Planet Earth, NASA

Are you disappointed by the results of Rio+20, the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development? Here are some uplifting words from a wise woman who once lived in Knightsbridge, not far from here. This is from her memoir Dance on the Earth. Margaret Laurence is talking about the end of the Second World War.

“A new and better and more just social order had to emerge. We would make sure that it did. The world could and would be a better place. Poverty could be eliminated. People could be free in a free and peaceful world. We were not mouthing clichés. These things mattered…. Forty years on, I could weep for how naïve we were in so many ways. Yet the death of hope is the death of the will and perhaps of the spirit. I continue to believe, all evidence to the contrary, that it is not too late to save our only home, the planet earth, and that it is not too late, even at this very late date, to learn to live on and with the earth, in harmony with all creatures. Part of that belief is social belief, part of it is religious faith. Even after all the failures – the wars, the pollution, the radioactive waste, the real possibility of nuclear reactors melting down, the slaughter of whales and dolphins – even after all these atrocities, I believe that we cannot and must not give up.

I never look back at my younger self and smile wryly, thinking how curiously simple-minded we were. We were naïve and idealistic, but we were on the right track. We cared, and we must continue to care. Each generation must believe it can change the world for the better, whatever the odds are against us.”

I should mention here that Laurence got through only a first draft of her memoir before she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and that her revisions were dictated and the book finished with her daughter’s help. The memoir was given to me by a friend in Nairobi with whom I have lost touch. Losing touch happens to we wanderers, despite our best intentions.

cover for reprinted The Prophet’s Camel Bell

Like Sara Jeannette Duncan, Margaret Laurence lived with her husband abroad, and then settled for a time in London while he worked elsewhere. I will write more about this when I’ve done my research. It is only fitting, given that the conference was in Brazil, that I close with an excerpt of a poem by P.K. Page, who lived in Brazil with her diplomat husband, and wrote about it in her memoir, Brazilian Journal (another of my books left in storage…).

 Planet Earth

It has to be spread out, the skin of this planet,

has to be ironed, the sea in its whiteness;

and the hands keep on moving,

smoothing the holy surfaces.

     ‘In Praise of Ironing’, PABLO NERUDA

It has to be loved the way a laundress loves her linens,

the way she moves her hands caressing the fine muslins

knowing their warp and woof,

like a lover coaxing, or a mother praising.

It has to be loved as if it were embroidered

with flowers and birds and two joined hearts upon it.

It has to be stretched and stroked.

It has to be celebrated.

O this great beloved world and all the creatures in it.

It has to be spread out, the skin of this planet.

Follow the link for the complete poem, or better, buy her book, Planet Earth: Poems Selected and New.

Is there a Canadian writing in Brazil, or about Brazil, or about P.K. Page, who would like to contribute to this post?

P.K. Page, CBC

Posted by Debra Martens

author, editor

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