At the start of each new season I always find myself thinking, this is it. This is my favourite season. Autumn this year is no different. The hips on the rose covering our garden shed roof are surely redder and more numerous than ever before, the grapes are fat and black on their vine and, beyond it all, the trees are such a dizzying patchwork of colours that I wish I could paint.
I’m lucky to live here in such a beautiful and quiet place – and I only feel luckier when I catch the end of the nine o’ clock news on Radio 4 or scan the BBC news website. I say “catch” and “scan” because, I am ashamed to say, quite often nowadays the news seems to carry more misery and suffering than I can bear to let in. I suspect it was ever thus and it’s a symptom of my increasing age. I used to think I could do anything, change anything, fight anything – and I was going to do it too. Oh, I was a passionate child! Where did all of that go? I don’t remember ushering it out of the door and waving it goodbye. It must have seeped away all by itself while I was looking elsewhere, engaged with my own small life.
A relative, not from this country, said once: ‘It’s such a bubble where you live. No-one here has any idea what the rest of the world is really like.’ I wasn’t affronted. I wasn’t even surprised. His country is frequently in the news for all the wrong reasons: politics, terrorism, human rights, health – you name it – this country has all the bases covered. However, it was also the birthplace of the poet-philosopher, Iqbal.
The pageant of Nature is a fathomless ocean of beauty,
If eyes were to see every drop has in it tumultuous beauty.
It is ever present in the mirror like sheen of morning sky,
And the dusk of the evening and the flower spangled twilight.
Rivulets gushing down the hills and free-flowing rivers have it,
It is there in the city, the wilderness, the deserted places and in
The soul, however, yearns for something, missing,
Otherwise why should it toll the knell of sorrow in this desert?
Even the open display of beauty keeps it restless,
It lives like a fish out of water.
It was dawn and yearningly I looked around searching for a
I saw a single ray of the sun wandering in the heavens.
I will be collyrium and would integrate with the human eye,
And make visible all that night had hidden from view.
Were the entranced at all keen to become conscious?
Were the asleep desirous of awakening?
Those beautiful words come from Bāng-i Darā (The Call of the Marching Bell). Of course, I like them for their enchanting images of the natural world but it’s more than that. With their insertion of Mankind into the poem, they remind me more successfully than any news outlet can of what my brain wants me to forget. Nature is illuminated by the morning sun but, for the poet, a question mark remains over whether Mankind will share a similar enlightenment (Were the entranced at all keen to become conscious? Were the asleep desirous of awakening?). It’s salutary to realise that this poem, written over one hundred years ago, still has no answer. The sun still rises, the seasons still change, nature, against many odds, is still glorious and we – at least the adult “we” – still sleepwalk on, all of us blind to the world outside our own bubbles and oblivious to what might be waiting beyond even nature’s magnificence.