parliament Street building on Wednesday, seeing a police barrier that was no more than a strip  of blue and white tape tied, at one end, to a railing, and at the other, to a police bicycle, which stood leaning on its kick-stand, against nothing. Never seen a more figurative barrier. With one finger, anyone could have pushed that bike, with its wisp of blue and white tape, to the ground, walked around it. But no one had.

I was grateful to it, in a way I had not expected. I was grateful to the rule of law.
This morning I wanted to read a poem about law, but struggled to find the right thing.  Help needed.

But I found this. The American poet, and lawyer, Archibald Macleish, writes,

The business of the law is to make sense of the confusion of what we call human life – to reduce it to order but at the same time to give it possibility, scope, even dignity. But what, then, is the business of poetry? Precisely to make sense of the chaos of our lives. To create the understanding of our lives. To compose an order which the bewildered, angry heart can recognize. To imagine man.

“Apologia” speech (Harvard Law Review, Cambridge, June 1972)

Instead of poems about the rule of law, I found myself reading at poems that  were about the absence of it, poems of chaos, or war, of terrible times. The simplest and most lovely is this tiny anonymous poem, perhaps written by a soldier, a conscript  – I imagine him lying under a hedge, in a  ditch, waiting for daylight. But it could be any of us, feeling afraid, cold, in the dark. Yesterday morning someone speaking from the  Metropolitan Police asked people  in London to be kind to police officers, ‘smile at them, say hello’.  It could be an officer on duty, beside his bike, on Whitehall.

Western wind, when will thou blow,
The small rain down can rain?
Christ! If my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again!

The first two lines make me feel the cold, the wet, the persistence of ‘small rain’ – that soaking thin stuff, like cloud.  The prayer or expletive, ‘Christ!’ – sometimes hard to tell  them apart, the impulse that forces the word out perhaps the same whether it is uttered as prayer or as expletive. It seems to take several beats of the poem to say it. ‘Christ.’

The whole poem rests on the ‘if’ – everything would be different. I imagine a place  of safety, of love. And for a moment, perhaps, I feel that safety, that love.  This tiny poem makes ‘sense of the chaos of our lives’, as MacLeish says. I imagine the experience – the wind, the rain, the being out away from home – without the language of the poem and only feel pain, pain with the additional pain of being unable to speak. The poem does indeed compose ‘an order which the bewildered, angry heart can recognize’.

I  had not imagined ‘order’ would be an important word for me, but now I think I need to give it more thought.

Not today, though, out of time.

2 thoughts on “Composing order

  1. Alban O' Brien March 24, 2017 / 11:54 am

    Don’t always comment but love your posts. Keep them coming.

    • drjanedavis March 25, 2017 / 12:47 pm

      Thank you very much for saying so – it helps!

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