Slowing Down for Deep Waters

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My guard-station under the Cherry tree

Day three of my appallingly slow reading of Tennyson ‘Ulysses’ – an idea for a shared Reading group, which will take a full session, and won’t be suitable for every group. But for a bunch of people who may be in a give up/don’t give up situation, or for those of us facing the growing closeness of age… really worth reading. Search ‘Ulysses’ to find previous posts. Go here to find the whole poem and don’t forget to read it all aloud before you start trying to get into it!

I’m writing this in the back garden where I am keeping guard on the cherry tree – today is the day of the major battle between me and the starlings, crows and blackbirds. The cherries are nearly ripe and if the sun stays out, they will mainly ripen today. Birds are loitering on nearby rooftops and telephone wires.  I don’t mind the blackbirds and crows, it’s the starlings, descending in a ravening locust-like horde… I have to keep jumping up and running shouting and clapping under the tree… was it Jude the Obscure who began life as a bird-scarer? Not an easy job! And I’ve got to go out this afternoon and lleave them to do their worst….

But back to the poem! I’d got to this point:

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.

This part of the poem always affords me a stopping place. ‘I am a part of all that I have met’ is wonderful account of the permeable nature of human experience: everything from (in Ulysses case) stormy seas to battlefields to abandoning your wife, become part of what or who you are. That seems straightforward and just true, doesn’t it? Until you look forward and see where you haven’t been yet or what you haven’t done. And the pull of that, for a rover (like Ulysses, and like, a little, myself) all those prior experiences form ‘an arch’. That’s an interesting  metaphor, and he means, I guess, a kind of gateway, through which one must pass to get to a bigger set of experiences, ‘that untravell’d world whose margin fades/ For ever and forever when I move…’  He is, and always will be, as he has said earlier, ‘roaming with a hungry heart’.

An aside: Was thinking last night about Springsteen’s ‘Hungry Heart’  and the connections between the guy from who walked out on his wife and kids in Baltimore and Ulysses, who also ‘went out for a ride and never came back…’ (well not for ten years, anyhow.) Springsteen influenced by Homer? I expect so.

Let’s get back in:

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.

Don’t be afraid to stay in a part of a poem or story or novel for as long as it takes – there’s no rule that says you have to finish the story, finish the poem. the experience of live reading – picking up on the feeling of the group, the depth of involvement, is as important as anything else we might do in Shared Reading. More important than finishing, or getting through to a certain point, is depth : how deep can you make your hour or two of reading?  When you find a place where there are deep waters, stay there for as long as you can!

The arch of what you’ve already experienced, what you know and have become, is merely way into the future ‘that untravell’d world’. That’s exciting to Ulysses and he does not seem to care that the ‘margin fades/for ever and forever when I move.’ It’s possible to imagine a person for whom is a nightmare – people want security and to know what is coming. But not this man – look back to the beginning of the poem and his sense of revolt at quiet stability. Ulysses loves that  movement of ‘forever and forever’.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

He’s like a suit of armour thrown down in a corner! I look at the language here: ‘dull’, ‘unburnished’, ‘not to shine in use’, and feel the sense of massive frustration building up. ‘Use’ that is the key – to be used, and he can’t do that in any way other than adventure. The quiet life of an adventurer retired to merely being King seems to him like doing nothing ‘as though to breathe were life’ – that’s to say just continuing to breathe, to stay alive is not ‘life’.

How hungry his heart is! he wants tons of lives, and if he can’t have them, he wants to use every minute of the life he has got:

Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains:

In my Shared Reading group I’d be stopping here to talk about  the passing of time, how long life felt when I was ten and a day at the Riveacre Road open air baths  seemed to last for months. And how  much shorter all days now seem, all weeks, all months, all years. I remember talking to  Miss Stella Pope, a lady who taught at the Queen’s School, Chester, when my mother was pupil there. Miss Pope (you couldn’t call her anything else) must have been Very Old Indeed when she  attended my Victorian Literature course at the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Birkenhead – years before the birth of The Reader. Miss Pope always wore a hat and she kept it on in the class. Sometimes she fell asleep but when she woke up she’d be wide-awake and spot on the mark of whatever we were  reading. She told me, the years go by like days in the end.  It all speeds up just as you come to value it.

Little remains, he says and I wonder … how old is this man ? Would you put him at a modern sixty?  and then the question the poems poses for us: what are you going to do with your remaining time? This is a  difficult area of conversation and almost certainly will get very serious. I’ve had a man talking about living with bowel cancer, a man talking about drinking himself to death. You have to be ready for anything. But what are you ready with?  Why, what we’ve actually got: human companionship, another cup of tea, being there, at the table together with the hard question in front of us. As a reader said to me yesterday, you’re not on your own, you’re going through with the others.

Let’s read on. Oh, no, time is up!

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View from under the  tree

 

One thought on “Slowing Down for Deep Waters

  1. loubyjo July 3, 2017 / 6:38 pm

    I remember doing this ages ago with one of the reader days fascinating !!! I see you alot in this poem !!!! what will happen when you pass the reader on !!! think it will always be part of you , the thought for many is not able to do what u have always done !!! an arch is bit like what is next i will finish reading a book and then on to the next what adventures will it hold but that is often what is keeps you going , what is round the corner and a desire to keep going bit like running if stop lose the pace , and hard to get back so just carry on !!!!

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