One Foot in Eden
One foot in Eden still, I stand
And look across the other land.
The world's great day is growing late,
Yet strange these fields that we have planted
So long with crops of love and hate.
Time's handiworks by time are haunted,
And nothing now can separate
The corn and tares compactly grown.
The armorial weed in stillness bound
About the stalk; these are our own.
Evil and good stand thick around
In fields of charity and sin
Where we shall lead our harvest in.
Yet still from Eden springs the root
As clean as on the starting day.
Time takes the foliage and the fruit
And burns the archetypal leaf
To shapes of terror and of grief
Scattered along the winter way.
But famished field and blackened tree
Bear flowers in Eden never known.
Blossoms of grief and charity
Bloom in these darkened fields alone.
What had Eden ever to say
Of hope and faith and pity and love
Until was buried all its day
And memory found its treasure trove?
Strange blessings never in Paradise
Fall from these beclouded skies.
This a later poem by Edwin Muir. I thought of it on my last day at Schumacher College when we were considering 'intractable problems' and returning to the world from our educational retreat.
That sense that though the view from Eden is a necessary one - the paradise that sits at the heart of things is a bearer of promise - the loss paradise was an essential one. A happy fault, as the medieval hymn exalts the Fall, that makes for a richer, more complex experience at the heart of things. The paradise re-gained is a different place from the one lost - there is an enriching consciousness of loss and renewal. The distance we travel away from is a measure of the depth of our returning.