Tag Archives: Poetry self-isolation imagination

If you stop – and look carefully – what will you see?

‘Woolsthorpe Manor,’ copyright Pauline Brightling 2012

1666. Bubonic plague devastates London and Isaac Newton retreats to his family home at Woolsthorpe Manor. Self-isolation, long months of being in close quarters, no external stimulus – just the quiet world around him and the rising, creative life of the mind. Quite a combination as it turned out.

What can you see, what new constellation of elements – as the noise and frenzy of the great world slows, as the quietness of garden, autumn sunlight, the passing of hours, comes inexorably into view?

First published in Plumwood Mountain, a poem from my second collection Unexpected Clearing (UWAP 2016) – certainly more prescient than I could have known.

What Isaac Newton Saw

At Woolsthorpe Manor,

his childhood home,

the famous apple tree –

                     or perhaps its latter-day descendent,

a gracious Maid of Kent –

still droops its gnarled arms toward the

clottedness of earth,

giving up its wormed and floury fruit to the grass,

to the possibilities of turbulent

and muddy transformation:

Outwitting the plague, he sat for seasons in his quiet house,

its losses and constraints,

the drabness of its close routines;

almost a poet,

he watched

with such stillness and

openness

and restlessness –

the quiet world unfolding in his garden;

an ordinary miracle that needs a different eye to see it,

           a new tilt of the head, or sudden mood of

equanimity that allows leaves to rustle,

branches to brush the lawn,

a bird to move discretely and even

          try out some autumnal singing –

each thing 

sifting into

place,

judged   or

unjudged:

until an apple simply

 falls –

a muscular movement of energy,

and chance –

and a new constellation of elements

spins

shimmering

into view.

For more on Isaac Newton in the time of plague, see the UK National Trust: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/woolsthorpe-manor/features/year-of-wonders