As the West winds blew their fury
the earth let out a cry;
as if to deny expected truth,
it was more than just a sigh.
As if one life had greater value
than all of this; all of the love
that a world full of great lives
could bear to contemplate
the loss of a legend, but
whose wisdom remains immortal …
How many years in a small, small room
with the same view through the bars.
How many years of breaking stone
and a broken view of the stars.
How many years of prayer and pain,
to grow his wings and fly,
like soaring eagle, dancing crane,
over mountains in the sky.
How many years to find his truth,
empowering his legacy; to heal
the torment of a nation.
How long did it take to forge his spirit,
imbue his captors’ tears
with the power of his forgiveness
after twenty seven years.
© 2014 John Anstie
[Nelson Mandela’s incarceration lasted for 27 years. At 72 years of age, 8 years older than I am now, he started a new life as leader of his country; and what immense leadership was necessary to hold together a very angry population, some sections of which would have been bent on revenge. His previous life ended in prison at the age of 45, in 1963, for being an anti Apartheid activist. I find the thought of being locked up for 27 years and surviving this, not only physically and mentally, but also able to lead a divided country, almost overwhelmingly daunting and utterly remarkable]
“Life is short and art long, the crisis fleeting, experience penniless and decision difficult”
As a young man, John was sporting and fit. It was then as much his recreational therapy as a cappella harmony singing, music, walking in the hills and writing is now. Playing Rugby Union for over twenty years, encouraged in the early days by a school that was run on the same lines and ethos as that famous Scottish public school, Gordonstoun, where our own headmaster had been as a senior master. This gave shape and discipline to a sometimes precarious early life.
His fitness was enhanced not only by playing rugby, but also by working part time jobs in farming, as a leather factory packer and security guard, but probably not helped, for a short time, selling ice cream!
His professional working life was spent as a Metallurgical Engineer, Marketing Manager, Export Sales Manager, Implementation Manager and Managing Director of his own company. Thirty five years spent, apparently in a creative desert, raising a family, pursuing a career and helping to pay the bills, probably enriched his experience, because his renaissance, on retirement, realised a hidden creative talent as a writer of prose and poetry. He also enjoys music, with a piano and a fifty-two year old Yamaha FG140 acoustic guitar. He sings bass in three a cappella harmony groups: as a founding member of a mixed voice chamber choir, Fox Valley Voices and barbershop quartets. He is also a member of one of the top barbershop choruses in the UK, Hallmark of Harmony (stage name of the Sheffield Barbershop Harmony Club), who, for the eighth time in 41 years, became UK Champions in 2019. He is also a would be (once upon a time or 'has been') photographer with drawers full of his own history, and an occasional, but lapsed 'film' maker. In his other life, he doubles as a Husband, Father, Grandfather, Brother, Uncle, Cousin, Friend and Family man.
What he writes is sometimes autobiographical, often political, sometimes dark and frequently pins his colours to the mast of climate change and how a few humans are trashing the Earth. In 2013, he published an anthology of the poetry (including his own) of an international group of poets, who met on Twitter in 2011. He produced, edited and steered the product of this work, "Petrichor Rising", to publication by Aquillrelle.
His sort of strap-line reads: “ iWrite iSing iDance iChi iVolunteer ”
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A wonderful essay and tribute and poem, John. And powerful too. One can only wonder at the remarkable thoughts and feelings that, as you say here, ‘forged’ his spirit while he was in that tiny, bare prison cell. Perfect word choice.
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Thank you Jo-Anne
A gorgeous post, John. Madiba certainly was our father, and will long inspire a poet’s heart.
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Thank you for the visit, Niamh