Many people go to the ends of the earth to find beauty. And certainly beauty can be found at the ends of the earth. The furthest end I have visited is Fiji and there I found one afternoon, when the conference I was attending had ended, a shadowy, green glade where immense trees grew amidst antique blocks of granite scarred by what seemed messages from the Gods. I was visiting a sacred place and there was an extraordinary, still, almost ominous beauty about it which I will always remember. That was a long way to go to catch that glimpse of the eternal.
But long excursions are not needed to discover beauty which often enough is there in your own backyard or not many miles beyond. A couple of hours out of home up the Essequibo there is enough beauty to last a lifetime without going anywhere else.
Sitting on the shore of that great river – and, believe me, it is a shore and not a bank – late evening time I know almost exactly what the poet Robinson Jeffers must have experienced in his home by the sea in California years ago and expressed in one of his most quiet, greatest lyrics:
The ocean has not been so quiet for a long while; five night-herons
Fly shorelong voiceless in the hush of the air
Over the calm of an ebb that almost mirrors their wings.
The sun has gone down, and the water has gone down
From the weed-clad rock, but the distant cloud-wall rises. The ebb whispers.
Great cloud-shadows float in the opal water.
Through rifts in the screen of the world pale gold gleams, and the evening
Star suddenly glides like a flying torch.
As if we had not been meant to see her; rehearsing behind
The screen of the world for another audience.
Peace and beauty at home is the best experience of all since it soaks every day of life with contentment.
When the moon grows big my wife and I place chairs under the trees in our garden to sit and watch the goddess of the night hold court amidst the flying clouds.
Think of all the thousands of years men and women have done this, looking in wonder at the moon come up tangled in clouds in company of a star or two – whether above the pyramids of Egypt or the slopes of the sacred mountains of Greece or the remote outback of aboriginal Australia or Kilimanjaro’s cloud-haunted peak or afloat on a gleaming Kashmir lake or amidst the flurrying snows of Antarctica – or outside in your own garden in Georgetown, Guyana.
As time runs on the likelihood of visiting faraway places grows more remote for me.
So perhaps it is as well that the garden surrounding us is a source of pleasure and daily wonder, surely the equal of exotic destinations difficult and boring to get to in this exacting age of globalised suspicion, oppressive security and surly bureaucracies.
And, anyway, when I travelled half way around the world what I found exotic I realise was commonplace to those who lived there.
Mysteries arise wherever you stay, abroad or quietly at home, to keep the mind alive and intrigued forever. Reading in our garden, I notice a particularly strange and wonderful gathering of colours in the sky as the sun sets. Blood-red clouds shot with gold mass over the seawall and serpentine black shadows escape from the coming night weave in and out of the flames of red and gold. It is soon over but what a wondrous sight while it lasts!
And then the stars begin to appear in the rain-washed sky and not by any means for the first time I think of how the starlight seen is immeasurably old and so we never see the stars that send the light but only what they were immensely long ago – and the thought sets me to wonder how much in life of what we love and find beautiful may also be a star’s throw away from what its real meaning is. Elizabeth Jennings’s mysterious poem ‘Delay‘ stays in my mind:
The radiance of that star that leans on me
Was shining years ago. The light that now
Glitters up there my eye may never see,
And so the time lag teases me with how
Love that loves now may not reach me until
Its first desire is spent. The star’s impulse
Must wait for eyes to claim it beautiful
And love arrived may find us somewhere else.