THE GREAT VERSES (6):
He reads the great verses, in the bath,
at his favoured time, as the evening begins.
It is the night when the clocks are changed.
The hands go forward; time rearranged.
As he enters the bathroom, it is still daylight;
a few weeks ago, it would already be night.
He gratefully sinks into fragrant warm water;
opens his book, stilling his mind,
for the chiming cadences, lyrical lines.
The poems sink in, at varying rates.
Some do, with words, what Vermeer does with paint:
create motionless moments, meditative states.
He reads on, engrossed; outside, darkness falls.
Inside the house, too, darkness encroaches;
his bathroom the only oasis of light.
He emerges into darkness; fumbles for switches.
It is not so easy to hold back the night.
The brutal brevity of human existence, how fleeting our time is in this “vale of tears”; this is a subject that has fascinated many of our greatest poets. Shakespeare, for instance, makes it one of the focal points of his sonnets. How can we halt the inevitable march of time; how to “hold back the night” – to quote from a pop song of my youth. One way is, perhaps, to capture certain magical moments, meditate upon them, and recreate them in poetry.
It’s a subject I’ve touched upon more than once in my own sequence of poems inspired by the many happy hours I’ve spent reading anthologies of poems whilst relaxing in a warm bath. The poem above is the penultimate one in the sequence, and it came about due to a combination of changing the clocks at the Spring Equinox, after having watched a television documentary about the great Dutch artist Vermeer.