Each day after lunch I have a little ritual of listening to the wireless while I plunge my paws into the washing up, and I never know what delectable chance encounter might come my way. Today, I was twiddling the dials when I caught a man’s voice introducing a programme called The Poet and the Murderer. Well, a title like that and the promise of an intriguing tale – I twiddled no further. And it was a riveting tale, but that was not what got me going.
The poet in question was Emily Dickinson, and it was a line from one of her poems:
‘Tell the Truth, but tell it slant…’
Hmm, I thought. This needs mulling on. It lingered with me all through my washing up, and by and by I felt a little murmur coming on. And here I am, pen in paw.
That sounds so smooth, doesn’t it; a chance remark, a mull, a murmur, a pen and the whole caboodle flowing onto the page. Alas, there are times (more than I care to name), when somewhere between thought and flow, things come to a sticky standstill. I know exactly the spot where it happened today; it was between mull and murmur. Mull had first drawn me back to the few times I visited Toad Hall in my infancy. Looking back, I think Great Uncle Mole and Uncle Ratty were rather cautious about exposing a young mole to Toad; thought he might be a bad influence. Although Toad was very old by then, he still loved to put on a good show and his enthusiasm of the moment was a small cinema he had set up in the wine cellar. Oh dear, I must get to the point. The films Toad was showing were made in the war. They were black and white and usually historical, but their historical nature was a veil, a pretence that they had nothing to do with the war. When I watch them now, all I see is targeted messages of courage and self-sacrifice.
That, I mused on, although told slant was not the truth, but propaganda. More interesting would be the fertile ground of writers and artists living under totalitarian or otherwise oppressive regimes who were driven to use fable, symbol, or poetic metaphor in order to tell their truths.
This was where I should have stopped, but no. I began to look for factual back-up for my vague thoughts. I opened tomes, read both erudite and crazed interpretations, pattered down unknown alleyways. But all the time I was shining my headlamp in search for perfect examples.
I dazzled them and they fragmented before my eyes.
What I had lost between mull and murmur was that space in one’s freewheeling mind that allows inspiration to take hold, the thought that comes out of left field, the trick of light that one sees from the corner of one’s eye. What I had missed was that Truth is also best heard slant.