02 January 2016

‘For last year’s words belong
to last year’s language’

‘We shall not cease from exploration’ … in the gardens at Mount Usher, Co Wicklow, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.

— TS Eliot, Little Gidding

‘And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

‘Little Gidding’ is the last poem in TS Eliot’s Four Quartets.

Moving from last year’s words and language to the voice of this new year provides an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of time, the past, the present and the future.

A good place to do this this afternoon was by the river and the waterfall in Mount Usher in Ashford, Co Wicklow, which is the “Garden of Ireland.”

It is only 2 January, but I found myself thinking how this was already my first time outside Dublin this year. Time plays silly games with us as we move between one place and the next, from one year to the next.

I had spent much of this morning working on a paper on James Annesley, the schoolboy from Bunclody, Co Wexford, who was kidnapped 300 years. It is a story of abduction, adultery and assassination that is more captivating than the novel it later inspired, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped. Time does little to diminish its shocking impact.

Strolling through the riverside garden by the banks of the River Vartry and at the Garden Café before lunch and through the walled garden with its garden shop later, between the enveloping dusk of the afternoon and the winter darkness of the evening, I had just a tinge of regret that I had not arrived in time to walk by the rivers, waterfalls and tall trees in Mount Usher Gardens.

Three of us had lunch in the Garden Café before returning to the café gardens. Perhaps, had I been more organised, we might have gone further south to see the flooding Slaney Co Wexford, in Bunclody, Enniscorthy and Wexford, for the reports of rising waters and the losses suffered by people in flooded areas are heart-breaking.

But “what might have been … is always present,” as TS Eliot reminds us in ‘Burnt Norton,’ his first poem in the Four Quartets. And I have promised myself more time this year for walks by rivers and the sea, in gardens and in the countryside.

‘Through the unknown, unremembered gate’ … (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.

— TS Eliot, Burnt Norton

‘What might have been is an abstraction’ … (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

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