New Year is a time when many of us reflect on the past and look to the future, perhaps getting the opportunity to understand where we have come from and plan or hope for where we are going. We are all likely to have had some of these New Year reflections being more joyous and positive than others, and what unites us is that life will almost certainly at some point throw up serious challenges for us all.
At this time of year it is worth being extra receptive to the feelings of those around us and putting some of what Christmas means into practice. While for some of us difficulties are things we can take in our stride, for others they are more of a hurdle, and of course there are some things where all the power and money in the world cannot help, and our inner mind becomes all important. Let's take time to listen and hear a bit more what others are going through. For my part I will redouble my efforts to help others find a way through.
Just before Christmas, Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time programme on Radio 4 examined Nobel Laureate TS Eliot's Four Quartets, the set of poems which he saw as the pinnacle and culmination of his career as a writer. On New Year's Day the actor Jeremy Irons will be bringing his reading of all of the Four Quartets to Radio 4. Now some might think poetry is not for them, and that's fair enough, but I would still recommend seeking these out on the radio or online or on iPlayer. It is a measure of these poems' rewarding nature and national importance that they continue to be given such cultural prominence.
One of the most powerful of the Four Quartets, and the best selling, is East Coker, named after our local South Somerset village of the same name, from which TS Eliot's ancestor set out for America and the New World. The importance of the poem and the village to Eliot is shown by the fact that he chose to have his ashes interred here in St Michael's Church in East Coker, rather than, like other great English poets, in Westminster Abbey.
East Coker was written during the early part of the Second World War, when Britain feared for its very existence, and it is a distillation of Eliot's attempt to make sense of the border between the limits of our earthly life and what else there might be.
I would greatly recommend a visit to St Michael's in East Coker to see where TS Eliot drew his inspiration and rests, in maybe his "still point of the turning world." Some will notice, nearby, a plaque to William Dampier, the sailor, explorer, writer and natural philosopher from a different age, and perhaps recall the imagery in the poem of the unknowable sea, for an island nation and a soul in the middle of its infinite journey.
Have a very happy New Year everyone. It is a remarkable joy to be embarking on it with you.