A message in a bottle

Proust's madeleine catapulted him back into a specific moment of time so perfectly realised that a whole narrative flowed from it, that re-creation of a life, lives.

I cannot claim quite the same impact as a result of listening to The Police and 'Message in a Bottle' (caught on a random browsing of the radio on the way to the station this morning) but it does project me into a moment so vividly remembered that it feels uncanny.

The SS Uganda. I was on a school cruise starting from Venice through Greece, Turkey and Egypt and finishing in Athens. An onboard disco and an awkward adolescent (me) dancing with the abandon induced by smuggled brandy and the romance of being at sea and (secretly, hopelessly) in love...

Even now I can taste the air, sense the swaying body and feel the emotions (fuelled by a first reading of Auden as well as the fumes of cheap Italian brandy)!

For it was on this trip that I discovered 'poetry' - I borrowed a friend's copy of Auden and sitting on my swaying bunk read that strange admixture of lyricism and cynicism, faith and realism. 'So this is poetry...'

It opened a door. I walked through. The world changed. I fear I quickly abandoned Auden for deeper fare (sorry Wystan) but will always remain grateful for the door...

As it flowed back through me in the station car park this morning, it was one of those moments of deep, abiding gratitude, when I realise that life is absolutely extraordinary and alive in all its complexities; and, that poetry is the language of the world (and our being with one another) even as we persist in imaging it in prose.

Celebration by Denise Levertov

Brilliant, this day – a young virtuoso of a day.
Morning shadow cut by sharpest scissors,
deft hands. And every prodigy of green –
whether it's ferns or lichens or needles
or impatient points of buds on spindly bushes –
greener than ever before. And the way the conifers
hold new cones to the light for the blessing,
a festive right, and sing the oceanic chant the wind
transcribes for them!
A day that shines in the cold
like a first-prize brass band swinging along
the street
of a coal-dusty village, wholly at odds
with the claims of reasonable gloom


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