At that moment, I did not feel "happy" or "sad." Nor did I regret the irrevocable passing of the years, years that had briefly returned, and then vanished again. Instead, I felt an inarticulate sense of calmness and serenity.
Everything Is Going To Be All Right
How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.
Derek Mahon, Poems 1962-1978 (Oxford University Press 1979).
Samuel Bough, "Shipyard at Dumbarton" (1855)
As I think back now on that windy moment I experienced on Sunday, I am reminded of an anecdote about Ludwig Wittgenstein:
"When he was about 21 years of age . . . something occurred that had a lasting impact on him. He saw a play in Vienna which was mediocre drama: but there was a scene in which a person whose life had been desperately miserable, and who thought himself about to die, suddenly felt himself to be spoken to in the words, 'Nothing can happen to you!' No matter what occurred in the world, no harm could come to him! Wittgenstein was greatly struck by this thought (as he told me approximately forty years later)."
Norman Malcom, "A Religious Man?" in F. A. Flowers (editor), Portraits of Wittgenstein, Volume 4 (Thoemmes Press 1999), page 192.
This anecdote can be interpreted in any number of ways. Norman Malcolm puts a religious gloss upon it. In the case of the enigmatic and mystical Wittgenstein, who can say? But I have a vague notion of what he was getting at. I think. Or at least I have inklings of the feeling of which he speaks.
Samuel Bough, "Fishing Boats Running into Port: Dysart Harbour" (1854)
These visceral, bone-deep, and crystal-clear distillations of our past are wonderful. Inexplicable and wonderful.
One evening in the blue month of September
we lay at peace beneath an apple bough.
I took her in my arms, my gentle lover,
and held her closely like a dream come true --
while far up in the tranquil summer heaven
there was a cloud, I saw it high and clear;
it was so white and so immense above us
and, as I watched, it was no longer there.
Since then so very many different evenings
have drifted blindly past in the general flow;
perhaps the apple orchards have been flattened,
and if you ask me where the girl is now
I have to admit I really don't remember.
I can imagine what you're going to say
but even her face I truly can't recapture,
I only know I kissed it there that day.
Even the kiss I would have long forgotten
if that one cloud had not been up there too --
I see it and will always see it plainly,
so white and unexpected in the blue.
Perhaps the apple boughs are back in blossom,
maybe she holds a fourth child on her knees;
the cloud, though, hung there for a moment only
and, as I watched, it broke up in the breeze.
Bertolt Brecht (translated by Derek Mahon), in Derek Mahon, Echo's Grove (The Gallery Press 2013).
Samuel Bough, "Dunkirk Harbour" (1863)
Brecht's meditation on the quirkiness and the majesty of how our memory works is strikingly paralleled in the following poem, which has appeared here before, but is worth revisiting.
Now I remember nothing of our love
So well as the crushed bracken and the wings
Of doves among dim branches far above --
Strange how the count of time revalues things!
Patrick MacDonogh (1902-1961), Poems (edited by Derek Mahon) (The Gallery Press 2001).
We never know what our revenants will turn out to be, do we? A lone white cloud, crushed bracken, the wings of doves among dim branches far above: we each have our own list. What survives out of our thousands of moments of living is a mystery. Which is perfectly fine.
Samuel Bough, "Edinburgh from Leith Roads" (1854)