Well, I can't say it was a shock, as the rumours were doing the rounds, but the way the news of the closure of our great old magazine arrived was a surprise. It was an informal end-of-year lunch for the team, the day after we finished the February issue. Our boss, Don, has been fighting like mad for years to keep the whole thing going, but our magazine is a joint venture with a giant global publishing conglomerate, and when they said 'it's over' Don had no choice but to come and tell us the news he hated to bear. None of us were shocked at all, and so it wasn't a teary, depressing kind of thing. It was just a sense of "rats, it's over," a lousy way to end a tough year. Bye 2012, you haven't been a great year, have you?
And so our March issue will be the last 'Burke's Backyard' mag, and I'll be looking for work from February onwards next year. And while the practical side of me already is making sensible plans, I woke up this morning thinking of a poem I loved while a student at uni, and so I thought I'd do a little posting on this poem: 'The Garden', by Andrew Marvell, written somewhere between 1650 and 1670 most likely. We don't know when, exactly.
I like this poem for itself. Perhaps you might already know the line "a green thought in a green shade" but what I remember is its meaning, or at least its meaning according to the way my tutor at university explained it to me. It made so much sense it has always been the way I have thought about this poem, and this is how I'm thinking right now.
So, here goes with my brief little reading of this poem, illustrated with some shots from my garden, taken over the years...
Marvell was a politician as well as a poet, and back in those days politics was more than brutal, it was deadly. The King had his head cut off, and many lesser mortals, many of them politicians, were tortured and executed in ways you would never like to know.
And so Mr Marvell, in this poem, is about to enter a dangerous Parliament as a known former republican sympathiser when that wasn't the winning side to be on. In his poem 'The Garden', he is tossing up whether to stay in his beautiful, peaceful, bountiful garden, or venture back out into the treacherous, competitive and often dangerous world of public affairs. Why not just stay in the garden? Why not indeed.
My uni tutor, with a great degree more certainty than seems wise now, was adamant that Marvell wrote this poem at the time when he was considering re-entering Parliament.
Academics would dispute this with much evidence to back them (so I have subsequently learnt) but I am still persuaded that it's a perfectly reasonable reading of the poem.
To me, it's a wonderful poem on the struggle between seeking the comfort and security of life in a peaceful garden, versus the responsibility of plunging into the hurly-burly of ordinary public life.
That's where I'm at right now. Not only do I have a lovely garden, I've been earning a quid in a lovely garden of a job for 14 years now, and the idea of leaving my two gardens for most of every working day is very, very unappealing indeed. How little can I live on? Can I still earn money while working from home? Who would have me?
I know that virtually everyone reading this blog doesn't live a cosseted life in a garden all day long, as I have been so fortunate to do for these last 14 years, so I accept your muttered 'tough luck' with head bowed. So many of us commute in crowded buses and trains, some hold down crappy jobs supervised by thoughtless oafs, are underpaid, tired and possibly a bit depressed by the grind of it all, too.
All my life I've made the decision to leave jobs I don't like, and to go looking for something interesting, even if the pay is lousy. I've been fortunate that I have skipped like a frog from one interesting little lilypad of work to another, but this time I think I might be swimming to shore: times are getting tougher and interesting lilypads scarcer.
However, my first instinct is to not only stay here in the garden, try to make a goer of it and not abandon it, be unfaithful to it, until I have run out of options. So unlike Mr Marvell, who opened the garden gate and rode off to London and its lethal uncertainties, I am staying here, thinking a green thought in a green shade.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone, I'm sorry I didn't do a 'jingle bells' posting this Christmas Eve, but jingly bells aren't what woke me up this morning. What I woke up to was memories of this beautiful poem, below.
See you in 2013, best wishes to you all.
By Andrew Marvell
How vainly men themselves amaze
To win the palm, the oak, or bays,
And their uncessant labours see
Crown’d from some single herb or tree,
Whose short and narrow verged shade
Does prudently their toils upbraid;
While all flow’rs and all trees do close
To weave the garlands of repose.
Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,
And Innocence, thy sister dear!
Mistaken long, I sought you then
In busy companies of men;
Your sacred plants, if here below,
Only among the plants will grow.
Society is all but rude,
To this delicious solitude.
No white nor red was ever seen
So am’rous as this lovely green.
Fond lovers, cruel as their flame,
Cut in these trees their mistress’ name;
Little, alas, they know or heed
How far these beauties hers exceed!
Fair trees! wheres’e’er your barks I wound,
No name shall but your own be found.
When we have run our passion’s heat,
Love hither makes his best retreat.
The gods, that mortal beauty chase,
Still in a tree did end their race:
Apollo hunted Daphne so,
Only that she might laurel grow;
And Pan did after Syrinx speed,
Not as a nymph, but for a reed.
What wond’rous life in this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons as I pass,
Ensnar’d with flow’rs, I fall on grass.
Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness;
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find,
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.
Here at the fountain’s sliding foot,
Or at some fruit tree’s mossy root,
Casting the body’s vest aside,
My soul into the boughs does glide;
There like a bird it sits and sings,
Then whets, and combs its silver wings;
And, till prepar’d for longer flight,
Waves in its plumes the various light.
Such was that happy garden-state,
While man there walk’d without a mate;
After a place so pure and sweet,
What other help could yet be meet!
But ’twas beyond a mortal’s share
To wander solitary there:
Two paradises ’twere in one
To live in paradise alone.
How well the skillful gard’ner drew
Of flow’rs and herbs this dial new,
Where from above the milder sun
Does through a fragrant zodiac run;
And as it works, th’ industrious bee
Computes its time as well as we.
How could such sweet and wholesome hours
Be reckon’d but with herbs and flow’rs!