Thursday 30 December 2010

The Crisis (3)

It was dear kind Margaret, who had come to my rescue, that cherished companion of my childhood who had grown up to be a paragon of all womanly virtue and sober sense. Our walk led us through the larch plantation on the hill. It was a grey afternoon and the trees in the plantation resisted all interpretation: they were trees, just trees.

“But others have sustained a similar loss of faith,” Margaret said, “and they have gone on to do many great things ...”

“Yes, but they only lost their faith in religion, or in their mission to do right by others, or to sacrifice themselves in some noble cause. Whereas I have lost my faith in Puns! Can you not see the difference?”

Margaret drew her cape around her, and was about to speak. I continued:

“If I had lost my faith in a religion, I could easily replace it with another religion. There are enough to choose from! But to have lost my faith in Puns means I have lost something central to my very existence. For what is language, what are words for, if Puns have no significance?”

“Well,” came the measured voice of Margaret, “perhaps you could use words to describe things as they are.”

I exclaimed in horror.

“Journalism?! Never! The most awful lies and smiling approximations, bearing no relation to the reality they claim to describe -- that’s journalism!”

“Not journalism, necessarily. There are other ways to describe the world: one chooses one’s words carefully, and by finding the best words and setting them down in the best order ...”

“Poetry, Margaret?! Poetry?! All poetry does is to pile one obvious lie upon another, and attempt in their absurd juxtapositions to create an unwieldy impression of truth! Margaret! I despair!”

Margaret was silent a while. “True bravery,” she finally said, “is to try one’s hardest at a task one knows to be impossible, with tools one knows are inadequate. The truly brave man would try to describe the world, because he knows it is important, even while the tools fail in his hands.”

We walked on in silence. My mood was one of bitterness and gall. In addition to the spiritual crisis that threatened to overwhelm me, I now had the bitter knowledge that my oldest friend thought me a coward. Worse still, I had no words to defend myself.

At the edge of the plantation the track came out onto open farmland, that sloped downwards towards our home. From beyond the limestone wall rose up a great sound of bickering and carping and creaking unrest. Approaching, we found the field to be carpeted by a vast congregation of jackdaws and rooks. These strutted among and around each other, as if intent on their own business like tradespeople at a country fair. Ragged like ripped bin bags they were, dark and wet-seeming in the diminishing light of the overcast sky. And all the while the chipped, broken notes of their complaint did not cease.

“Our old friend Corvus,” I said weakly. Margaret smiled at me, and I had no doubt of her all-forgiving heart. Suddenly the jackdaws lifted from the field in a swirling mass, and rose up in the air, with a great clattering, chattering, clacking racket that sounded to me like a whole service of dinner plates sliding from a dresser and smashing on the floor. In that moment it seemed to me that the very words lifted up from dumb reality with the sole intention of making merry, and were set loose for a moment, circling with the jackdaws, and then, along with the jackdaws, returned once more to the dull wet field.

I turned to Margaret. There was something I needed to tell her, something that I could articulate at that moment for the first time, something I feared I had left too late. She regarded me with her level grey eyes, a look of readiness flickering over her face. But, just then, I saw Algernon Swift on the hillside, waving, and making his way very determinedly towards us.

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