Everything about it is a love song

The Guardian Review today contains responses to climate change by artists, authors and poets in advance of  December’s Copenhagen summit in which world leaders will try to reach a global deal to tackle global warming. The contributions also mark the launch of the 10:10 campaign to reduce carbon emissions.

The issue contained the finest work I have read by Andrew Motion: The Sorcerer’s Mirror

1
Midnight and midsummer in London.
I step out through the French windows
and stand in my quarter-acre of garden
so I can feel the earth more clearly turn
and breathe in what passes for its sleep.
Dark green wind through the flighty cherry.
Fruit glistening on the woven branches
where an apple tangles with a bristly vine.
And at my back the spacious mulberry tree,
my favourite, which is always last to leaf
then stays longest, spreading its big hands
above my head now the sky gulps abruptly
and the smell of crushed grass and dry brick
wakes as the dark earth wakes and I look on.

2
I see what I hear: a sleepless song thrus
still claiming its territory in the darkness,
and the sour music of traffic cruising close
by the edge of the garden, swept on a breeze
which was also pure and simple once, although
tonight, in the same long breath that shakes
the mulberry leaves, it carries and scatters me
over the polar cap and snapped-off sea-ice -
every luminous, upside-down meadow stitched
with gorgeous frost-flowers and icicle grass
three thousand years have worked through
and sculpted in silence – all now withering
into warmer seas, slipping loose their cargo
of millions of silvery krill and plankton
in deeper currents and quick, chaotic flow.

3
After that breath a pause. Rain settling
over Camden and Kentish Town, but here
a cloud-break and the cherry still at her station.
I take my place in the open, intending to lift
clear of myself, beyond the miserable sky-litter
of planes circling in their stack, until I arrive
in the star fields and find the gods still playing
their long-drawn-out games. Except when I reach
Orion unbuckling his belt, and Venus drawing
a velvet curtain round her candle to brood alone,
I travel through to the tattered ceiling where day
after day sunlight seizes the smoke of burnt offerings
we have made to ourselves, and breaks them down
into stark chlorine and bromide as proof of sacrifice.

4
Here comes the rain, driving me in to hide
under the mulberry: the first drops splashy,
then in a flash tighter and smaller, then thinning
to dust, then smoke where it strikes the hard level
of the neighbour’s wall. Already my patch of lawn
is awash, and when I look from my shelter down
to the stippled surface, it opens like the miraculous
O of a sorcerer’s mirror. Here are the rising tides
overflowing their slack estuaries and river basins,
the Arctic shore, Shanghai, Florida and Alaska.
Here are the baffled species taking to high ground,
the already famously lonely polar bear and caribou.
Here are the miniature crustaceans and even glaciers
cowering in their valleys like defeated creatures.

5
Then the storm passes, unravelling downhill
towards King’s Cross with a final thunder-roll,
and the sky-dome steadies. My patch of grass
returns to grass again; the close apple and vine
harden inside their silhouettes; and the cherry
re-balances a weight of darkness in its leaves.
This is the moment I should feel the earth at peace.
Instead, I step from the shadow of the mulberry
and lamplight pouring through my French window
freezes me mid-stride. There I am in the long glass
reflected back at myself, crouched like a guilty thing,
and although I move on quickly over the threshold
one look is enough to show the bare horizon behind me
and beyond it the other cold planets in their broken chain.

Written for Peter Maxwell Davies to set to music. It was commissioned by Cambridge University

Another piece is Time capsule found on the dead planet by Margaret Atwood:

1. In the first age, we created gods. We carved them out of wood; there was still such a thing as wood, then. We forged them from shining metals and painted them on temple walls. They were gods of many kinds, and goddesses as well. Sometimes they were cruel and drank our blood, but also they gave us rain and sunshine, favourable winds, good harvests, fertile animals, many children. A million birds flew over us then, a million fish swam in our seas.

Our gods had horns on their heads, or moons, or sealy fins, or the beaks of eagles. We called them All-Knowing, we called them Shining One. We knew we were not orphans. We smelled the earth and rolled in it; its juices ran down our chins.

2. In the second age we created money. This money was also made of shining metals. It had two faces: on one side was a severed head, that of a king or some other noteworthy person, on the other face was something else, something that would give us comfort: a bird, a fish, a fur-bearing animal. This was all that remained of our former gods. The money was small in size, and each of us would carry some of it with him every day, as close to the skin as possible. We could not eat this money, wear it or burn it for warmth; but as if by magic it could be changed into such things. The money was mysterious, and we were in awe of it. If you had enough of it, it was said, you would be able to fly.

