There’s this catalogue that’s started turning up at my house. I didn’t send for it. It just began to arrive. I guess I must have overlooked checking a box on an internet order somewhere to say “NO! Do NOT pass my name on to all your associates in the retail business.”
So it’s just started coming through the letter-box (do you say ‘mail-slot' in America?), and it’s called Prelude.
Now it may be the bag you're into, but it looks a bit sinister to me. I find it disturbing that somebody somewhere thought that I would be just the woman for Prelude. The ladies in it are warmly dressed in their snug winter coats and their sensible boots and flatties. Their trousers are either the sort with flared bums or ankle-swingers. They are smiling bravely, and their hair is tinted to hide the grey. They have strings of pearls and sturdy handbags with chains. They are dressed becomingly in teal and grey. Cripes, look at this lady!
Is this me? Prelude to what? A nursing home? Death? I thought I had a few years looking like this to go yet. And, by the way, did you know that this is a villanelle?
Anyway, it got me thinking.
Last week in a funeral service, someone read this familiar poem by Ezra Pound.
And recently (the last couple of years) I have had the sense of needing to get ready, doing a big overhaul of my being in preparation – sorting out diet and exercise, checking all body systems like you do with a car, eliminating toxins from my liver and the lumen of my gut, from as many cells as can be reached with herbs and clays and body wisdom, abstaining from ‘foods’ that are not in fact food but illnesses waiting to happen, searching through every level to make sure there are no hidden grudges and resentments, no pockets of necrosis in body, mind or soul. Getting ready, because this is the Prelude.
I believe it was Victor Hugo who remarked that forty is the old age of youth and fifty is the youth of old age, and I think I agree with him.
Something I notice is the urgent need to just be and think and be and think and be. No projects, no agendas, no action plan. A huge irresistible longing and yearning to just be. It was like this when I was a teenager. I spent hours just thinking, every day. Maybe drawing or writing or listening to music or reading, or just spending time in nature and loving the beauty of hills and clouds, falling leaves and stirring wind, brown streamwater eddying in sensuous ripples on its meandering way. Alive. Loving being alive, and that being entirely enough.
And now, after the years of raising family and attempting a career of sorts that never really happened, it comes back again with force.
It’s September (I expect you know this already; if not, you are further on than me!), and we are coming up to Michaelmas, which is also a prelude time. Right here in the Indian summer days stands Michael the Archangel, warrior and guardian, sword in hand, pointing down the year to the days of darkness in which the Infant Light will be born, and urging us to get ready, for winter is coming. “Prepare!” says the archangel, “Now! Before the darkness comes and the cold and the days of death!”
Mid-fifties must be around September, I guess, in terms of a life-span; the prelude to its winter, when everything dries up and freezes and falls, and the world becomes monochrome and hushed.
In my early twenties, I came across this translation of Virgil’s words: “Here’s Death, twitching my ear: ‘Live!’ he says, ‘for I’m coming!’”
How glorious the Christian vision of Heaven, and what dread wonder to contemplate entering the presence of the Great Mystery, beholding His incomparable beauty face to face. But meanwhile sunlight warm and golden bathes the beautiful autumn days, and there are russet apples crisp and sweet straight from the tree, and the joy of seeing my daughters grown women now, wise and kind, and a grandchild still with the purity of the Light World clinging to him. And the small lanes of England green with moss and fragrant with herbs, and the great tides of the ocean, with white birds riding the windcurrents and screaming their wild cry. And my husband of only five years, whose handclasp brings comfort and alignment.
The time will come to leave all this behind, and when it does may the day find me ready and alert. But I have loved my days of blessed and beautiful Earth, loved every blade of grass and evening breeze, loved to bury my face in the living warm flank of a breathing animal, and smell the sweetness of its furry vitality. Out of the body of God came all this, and I love it so. The smell of summer dust and the sighing of the wind in great trees, the massing of cloud ships across the valley sky.
In these prelude days, let me take time, let me drink it in, let me really savour the earthy wonder of being alive.
But the catalogue’s going straight in the bin