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Like me, many readers were moved by Fleur Adcock’s extraordinary poem, A Surprise in the Peninsula, which I posted here on May 30. At that time I mentioned another favorite Adcock poem that just didn’t belong in a reading of that visceral, primal poem.

So here is Weathering, probably Fleur Adcock’s most famous poem. I first heard read 15 years ago by David Whyte, bard and poet, and I fell in love with it immediately. Whyte claims that Adcock wrote this while she was spending some time in the Lake District in England (he’s an Englishman after all, and could be considered a bit partial!) Adcock is from New Zealand so she could just have easily been writing about her native country. Whatever the case, that beautiful part of England comes to mind whenever I reread this poem. It is a place where I have spent so many wonderful days of my life, “where simply to look out my window/at the high pass/makes me indifferent to mirrors.” That is a feeling I know and treasure.

Weathering

Literally thin-skinned, I suppose, my face
catches the wind off the snow-line and flushes
with a flush that will never wholly settle. Well:
that was a metropolitan vanity,
wanting to look young for ever, to pass.

I was never a pre-Raphaelite beauty
nor anything but pretty enough to satisfy
men who need to be seen with passable women.
But now that I am in love with a place
which doesn’t care how I look, or if I’m happy,

happy is how I look, and that’s all.
My hair will grow grey in any case,
my nails chip and flake, my waist thicken,
and the years work all their usual changes.
If my face is to be weather-beaten as well

that’s little enough lost, a fair bargain
for a year among the lakes and fells, when simply
to look out of my window at the high pass
makes me indifferent to mirrors and to what
my soul may wear over its new complexion.

–Fleur Adcock

[Note: The accurate version of this poem was reposted here in September 2012]


A few views of the Lake District, where color and stillness speak

Ask Me

Sometime when the river runs ice, ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt — ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

–William Stafford

This is a time when words coming from me seem less than complete. During more fluid times, I have been able to find many ways to speak what feels real, to sidle up to the warm body that is my own version of Truth. Stafford, in his signature laconic voice that is both immense and tiny at the same time, captures more of this morning’s energy than my circling about trying to name what may not be nameable, trying to create order where perhaps none is meant to be. Tolle advises that not knowing is not confusion. Confusion is when you think you should know and you don’t. On this summer morning, what the river knows is enough for me.

What a relief to spend the last few days in a country that doesn’t have a president named Bush. The cheery Cumbrian men who stopped in to repair a leak in the ceiling listened with patience while we complained about how difficult it is to be an American abroad, and then pointed out that the UK is far from trouble free. “Grass always looks greener on the other side, don’t it?”

Fair enough, but this grass feels so good to me right now. Eckhart Tolle talks about creating space around the emotions and thoughts that cause suffering. Just be an observer of them, the watcher. That, he says, is how you can quiet the mind’s incessant chatterings.

The same could be said for the larger zone of the collective consciousness. I am far enough away from my life to see it with a watcher’s eye. And in this place where the land is an open armed welcome and the frequency gentle, I have an excellent perch.

And then of course there is the sacred presence of the ancient evidence, the menhirs and standing stones and stone circles that jewel this landscape with an energy of connection and sanctuary. I feel I am being held tenderly by these 4000 year old structures, sharing an unspoken wisdom from witnessing the passage of time and thousands of human generations.

So for now, I am in a soft surrender. While my eyes and hands are still waiting for the electric current to return me to the studio and to my work, I have no master plan to pursue. The cosmic grid has so many access points, I know I’ll stumble onto one that suits me—in a field, in a meadow, on a fells, by the stream, in the hedge. I’m ready.

I leave today for England, followed by a visit to Italy to see my daughter Kellin.

The first part of this trip will be spent in the Lake District in Northern England, just south of the Scottish border. I will be staying at the Lodge, in Ivegill, a place that has been masterfully magicized by dear friend Kathryn Kimball. As the gate house to the mansion that once stood down the lane (now a picturesque, overgrown ruin), it seems to serve many of us as a portal, a means of access to other dimensions of ourselves and our reality (not unlike those envisioned by J.K. Rowling.) Ivegill is a place that opens me up to powerful feelings as well as powerful peace. It is a unique brand of halcyonic inebriation, one that can hold both the dark and the light. It was here that my husband David reconstituted himself after a long and very difficult season in his life. It was here that we first learned that our friend Morris had an incurable case of colon cancer. It was here where I have been able to feel an unexpected and deep sense of calm in spite of swirling concerns of every stripe.

I’ll be posting only occasionally during the next two weeks, but will return to a more steady schedule once I am home on May 26th.


Kathryn in Keswick


David at Ivegill


Garden view of the Lodge and yoga sunroom


The “Big House” in a state of poetic decay


View across the lane, a meadow filled with two-toned cows (only in England)