High summer in Cumbria. The ground holds the sun’s warmth well into the evening. The dog and I go for a walk and we notice that the cornfield along the lane has been combined today. The dog heads for the open gate. A few crows are inspecting the straw for pickings.
Walking is free-flow thinking time for me. Just before I came out I checked my email and saw the news report of the passenger plane shot down over the Ukraine. A routine flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. I can’t get that report out of my head.
For the first time in months we take the path across the field to the old farm track. I notice a hot air balloon floating surreally above the landscape. A tractor and trailer turn off the track and leave a cloud of dustmotes illuminated by a beam of sunlight cutting across the roof of an old corrugated iron barn. A few swallows are skimming the air for flies. A pair of house martins raised just one brood under the eaves of my house this spring – then disappeared. Last year there were eight noisy nests raising serial families through the long hot summer.
Grasses and wild flowers are seeding prolifically. A few days ago I saw a charm of goldfinches (what a wonderful collective noun!) working a field edge. In the cycle of the seasons, plants grow and die. But day after day we hear of human lives suddenly and violently cut short. Every news report from the Middle East details more deaths.
In the next field the combine is still busy. The hazard bleeps sound as the machine reverses at the end of each row.
On Tuesday evening I went to hear the poets Philip Gross and Robert Hass read at Grasmere. How distant this seems from the horrors of the news. Poetry can give no answers, cannot make sense of such things – and it would be glib and unrealistic to think it could. But during conflict, violence and oppression poetry has always been composed. We are still reading the poetry of the First World War. Poetry was important during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Poetry is important in the Middle East today. For me what poetry does is somehow make things a little less unbearable, as if to communicate in words is an assertion of our common humanity.
We walk back and I sit in the summer house to write this down while the evening air grows cooler and the light begins to dim.