A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Saturday, 19 February 2011

An Invisible Sun

Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible sun within us. SIR THOMAS BROWNE Urn-Burial

Our life is short and tedious, and in the death of a man there is no remedy; neither was there any man known to have returned from the grave. For we are born at all adventure, and we shall be hereafter as though we had never been; for the breath in our nostrils is as smoke, and a little spark in the moving of our heart, which being extinguished, our body shall be turned into ashes, and our spirit shall vanish as the soft air, and our name shall be forgotten in time, and no man shall have our works in remembrance, and our life shall pass away as the trace of a cloud, and shall be dispersed as a mist that is driven away with the beams of the sun, and overcome with the heat thereof. For our time is a very shadow that passeth away, and after our end there is no returning; for it is fast sealed, so that no man cometh again. Come on, therefore, let is enjoy the good things that are present, and let us speedily use the creatures like as in youth. Let us fill ourselves with costly wine and ointments; and let no flower of the spring pass by us. Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they be withered; let none of us go without his part of our voluptuousness, let us leave tokens of our joyfulness in every place; for this is our portion, and our lot is this. The Wisdom Of Solomon, ii, 1-9

These two quotations preface John Hadfield's A Book Of Beauty, which was published in 1952, and was one of my mother's favourite anthologies.

Yesterday was my mother's birthday. She died on 3 November 2004 at the age of 82 after suffering Alzheimer's disease for five years. During that time my father - himself in his mid-80s - looked after her as best he could for four out of those five years.    

When my dad died on 13 January 2009 I rescued some of mum's treasured books from the old family home - poetry books, travel books, history books, reminiscences of rural life, Bibles, a beautiful 1911 edition of The Works Of Shakespeare, TE Lawrence's Seven Pillars Of Wisdom. She had been an avid reader all her life. Religiously halfway through each morning she would make herself a cup of coffee and do a little Bible study. Every Saturday she changed her books at the public library and brought home takeaway fish and chips for our lunch. It's from her I inherited my passion for books and reading and poetry, and my love of nature and the countryside.

She also used to keep commonplace books, and make scrapbooks of poems, pictures, old magazine and newspaper cuttings. In the late 1970s a facsimile edition of Edith Holden's nature diary for the year 1906 was published in the UK under the title The Country Diary Of An Edwardian Lady. It became an instant bestseller. My mum loved this book. So, when Nature Notes of The Country Dairy Of An Edwardian Lady came out in the early 1980s, I gave her a copy. It's inscribed 'Christmas 1983', and mum filled in the entries for every single day of 1984. Above is a page from the book showing her birthday week (double-click to enlarge). On her birthday, 18 February, she wrote in a neat, tiny hand: My birthday. Perfect Spring day - blue sky & no clouds. Several blackbirds in garden.


Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow said...

A beautiful and tender post, Robert. What a treasure chest to have the book with your mom's handwritten entries and one that I assume must be gone through slowly. Day by day? What is the proper dosage for such wonders? Oh, those blackbirds in the garden ...

George said...

Loved it, Robert, the two Hadfield quotations and the wonderful remembrance of your mom. What an incredible legacy she has left you. Who would the Solitary Walker be without a love of poetry, writing, reading, nature?

My father was not a great reader, but he was a wise, gentle man whose love for nature was second to none. What I have received from him has been vastly more important than any achievements of my own. He would have agreed with Hadfield that we need to wear crowns of rosebuds and venture forth joyfully while we have our little hour upon the stage.

Bonnie said...

How blessed you were to have a mother who treasured so many important things. I feel honoured that you share memories of her here and an actual page of entries in her journal. Imagine how proud she would be to read your entries/posts on this blog. I'm sure her heart would swell.

Your post has created a space in my thinking for a few reminiscences of my mother who died 2 years ago on January 29th (my birthday). Thank you.

Anonymous said...

How funny! I was thinking about the Edwardian diaries yesterday. I used to be friends with an older Lady who had one open on her coffee table all the time and I miss seeing it.
I just like the acknowledgement of the passing of seasons and looking at what is there right now. It makes me feel a little wistful.

jan said...

Hello Robert. I love to read your blog every now and again. Today I have to leave a comment in honour of your Mum. What wonderful treasures she has left you. I will think of her words about the blackbirds and hope to be able to see the wonders around me more often in these days.

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Robert. What a sweet remembrance of your mom. Her journal is a treasure. I imagine she would smile to see your blog, and this post especially. I noticed that her entry for February 21 is a Tanka poem awaiting its final 7 syllable line. Perhaps you'll complete it?

