Introduced by Liz Robertson, Careers Consultant, Careers Service, Oxford Brookes University
You’re wondering if I’m lonely:OK then, yes, I’m lonelyas a plane rides lonely and levelon its radio beam, aimingacross the Rockiesfor the blue-strung aislesof an airfield on the ocean.
You want to ask, am I lonely?Well, of course, lonelyas a woman driving across countryday after day, leaving behindmile after milelittle towns she might have stoppedand lived and died in, lonely
If I’m lonelyit must be the lonelinessof waking first, of breathingdawn’s first cold breath on the cityof being the one awakein a house wrapped in sleep
If I’m lonelyit’s with the rowboat ice-fast on the shorein the last red light of the yearthat knows what it is, that knows it’s neitherice nor mud nor winter lightbut wood, with a gift for burning.
I cannot recall where I first heard this poem, but I do remember asking a well-read friend if he knew of a poem which mentioned a wooden boat on a shoreline and the phrase ‘a gift for burning’. He walked across to his bookshelves and pulled out a collection of poems by Adrienne Rich, flicking straight to the poem ‘Song’.
I love the positive slant she gives a part of the human condition which is often seen as a negative. I feel that her loneliness is all about possibility and being comfortable with the state of being alone. I travelled a lot in my late teens and early twenties around a number of different countries, much of it on my own. I would join up with new people in stopping places, be part of their lives for a while, then move on. Some of those I met are still part of my life now, others are not.
People asked at times whether I got lonely when I went off travelling by myself. A few questioned why I would put myself in that situation, since it seemed that they felt it was to be avoided. Travelling alone allows you to be yourself and can also include the opportunity of being someone other than the ‘self’ others (friends, family, colleagues) may expect you to be. Every now and again it provides those magical moments that are entirely yours, whether that is being immersed in a natural landscape or in the quiet of early morning; the presence of another can sometimes 'clutter' those experiences. This poem makes me think fondly of my travels which are now decades in the past and prompts the recall of an eclectic jumble of memories.
This poem is reproduced by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.