Sleep, the past, and wake, the future
And walk out promptly through the open door;
But you, my coward doubts, may go on sleeping,
You need not wake again – not any more.
The new year comes with bombs, it is too late
to dose the dead with honourable intentions:
If you have honour to spare, employ it on the living;
The dead are dead as nineteen thirty eight.
Sleep to the noise of running water
To-morrow to be crossed, however deep;
This is no river of the dead or Lethe,
To-night we sleep
on the banks of the rubicon – the die is cast;
there will be time to audit
the accounts later, there will be sunlight later
and the equation will come out at last.
Louis MacNiece, Autumn Journal
Photograph taken in Vassals Park, Bristol, October 2018.
Or a man in his middle years, a husband and father, will find himself, some damp October evening, reading the banal inscription on the grave of a girl he knew at school. He is not at all sure why he is there; somebody else would cite nostalgia, sentiment, a midlife crisis, but that’s far too simple an explanation. The girl he remembers now never existed; for most of the years she spent being alive, he hardly noticed her, or perhaps it would be truer to say that she hardly noticed him – but once, on a warm summer’s night at the town dance, or in some hazy winter’s afternoon at the end of term, she had smiled at him, and they had gone for a walk together, or stood talking inthe school foyer, and he’d realised how miraculous she was. Two days later, she was dead: a tumour, a rare infection, a hole in the heart. It wasn’t uncommon, in the Innertown, that such a girl might die young, but this girl had stayed alive long enough to make her mark, to take up residence in his imagination. To haunt him. Now, through her, he mourns and celebrates everything that life has denied him, all the beauty, all the magic. This is how it happens: the dead go away into their solitude, but the young dead stay with us, they colour our dreams, they make us wonder about ourselves, that we should be so unlucky, or clumsy, or so downright ordinary as to carry on without them.
John Burnside, Glister
Photograph taken in Morley, West Yorkshire, April 2014.
Ah, those days…for many years afterwards their happiness haunted me. Sometimes, listening to music, I drift back and nothing has changed. The long end of summer. Day after day of warm weather, voices calling as night came on and lighted windows pricked the darkness and, at day-break, the murmur of corn and the warm smell of fields ripe for harvest. And being young.
If I’d stayed there, would I always have been happy? No, I suppose not. People move away, grow older, die, and the bright belief that there will be another marvelous thing around each corner fades. It is now or never; we must snatch at happiness as it flies.
J.L. Carr, A Month In The Country
Photograph taken in Churwell, Leeds, Summer 1989. I was 21 when I took this picture, and looking at it now only serves to emphasise what Mr Carr expressed so eloquently in his novel A Month In The Country. Those fields were once farmland, though that farm was already an abandoned derelict when I was a child, and a housing estate has been built in its place. From this vantage point today, you can’t see the horizon with Leeds in the far distance, in fact you can’t see further than about 10 feet in front of your nose as a dense copse of trees has grown there during the intervening years. Churwell was still very much a village back then, surrounded on most sides by farmland, but now it’s just part of the vast urban spawl of Leeds and I don’t expect anyone much cares. Except me, and I don’t even live there anymore, though part of me, I am forced to admit, always will.
Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.
D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Photograph taken in Morley, West Yorkshire, November 2018.
A small and sinister snow seems to be coming down relentlessly at present. The radio says it is eventually going to be sleet and rain, but I don’t think so; I think it is just going to go on and on, coming down, until the whole world…etc. It has that look.
Photograph taken in Morley, West Yorkshire, January 2013.