These I have loved

February 6, 2022

Brooke’s poem


I’ve long loved this simple poem, detailing pleasurable sensations experienced by the poet; he surveys all five senses, and brings each pleasure vividly to life in few words, but in a way the reader can almost instantly appreciate and usually empathise with. It was a very ‘useful’ poem to me as a teacher, when I wanted to lead students to the possibility of trying to write their own poetry – which is not an easy task, either to set or to assess. We could discuss which of our five senses we valued the most, which one we would reluctantly agree to do without if we had to… And they could list a few sensations and experiences that brought them small moments of enjoyment, and then try and find the language which might convey more precisely to someone else just exactly what it was they had experienced… they usually enjoyed the attempt, and were often successful.

When I’m out along walking in forests, I love the sounds, particularly the birdsong, which can often be deafening in the springtime; these’s also tuning into smaller, quieter, less identifiable sounds, which sometimes lead to my seeing creatures. I can stand or sit on the seashore for ages, especially in the evening, listening to the sea, the endless crashing of the waves. And music! Bach can take me onto completely different planes of consciousness, the nearest I’ve ever got to experiencing the divine. At the same time, I’m aware I have hearing problems, and so surely miss out on many sounds: I first realised this years ago when on holiday in France. In the evening, everyone else could hear the not so gentle noise of thousands of crickets chirping away; I couldn’t…

Because I enjoy reading so much, I think I’ve always put the premium on sight. On a cold, crisp winter’s night, I love staring at the sky. Some of the constellations I can recognise; I can seek out planets if I know where they are. But it’s the sense of my infinitesimal smallness against this backdrop that moves me most.

I love to look at a well-made book: nice paper, well-bound (I love the feel and weight of it in my hands, too), and all maps I find incredibly beautiful. Turner’s Modern Rome I can stare at and never tire of, and I am so glad that I got to see it in real life once. The small and permanent sameness of some of my collection of cacti I also find very attractive. And forests… it must be genetic, but I feel at home and I can find endless, different beauties in trees, mosses, flora, fungi, the light and shade playing on the landscape.

Touch doesn’t feature that much in my pleasures. I share Brooke’s enjoyment of the sensation of climbing into a freshly made, slightly cold bed with its crisp sheets. I’ve always loved the sensation of the hot sun on my skin, and the soft feel of wool I enjoy very much.

I focus a good deal on taste and smell, for those who know me know I find much enjoyment in food and drink, not to excess, but just the act of consuming nice things. Belgian chocolate, Trappist beer, a really good malt whisky, and cheese… Camembert or Pont L’Eveque just au point is something almost to die for, in my books. And taste and smell often – but not always – combine to multiply the pleasure. I’ve baked my own bread for over forty years now, and there’s still nothing to beat the crust off a fresh-out-of-the-oven loaf, as Brooke also acknowledged.

You don’t need to be an astute reader to see I’ve made no attempt to versify my pleasures. I can’t. There are things we can’t do ourselves, but we can recognise them when others do them well. What Brooke also does, for me, is to underline that so many of the things that bring us great joy, or maybe just contentment, are actually quite simple, daily, run-of-the-mill things, and it’s good to be reminded of that.

Write your own list, now.

Five senses in fiction

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