This weekend we mark the Spring Equinox and International Day of Happiness on Saturday (20 March), and World Poetry Day on Sunday (21 March).
It has been a tough year since these dates last came round with humanity united by the challenges of a global pandemic and the urgent need for rapid scientific advance that might bring release from pain and loss, crowded intensive care wards and overloaded medical staff, travel-bans and isolation, economic collapse and stay-at home policies… loneliness – and yet divided by delays in supply of vaccines now developed and political borders.
Who could have known that one year on from that first ringing of Church bells across Italy – a cacophony of sound against the silence of lockdown, ringing out in prayer against the new Covid-19 that was ravaging the country – we would still be facing the same restrictions on life, albeit this year with hope, still missing friends and longing for a return to something akin to normality?
One year on, what better way to come together and look forward with hope than to listen to a new poem, written and read by Alexander McCall Smith over a short film, taken (mostly!) in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh by young film-maker Ryan Rutherford.
With grateful thanks to all at RBGE.
Spring comes, even this year
It’s been a year, or close enough,
And although we’ve tried,
As most have done, to remember
What our friends look like,
There is an inevitable fuzziness
Around the edges, both in our minds
And how it really is, as if
This one has forgotten to shave,
While this other has clearly missed
The weekly visit to the gym, or left
Un-ironed the clothes that once
Were pressed with attention to detail;
Sharp edges are a thing of the past now,
Contrasts are blunter, colours
A little faded, like life in general –
And yet spring seems to have come,
Largely unannounced, as if
Aware of the possibility of cancellation,
Like so much else, and yet there it is,
In aconites and the other
Small flowers that always surprise;
And the wind shifts back
To the south-west, forgets
The north and its stern tones,
Its chilly warnings; spring comes,
And melts the crenelations
Of frozen earth, allows something
Else to happen underfoot:
Shoots of possibility, sprigs of simile.
Hopeful, at last, we send out word:
“Are you still there? Do you
Still take milk in your tea,
Do the crossword, wear the scarf
We never thought suited you?
Do you still say the same things
You always said, smile in the way
We liked you to smile; disapprove
Of the same things you always
Disapproved of, much to our amusement?
Do you still do all of that –
As your friends so hope you do?”
For spring has come, you see,
And it might be possible now
For us to find one another again,
And see if things are roughly
What they always were;
Whether spring comes in the way
It used to come, whether birdsong
Is in the same key, and whether
Light mornings bring the sun
At the old familiar angle; there is so much
We still need to confirm
About the world and who we are,
Now that spring comes,
And the human heart resumes its task.
Alexander McCall Smith, March 2021, World Poetry Day
More poetry is available from Alexander in his collection, In a Time of Distance & Other Poems