The trip to Jordan has inspired me to get hold of TE Lawrence’s ‘Pillars of Wisdom’. Spending time in this part of the world that has been so troubled by wars and unrest (sadly not unlike many parts of the world I suppose) reminded me of another book in my possession, ‘Orion Marches’ a collection of poems by Michael Roberts. Many of the poems, published in 1939, have deeply emotive wartime themes, such as ‘Victory’ and ‘Defeat’. Roberts was a highly skilled wordsmith, his essay ‘The Poetry and Humour of Mountaineering’ being a supremely rich piece of writing. He was clearly an Alpine enthusiast and a skilled climber as well as a deep thinker. Many of his poems have a mountaineering theme. I can’t say I’m a fan of Alpine starts, but this poem is so evocative that the Dishy Pharmacist and I chose an extract from it for the Reading at our wedding. Picture yourself at a mountain hut high in the Alps on a summer’s day:
The Green Lake
Eloquent are the hills: their power speaks
In ice, rock and falling stone;
The voices of croziered fern, wood-sorrel, gentian, edelweiss,
Lead upward to the summit or the high col.
The mountain lake mirrors the hills, and the white clouds
Move in a blue depth, the hut stands empty:
No one appears all day, nothing disturbs
The symphony of ice and yellow rock and the blue shadow.
And at dusk the familiar sequence: the light
Lingering on the peak; and near the horizon
Apricot-coloured skies, then purple; and the first stars;
An hour of bustle in the hut, and then silence.
Only at two in the morning men stir in the bunks,
Look out of the windows, put on their boots,
Exchange a word with the guardian, curse the cold,
And move with a force beyond their own to the high peaks.
Be still for once. Do not sing,
Let the blood beat its symphony unanswered;
Remain here by the lake for a whole day
With the sky clear and the rocks asking to be climbed.
There is music in movement, in the song, the dance,
The swing of the accordion in the crowded hut,
The swing of the axe in the icefall; but be still.
Listen. There is another voice that speaks.
Footnote: The battered state of this book, when I acquired it, bore evidence of its 60 year vintage. However, until then it had never been read! A sharp kitchen knife was required to separate the pages and render them readable. I hope others will appreciate them in the future…