Sunday, 24 November 2013

Folding the map

Map with sea-monster, 1572, Sweden
I heard this poem by W H Auden today on the radio. I was immediately struck by the words "stand up and fold your map of desolation", and of course I thought of Ignatius and his rules for discernment: though we can't change desolation and have to wait for it to take its course he urges us to practise agere contra - to move against the numbing, deadening impulse to turn back from the journey, to turn  in on ourselves, poring over the map; but (as Augustine said too in one of his sermons) to keep on walking. That's what this poem spoke of to me, anyway...

Underneath an abject willow,
Lover, sulk no more:
Act from thought should quickly follow.
What is thinking for?
Your unique and moping station
Proves you cold;
Stand up and fold
Your map of desolation.

Bells that toll across the meadows
From the sombre spire
Toll for these unloving shadows
Love does not require.
All that lives may love; why longer
Bow to loss
With arms across?
Strike and you shall conquer.

Geese in flocks above you flying.
Their direction know,
Icy brooks beneath you flowing,
To their ocean go.
Dark and dull is your distraction:
Walk then, come,
No longer numb
Into your satisfaction.

(Twelve Songs VII)


  1. What a good analogy! - I shall remember that one! Especially as maps are used for navigation, to take us from A to B, and yet we can still easily get lost and head away from B and towards Z... especially if we're using a map of desolation.

    1. Thank you, Silvana. The picture of the sea-serpent on the map also makes me think of snakes and ladders - easy to end up sliding in the opposite direction!


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