Some paths are for leaving. Others are for taking up again.
Old roads: like thirsty streams, forgotten friends, become open spaces, barren things; no longer under mine, but only the mountain’s foot. Some rightly so, others wrongly spurned and well-deserving of their mystery and splendor: doors unthoroughly shut to the fae, all overgrown, overrun. Treasures hidden in a field. New roads: some from old roads, others yet untrod but oft bubbling from familiar springs: life-water — journey the food that keeps me in glad hunger, till at last I reach the restorèd glades every road hoped for, and over sunlight-startled tree-drops will I tread — but weightless now.
I wonder if you’ve come to a point, like me, where you’ve felt for better or worse completely emptied of what you thought you were: turned a spiritual infant when you thought yourself mature. If you have, you might know the strange sense of being at once both lost and finally found, and of the quiet acceptance of the need to raze Babel. You begin the journey back down the path you’d started on — it wasn’t going anywhere, anyway — and you seek a better one.
Coming to such a dead end led me to consider how I may have discarded child-like faith, wonder, and acceptance of others and myself in favor of “right and proper things” as I’d gone about my life. As I “matured.” These jettisoned items are the “old roads wrongly spurned.” Now while some “old roads” are rightly left behind (those with only pain for us and others), there are others worth revisiting. A forgotten path can remind of forgotten vistas.
But time and life move onward. “Life is not…hankering after an imagined past,”1 and as much as I’d like to do so it isn’t enough to dwell on what has been. However, the old roads inevitably bear on the new. Even as I navigate the roiling waters of adulthood, marriage, parenthood, I can learn — I’m trying so desperately to learn — to turn aside to be surprised by life again, to be jarred from my perspective and peer through “doors unthoroughly shut to the fae” to find “treasures hidden in a field”2 where I didn’t expect to find them.
It is in this way that new roads “oft bubble from familiar springs” and can renew that child-like acceptance and amazement once held and once left by the wayside. Whatever they look like, the roads we travel here in this world can’t truly satisfy our longings, but only remind us of the greater satisfaction we’ll have when this life, and these roads, end; which is itself to say: when yet newer roads will open up before us.
The “now” at the close of this poem is worth focusing on for a moment, I think, as it could be read either of two ways. First, “will I tread” is in the simple future tense: it is something that will happen, and is looked forward to. In light of this, “now” can be read as existing in that future state where the subject of the poem treads in peace. On the other hand, there is also a restful anticipation of this end (which again is really a new beginning!), and this anticipation bears upon this moment here and “now.” Because we have such a future hope, we can walk in peace even in the midst of the chaos around us.
What “old roads” might you have left behind that reawaken child-like amazement in you? Are there any worth revisiting, even as you continue on your “new roads”?
I hope you find some. I know that I’ve been better for stepping down a few of my own.
R. S. Thomas, "The Bright Field," in The Word in the Wilderness: A Poem a Day for Lent and Easter, Malcolm Guite (Norfolk, UK: Canterbury Press, 2014), 21.
Matthew 13:44 (NIV).