Noticed today that
the hawthorne hedge is full of
tiny pink leaf buds

all ready to come to life.

Dominic Rivron said...

Things people leave behind are very poignant, aren't they?

I don't think I could fill in something like that every day. I'm far to scatter-brained.

Grizz………… said...


I've lately been in much the same mood of reflectiveness, perhaps because my mother's birthday, which was on the 15th, as you might have read in my blog, or maybe because I'd have so enjoyed sharing with her last weekend's appearance of the first daffodil and crocus shoots. Mom would have loved that vernal news.

It has been almost six years since her passing. Yet whenever I go through the boxes of old photos, her books and clipped recipes, her handmade quilts and needlework, or examine some of her keepsakes which I boxed up and brought here after her death—the memories are often extraordinarily sharp, sometimes so sad or bittersweet that I have to stop and do something else.

I'm not familiar with the quote from Browne, but I've read the one from Solomon many times—and there's much truth in what he say, though often in a quasi-hedonistic way. One thing which always strikes me, because he got it wrong, was the part about "…our name shall be forgotten in time, and no man shall have our works in remembrance, and our life shall pass away as the trace of a cloud…" Here, these several thousand years since, we still read and remember and know his name.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, Lorenzo. It's the quality of direct, unadorned, simple observation that gets to me, that makes me misty eyed. Her entries are like haiku.

Thanks so much for sharing with us a tribute to your father, George. I think I remember you mentioning him before in a post about angling.

Bonnie - it's wonderful, isn't it, when posts have that ripple effect, and touch, in some unforeseen way, blogfriends around the world?

Helen - I'm a strong believer in wistfulness from time to time!

Jan, thanks for your comment, and welcome to my blog. I can see from your own blog why my post has a particular resonance with you. Will revisit you soon ...

Dan - oh, my, I see what you mean! How amazing! I may do another post on some of my mum's stuff, but whether that unconscious, near-finished tanka needs completing or not, I'm not sure! Thanks for your eye-opening comment.

Dominic - ditto. My diaries are usually abandoned by the middle of January. Too rigid for me.

Grizz - thanks for this long and quite wonderful comment. Yes, bittersweet, bittersweet. I've responded in more detail on your own blog.

Tramp said...

A wonderful tribute to your parents.
From my father I inherited an 1874 edition of the complete works of Shakespeare which had belonged to my grandfather; from my mother a book of 19th century polar explorers which was a school prize for my grandmother in 1897. I also have letters that they wrote to me and diaries my father kept when he travelled out to (then) Northern Rhodesia in 1947 to work in the lab at a copper mine and of his journey home with my mother and elder brother and sister 2 years later. His eye for the small, comical but meaningful things of life are cast in there and mean so much to anyone who knew him personally.
Sorry I'm going on a bit.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for that wonderful comment, Tramp. You can go on for as long as you like as far as I'm concerned!

Ruth said...

It's beautiful to see how you treasure this, Robert, because your mother treasured it. Your last post of the walk around the perimeter of your village would have been such a delight to her! I've known you and I have much in common from our upbringing, and here is another. My mother kept many notes too, to the point of writing so finely that you needed a magnifying glass to read it. She also died with Alzheimer's. We need to preserve their memories like this. Thank you.

The Solitary Walker said...

I have often wondered, Ruth - and now I'm pondering again, particularly since thinking about my mother on her birthday and since reading Lorenzo's memory-related post - about the relationship between memory and personality/psyche/essence. I mean, to put it bluntly, are you the same 'person' with Alzheimer's? It seems to me both no and yes. 'Personality', ability, speech, and many other aspects can change - but I'm convinced the soul-spirit-essence remains. My mother sometimes used to give me her usual 'arched eyebrow' look when my father was boring her, or going on about himself, on a visit to the rest home ... even when the Alzheimer's was quite advanced.

Ruth said...

Lorenzo's post stirred many memories for me too, and thoughts about memory, and much about my mom during Alzheimer's. Wondering about personality, yes, I think the personality is intact. Sometimes I think all was stripped away except personality . . . no more civilization or society. There were times in the last year of her life when she withdrew into a cave, no talking. I wondered if she was in pain that she couldn't express. She would just stare at me. We gazed into one another's eyes, the way you do with a newborn baby.

As I mentioned in a comment at Lorenzo's, Mom continued playing the piano expertly into her last months. When a son of one of the residents at the home found out how she played, he, a soloist, began to come and and practice with her. It was astonishing really, to listen to her play, and then get up and go about her business without any memory for conversation.

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, I remember your poem about this.