Virus and Verse - how Covid-19 brings to light the human dilemma

by David Gilbert

March 30, 2020

A virus – a sub-microscopic infectious agent – is shifting how we connect to ourselves, our fellow human beings, society and the earth. Such a small big thing.

Others comment on the science. Or on the ideological narrative – which nation or leader is right or wrong about herd immunity theories versus immediate lockdown and the relationship between science, national culture and political decision-making.

Others comment on the health service – whether it has been well-led and collaborative in terms of shifting quickly to a crisis-enabled urgent care model, or its failure in terms of protective equipment and testing. The political view taken will depend on the leftist or rightist lens one sees through.

Apart from doing my bit where I can, or keeping safe and well, I am intrigued by the narrative that plays out. And, in particular one way of looking at the bigger story, or perhaps the psychological one.

A small big thing. The virus has unlocked a core dilemma for our species. Perhaps therein lies its wider meaning. Will we come out of this more cautious, risk-averse, hunkered down, more isolated from each other, with the resonance of fear and anxiety that prevails over empty schools and lonely parklands?

Or will it trigger a sustainable wave of collective generosity, a spread of communal reaching out between local people getting to know their neighbours and their needs, or sharing music through space (literally and metaphorically)?

The play between being alone and belonging is our core dilemma. How we live, balancing the spirit of individualism and collectivity, freedom and community, reaching out and reaching in is at the core of our ‘responsibility’ or ‘response-ability’

In other words, will the silence in which we find ourselves, let us connect more deeply – with ourselves, each other and the earth? Or exacerbate the fear of loneliness and resultant disconnectedness? Will we come out of it more ‘for ourselves’ or ‘for others’. Which way will the species tip?

How to discern the patterns and competing forces at play – lockdown versus connected?

Of course, writers and readers know that our purpose and meaning is interwoven with the narrative we hold of ourselves and of others. Times of uncertainty can be both crisis and opportunity in terms of seeking to reframe who we are and what we need to do on this planet. That is why I am drawn to poetry. As Emily Dickinson says: ‘Tell all the truth but tell it slant’

Since my narrative is one that holds up hope of a more connected world – a kind, wise-mind that values the fact (see, there I go, holding up my own opinion as truth) that we are all connected….

I sense this may be an intriguing crossroads. May you choose wisely.

Meanwhile, here are three poems which tend to say things better.

 The Stars In Their Distancing

There is the day’s drama of course
making life difficult

but when nothing happens for weeks
the spring grown quietly laborious

and single cause of lying awake
is lack of sound, the wind stopped

a solitary puff of smoke
hanging over the industrial chimneys

sheep drifting the emerald slopes
the stars in their distancing

now a substitute for your heart
detained in a silence

you thought you’d left behind
asking yourself whether anything you do

is useful or not
that is when you will be tested

The Accompaniment

The silence is how we need it to be
as if it were snowing
the traffic doubled down
to a bass note almost beyond
reach of human hearing
like when you lose all sense of taste
or are unable to name
atmospheres that dwell at home

a warm air
that could be mistaken for peace
approaches from the desert wilds
yet slows incapable
of the momentum needed
to take you anywhere
or away from anything

what we have seen today is remarkable
for its detail
or its absence – a leaf
revolving on the pavement
within its own miniature tornado
or football pitch with knobbly grass
and skewed goalposts –
like a dozy uneventful childhood

I don’t miss the chatter
but it seems we cannot maintain
this avid silence
without the accompaniment of death
terrible decisions are being made
beneath the blossoming cherry tree
and earth is restful
its corridors swollen with the dying


What we are able to do
is lean
like the slender
cherry tree

by what we have done
or been through
set against

earth’s hold
each branch
allowing itself
to fork

to the weight
of loneliness
sparrows landing

now and then
lifting again
its crown
of pink symmetry


All poems © 2020 David Gilbert

David’s first full poetry collection is published in May 2020. The Rare Bird Recovery Protocol will be available from Cinnamon Press






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