My wife and I have just returned from one of the great cities of the world. Toronto is a calm, clean, well-ordered, cosmopolitan, peaceful city. If during one long weekend in that city of two and a half million people there are a couple of murders, it is an alarming law and order crisis. And Canada as a whole, as a friend of mine describes it, is a blessedly fangless country. It is strongly democratic, well-run, friendly, and progressively aware of its responsibilities as a world citizen.
The cultures of all countries and creeds increasingly gather there with little friction. World-class exhibitions, plays, concerts, festivals and sporting events find a stage. The economy is flourishing, the currency is strong, the abundance of natural resources is never-ending in this immense land of endless opportunity. Even the dreaded onset of global warming seems to be bringing the benefits of longer summers and milder winters to the land, which has been described as “A miraculous country: miraculous in its peacefulness, its diversity, its tolerance and its determined non-Americaness.” Nigerian-born Daniel Igali, once an Olympic gold medalist in wrestling, when asked on his induction to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame what his new home signified to immigrants, softly and very simply said “Canada is heaven.”
All great cities are blessed with great bookstores. Toronto is no exception. One time I was down town and having wandered through the marvellous St. Lawrence market and bought a bag of plums and a jar of honey and some curry spices, I visited the Nicholas Hoare bookshop on Front Street to spend a few hours with their beautiful and varied collection. What blessed time is time thus spent at one’s leisure! Nicholas Hoare has a fine poetry section and I indulged myself. One poem I found as I browsed was by Miroslav Holub in his volume “Poems Before and After” published by Bloodaxe. Here it is, lovely to find on a lovely day:
Brief reflection on the sun
Thanks to the systematic work of our meteorologists,
and altogether thanks to the general labour effort,
we have all been witnesses of many solstices,
solar eclipses and even
But we have never seen the sun.
It’s like this: we have seen the sun
through the trees, the sun above the Tatra
National Park, the sun beyond a rough road,
the sun drenching Hasek’s village of Lipnice,
but not the sun,
Just-the-Sun, of course, is unbearable.
Only the sun related to trees, shadows,
hills, Lipnice and the Highway Department
is a sun for people.
The Just-the-Sun hangs like a fist over the ocean,
over the desert or over the airliner,
it doesn’t cast shadows, it doesn’t flicker from
And is so unique it almost isn’t at all.
And it’s just the same with truth.
Over coffee at a Starbucks I read the poem again and thought about truth. It’s hard to pin down. It’s hard to look at straight. But the determination to tell it is absolutely necessary in public and private discourse. Canada’s neighbour is now in the middle of a mighty struggle at the heart of which is whether lies and hate will be allowed to prevail and divide a great nation. Canada, so far, is not in danger of being affected by that fearsome outbreak of unreason next door. It is a blessing to be carefully preserved.
There was another poem I liked – by a good friend and one of Britain’s best poets, the Welshman John Barnie, about oil. Oil, set to transform our lives in Guyana – but transform how? That is the question.
No one listened
I’d rather have water than oil, the King said,
and shortly after was found dead, mouth stuffed with
that shows how wise the King was
because oil is the original Philosopher’s Stone
that transmutes everything to the one unfathomable
even the little princes’ buckets and spades as they
play in the desert;
except the prisons – I ought to say that –
where the bars are of steel, and concrete the walls.