online: 1 february 2011
modified: 15, 16, 26, 27, 28 january. 1 february 2011

15 january 2011 dusk and civilisation

city forest

...grey cloud after sunshine... at the edge of the forest looking at buildings set amongst trees, a lawn and a garden... sounds of distant traffic on encircling motorways... and the apparent permanence of this place...

...a landscape garden that could be a utopia realised... a comforting illusion that all the problems of the world could be solved in similar manner... for this example (a conscious mixture of tamed wilderness and man-made stability) has already lasted 200 years and alludes (through its neo-classic style) to a graeco-roman civilisation that started 2500 years ago and still supports the belief that everything can evolve towards a similar stability or permanence... and thus to cultural pride and collective-self-satisfaction... (if not to living death)...

...this week i have been reading the mythical prophesy of Olaf Stapledon* in last and first men in which he sadly realises that our longest historical periods or even ages are but moments in the evolution of the solar system... let alone of this galaxy... or the millions of others...

(a keyboard accident here and missing words ?) an imagined telepathic link between last and first men he invents ways in which there could feasibly evolve new variants of homo sapiens deriving from our selves and circumstance via global crises in which the population could grow to many times its present number but in which (through comic or cosmic disasters and wars and such) the number of people could fall to a few dozen... from whom nevertheless further civilisations could emerge and flourish... but perhaps in ways deeply unattractive to us now... adapted as we are to things as they are... elements of the civilisations we inherit...

...just now i'm physically dazzled by an intense sodium light that is installed here for some people who have rented the mansion for a day or so... such a sudden artificial phenomenon (like the 'permanent' street lighting which is also of sodium lamps) could indeed resemble the appearing and disappearing actions of other civilisations from this or other planets as Olaf Stapledon imagines them (as scientifically credible possibility... not as groundless fantasy)... which i recall the amazing work of his uncle, Sir George Stapledon**, to evolve more productive grassland... (at the Welsh Plant Breeding Station at Aberystwyth which he directed from the 1920s to the 1940s)... research which may continue for many generations of both grasses and researchers... visionary work that is both imaginative and scientific... and has for long been known, respected, and even followed, throughout the world of agricultural science and experimental farming... he was an inspiring person... and he was doing in reality what his nephew was doing in fiction!

...but having written that i cannot resist mentioning George Stapledon's doubts (about scientific evolution) that were 'found written on a postcard in [his] study' (anticipating our present doubts about genetically modified foods and other such experiments) :
Allow for what we do not know. The more powerful our weapons, and the more we use them to single purposes (the modern fashion: Nature abhors single purposes) so we plunge ever more deeply into inter-play of forces which we are not watching or are beyond our power to watch.

(quoted by Robert Waller**) it's dark and cold and surprising as i return with suddenly changed perceptions, from these unexpected thoughts to civilised life as we know it...

Ha!Ha! among the trumpets
of war as lived by Alun Lewis***

(that is the title of his second book of poems...
the title of his first**** is:)

Raiders' Dawn

Softly the civilised
Centuries fall,
Paper on paper,
Peter on Paul.

And lovers waking
From the night -
Eternity's masters
Slaves of Time -
Recognise only
The drifting white
Fall of small faces
In pits of lime.

Blue necklace left
On a charred chair
Tells that Beauty
Was startled there.

...thankful for these attempts to integrate distant pasts futures and present... i encounter two carved lions at the doorway of the mansion... and a ginger cat that is half-hiding on the pathway in the floodlit darkness...

...'we have the vision' says an imaginary voice...

...'just do it and hope' says another 'for if you doubt, nothing will happen'... i walk back in the illuminated darkness along a straight road carrying fast traffic through the forest... i pass two blocks of modernist luxury flats that to me seem well-proportioned...

and thank goodness for that!

...while these new perceptions continue...

* Olaf Stapledon, Last and first men, a story of the near and far future, first published by Methuen and Co, London in 1930, by Pelican Books, London in 1937 and still in print.

** Robert Waller, Prophet of the new age: the life and thought of Sir George Stapledon, FRS, Faber and Faber, Lodon 1962, page vii...

...George Stapledon's work at the Welsh Plant Breeding Station was visible from the house where i was born near the fields of experimentally planted grasses and clovers beside the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth... i am only just realising the significance of these happy accidents of my birthplace... when i was a child i used to think we were at the edge of the world...

*** Alun Lewis, Ha! Ha! among the trumpets, poems in transit, foreword by Robert Graves, George Allen and Unwin, Londoon 1945

**** Alun Lewis, Raider's Dawn, and other poems, George Allen and Unwiin, London 1942... copy of the 1945 edition is falling to pieces... this was the first poetry that i greatly liked... and i knew that he married Gweno Ellis, a neighbour of ours in Aberystwyth...

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