‘A Lost Pulse of Feeling’ : What is it and Why Does It Matter?

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The Front Step with Hydrangea and Milk, 20 October

Yesterday I had the extraordinary experience of watching the rushes of a series of AHRC-funded films being made  by CRILS about Shared Reading.  The team have been filming groups and talking to Reader Leaders about how they do  what they do when they are running groups.  The plan is to use the films for helping The Reader  to teach new volunteer Reader Leaders, as well as to have some new footage on our website so that everyone can see  Shared Reading in action,  adding to our existing stock, which you can find here

Some of my favourites:

Why Reading Matters – an old one but still relevant, part of a BBC series, this shows a n open community group in Birkenhead

Get Into Reading – an early film from colleagues in the South West, showing Shared Reading for people with depression and/or dementia and  in an inpatient Mental Health setting, and featuring GP Dr Mary Embleton

NHS Mersey Care and The Reader – this is an extract from a longer documentary made by The Danish Broadcasting Corporation as they  followed NHS Mersey Care’s Reader in Residence, Selina McNay, as she ran Shared Reading groups in community and in-patient settings. This is a truly wonderful film, and the second half  in particular gives an intense impression of the emotional power of Shared Reading.

Shared Reading in Libraries – some beautiful testimonies from members of groups and thoughts from library colleagues on why they spend time building such groups and how Shared Reading helps libraries deliver social inclusion

Phoenix Futures and The Reader in which colleagues and service users from  partner organisation, addiction rehabilitation charity Phoenix Futures talk about  what they  get from Shared Reading

Reading for Resilience: How Shared Reading can support people living with dementia – a Press Association film, made by Tom Brada, about a Shared Reading group  in a London Care Home

Shared Reading – Transforming communities, one story at a time – a film from partners in New South Wales, Australia, in which we see how easily the idea translates to another country.

All of the above are terrific, but the AHRC/CRILS films are going to add something new to our library. We’ve made them as teaching films, so they  show a  lot of detail on how we make the magic of Shared Reading happen. I was struck by what a demanding experience it is, whether you are a reader in  rehab or a Care Home or in an open community group. It was extraordinarily moving to see people working so hard to get thoughts – often thoughts that were happening right there, being formed, forged –  into words. It seemed such a courageous and vital  thing for humans do.  I spent much of the afternoon quietly moved to tears, glad that we had the lights out.

I watched a woman in a Wigan Care Home do valorous  battle with language and her own inexperience in formulating expressing such thoughts, and she was working as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen working to get a complicated feeling, her response to the poem ‘Walking Away’ by C.S.Lewis, into words. (There’s a copy here on this very interesting web page).

I thought as I watched, of the poem I’m currently reading here, ‘The Buried Life’ by Matthew Arnold.

I’m sorry that the stanza breaks don’t always seem to come out when I paste and copy. If the poem is appearing for you as a monolithic block, please read it here, where all is as it should be.

The Buried Life
Light flows our war of mocking words, and yet,
Behold, with tears mine eyes are wet!
I feel a nameless sadness o’er me roll.
Yes, yes, we know that we can jest,
We know, we know that we can smile!
But there’s a something in this breast,
To which thy light words bring no rest,
And thy gay smiles no anodyne.
Give me thy hand, and hush awhile,
And turn those limpid eyes on mine,
And let me read there, love! thy inmost soul.
Alas! is even love too weak
To unlock the heart, and let it speak?
Are even lovers powerless to reveal
To one another what indeed they feel?
I knew the mass of men conceal’d
Their thoughts, for fear that if reveal’d
They would by other men be met
With blank indifference, or with blame reproved;
I knew they lived and moved
Trick’d in disguises, alien to the rest
Of men, and alien to themselves—and yet
The same heart beats in every human breast!
But we, my love!—doth a like spell benumb
Our hearts, our voices?—must we too be dumb?
Ah! well for us, if even we,
Even for a moment, can get free
Our heart, and have our lips unchain’d;
For that which seals them hath been deep-ordain’d!
Fate, which foresaw
How frivolous a baby man would be—
By what distractions he would be possess’d,
How he would pour himself in every strife,
And well-nigh change his own identity—
That it might keep from his capricious play
His genuine self, and force him to obey
Even in his own despite his being’s law,
Bade through the deep recesses of our breast
The unregarded river of our life
Pursue with indiscernible flow its way;
And that we should not see
The buried stream, and seem to be
Eddying at large in blind uncertainty,
Though driving on with it eternally.
But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life;
A thirst to spend our fire and restless force
In tracking out our true, original course;
A longing to inquire
Into the mystery of this heart which beats
So wild, so deep in us—to know
Whence our lives come and where they go.
And many a man in his own breast then delves,
But deep enough, alas! none ever mines.
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—
Hardly had skill to utter one of all
The nameless feelings that course through our breast,
But they course on for ever unexpress’d.
And long we try in vain to speak and act
Our hidden self, and what we say and do
Is eloquent, is well—but ‘t is not true!
And then we will no more be rack’d
With inward striving, and demand
Of all the thousand nothings of the hour
Their stupefying power;
Ah yes, and they benumb us at our call!
Yet still, from time to time, vague and forlorn,
From the soul’s subterranean depth upborne
As from an infinitely distant land,
Come airs, and floating echoes, and convey
A melancholy into all our day.
Only—but this is rare—
When a belovèd hand is laid in ours,
When, jaded with the rush and glare
Of the interminable hours,
Our eyes can in another’s eyes read clear,
When our world-deafen’d ear
Is by the tones of a loved voice caress’d—
A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,
And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again.
The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,
And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know.
A man becomes aware of his life’s flow,
And hears its winding murmur; and he sees
The meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze.
And there arrives a lull in the hot race
Wherein he doth for ever chase
That flying and elusive shadow, rest.
An air of coolness plays upon his face,
And an unwonted calm pervades his breast.
And then he thinks he knows
The hills where his life rose,
And the sea where it goes.
I’d got to  this point in Stanza 2,
I knew the mass of men conceal’d
Their thoughts, for fear that if reveal’d
They would by other men be met
With blank indifference, or with blame reproved;
I knew they lived and moved                                                                        20
Trick’d in disguises, alien to the rest
Of men, and alien to themselves—and yet
The same heart beats in every human breast!

But I’ll go on with that tomorrow, because with that woman of Wigan still in my mind this morning I want to jump forward to this bit, starting at line 77:

Only—but this is rare—
When a belovèd hand is laid in ours,
When, jaded with the rush and glare
Of the interminable hours,                                                                                  80
Our eyes can in another’s eyes read clear,
When our world-deafen’d ear
Is by the tones of a loved voice caress’d—
A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,
And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again.                                                               85
The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,
And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know.

This ‘lost pulse of feeling’ what is it? And why do I feel it matters so much, when after all, it is by its very nature transient. One of the most  striking moments on my life at The Reader came in a Drug and Alcohol centre when a man who was street alcoholic and drug user, and was clearly going to continue to be a man living on the street, spoke movingly about the poem which was getting him to muse (muse, like a poet) about how he came to be in the state he was in.

‘I stood on the shore of Lake Windermere,’ he said very quietly, ‘And threw my passport and ISA in and said, ‘He’s gone now’.’

A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,
And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again.                                                               85
The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,
And what we mean, we say,

That this was a big moment for him, and  for all of us sitting around that table, that was undeniable. But what was the moment? What actually happened?  And what is the  value of what happened?

I am out of time, spent too much of it looking at the films this morning…

 

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