Journal October 2022

A Response to Hamlet

Recently I’ve become acutely aware of the sheer amount of troubles that beset us in these tumultuous times of change. In common with so many have become distracted from all that is most dear to me, become agitated and annoyed by the disruptions and have most recently strived hard for distractions to not deal with any of the world’s troubles. To no avail though, “troubles come not as single spies” these days so I have struggled to get back to art, my place of safety to rest my mind from woes.  

It’s become a pressing necessity to do so often.

The result of which has been to write more and draw less. To bury myself in literature and to seek solutions, not least to climate change as there is little I can do about much else that hits the headlines of today. I am convinced however that if we were to find solutions to climate change there would be less famine, fewer refugees, wars, poverty, homelessness and unemployment. All could benefit if we set our mind to seeking solutions rather than dwelling on faults and merely complaining about them.  So yesterday I collected 149 videos on my YouTube account of mainly solutions  to climate change and felt all the better for doing so.

Then I was reminded of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ which, if you don’t know it, is for me the greatest play ever written about one man’s experience of grief in English literature that I have come across. It is a tradegy which promises of hope that goes unanswered. The most famous speech from it being his soliloquy, ‘To be or not to be’ which follows.

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause—there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th’oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of dispriz’d love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th’unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.

In essence he is asking what’s the point of his efforts and whether he should go on. He feels utterly alone, speaks in riddles that only he truly can make sense of and is unreceptive to the support and kindnesses of others by this point. Who of us has not felt that when bereaved or for some, otherwise deeply troubled by loss? He feels the stability of his world is in question. Sounds familiar to me right now.    

Years ago I wrote a poem in response to this speech, it came not long after the loss of my father. I first shared it with others at a poems and pints evening and was humbled by the response fully expecting to receive criticism for my audacity to write such a thing. It felt for me at the time almost a sacrilege to even attempt it. But then I thought, why not? Have I not a voice too? Is my response any less valid than any others? So what if it courts derision and scorn what have others done to match my efforts to retain my integrity and what do they know of the troubles I have endured to prompt such a piece? In the end it felt like a breakthrough moment in my grief, I felt defiant and determined to journey on come what may. And I have. Simple as that. Here is that poem written over 20 years ago.

To believe or what to believe, that is the question.
Whether to have faith and hope just things are possible
Or mistrust and crush belief til dead. To fear, to doubt –
To doubt but question no more and in that faith to have a future
And with it unflinching courage to keep our hopes well fed.
It is a confirmation that’s devoutly to be wished.
To hope, to believe –
To believe perchance to dream. Aye there’s the rub
For in that dream of hope what assurances can come
To annihilate all misgivings does give us pause.

There’s the calamity that makes so long a life
For who would bear their heart and soul
Their every thought and feeling, hope and fear
Without vulnerability and risk of ruin
At another’s hands when they can choose
Avoidance just as well. Who would chance deception Or criticism of character, except in the hope
That it is love brave trust will bear.
That promised country from which
No immigrant desires return entices us still
And makes us oblivious to negatives
That we know too much of.
Thus consciousness does make heroes of us all And so the natural colour of our instincts
Is brightened again by that yearning thought
And instances of small consequence
With this regard, their will is yet to try
To take the name of action.