On exile: "After Some Years"
Some days ago one of my contacts commented on a photograph I took when I was visiting the north of England for my son's wedding last year. She asked whether I missed the north east and whether I would ever return there.

I am an exile in Western Australia, many miles from my birthplace, and whilst I do miss my homeland, I doubt whether I could ever live there again. It is great to visit the places of my youth, but I know that I would miss Australia more if I left it.

The comment did provoke some thinking on my part, however; and the displacement felt is sometimes acute, though fortunately only transitory. There are parallels with the move from Flickr to Ipernity, too, I suppose. Onward movement also brings nostalgia, but that nostalgia is tempered by the understanding that it is nostalgia, reality seen through a very gentle lens and with a soft romantic focus.

One of my favourite poems is "After Some Years" by W.S. Merwin. I came across mention of it in a book by Joan Didion, herself an exile on the east coast of the USA from the west. She returned home eventually because of this feeling of displacement, I think. The poem is below; it is hard to find because it does not seem to be anthologised, and I don't even remember where I found it:

I have been a long time in a strange country.
The natives have been kind, in their weird climate,
Receiving me among them as one of themselves.
Their virtues are different from ours, and in some ways
Superior. I have lost the sense
Of absurdity regarding many of their odd customs.
I get their wry lingo tangled up with my own.
Maybe you have to go far away
To learn where it is that names you. The fruits here
Are excellent; better than at home.
I can no longer taste them. I would be glad
To be standing in a drab city of my recollection
Where no one but newsboys would name this place
And they mispronouncing. I hope I may
Before too long. Before the speech here has become
Natural to me, even more so
Than the tongue I was born to, before these
Sights cease to be more foreign and are more familiar
Than any I can recall. And while I
Can still clearly remember that at home too the world
Is made of strangers. For I do not wish
To head back into an expectation
Of anything better than is there, and struggling
With some illusion, find my own place
Is as far away as ever. But it should be
Soon. Already I defend hotly
Certain of our indefensible faults,
Resent being reminded; already in my mind
Our language becomes freighted with a richness
No common tongue could offer, while the mountains
Are like nowhere on earth, and the wide rivers.

W.S.Merwin: "After Some Years" (1957)

1 comment

beverley said:

o0o I loved the words, actually even though living in the UK, to move to another
area can have a similar effect. Although not far away .. the new beginnings with
different surroundings the safety net we call or class as home, hits hard sometimes.
I am sure you will sometimes think back of "home" but ... they say, home is where
the heart is ;-) sometimes I am told there is a yearning to return ... I guess time will

Flickr to ipernity ... yep ... its a step many of us have taken .. many have not broken
the ties totally ... and actually I think its best to ... and then its done and dusted.
I have groups in flickr that I feel responsible for ... have met many friends in
real life now through flickr ... and thats been wonderful. My groups you say ,...?
forget them Bev ... move on ... well ... always a tale to tell I guess ... I set mine up
because I wanted them to be different to the way flickr groups seemed to be.
I knew I would either succeed or fall flat on my face ... hey, I'm still standing ;-)
and so for that reason ... I have a loyalty to them to monitor and take care whilst
they are used. Once they fail ... for whatever reason ... I would close them and
walk away ... many flickr friends are here ... new friends met also ... and its great
to start again ;-) thanks for being a contact ;-) oOo
10 years ago