Monday, August 08, 2016

National Trust Houses

(an old poem from my archives, previously unblogged)

A building's nothing, unless it is loved.
Where the slow trees curve down in tenderness,
And the long lawns proclaim a yester-grace,
And the incisive freedom is to care.
Where there are ropes, and signs that say "Keep Off!"
All of the subtle bindings of red tape;
Here creeps the ivy, in its natural place;
Bright flower beds, where bees hum endlessly.
Indoors, all smells of polish and of tea.

Why do we come, we pilgrims in fast cars?              
All by our school excursions so well trained,
To do the dutiful and cultured thing?                 
Admirers of some long-past architect?
Simply because the brochures tell us to?
Just for the joy of being out of town?

This is another place. We pause to breathe
Another air, to inhale history,
By-pass the intellect, and taste the past.
Some think the sun shines differently here,
Others maintain its all too much the same,
(Duty and hope provide the variance.)                 

Shut your modernity outside the gate,                  
Walk up the gravelled path with too loud steps.
Obedient to training long ago,
Acknowledge with your reverential nods,
Each listed feature of some dwindled past.
We are all proper children, hungering
For difference, intrinsic novelty,
And fix our glance on carpenter's neat joins.

Enter the doors, adjust your eyes to dim.
Pay your admission in the proper place,                
Wish they had better ventilation then;                
And be re-grounded in the human race.

Here is our shrine, not some aesthetic goal
Nor a lust born of pure intelligence,
Nor a bare duty, which can ill sustain.
We come, pathetic in humanity,
(Under our brazen surface of finesse)
A rootless people, moderned out of time.

Here, (and our quest is dimly understood),
We seek to take again the common cup,                  
Participate in some continuance,
Drink deep our joining in humanity;
Leaving our neat, pre-packaged, ordered lives,
(If you can call such automation life),
To be spectators of some quickening grace,
Museum-processed for posterity.

Dutifully read the biographic notes,
Stare at the furnishings, old-fashioned, strange;
Try to imagine life in such a place.
Who would you be, moved from this century,             
To be appurtenanced into this scene?
Is style a stage-prop for identity?
Is all I am a product of this time?

Rebuild the set, rewrite your script of life;
Deconstruct all that culture's made you be,
Unweave the twisted threads of time and place,
See your bare soul in all its poverty!

Bow, awed, before the mystery of fate!
How little of your deeply cherished pride
Remains intact when you have stripped away             
All the gains wrought by opportunity.
This is humility, and this is truth.

Or, more resilient, picture yourself,
Romantically, the hero of the hour.
Glide, stride (according to your gender's choice)
Through panelled corridors of mystery,
Mistress or master of what never was.
Unblinker all your ego's poor-lit dreams,
This is the daylight hour, here feet trod
That ached in weariness. Old age came young,           
Fulfilment was as transient as now,
Self-seeking greed was just as arrogant,
And pleasure fled before men knew its name.

Emerge into the sun with grateful hearts,
Embrace, with new-found thanks, your given life,
Glad of the time, the place, and all that is,
Slightly impoverished in complacency
Newly enlarged in your humanity.

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