The latest canto of Jonathan Gibbs' Spring Journal, which was read as usual by Michael Hughes on last
week's Leap in the Dark. As we approach the mid-way point (assuming that the poem will run to 24
cantos, as did Macneice's Autumn Journal).
I jokingly observed of an earlier canto that Gibbs was likely to be hampered by his happy marriage -
Macneice's was breaking up and his anger and frustration inform the more private cantos of the original
poem. 'Happiness writes white' someone said (was it de Montherlant?) but Gibbs finds a way.
Midway upon the journey of our life together
We found ourselves in a wide bright clearing.
There was no way of knowing which way to turn,
The path kept appearing then disappearing,
First on this side, then on the other.
The sun beat down; the space seemed to extend
Forever; there was no way onward, we thought,
No route by which to descend
Safely to civilisation. The hike was not aborted,
But on hold,
We sat on our cagoules and opened our rucksacks,
We’d supplies enough, and at least it wasn’t cold
Or raining, as on other hikes, or hailing,
Or blowing a gale:
This spring is that clearing; we must sit tight
And wait till better conditions prevail.
And while MacNeice heard the sound of his lost love’s voice
As if through a wall
Of indifference and abstraction,
I hear yours through the door down the hall.
And it’s true we know each other’s voices
In all their moods and modes.
Your voice on the phone, to the children, the cat,
Our voices when we speak in code,
Exploring new entries into a quarrel,
Taking turns at who goes first:
‘I’m not your student!’ ‘Well, I’m not your patient!’
Our lines are very well rehearsed,
For any married couple worth their salt can disagree
On anything at all
If they put their minds to it; love loves nothing like
The grimly paradoxical.
But listen, Louis: a tempestuous two-year affair will make a very different poem
Than a marriage of twenty-odd years,
The joy and anguish even out, leaving behind something beyond
Either kisses or tears.
But here, in this bright clearing, it’s getting hard to tell apart
The world and us.
We are and are not a mirror the one of the other;
We cannot simply frame it thus
And say: the world is gone awry, but we are all right;
Perhaps we aren’t.
Perhaps the sickness of the world only shows, and amplifies,
The sickness in our heart.
And we were out in the world today; it has become a faded image,
Picnic spots turned to meadow,
Shops boarded up, the great prairie-size advertising
Hoardings tattered and yellow.
Soon they will be renewed and refreshed, when people
Are sure we’ll buy
Whatever trinkets they have to sell us; throw open the doors!
Unleash the supply
Of bread and circuses – put your togas back on.
For this is Roman weather once again,
Though in this circus of death the bloodied victims are
Nowhere to be seen,
They are away in make-shift morgues in hangars and factories,
Neatly out of sight,
When they should pile up in our every thought, their shadows should
Block out the light.
And war had its photographers, skilled at framing evil
For the weekly magazines;
There are no such remembrancers for our tens of thousand dead.
Instead on our screens
We see a familiar menagerie of liars and dissemblers
Blocking the path ahead.
First of these is a leopard: we know this beast well; he’s always changing his spots,
He weaves in place and bobs his head.
Then, behind him, his boss, a cowardly lion,
Though for all that
Ravenous indeed, careless in his appetites, rotten in his thinking,
Contemptuous of caveat.
The last, a male she-wolf, gaunt and wayward and depraved,
And the most dangerous of the three,
He hungers for destruction, with a hunger that goes unsated,
The wolf he scares me, Louis.
He makes me long for a guide, as Dante had a guide,
Who will lead us up the hill
To truth, though in truth his route to Heaven
Began by going down to Hell.
And Louis, if he appeared before me now, would say, ‘Jonathan
There is no Heaven, you know this,
And if there were I could not guide you. I was no good husband or lover,
As I’m sure you noticed.
Noticing, not guiding, is what I did. That she-wolf,
Who has poisoned your already poisoned spring,
That’s good. Keep doing that.’ And he goes, and we sit, the two of us,
And look at each other, in this wide bright clearing.