Monday, 13 June 2011

Nothing is lost

I listened to a Radio 4 programme, Lost Voices, about Anne Ridler (30 July 1912 - 15 October 2001) . She was a British poet who worked with T.S. Eliot, selecting "A Little Book of Modern Verse" for Faber and Faber. But she was also a friend of C.S. Lewis, on the edge of the Inkings, and edited a collection of Charles William's works.

This poem was one of those read out during the programme by Juliet Stephenson. The presenter, Brian Patten, noted how it was one often selected at funerals, and while poignant, did not trivialise or sentimentalise death. There is no "other room" to slip away to in this poem.

In its way, it is as quite bleak, extraordinarily so for a Christian writer - there is no mention of heaven, no sunny reunions, no Dantean vision of Paradise.

Instead we have an almost Darwinian and humanist hymn to how we encapsulate our ancestors in biology and memory, and how in turn, our descendants will do when we too, are gone.

Nothing Is Lost by Anne Ridler

We are too sad to know that, or too blind;
Only in visited moments do we understand:
     It is not that the dead return-
          They are about us always, though unguessed.

     This penciled Latin verse
You dying wrote me, ten years past and more,
Brings you as much alive to me as the self you wrote it for,
     Dear father, as I read your words
          With no Word but Alas.

     Lines in a letter, lines in a face
Are faithful currents of life: the boy has written
His parents across his forehead, and as we burn
     Our bodies up each seven years,
          His own past self has left no plainer trace.

     Nothing dies.
The cells pass on their secrets, we betray them
Unknowingly: in a freckle, in the way
     We walk, recall some ancestor,
          And Adam in the color of our eyes.

     Yes, on the face of the new born,
Before the soul has taken full possession,
There pass, as over a screen, in succession
     The images of other beings:
          Face after face looks out, and then is gone.

     Nothing is lost, for all in love survive.
I lay my cheek against his sleeping limbs
To feel if he is warm, and touch in him
     Those children whom no shawl could warm,
          no arms, no grief, no longing could revive.

     Thus what we see, or know,
Is only a tiny portion, at the best,
Of the life in which we share; an iceberg's crest
     Our sunlit present, our partial sense,
          With deep supporting multitudes below.

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