Friend, I have lost the way.
The way leads on.
Is there another way?
The way is one.
I must retrace the track.
It's lost and gone.
Back, I must travel back!
None goes there, none.
Then I'll make here my place,
(The road runs on),
Stand still and set my face,
(The road leaps on),
Stay here, for ever stay.
None stays here, none.
I cannot find the way.
The way leads on.
Oh places I have passed!
That journey's done.
And what will come at last?
The road leads on.
Edwin Muir, The Labyrinth (1949).
Muir's life was something of an archetypal journey: a movement from the seemingly timeless farms and sea of the Orkney Islands into the dispiriting heart of the 20th century -- first Glasgow, then lengthy stays in pre-Second World War Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia and in post-War Eastern Europe. It is no wonder that his poetry is marked by recurrent images of journeys and exiles: literal and figurative, external and internal, with an underlying sense of the irremediable loss of something that cannot be quite articulated.
"Time wakens a longing more poignant than all the longings caused by the division of lovers in space, for there is no road back into its country. Our bodies were not made for that journey; only the imagination can venture upon it; and the setting out, the road, and the arrival: all is imagination."
Edwin Muir, An Autobiography (The Hogarth Press 1954), page 224.
Thomas Hennell, "The Guest House, Cerne Abbas" (c. 1940)
From Christina Rossetti, here is another approach to the matter. The poem has appeared here before, but it is worth a return visit.
Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.
But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.
Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.
Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come.
Christina Rossetti, Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862).
Thomas Hennell, "The Avenue, Bucklebury" (c. 1940)
Of course, our journey may be undertaken while staying in one place.
Will you, sometime, who have sought so long and seek
Still in the slowly darkening hunting ground,
Catch sight some ordinary month or week
Of that strange quarry you scarcely thought you sought --
Yourself, the gatherer gathered, the finder found,
The buyer, who would buy all, in bounty bought --
And perch in pride on the princely hand, at home,
And there, the long hunt over, rest and roam?
Edwin Muir, The Narrow Place (1943).
Muir's thoughts are reminiscent of T. S. Eliot's well-known lines:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T. S. Eliot, "Little Gidding," Four Quartets (1943).
Thomas Hennell, "A View at Ridley" (c. 1940)
Finally, a poem by Edwin Muir's fellow Orcadian Robert Rendall (1898-1967) seems apt.
Angle of Vision
But, John, have you seen the world, said he,
Trains and tramcars and sixty-seaters,
Cities in lands across the sea --
Giotto's tower and the dome of St. Peter's?
No, but I've seen the arc of the earth,
From the Birsay shore, like the edge of a planet,
And the lifeboat plunge through the Pentland Firth
To a cosmic tide with the men that man it.
Robert Rendall, Shore Poems (1957).
Thomas Hennell, "The Beech Avenue, Lasham, Hampshire" (c. 1941)