Just beautiful…

What with one thing and another, the Unwelcome Guest  has been claiming just too much of my time and attention recently – too much time spent driving to hospitals, some far away, too much time being prodded and poked and zapped and pinned and needled. A whole army of experts and specialists is dedicated just to Me – I’ve never had so much attention in my life. (Ah, if only editors would be so interested…)  Last week, we went to a fairly distant hospital, which, as well as a five hour round trip, involved several hours sitting waiting for treatment.  The hospital, unlike my local one, was a pretty grim place. Whoever decided it was a good idea to sit cancer patients in a waiting room that resembles the economy lounge of an  airport in a third world country? Luckily a kindly nurse directed us to a Maggie’s drop-in centre just around the corner. Maggie’s centres were the inspiration  of Maggie Jencks, who died of cancer in 1995. She believed in the therapeutic qualities of the right environment, and also that cancer patients sometimes needed somewhere to ‘just go’.  Here, in a  beautifully designed building, lovingly furnished, I was able to  spend my several hours sitting calmly and comfortably sipping coffee; certainly an indication of how environment can affect mood.  Even the books on the shelves at Maggie’s were books I wanted to read and not the usual junk (yes, I am a literary snob.)  I found a copy of Yeats’s poems, which I was glad to do, because this poem had been running through my head for days, having seen many swans on many lakes after all this wet weather. While Yeats’s later poems can be tortuous and obscure, with meanings to be grappled with and teased out, some of the early ones are straightforwardly beautiful. We’ve grown rather suspicious of beauty in art in the last hundred years or so – we’ve been taught to feel that art’s main role is to startle and shock and unnerve us. As indeed it must, some of the time, or our minds would get flabby and complacent. But… there is still a place for simple beauty, a Mozart aria, a Piero della Francesco Madonna, a Shakespeare sonnet, a Chinese porcelain dish.  And this early poem by Yeats, which is…just beautiful.



The Wild Swans at Coole                       William Butler Yeats


The trees are in their autumn beauty,

The woodland paths are dry,

Under the October twilight the water

Mirrors a still sky:

Upon the brimming water among the stones

Are nine-and-fifty swans


The nineteenth autumn has come upon me

Since first I made my count;

I saw, before I had well finished,

All suddenly mount

And scatter wheeling in great broken rings

Upon their clamorous wings.


I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,

And now my heart is sore.

All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,

The first time on this shore,

The bell-beat of their wings above my head,

Trod with a lighter tread.


Unwearied still, lover by lover,

They paddle in the cold

Companionable streams or climb the air:

Their hearts have not grown old;

Passion or conquest, wander where they will,

Attend upon them still.


But now they drift on the still water,

Mysterious, beautiful;

Among what rushes will they build,

By what lake’s edge or pool

Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day

To find they have flown away?

5 thoughts on “Just beautiful…”

  1. I shall look upon swans more kindly in the future!
    As you say, Maggie’s Centres are important to patients & relatives. See you Thursday.

  2. Wired in my brain (is that where my consciousness is?)
    “Let Their Celestial Concerts All Unite”……..great stuff for altos & tenors….sorry,Richard ! The glorious ending to George Frederick H.’s “Samson”
    On hospital wating rooms….had the alternative experience last week at a private “healthcare” clinic in Nottingham to which I was referred by my GP…..no,I didn’t pay…for a spinal/disc problem. It’s one of these places where NHS consultants take work when the NHS can’t cope.My GP surfed the net and this came up…an appointment within 10 days,can you believe it ?After fighting the Nottingham traffic on a soggy Thursday evening,the place was bijou in comparison with its NHS behemoth just down the road. It also had FREE parking,was quiet (almost nobody about) and a snug waiting room with copies of BBC History Magazine and Vogue .Oh,and a poster on the wall which declared that an MRI scan could be yours for £450. (Mine free on NHS but took five weeks to get).
    Consultant only 20 minutes late……looks like I have my late mother’s problem…..anno domini…won’t operate though….much to my relief. Right foot now in state of semi-permafrost……”drop foot”,how embarrassing. I need a parrot for the compensating shoulder.”Pieces of …..how many ?”.
    Have a beautiful day…look,we’re still swapping ailments !

  3. A “Maggy’s Room” won a Stirling Prize a few years ago. If I remember rightly it was Richard Rogers, but it could have been Zaha Hadid. Or maybe that was another year. I just remember her dressed in a sort of egg-shaped yellow garment, which Rogers would certainly not have chosen! So glad that you are getting some improvement in return for your treatment and your long car journeys.

    Love Di B

  4. Maggie’s have been kind to a couple of friends too so I shall donate something (after payday!)

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