3. In the third age, money became a god. It was all-powerful, and out of control. It began to talk. It began to create on its own. It created feasts and famines, songs of joy, lamentations. It created greed and hunger, which were its two faces. Towers of glass rose at its name, were destroyed and rose again. It began to eat things. It ate whole forests, croplands and the lives of children. It ate armies, ships and cities. No one could stop it. To have it was a sign of grace.

4. In the fourth age we created deserts. Our deserts were of several kinds, but they had one thing in common: nothing grew there. Some were made of cement, some were made of various poisons, some of baked earth. We made these deserts from the desire for more money and from despair at the lack of it. Wars, plagues and famines visited us, but we did not stop in our industrious creation of deserts. At last all wells were poisoned, all rivers ran with filth, all seas were dead; there was no land left to grow food.

Some of our wise men turned to the contemplation of deserts. A stone in the sand in the setting sun could be very beautiful, they said. Deserts were tidy, because there were no weeds in them, nothing that crawled. Stay in the desert long enough, and you could apprehend the absolute. The number zero was holy.

5. You who have come here from some distant world, to this dry lakeshore and this cairn, and to this cylinder of brass, in which on the last day of all our recorded days I place our final words:

Pray for us, who once, too, thought we could fly.

There’s a poem by Alice Oswald: Written some time between the Month of May and the Month of May Not

Is it possible
The sun could turn over a grey cloud
And find a may tree underneath?
It is possible.

Is it possible
There could be lines of blossom
Like bird-linen drying on the branches
It is possible.

Is it possible
A stream could turn over a stone
And find a mayfly underneath?
It is possible.

Is it possible
Maybe a mayfly might
Have a passionate two second love affair in mid-air?
It is possible.

Is it possible
Millions of windblown refugees
Each with a leather seedcase could stand up
And let their green clothes fall on them
The way a child at midnight
Sits up stalk-straight asking for water in a trance of heat
And drinks it straight down without waking?
It is possible.

Is it possible
Several billion birdsung springs
Could prove this hypothesis:
That the green grows back every May?

Or is it possible
May itself
May not?
It is possible.

The issue also features a chilling short story, I am your inner polar bear. Find me before it’s too late by Jeanette Winterson which concludes:

Once upon a time there was a polar bear. He had nowhere to live so he came to live in your head. You started to think polar bear thoughts about icyness and wilderness. You went shopping and looked at fish. At night you dreamed your skin was fur. When you got in the bath you dropped through nameless waters deeper than regret. You left the cold tap running. You flooded the house. You dived into winter with no clothes on. You sought loneliness. You wanted to see the sun rise after a night that lasted as long as all the things you have done wrong. You wanted to see the sun come up and no one to be near you. You wanted to look out over the rim of the world. But you live in the city and the rest is gone.

And all the longings and all the loss can’t bring back the dead. The most beautiful place on earth was everywhere – a raft in the wilderness of space, precarious, unlikely, our polar bear home.

Bill McKibben’s article, Why 350 is the most important number on the planet, is very interesting: he’s helped launch the first real grassroots global political protest about global warming – called 350.org. The number comes from new science that followed the shocking melt of Arctic ice in the summer of 2007. Researchers became convinced that climate change was happening faster than they had previously expected, and that they had enough data to put a real number on it.

That number was 350, as in parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere. Above that level, in the powerful (and peer-reviewed) words of Nasa scientist James Hansen, we can’t have a planet “similar to the one on which civilisation developed or to which life on earth is adapted”. Yet we’re already past 350, at 390 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere, and rising by 2% annually: ‘that’s why the Arctic is melting, why Australia is burning, why the world is changing in front of our eyes’. The aim is to get politicians to agree on the 350 target at Copenhagen.

This week The Essay on BBC Radio 3 has been by Richard Mabey, and on Tuesday he quoted Lewis Thomas:

“Viewed from the distance of the moon, the astonishing thing about the earth, catching the breath, is that it is alive. The photographs show the dry, pounded surface of the moon in the foreground, dead as an old bone. Aloft, floating free beneath the moist, gleaming membrane of bright blue sky, is the rising earth, the only exuberant thing in this part of the cosmos.

If you could look long enough, you would see the swirling of the great drifts of white cloud, covering and uncovering the half-hidden masses of land. If you had been looking for a very long, geologic time, you could have seen the continents themselves in motion, drifting apart on their crustal plates, held afloat by the fire beneath. It has the organized, self-contained look of a live creature full of information, marvelously skilled in handling the sun.

The full text from which this quotation comes – ‘The World’s Biggest Membrane’- is from The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher and can be read here.

If I ever come back as a tree, or a crow,
Or even the wind-blown dust;
Find me on the ancient road
In the song when the wires are hushed.
Hurry on and remember me,
As I’ll remember you.
Far above the golden clouds,
The darkness vibrates.
The earth is blue.
And everything about it is a love song.
Everything about it.
Everything about it is a love song.

- Paul Simon

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