People have many different ways to find peace
When living is just becoming too hard to bear,
For some it is in sleep, some have a special place,
Others seek the company of lighthearted friends,
Some settle down with a book, others meditate,
And many spoil themselves with a favourite food.
I have a special place where I like to escape
For a few days whenever it is possible,
Where there is such quietness and tranquility
That my mind is emptied of negative feelings
And I rediscover the lightness of being
That I had forgotten in the bustle of life.
I know I should really keep it a secret
For fear others might invade my sanctuary,
But that would be selfish and there is room for more.
The place itself is not at all remarkable,
Just a small island in France on the river Seine,
Twenty miles upstream of the city of Rouen
Where the river is broad, bordered by high chalk cliffs
Rising to a plateau of fields and small hamlets.
Another larger wooded island lies beyond
Screening the noise of the barges plying their trade,
Carrying all manner of cargoes between the
Inland factories and the great port of Le Havre.
I particularly like to sit in the grass
Beside the river in peaceful relaxation,
Sometimes doing nothing, letting my mind go blank,
Released from the grip of negative memories.
At others I meditate on the meaning of life,
Finding peace in solitary contemplation;
The only sound the gurgling of running water,
The song of birds in the trees and hum of insects,
And in the spring the croaking of the many frogs
Sitting on the lily pads at the river’s edge.
This is where I wish my last resting place to be,
My ashes scattered in this place of tranquillity.
One day while I was lost in such a reverie,
A new idea impressed itself on my mind,
An epiphany that the river could be seen
As an appropriate metaphor for all life.
It begins its life in quiet obscurity
In the quiet darkness of a small mountain tarn,
Or bursting from the rocks in merry abandon.
There is little indication in its early life
Of the majestic river that it will become
As it flows through alpine meadows decked with flowers,
Or rushes headlong through rocky gorges to plunge
Over precipices into deep crystal pools.
It is already home to many forms of life,
The only human witnesses to its childhood
Hill walkers and young children fishing for minnows
Or happily playing their games of innocence.
When it reaches the lowlands its strength increases,
As it gathers other streams to swell its waters.
Here it meanders between fields of green and gold,
Source of life and vitality to growing crops,
And refreshment to cattle grazing on its banks.
Still unpolluted by human activity,
It learns of ancient ways, unchanged over aeons,
The abundant knowledge of many centuries.
With early adulthood the scenery changes,
And fields give way to towns and the bustle of men.
In places the river runs between banks of stone,
Its life and vigour channeled to suit human need,
Roads run along its banks clamorous with the noise
Of lorries bringing the first of many cargoes
For the great barges moored alongside the long wharves
That will soon proliferate and then dominate
Its life, blotting out the sweet memories of youth.
Then come the factories spewing their toxic waste
To pollute and corrupt the former purity
Of the river, coating its clear waters with foam.
Middle age approaches fast and the world moves on
As the first suburbs of the great city appear
The river ignored by busy people intent
Upon their own concerns, their faces turned away,
Minds filled only with thoughts of family and trade.
But then a new song begins to float in the air,
The happy sound of carousers on pleasure boats,
Plying the river at the heart of the city,
And young swains trying to impress their lady loves
With their skill as boatsmen, and scullers and yachtsman
Practising for the many summer’s regattas
That will grace the river with gaiety and joy.
By the time it reaches me the river is old,
Running steadily towards its destination.
It is broad now, dotted with islands large and small,
The main channel still busy, but in the backwaters,
Home to ducks and many other small water fowl,
Ruled by the swans floating in all their majesty
On its limpid surface, quiet and peace has returned.
The river is still gaining wisdom, listening
To the whispered voices of the trees on its banks.
Soon now it will sense premonitions of its end,
As the taste of salt brings the message of its death,
And stories of wider shores and a greater life.
Throughout the long journey from its source to the sea,
The river will have experienced many things,
But in its diverse contacts with human beings,
An extra dimension to life will be revealed,
A motivating force that drives all our actions,
Even though we often deny its influence.
From the moment of conception to our last breath
We are all governed by love in all its aspects.
From the simple joyfulness of children at play,
Or the whispered words of young lovers on its banks,
To the love of money at the heart of commerce,
I realised that the river will see them all.
So as I lay there in peaceful contemplation,
My mind meandering lazily outside time,
New visions began to break on my consciousness,
Appearing and then disappearing like eddies,
Briefly disturbing the calm surface of my thoughts,
And I began to discern another river,
Intangible, but even more profoundly real,
Flowing invisibly and yet inexorably,
The dynamic heart of the entire universe,
And I perceived with a sense of awe and wonder,
That another river pervades all creation,
A majestic river of infinite power.
A force without a beginning or an ending,
The River of Life is the source of all being,
Its true nature is love and it knows no evil,
And though we might never give it a moment’s thought,
It is our origin and our destination,
The source and true meaning of our brief existence.
Though we may wilfully choose to disregard it,
And too often attempt to swim against its tide,
In our ignorance and pride resisting its call,
The benign power of love seeks to transform us,
And when at last our brief span on earth is ended,
We will become one with the mystery of love.
I was brought up in a house surrounded by books, and where reading and conversation were valued. From an early age until I had learned to read for myself my mother read to me every night, not only children’s stories by the best authors but also poetry.
Although I chose a career in science in that most esoteric of disciplines, Virology, I continued to read widely, but it wasn’t until I was in my sixties that I started to write. Initially I wrote poetry, usually in response to emotional trauma — I suffered severe depression at this time — but later I ventured into the world of the short story.
I hope that you will enjoy this very personal view of the world in poetry, prose and photographs of places that I love.
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton