“For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.” The Stolen Child ~ on why we need retreats.

For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.” The Stolen Child ~ on why we need retreats.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about how baffling I find life lately. I suspect the plethora of medical issues may be having a hand in it but more and more often I find myself feeling (excuse my French here) I just can’t be arsed any more with modern life. I value very highly the comfort of our twenty first century life and the incredible medical facilities and the delights of technology. They make life a good deal easier in practical ways than we would credit and yet, recently, with the news concerning Syria and a number of worldwide news issues, I’ve begun to feel like running away.
On Twitter I have set things up so that potentially dodgy pictures don’t immediately appear when I click on a picture link, but it seems that this is set to screen out nudity and adult language. I discovered this the hard way when I clicked on a retweeted link and found an image so graphic (of a murder victim) I recoiled and was seriously disturbed. I checked who had retweeted it and found that they no longer followed me so I had no compunction in cutting them loose.
But the thought remains that there is too much of the sadness, badness and madness of the world that is intruding into my world. I’ve never advocated the so-called Ostrich approach, or of sticking my fingers in my ears and saying loudly, “Lalalala I’m not listening.” The impulse to withdraw is growing and I sense by touching those filaments that connect me to others that it’s the same feeling for many. It’s all getting a little much for us, this life, this bombardment of harshness and the perception that we are powerless, and while running away (nota bene: there is no AWAY) is seductive, it’s not the answer.
I’d like to share a favourite poem, one by Yeats whose connection to the mystical of his native Ireland resonates strongly with me:
The Stolen Child by W. B Yeats:
Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand.
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
Away with us he’s going,
The bright, but solemn eyed –
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest
For he comes, the human child
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand
From a world more full of weeping than he can understand
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
Indeed it is. If someone had told me as a child, in terms I could understand, just how much weeping there is in this world, I might have drowned in those tears.
In my novel Away With The Fairies, the main character Isobel withdraws, goes away from her family to seek solitude and to try to come to some sort of terms with the deaths of her parents. But Isobel is an adult, with responsibilities and duties and it’s far from easy for her to carve out time and space for her mourning and it’s only down to the unexpected internal crisis that is triggered when she hits a deer driving home that she’s able to take that time. Her family in the end are the ones who arrange for her to have that time.
For most of us, a retreat may be seen as a luxury, or even as a running away from reality and yet I wonder now how many of you reading now are thinking with some longing of such an experience, a week or a month somewhere away from your usual life. In Yeats’ poem the fairies seduce away a child from his normal life, offering carefree play and sweet foods and a promise of no more tears.
We are not children to be stolen away by fairies, but adults who can seek respite from the sometimes heart and back breaking relentless onslaught of the world’s weeping. Imagine if you will the mother of that stolen child, imagine the impact the disappearance of a loved one would have on the family, and also on the world. Who knows what work that child was to have had in the world, what difference they might have made to matters small or large? This, then, is why time out is important, to refresh and renew the tired spirit and restore aching hearts before returning to take our places in trying to stem the flow of tears with kindness and support, and make the world a place less full of weeping than it might otherwise be.
(for Suzie Grogan, thanking you for your kindness on Thursday. I shall be trying to find some kind of retreat when I can.)

11 thoughts on ““For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.” The Stolen Child ~ on why we need retreats.

  1. Pingback: “For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.” The Stolen Child ~ on why we need retreats. (Re-blogged from Zen and the Art of Tightropewalking) | KungFuPreacherMan

  2. What a lovely piece Viv. You know I understand that feeling – wanting to take time away, or retreat. The only problem is I know a lot of baggage would go with me. ‘The world is too much with us;’ as Wordsworth said – it is hard to escape. Perhaps we just have to ‘manage’ – but that seems such a disappointing compromise when there is so much that is wonderful (in all its meanings) around us.


    • Yes so true. But the leaving of everyday concerns can have a very powerful effect. I did a retreat a few years back at the Julian Shrine in Norwich. Was very refreshing to the spirit, even though I was in the centre of a city, and a city I know well. It’s the signalling to our spirit that this is special time that can make the difference. I’ll be watching out for the right place & right time to step into that special time.


  3. The world has always been full of weeping, but we hear about so much more of it now. People used to hear news of far away places, but only long after the fact. Now we hear everyone’s bad news instantly and all at once. No wonder it feels overwhelming. I do try to bring myself back to everyday kindnesses: the smile to a stranger who walks past, a few words exchanged with the cashier at the grocery store. But, like you, I do need my solitude and sometimes I have a “news fast”. I don’t read or watch or listen to the news for a week or so. I’m sure someone will tell me if something happens that I really need to know about.

    I wish I could read your novels but, alas, I do not have a Kindle, but rather a Kobo. The reason for my choice was that our libraries do not support the Kindle (or perhaps the Kindle does not support our libraries).


  4. A beautiful piece, Vivienne. There is no easy retreat from those harshnesses you mention, of course. But for me, there is one tiny step in the direction of such a retreat (it probably travels somewhere between a tenth and a quarter of the way to being an actual retreat), which has the benefit of being available at any time, anywhere and without charge. It may not work at all for some people, but just in case it works for somebody: it is to properly imagine and focus upon that human thing we can see behind the eyes of a person, namely the spark that marks them as being homo sapiens rather than another species. It could well be someone you love, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, you don’t even have to know them (just refrain from choosing to imagine an individual whom you know to be destructive!). Without of course forgetting that it’s precisely people who often cause other people’s suffering, and without thinking “everyone’s good” in any naive way, there is nevertheless within that human spark something of the faery that Yeats evokes in that poem. S/he’s still in there, you can see her/him, right there! … you see? Of course it’s a very fallible faery that one is here picturing, and it’s usually one without much power to change the world around it, because few people have any real power. But for me it’s a faery nonetheless; and as such, it’s a small but authentic mini-retreat in itself, right here among this modern harshness.


    • Those are wise and wonderful ideas.
      I do something similar but at my bad times, I cannot do anything at all and need to just accept the dark for the time it takes to pass.
      I’m back at the stage of being able to hold people in that light again. xx


  5. I was fed up and felt sucked into negative thought streams when the winter never seemed to end, but then soaked up the sunshine we had during the last two months. I hope you find the right space to connect up with your spirit, the one your curious little one brought along.


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